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Principles of Fire Management

 
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Alien BBQ
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 03 09 12:57 am    Post subject: Principles of Fire Management Reply with quote

Principles of Fire Management

Fire management in any smoker is dependent on a lot of variables and is smoker dependent. There are really three phases when deciding how to manage a fire for cooking. The first phase is the initial warm up phase and is probably the easiest to deal with. You need to consider what type of smoker you have, the thickness of the metal, environmental conditions, and the fuel you are using. Obviously offsets (horizontals) are going to run differently than verticals. Horizontals require that all areas of the smoker heat up in order to create a condition for the draw. Verticals due to their construction have fewer problems because while the draw is important, it is not as critical at this point in the fire management process.

Normally a small base of charcoal is needed to establish enough constant heat to get larger logs going. Whether you use lump, kindling, a weed burner, gas, or lighter fluid (I know it’s bad, but don’t act like you haven’t tried it) you must provide a reliable source of heat until the larger wood pieces get going. Personally I leave my firebox door open and allow the fire to burn down to hot ambers before I move into the second phase of fire management. At this time I usually toss on some of my larger pieces of wood with knots. I don’t use these during the cooking session because they are harder to burn and can cause too much smoke to be produced. In the initial stage the door is open and most of the smoke is not funneled thru the smoker so rather than waste them, I use them to create a large bed of burning ambers.

In the second stage of fire management you are dealing with the creation of the proper amount of smoke to produce a quality product. Your heat from the burning coals has just enough air coming in from the bottom to keep it flowing throughout the cooker so throwing on a log at this time serves two purposes #1 to replace the fuel being consumed through combustion and #2 to produce smoke. The art of smoking revolves around producing a thin blue smoke at this time. If the fire is too cold, too small, or too large you will have problems.

Too cold of a fire and you will have smoldering wood that produces toxic gasses. While all fires produce these gasses, a brisk fire will burn them up during combustion and they will not land on your meat. Too cold of a fire allows these gasses (chemicals) to move through your smoker and deposit themselves on the meat. A sign of this is the tell tale yellowish smoke and a slight numbing of the lips and tongue when you eat the food. While there are many gasses involved, cyanide and arsenic are the two most common. Too small of a fire (although brisk) will burn these gasses up but will not produce enough heat within the smoker to keep it at the proper temperature. Once the temp starts to drop, your draw diminishes and you start a cascade effect of temp, draw, and toxic gas production. Too big of a fire can cause problems also. In this case you don’t have the toxic gas production but you do have wild temperature swings and runaway heat. The size of your firebox, its relationship to the opening into the cooking chamber and height of the firebox grate all play into the temperature of the fire. With base fire temperatures in the firebox ranging from 600 to 2200 degrees you can see that it is a balancing act of heat production and heat loss. This is more evident in vertical smokers in that the fire is actually in the cooking chamber while in standard horizontals you have a hot and cold end of the cooker. The idea in any smoker is to control the fire and keep its temperature production within a range that is conducive to cooking at a desired grate temperature. Too big of a fire makes this difficult because you cannot control the base fire temperature as well. Fire lap is a common problem in horizontal smokers. Fire lap occurs when the fire in the firebox is too large and portions of the flame enter the cooking chamber. Remember that balancing act between heat production and loss we talked about? Fire entering the cooking chamber throws all of that out of whack. It is common to see heat spikes and valleys if you are experiencing fire lap. Fire lap is controlled through the proper size fire (for your smoker) dampeners, or by extending the firebox within the cooking chamber through the use of baffles or plates.

Just like in the story of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears, you want a fire that is proper in size (for your smoker), is brisk in nature, and produces the correct amount of smoke for flavoring. Many cooks accomplish this by using no bigger than a forearm size log 8-12 inches long thrown into the fire every hour. Keep in mind though that this is an average and some smokers require more and some less. If you choose to do this, make sure your log has caught on fire prior to closing the firebox lid. This will cut down of the possibility of a smoldering log creating toxic gasses. Another way is to preheat your logs before adding them to the fire. The thought pattern follows that if you raise the temperature of the entire log to it pre-ignition temperature, you reduce the possibility of smoldering and base fire temperature drop as the fire attempts to ignite the log. Just like a sponge in water, a cold log will suck a certain amount of energy out of a fire until it reaches its combustion temperature.

