The much sought after TBS aka Thin Blue Smoke (LESS IS MORE)

Discussion in 'Propane Smokers' started by sqwib, May 26, 2010.

  1. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Updated May 5th, 2013.

    Fixed broken links.


    TBS (Thin Blue Smoke) ... Less is more!

    This write up is based on a GOSM Big Block Smoker using large chunks, individual results may vary.

    There are many variables to consider, Humidity, type of smoker, type of wood, quality of wood, size of wood, how the wood is placed in the chip pan, the heat being applied to the wood, amount of oxygen the wood is receiving name a few.

    So please experiment a bit and find what works best for you.


    But don't get hung up on acquiring TBS, Thin Blue Smoke isn't the only way to smoke some awesome food.


    • Some cherry from a ½ cord that I had recently picked up sliced on the band saw.
    • Stacking the wood will lengthen the smoke duration, place them in the chip pan and placed the lid on top. This method achieved longer smoke durations. For more smoke volume lay the pieces side by side.
    • The camera didn't pick up the wisp of smoke from the picture to the left, but it is doing what I wanted it to do, Notice the bottom piece appears to be finished and the top piece has a little life left in it. Notice the small spent piece of cherry on the left in the chip pan. Although I could hardly see any smoke, I could smell it faintly.

    • The photo below shows the wood to the right that was on the bottom in the chip pan, completely spent and the one on the left that was on the top has a wee bit of smoke left in it... notice the reddish brown color in the center/right.
    • The piece on the left could have stayed in a wee bit longer. Notice, there is no white ash.

    • Tried some small cherry chunks. Awesome TBS going on in the photo below.
    • The smaller chunks started to ash up more when I removed them from the smoker and they got more oxygen.

    • They did ash up a tiny bit, however when I removed them from the smoker and they were exposed to even more oxygen they ashed up at a much quicker rate.
    • But it’s still putting out some TBS.
    • The photos below are what you want the wood to look like when it has been used up.

    • Spent Wood

    • TBS on my Reverse Flow Stickburner "Frank"

    • AMNPS smoke.

    TBS is not the only way to smoke, you can lay down a heavier smoke, I have found the AMNPS to lay down a much heavier smoke than my chunk method... with great results.

    I do not soak my wood, some soak the wood, I believe this does nothing but delay the inevitable. Moisture needs to be expelled from the wood before it starts smoking, some see the water vapor coming off the wood and think it's smoke but it's actually steam, this is short lived and will start smoking once the water has been expelled. I won't go into the science behind it, but I urge you do some research and testing yourself and then decide what works best for your smoker and your style of cooking.

    So with that said, this is my two cents on the subject of TBS;

    By decreasing the oxygen to the wood and controlling the heat, it will smoke lightly and last longer.

    You may not to see the smoke but if you can smell it then you are in good shape.

    The smoke flavor is very mild, but it's a “good quality smoke”.

    Heavy white Billowing smoke can cause a creosote residue on the food, ruining your food or even getting you sick, try to stay away from that heavy billowing smoke.

    You may notice a tingling sensation on your tongue if it has creosote on it, (much like the sensation you get by placing your tongue on a 9V battery), some refer to this as a bitter taste.

    On some smokes I have noticed the smoky flavor is so mild that you can smell it on your fingers after eating something like ribs but not distinctly taste it on the ribs, however, after it has been refrigerated a few hours it seems to get a stronger smoky flavor and smell.

    It seems the smoke flavor is stronger after it has cooled down in the fridge.

    My goal is achieving a subtle smoky flavor to compliment the food not overpower it.

    The cherry wood is mild when achieving TBS, but can be very strong if heavily smoked.

    Stronger flavored wood such as Mesquite would benefit from this method.

    If chips are to be used I would make foil pouches and poke the foil several times with a fork, just watch the heat.

    I try and avoid the wood going to ash, if you are not careful, the ash can blow around and get into your food and the ash has all kinds of nasties in it.

    If you take a piece of the spent wood it should snap easily and be black all the way through.

    Before I knew what I was doing I would try to get the heaviest smoke possible although I don’t recall ruining any food, with the exception of jerky.

    In the past I would always be adding wood and had a ton of ash, now I get no ash, use a lot less wood, leave the door shut longer and cleanup of the chip pan is as easy as removing a few pieces of spent wood chunks with tongs.

    Stacking or placing the wood upright on the narrow side, gives you a longer burn times.

