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Charcoal Retort?

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Anybody ever build one? I'm thinking of making my own char from all the apple wood around me and other hardwoods I could get. Looking for an efficient design made from barrels. I've seen some good ones working on u tube. Looks easy to some extent but I know details on drafting are the key. In any case, another reason to play with fire and feed my bbq obsession. 😈

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I too have a BBQ fascination Skipper......even my family and co-workers make fun of me. I always smell like burnt wood and smoke.


  I have an uncle who retorts his own lump from some hickory and cherry he has on his property. I can't recall much about it, but I think it is just two simple barrels.....one inside the other (upside down). He has had it for years. I recall him saying the most important factor is having somewhat dry wood to start with. Obviously the heat will push some moisture out, but never hurts to have it fairly dry to begin with. It is a nice process to use the gases produced by the process to continue the burn after the water is pushed out. I also recall it being pretty "smoke-free", other than the water vapor in the onset. 


 I also think he has a fairly long chimney on the top ? It wasn't just a few feet, thinking more like 7 or 8 feet ? I also like the fact that the process is "self-extinguishing", being once the gasses are gone it can not continue to burn.


 I have thought about it, but since he supplies me with some, why bother. I am not the greatest around 500 degree barrels with 1200 degree exhaust !!


As far as drafting, I would think a series of holes around the bottom of main barrel would be sufficient. Probably a 7 or 8" chimney coming out of the top to help control the flow. Wonder if anyone has come up with a dampener to help control the burn ?  

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Yeah, I hear ya on the burnt wood smell. Seems to permeate everything even skin! I go to bed at night after shower and she says I smell your barbeque, but it's been cold for hours! Lol! I'm gonna try to get a 55 gal and 30 gal. drum and try that with a stack. Vent the bottom of the larger can and have the lever clamp top with a hole in it for flue. drill a line of holes around the top under the rim for air to draw up the flue and secondary burn any gasses going up the stack. I think the small barrel will seal just enough upside down in the large barrel to let gases out in the bottom of the larger one to perpetually fuel the system after the main tinder is gone.

I believe you are correct about very dry wood to start with. Also a hot dry day no wind would be most effective. Great for standing around a 1200 degree heater! Ha!

My intention for making charcoal is to just be able to use a specific wood for smoking meats in a side fire box pit without actually burning the raw wood. Raw wood needs tending alot to get the right smoke. I like to get a thin blue smoke but raw wood makes a lot of white smoke and needs fiddling with draft... and of course ash and creasote. Those can put an off taste in meats. Beside who wants to eat that creasote!..thats why I fondly refer to barbeque as "food from the flue" ..lol!. Some brands of lump charcoal have had scraps of laminate lumber in them. I don't want that stuff cooking my 50 dollar premium choice brisket! When I find some barrels and get the wood I'll try and get a report up on it.


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 I have a "special" hat I wear on the weekends just for smoking. I used to wear the same hat to work everyday, but I kept wondering what that smell was.....turns out it was me. Even my shoes have smelled like burnt wood !!


 I have found the same with raw wood......way too many volatiles in the wood that make an awkward taste in the meats. If I get a big amount of white smoke I usually pull the meat off and let it calm down. That thin blue smoke can be hard to get unless the wood has burned down a bit. But, once it burns down, sometimes it quits smoking. This is why I typically char up the new wood, and mix it with lump. I also think guys over do the amount of wood it takes to get good smoke. It only takes a small amount, but requires constant monitoring.


 I had no idea that some lump company use laminates. Wow, eye opening. Learn something new everyday. If I buy lump anymore, I always opt for "Humphrey's" brand. A local meat smoker tuned me onto it and I have only bought that brand since. It is a brand I have come to trust based off taste and smoke type.


I typically salt in a small amount of raw lump wood, usually apple, cherry or pecan. But, nothing seems to make the smoke ring like hickory, mesquite and walnut. Problem with mesquite is that it burns so dang hot.......


I learned the hard way about using walnut by itself, way too strong of flavor. For me at least. I used Lilac once for some salmon, but too hard to find around these parts.

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