The final stage of fire management comes towards the middle to end of the cooking process. Keeping in mind that the production of a smokering generally stops when the meat reaches about 145 degrees; you have to ask yourself why add more smoke? While the smokering does not indicate flavor, the more time meat stays in a smoky atmosphere, the more smoke flavor is placed on the meat. In this stage you have a well established bed of coals and enough heat to thoroughly cook the meat. Adding logs to the fire now is for replenishing fuel lost to combustion. However, smoke is a byproduct so how do you control the amount of smoke? You can accomplish this by tenting or wrapping the food in foil (which I will not debate its merits) or you increase the combustion of the fuel being added. By this I mean that you use smaller pieces of wood going into the fire. Smaller pieces combust more readily and do not smoke as much. This also means that you may need to add fuel more often than before (depending on the smoker and your bed of coals.)
So what are the variables I mentioned earlier? Opening the cooker to look at the food lowers the temperature in the smoker. This drop has to be recovered through heat convection, conduction, and transfer. That open door allows heat to escape, cools the food, metal, and reduces the draw. In some smokers it can increase the cooking time by as much as 30 minutes every time you peek in to see what’s going on. To compensate for this you need to look at fire management as a process. Knowing that I am going to look at my meat in the smoker, I plan to increase the temperature in the smoker to compensate for the viewing. I normally start by adding fuel to the fire just before I open the cooking chamber. By opening both the firebox and the cooking chamber in order I can throw on a log and allow it to heat up while I am basting, flipping, or rearranging the food. The temperature spike I get from the added air to the fire does not go anywhere because I have eliminated most of the draw into the cooking chamber. When I close both doors, the base fire temperature is higher but soon dissipates to an increased energy requirement to reheat the cooking chamber, food, and increase the draw.

The best advice I can give you is “don’t watch the gauge and freak out when the needle moves back and forth.” Think of fire management as a series of events that create an average heat, smoke, and flavor. Use the amount of air, type of fuel, and environmental conditions as a part of your overall recipe for the dish. You will be a lot happier and learn more from each cook if you take the time to recognize these factors and remember what works (and doesn’t work) for you and your smoker.

Many times readers see remarks about “Blue Smoke”, Yellow Smoke”, Cyanide and over smoking. While I was seasoning the “Project Brinkman” smokers, the sun was just at the right angle to give a great comparison between the two. The smoker on the left has too much smoke going on. You can tell the difference between the yellowish smoke (cyanide) coming out of it and the good blue smoke coming out of the smoker on the right. If these smokers had food in them (and they do not,) the food from the left hand smoker would not taste good at all.


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spunkymunky
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 03 09 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for taking the time to explain the principals of Fire Management. I was not aware of it in that fashion and can assure you that I will take notice of my control of the open lid and heat.

As always your post are MOST informative and you are a true asset to this site. MANY THANKS. Very Happy Very Happy
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OwenStubbs
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 03 09 6:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the photo above, did you deliberately stage those types of smoke, or is it the one on the left still heating up and not yet producing the thin blue smoke?

My only smoker so far is the UDS I recently made. I light my charcoal in a chimney until ashed over and include a chunk or 2 of wood in that chimney for a few minutes before dumping everything onto the basket of unlit coals. I then add another small chunk of wood onto the hot coals. The charcoal has probably been in the chimney for a total of 20-30 minutes before dumping into my UDS coal basket of unlit coals.

Seems it takes quite a while before the smoke settles down to something closer to the thin blue smoke pictured above and I am curious as to why.
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 03 09 3:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OwenStubbs wrote:
In the photo above, did you deliberately stage those types of smoke, or is it the one on the left still heating up and not yet producing the thin blue smoke?

My only smoker so far is the UDS I recently made. I light my charcoal in a chimney until ashed over and include a chunk or 2 of wood in that chimney for a few minutes before dumping everything onto the basket of unlit coals. I then add another small chunk of wood onto the hot coals. The charcoal has probably been in the chimney for a total of 20-30 minutes before dumping into my UDS coal basket of unlit coals.

Seems it takes quite a while before the smoke settles down to something closer to the thin blue smoke pictured above and I am curious as to why.