    To remove and/or add wood try this. (for the Big Block)
    • Keep a pair of tongs and a pair of pliers handy during the smoke.
    • Monitor the smoke as it will start to really smoke towards the end. I have noticed the chunks tend to really smoke when they are nearly spent, they sort of supernova.
    • Using extreme caution, take the pliers and slide out the chip pan rack and remove the lid with the pliers and lay it on a heat safe surface.
    • Remove the spent chunks with the tongs and place them somewhere heat safe as well (save these chunks). To do this you can use a metal pot or can with a lid, just make sure to place it on a heat safe surface.
    • Add the new chunks; stacking and laying the chunks upright on the narrow edge gives a longer smoke, side by side gives more smoke.
    • Using extreme caution take the pliers and place the lid on top of the chip box and slide back into position
    • After the chunks have cooled, snap them in half to see how you did!
    • Don't throw away these chunks they can be used as lump coal.
    Last edited: May 7, 2013
  2. mofo

    mofo Meat Mopper

    I started buying "split logs" from ACE Hdwe and cutting them into chunks with my mitre saw. It gives me about a 4 x 4 chunk of wood and lasts 1.5 to 2 hrs each I too use the pliers and tongs routine to switch out chunks and they look exactly as your pictures do. Here is a link to some photos of my chunks.
  3. indyadmin1974

    indyadmin1974 Smoking Fanatic

    Dang fine QView there!

    What kind of camera are you using?
  4. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Power shot pro 1 by canon

  5. indyadmin1974

    indyadmin1974 Smoking Fanatic

    Sweet!  I have an EOS Rebel Xsi but I'm scared to use it by the smoker...I can't afford to replace it and it was a birthday gift from my wife...[​IMG]
  6. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member


    Try thinner and stackem, you wont have to flip the 4" chunks. I think mine are about 1.5 to 2" thick.

    I am going to try the 4x4 chunks also.

  7. matts

    matts Smoking Fanatic

    Thanks SQWIB, great post and it does help a lot. 

    I have a 24" Smoke Vault and was wondering if I could use chunks like this in there.  I am not familiar with the Big Block and noticed you mentioned it has a lid on the chip pan and the pan looks pretty deep compared to my SV.  Mine doesn't have a lid and the pan in only around a inch deep.  Should I try to foil the pan with the chunks or just use foiled chips like you also mentioned.  I do have a problem with ash and was going to just foil up the chips next time.
  8. flbobecu

    flbobecu Smoking Fanatic

    SQWIB - 

    I'm curious, about how long until you get smoke, or how long from the time you put the "stack" in, do you get smoke? 

    Last edited: May 26, 2010
  9. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I am not familiar with the chip pan on the SV but you can experiment a bit, try your idea first then try some thinner chunks and if they burn up too quick then use heavy duty foil overtop of the chip box and poke several fork holes in it.

    I think the key to reducing the ash is limiting the oxygen.

    Hell I would even try chips and chunks and place foil over top so it looks like a jiffy pop pop corn thingy after it has popped.

    Experiment and see what works best for you.
  10. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    There are a lot of variables there, but I would say an average of 1/2 hour with the burner on high using heavy chunks.
  11. richoso1

    richoso1 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I use a coffe can w/holes drilled in it, I fill it with lump and chunks. The smoke will last about rwo hours, and it burns down to white ash. Pic was when I first got my GOSM, the fire box just didn't cut it, I ended up with two coffe cans, easier to switch than to reload.

    Last edited: May 27, 2010
  12. matts

    matts Smoking Fanatic

    Thanks for the inputs.  Looking at the Big Blocks, they are pretty much identical to the Smoke Vault as far as how the pans and racks are laid out.  Only difference in the SV pan itself slides in the rack like the water pan.  I will have to play around on my next smoke.  I have several hickory logs that need split and cut up.  I may try that for some chunk.  But that coffee can looks pretty cool also.
  13. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I like the idea of having a loaded can ready to go, thanks
  14. flbobecu

    flbobecu Smoking Fanatic

    After reading this thread, I decided to put my spin on it. 

    I used a couple Heineken keg cans, cut the tops off, and punched some holes on the bottom. 



    Filled them with cut-to-size Pecan chunks. Stacked them to the brim of the can (about 4-5 pieces about 1.25" thick) and got my longest smoke yet. Almost ~3 hours worth. Likely closer to 2.5hrs but who's counting? [​IMG]

    Next time I will be alternating woods - like Pecan > Peach > Pecan > Peach > Pecan stacked up inside the can. :)

    Could also be the new wood I am using too - I'm not sure. It's a tad moist and not kiln dried. And no - I didn't get ANY sort of white-bellowing smoke - TBS from the start. :)
    Last edited: May 27, 2010
  15. mgnorcal

    mgnorcal Meat Mopper SMF Premier Member

    Thanks for sharing the experiment.

    Those black blocks should burn like lump charcoal -try em in your grill.

    One reservation I have about the theory here is that I kinda consider the TBS from stick-burners to be the gold standard. (and that's a quite different kind of combustion)

    I've also done just the opposite of this - I delivered fresh air directly to the wood pan from a bait aerator via a thin aluminum tube to get More air and More combustion.  That seemed to help, but I had some lump charcoal pieces in there with the wood so that confuses the issue some.
  16. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Updated May 5th, 2013.

    Fixed broken links.

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