Reverse Flow vs Tuning Plates for small backyard cooker

Discussion in 'Wood Smokers' started by keodark, Dec 4, 2015.

  1. keodark

    keodark Newbie

    Hi all,

    I've been doing some heavy research before buying my first real backyard cooker. I know I don't have the skills or tools to build one, and I know I want an offset stick burner. I've read conflicting things about RF versus tuning plates (versus direct flow). Hoping for some opinions on the issue, as it pertains to a SMALL backyard cooker (36" - 40") such as the baseline Lang or Horizon. My budget is between $1200 and $1500.

    First, I wonder if tuning plates (which must be close together near the firebox to prevent hot spots there) might cause food on the firebox end to receive less smoke? Also, along the grate there is relatively little open surface area until you get near the colder (stack) end... it seems to me like most of the smoke would exit the cooker without touching meat?

    Second, I was inspired by Aaron Franklin and in his book he recommends direct-flow smokers, but he's not really talking about small backyard cookers. Still, he says Reverse Flow restricts airflow and makes it difficult to maintain proper (strong) convection. For that matter, he's against tuning plates for the same reasons.

    Third, the website for Lone Star Grillz (FAQ) says (paraphrased): We prefer tuning plates to RF because it's hard to clean out grease from under the fixed RF plate. Also, RF requires a much larger fire and it's harder to maintain a good draw which can result in inferior smoke. I've seen that sentiment echoed on this forum, with concerns about keeping the firebox in an RF at the right temperature without overheating it.

    Lastly, Lang's own website says (paraphrased) that the baffle catches rendered fat and "sears" the meat from below. To me, that doesn't sound like it's possible, except that it's maybe "air-frying" the underside of the meat with the sizzling fat. Is that really desirable in a low-and-slow cooker? I'd also worry about the smoke from burning fat. Is that a good smoke or a bad smoke?

    Thanks for any opinions!
  2. mikesys

    mikesys Fire Starter

    I own both types, a Lang 60 rf and a Yoder loaded Wichita. Both product excellent meat, the rf will never allow a flare up on any part of the cooking surface. There is a risk on the direct flow if you're fire gets too big and the meat is too close to the fire box.

    The rf does not require a bigger fire, a bigger smoker requires a bigger fire.

    Grease does not get under the rf plate because there is a 1.5 inch lip preventing it.

    Even with a heat management plate the fire box end will be hotter.

    Hope this helps a little. Mike
  3. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

  4. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    However, the choice is yours, but consider this...look at how many folks mod their offsets to a RF offset, you usually don't see them mod the other way. Whatever you choose will be fine and you will need to get some experience on either.
  5. joe black

    joe black Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I have a 24"x48" backyard offset built by Craig Bell at Bell Fab in Tulsa OK. It has the Horizon style convection plate in the CC. My temps from FB to stack are within 10* and very constant. I much prefer the convection plate to tuning plates. The number of holes and the size of the holes will naturally balance the temp and smoke. IMO, the spacing of the tuning plates is only a guess. I usually leave everything wide open and control the overall temp by the size of the fire. If my temp gets a little above the upper level, I will close the air intake very slightly until the temp BEGINS to fall and then re-open it to allow the temp to stabilize. One other thing that will help with maintaining the lower end is to always pre-heat the splits before putting them into the FB. This helps the new splits to ignite more rapidly and not use up the existing FB heat to get the new splits up to ignition level. Having the splits pre-heated will also help to not create any additional unwanted smoke while the new splits are heating up to ignition temp.

    Good luck and good smokin', Joe

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