My guess is that enough fuel has finally burned down to accomadate the amount of oxygen that the fire is getting.
Not enough details to tell for certain.
I know in my offset that is similar to those pictured i leave the door open on the end of SFB till i see the thin blue smoke. Takes about 40 minutes. I also start the fire right in the fire box with a torch.
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OwenStubbs
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 9:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks Oregon smoker... but not quite sure I understood... as I mentioned, I am pre-lighting charcoal in a chimney, then dumping on a bunch of unlit coals... At this point, a wood chunk or 2 is also in full burn in the chimney, then the chimney is dumped on the unlit UDS coal basket, and one more piece of chunk is added... I am wondering why it usually takes quite some time to get thin blue... at the time I do, I have little burn time remaining on those chunks (good for maybe 60-80 minutes??) before I need to add more, at which time I get a bunch of white smoke again.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 1:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OwenStubbs wrote:
Thanks Oregon smoker... but not quite sure I understood... as I mentioned, I am pre-lighting charcoal in a chimney, then dumping on a bunch of unlit coals... At this point, a wood chunk or 2 is also in full burn in the chimney, then the chimney is dumped on the unlit UDS coal basket, and one more piece of chunk is added... I am wondering why it usually takes quite some time to get thin blue... at the time I do, I have little burn time remaining on those chunks (good for maybe 60-80 minutes??) before I need to add more, at which time I get a bunch of white smoke again.


From my experience it is due to unlit fuel that is smoldering. I only have used offsets vs you using a UDS. Technically i think you should be able to use the minion method which it sounds like you are doing. However yours is not getting enough oxygen until some of the unlit fuel has ignited and burned down so that there is a smaller amount of burning fuel needing oxygen.
So i would start with a smaller amount of unlit charcoal, then dump the lit stuff on top. Even try just igniting a corner of your unlit fuel then spread to other stuff.
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JimmieOhio
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 2:23 pm    Post subject: Re: Principles of Fire Management Reply with quote

Very interesting post. However, I am having a problem wrapping my brain around the presence of cyanide and arsenic in wood (unless it's pressure-treated).

Alien BBQ wrote:
Too cold of a fire and you will have smoldering wood that produces toxic gasses. While all fires produce these gasses, a brisk fire will burn them up during combustion and they will not land on your meat. Too cold of a fire allows these gasses (chemicals) to move through your smoker and deposit themselves on the meat. A sign of this is the tell tale yellowish smoke and a slight numbing of the lips and tongue when you eat the food. While there are many gasses involved, cyanide and arsenic are the two most common. Too small of a fire (although brisk) will burn these gasses up but will not produce enough heat within the smoker to keep it at the proper temperature.

I have been studying the chemical composition of wood by reading several articles on the internet such as the following:

http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf1984/pette84a.pdf

For the life of me, I don't know where the really harmful chemicals can be generated from plain old wood. This document, for one, does not list arsenic as a component of wood, even in trace elemental amounts. Cyanide is a compound of carbon and nitrogen, but does not appear to occur in great amounts, certainly not as a large component of billowing smoke. Toxic gases, like carbon monoxide, yes. But cyanide or arsenic? Confused

What am I missing? Please straighten me out on this one.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jimmie I wondered the same thing (you know how I am).

One of the more complete lists I found is here (with a link to cyanide):

http://burningissues.org/bi/table2.htm

Taken from a really good source here:

http://www.woodheat.org/environment/smoke.htm

The article(s) are mainly about using wood for home heating, but the same applies to BBQ in most ways.

One common theme: burning a hot clean fire reduces the issues, but does not of course eliminate them.

JM2C, YMMV.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 9:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BBQMan,

I did also see (and read) the first document that you linked in your reply. Strangely, the second document has a link to the first document as well.

Although there is mention of dioxins, I still don't see specific references to either arsenic or cyanide...
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 10:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As reported in The Human Ecologist:

"Burning of biomass such as wood, grass, and leaves can release dangerous amounts of cyanide, which can poison water supplies. A study of wildfire in North Carolina fount that nearby streams were contaminated with 49 parts per billion of cyanide, a level high enough to kill rainbow trout. Forest and brush fires may play a major role in fish kill."

As with any research, validity is always an issue.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 10:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Both cyanide and arsenic can be found in wood but for different reasons and in varying amounts. Without getting into a multipage rendition on bioaccumulation and synergism of compounds the basics are this.

Cyanide can be found in certain types of wood with the most common being fruit woods. Peach, apple and others actually store trace amount in their seeds. The body can handle small amounts and ingestion normally does not present a problem. Notice I said ingestion; inhalation is somewhat different. In many of these plants, the cyanide is encapsulated in protective compounds that are impervious to stomach acids and pass thru the digestive system without release, burning though the protective coatings release the compounds and inhalation into the respiratory tract can cause systemic problems such as numbness, blurred vision, headaches, and others. Again, the amounts vary and the effects are different on different people.

