Tips and Tricks for Great Cooking
Keeping a Clean Fire
When a fire is started, it goes through 4 distinct stages. The first stage is white smoke. This white smoke is not really smoke, it's the water in the wood or charcoal being turned into steam. Once past the white smoke stage, the smoke turns gray or black. The dark smoke is the wood burning at a lower temperature, where the burning wood forms dirty particles and smoke that smells bitter, acrid, or burning. At higher temperatures the smoke turns a light, clear blue color. It smells clean and sweet – it's that great campfire smell. If the fire is too hot, the smoke will be almost entirely clear. At these temperatures, the smoke has almost no flavor or smell. Charcoal goes through these same steps, but the smoke is not as obvious since the water and flavor-producing compounds have mostly been burned off already.
There are 2 common ways to keep a fire burning cleanly. Serious pitmasters have a mother fire off to the side. They take coals burned down from the mother fire to fire the smoker. That way, there's never any dirty smoke from the smoker firebox. It's usually not so easy for us to have a mother fire. Since every piece of wood and charcoal put on the fire goes through the stages of burning - and the first stages are dirty smoke. To minimize the dirty smoke, add small amounts of wood and charcoal at regular intervals. Putting too much charcoal or wood on a fire can also create bad smoke by choking off the air and reducing the fire's temperature.
A unique and valuable feature of the QueBQ when cooking with either method is that the smoke to the kamado can be mostly or completely shut off by closing the middle chimney damper. Closing the middle chimney damper while the smoke is dirty lets the kamado draw mostly clean air. Closing both the middle and lower chimney dampers completely shuts the dirty smoke off from the kamado, which can draw clean air through the upper damper. It is probably good practice to close the middle damper for a few minutes each time you put wood in the QueBQ.
Any seasoned wood and any charcoal normally used for cooking can be used in the QueBQ, so long as they can safely fit in the firebox. The wood can be store-bought chips or chunks, or locally harvested small logs. I typically use chunks bought from a barbecue supply store because they are more consisent in size and of better quality. Chips tend to burn very fast, offering minimal smoke flavor.
Lump hardwood charcoal or charcoal briquets can also be used. Brands of charcoal and exotic charcoals have little or no impact on the flavor of the food in our experience. There's an old saying in barbecue that wood is for flavor and charcoal is for heat. The same is true for a fire in the QueBQ.
Normally, I’ve found chunks work better than logs. Chips burn so fast, they are of little value in most cooks (using chips for quick sears such as steaks and hamburgers is different). Logs can form a nice, long-burning, consistent smoke, but the length of time it takes for logs to go through the dirty-smoke stage makes them impractical except when the fire is getting started and there’s enough time before the food goes on to get the log burning well.
Combo cooks are one of the most exciting cooking opportunities for your QueBQ. No other barbecue or grill system can do combo cooks. A combo cook is where the QueBQ adds its competition-style smoke flavor to a regular kamado cook.
The kamado should be set up as you normally would for a kamado cook. Start the kamado charcoal fire and the QueBQ fire at the same time. When both fires are well established, use the daisy-wheel to control the kamado temperature. The upper chimney damper should be open to allow air in for the burning kamado charcoal. The middle chimney damper should also be open. The lower chimney damper may be set as desired to balance the amount of smoke and air drawn into the kamado. In general, the daisy-wheel needs to be set more open than when cooking without the QueBQ.
Tools and Utensils
There is a wide variety of tools and utensils that can make a pitmaster's job easier. The following list provides a good guideline for a well-stocked pitmaster's tool cabinet.
Small materials handling shovel
Leather gauntlet gloves
Long tongs and spatula
Propane weed burner with flint starter
Paraphin fire starters and butane lighter (as a backup)
Remote digital thermometer (much more accurate than a dial thermometer)
Quick-read digital thermometer (such as a ThermaPen®)
Charcoal and wood storage bins (keep fuel dry and off the floor)
Clip-on light (preferably with an adjustable gooseneck)
Stainless steel wire brush for cleaning cooking racks