Why Clean Smoke Makes For Better Barbecue

So-called clean smoke comes from fully combusted wood, and infuses meat with a variety of flavors.

By Casey CheekFebruary 18, 2020 3:04 pm, ,

Good barbecue isn’t just about the meat. The smoke used to cook it also matters – a lot.

Texas Monthly Barbecue Editor Daniel Vaughn says that quality barbecue is cooked with “clean” smoke. Clean smoke – as opposed to “dirty” smoke, which comes from wood that hasn’t fully combusted – can infuse meat with a variety of flavors.

For his barbecue column, Vaughn spoke with Bill Karau, a barbecue pit builder, who told Vaughn how to create “the perfect barbecue smoke.”

“[Karau] really separates the idea of power and flavor coming from the wood,” Vaughn says. “Power, being the actual heat that’s coming from the wood … and then flavor coming from that burning smoke.”

Karau fixed himself on getting the perfect, clean smoke after going on several barbecue road trips. He noticed how some smokers produced a “black grossness,” and pitmasters used that smoke to cook their barbecue. Eventually, Karau decided to design his own smoker – one that’s easy to use and that continuously makes clean smoke. An inverted firebox makes that possible, Vaughn says. That’s when wood sits on top of the meat while smoke is drawn downward by the coal.

“You can certainly taste that it’s been smoked properly,” Vaughn says. “It certainly doesn’t taste anything like the dirty smoke, the sort of black soot that you would get from a place that doesn’t know how to build a proper fire.”


Written by Samantha Carrizal.