Arsenic needs to be divided into two categories for this discussion. Inorganic arsenic is highly toxic and is normally associated with pesticides, preservatives, and insecticides. Organic arsenic can be found in food, water, air, and can bioaccumulate in high cellulose plants such as wood and any other plant that uses large amounts of water for growth. Water is the most common transfer mechanism for organic arsenic and air (through burning of coal) for inorganic. While arsenic is normally found in a chromated copper compound, it has been used for smelting, preservatives, and the treatment of syphilis. Ingestion arsenic is the normal means of contamination in animals with bioaccumulation in certain organs being the long-term problem. It is the fire that releases the compound into the smoke and its accumulation on top of the meat that is a concern to us. However, keep in mind that although organic arsenic is naturally occurring in the environment, the amount (if any) found in wood is dependent upon a contaminated water source (rain, pond, river, etc.) or air contamination through pollution, burning coal, or other means. In other words, oak wood from one part of the country may have a different level than the same wood from another part. Again, the levels are normally low but may affect people differently. The real problem with arsenic over cyanide is that trace amounts of arsenic bioaccumulate while trace amounts of cyanide can be processed.

So back to our original problem and answer, smoldering wood releases a lot of different type of gasses and compounds that can be bad for you. A properly burning fire consumes many of these compounds and thereby is a healthier way of cooking.
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Alien BBQ
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 10:53 pm    Post subject: Re: Principles of Fire Management Reply with quote

JimmieOhio wrote:
Very interesting post. However, I am having a problem wrapping my brain around the presence of cyanide and arsenic in wood (unless it's pressure-treated).

Alien BBQ wrote:
Too cold of a fire and you will have smoldering wood that produces toxic gasses. While all fires produce these gasses, a brisk fire will burn them up during combustion and they will not land on your meat. Too cold of a fire allows these gasses (chemicals) to move through your smoker and deposit themselves on the meat. A sign of this is the tell tale yellowish smoke and a slight numbing of the lips and tongue when you eat the food. While there are many gasses involved, cyanide and arsenic are the two most common. Too small of a fire (although brisk) will burn these gasses up but will not produce enough heat within the smoker to keep it at the proper temperature.

I have been studying the chemical composition of wood by reading several articles on the internet such as the following:

http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/pdf1984/pette84a.pdf

For the life of me, I don't know where the really harmful chemicals can be generated from plain old wood. This document, for one, does not list arsenic as a component of wood, even in trace elemental amounts. Cyanide is a compound of carbon and nitrogen, but does not appear to occur in great amounts, certainly not as a large component of billowing smoke. Toxic gases, like carbon monoxide, yes. But cyanide or arsenic? Confused

What am I missing? Please straighten me out on this one.


Jimmy,
Go back and read the first two sentences in your reference (not in italics)
Your local area will many times determine what can be found in your plants. A good illustration can be found in answering these two questions.... Would you rather eat an apple from an organic apple orchard fed by a pure spring or from one that has grown up over a hazardous waste site? How did the toxins make it from the ground water into the apple?
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Last edited by Alien BBQ on Sun Oct 04 09 10:58 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Alien BBQ
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OwenStubbs wrote:
In the photo above, did you deliberately stage those types of smoke, or is it the one on the left still heating up and not yet producing the thin blue smoke?

My only smoker so far is the UDS I recently made. I light my charcoal in a chimney until ashed over and include a chunk or 2 of wood in that chimney for a few minutes before dumping everything onto the basket of unlit coals. I then add another small chunk of wood onto the hot coals. The charcoal has probably been in the chimney for a total of 20-30 minutes before dumping into my UDS coal basket of unlit coals.

Seems it takes quite a while before the smoke settles down to something closer to the thin blue smoke pictured above and I am curious as to why.


Thin blue is hotter.
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BBQMAN wrote:
As reported in The Human Ecologist:

"Burning of biomass such as wood, grass, and leaves can release dangerous amounts of cyanide, which can poison water supplies. A study of wildfire in North Carolina fount that nearby streams were contaminated with 49 parts per billion of cyanide, a level high enough to kill rainbow trout. Forest and brush fires may play a major role in fish kill."

