Here's a new feature on our blog, Pit Talk. Texas BBQ Posse pitmaster Marshall Cooper will share insights he's gained in almost 30 years manning a backyard smoker. Here are a few of his thoughts on smoke and BBQ.

Marshall writes:

So, it seems there could be a big disparity on desired smoke levels between competition judges, BBQ restaurants and everyone else.

In talking to several competition guys, "the judges just want a very subtle layer of smoke, so you can taste smoke but not enough smoke that it makes you burp" is one comment.

"I always lose points if I put too much smoke on the product," says another.

In contrast, many BBQ restaurants in DFW seem to put more smoke (but not too heavy) on the meat, like Pecan Lodge, Meshacks, Off The Bone and Lockhart Smokehouse. To me, Franklin, Kreuz and Snow's don't seem to be as heavy on the smoke as some of DFW BBQ joints.

Historically, I have put a heavy smoke layer, to the point of needing a Tums and Nexium/Prilosec cocktail to be able to sleep! Looking back, I like heavy smoke but my bbq tastes have recently changed.

My Jambo pit gives you better control on smoke levels, either to maintain a clean fire [due to the way the pit is so well engineered and tuned] and get lighter smoke levels or to burn a less clean fire and get more smoke, by varying the time in the pit before wrapping the meat with foil or butcher paper.

Aaron Franklin told me, "I can always tell if the BBQ was not cooked on a clean fire."

So does anybody have any comments on smoke levels? What are your preferences? Mid-level or less? A cleaner fire with slight smoke layer?

Tell us what you think.

Photos by R.J. Hinkle & Marshall Cooper


13 years ago

Based on my recent experience at Franklin Barbecue, I'm going with "whatever Aaron Franklin does". My other favorite brisket from down there is at City Market in Luling, so I guess my answer is "mid-level" based on your description.

Don O.

13 years ago

My 2 cents: if you can't taste smoke, it's not really BBQ to me. It is a requirement. I generally like more, rather than less.

Smokin Ronnie Halcomb

13 years ago

less. fire has to be clean. it's called blue smoke. look up at your stack. shouldn't see nothin but blue sky.


12 years ago

Is maintaining a hot fire (600 degrees or so?) on the brink of flames the key to "clean smoke?"

Marshall Cooper

12 years ago

The fire should maintain a flame and not be smoldering which in some pits can equate to a grate temperature as low or as high as you want depending on the size of your fire, airflow, draw and efficiency.

Austin Top 5 plus Snow's

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