As with any research, validity is always an issue.


i never have put much stock into some so called studies. its a man made study which means that man can interpret and report it however he wants so it will fit his wanted results. how many times have we heard something is bad and a few years later it is reported well maybe they were wrong and its not so bad. i wouldnt think that report would apply to our applications. we dont burn grass or leaves in our cookers and in a wildfire your talking about live,green trees burning not seasoned wood.

i have learned with my offset that i use charcol to get a bed of coals going and then go with strictly preheated seasoned wood logs. if i loose too much temp then i will trow in a chunk or two to get the flame back and then continue with logs. i always keep a small flame going along with red embers. its just my opinion that when you dont have some fire then you have smoldering wood which is where the bad flavor comes from.

not saying that anybody else's way is wrong. this is just what has worked best for me for many years. i realize i may burn more fuel and spend more time tending to my fire than other methods but thats ok cause thats my way of relaxing. Cool
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 11:16 pm    Post subject: Re: Principles of Fire Management Reply with quote

Alien BBQ wrote:
Jimmy,
Go back and read the first two sentences in your reference (not in italics)
Your local area will many times determine what can be found in your plants. A good illustration can be found in answering these two questions.... Would you rather eat an apple from an organic apple orchard fed by a pure spring or from one that has grown up over a hazardous waste site? How did the toxins make it from the ground water into the apple?

I went back and re-read the beginning of the document I cited. I must admit did not think of that. It says:

"THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION of wood cannot be defined precisely for a given tree species or even for a given tree. Chemical composition varies with tree part (root, stem, or branch), type of wood (i. e., normal, tension, or compression) geographic location, climate, and soil conditions."

It just struck me reading your original post that you almost imply that firewood used in Q is inherently laced with these two toxins in great concentrations. Might scare some people into the bomb shelter at the first sight of "non-blue" or thick smoke.

Personally, I would just move upwind. Wink
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 04 09 11:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

BBQMAN wrote:
As reported in The Human Ecologist:

"Burning of biomass such as wood, grass, and leaves can release dangerous amounts of cyanide, which can poison water supplies. A study of wildfire in North Carolina fount that nearby streams were contaminated with 49 parts per billion of cyanide, a level high enough to kill rainbow trout. Forest and brush fires may play a major role in fish kill."

As with any research, validity is always an issue.

My job involves ash handling systems in fossil-fuel and alternative energy power plants such as biomass, MSW (municipal solid waste or "curb-side trash") among others. The difference in these plants is the scrubbers which remove a huge amount of the pollutants. Having access to the control rooms and the monitoring equipment, I have seen the opacity numbers going out the stacks and there are a lot of zeroes to the right of the decimal point before you get to a number. I would live next door to these plants, based on what I have seen in pollution control and emissions numbers.

That's not meant to imply that all plants comply with all EPA requirements all the time.

The real technology lies in suspending the heavy metals and other nasty chemicals in the collected fly ash so it does not pollute the ground water when it is ultimately dumped at the landfill. This is usually done with some kind of acid mixed in with the water used in conditioning the fly ash to make it "truckable".
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 05 09 12:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I still cook with 4+ cords of wood a year! Razz

Hasn't affected me a bit................................or has it? Shocked

Cooking with wood doesn't bother me, but it does always make for a good discussion.

Now if we can just go back to gas fired ovens we got this problem solved.

or, Jimmie just needs to come up with a "pit scrubber" and we're all set.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 05 09 9:13 am    Post subject: Re: Principles of Fire Management Reply with quote

JimmieOhio wrote:
Alien BBQ wrote:
Jimmy,
Go back and read the first two sentences in your reference (not in italics)
Your local area will many times determine what can be found in your plants. A good illustration can be found in answering these two questions.... Would you rather eat an apple from an organic apple orchard fed by a pure spring or from one that has grown up over a hazardous waste site? How did the toxins make it from the ground water into the apple?

I went back and re-read the beginning of the document I cited. I must admit did not think of that. It says:

"THE CHEMICAL COMPOSITION of wood cannot be defined precisely for a given tree species or even for a given tree. Chemical composition varies with tree part (root, stem, or branch), type of wood (i. e., normal, tension, or compression) geographic location, climate, and soil conditions."



It just struck me reading your original post that you almost imply that firewood used in Q is inherently laced with these two toxins in great concentrations. Might scare some people into the bomb shelter at the first sight of "non-blue" or thick smoke.

Personally, I would just move upwind. Wink


I know what you mean, I am like Mike, I will go thru a cord or two this year as well. The important thing to remember is that all wood is different. That is why some wood is great to smoke with and some is not.
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