Got smoke?
August 5, 2010 8:27 AM   Subscribe

How can I intentionally make charcoal smoke? I need to carry a smoking container for a costume. I ordered hookah coals to put in the container. They burn great, but have minimal smoke. I'd like it to smolder and smoke for as long as possible. Any suggestions?
posted by juggler to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ever consider using dry ice? Still looks like smoke, but you're not going to trigger any asthma attacks in people.
posted by royalsong at 8:31 AM on August 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

If dry ice isn't a possibility: Use wood instead of charcoal.
posted by royalsong at 8:33 AM on August 5, 2010

You might try misting it with a spray bottle before lighting it. That's what I do with uncharred wood chips when I'm smoking a piece of meat.

Just a note of caution: do not keep light charcoal indoors, or carry lit charcoal with you indoors. It's a carbon monoxide hazard and could potentially be dangerous.

Thanks dad.
posted by slogger at 8:34 AM on August 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've done something like this before with hemp. If you can find some hemp rope and pull it apart and make little loose piles of the strands they will smoke and smoke and smoke. Hemp is naturally fire resistant but it will catch fire if the conditions are right so be sure to have water nearby at all times.
posted by Uncle at 8:35 AM on August 5, 2010

You'll need to add something wet, or use a less pure fuel source. Soaked wood chips over the lit coals would do the trick.

Also, as an asthmatic who is allergic to smoke, I really hope this costume is only going to be ablaze outdoors.
posted by fontophilic at 8:36 AM on August 5, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips so far!
It will be outdoors, so i don't think I will be causing anyone's allergies to be stressed.
I thought of dry ice but I will be out with a group, walking in a parade, for hours, and have no way of keeping new bits of dry ice cold and at the ready. The hookah coals can be in my pocket until I need the next one.
posted by juggler at 8:43 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: Don't know if this is still common practice, but for the smokers beekeepers use, they use old burlap (aka hemp, as per Uncle's suggestion). Puts out a LOT of smoke, but the key is that the smoker limits oxygen to the burlap, so that it smolders instead of going up in flames.

And yeah, charcoal is essentially wood with the smoke burnt out of it, so that's not going to work. But a little glowing coal could be kept in the container and then you could stick in some burlap when you needed smoke.
posted by bricoleur at 8:50 AM on August 5, 2010

Best answer: You're essentially constructing a thurible. To create the smoke I'd use pure frankincense tears on your charcoal. You'll probably want to grind them up a little with a mortar and pestle so that you have a mix of sizes from powder up to larger (5mm) chunks. This way it will both start smoking quickly and smoke for a while. You'll need to add more periodically (and may need to add more charcoal eventually.) Don't add too much incense at once or you can snuff the charcoal.

You'll create a lot of smoke, especially if it's a small room or if you do this for a long time. Everything in the room will eventually smell like frankincense, so if this is like a costume for a party you may need to rethink this (like by going the dry ice route, but careful not to freeze your hands or other people). You'll also need to think about smoke detectors (even if this is, for instance, a stage costume.
posted by Jahaza at 9:35 AM on August 5, 2010

Maybe a combination of hookah coals and soaked wood chips. That way you can have both on hand to keep the smoke going: if the embers run low, add another hookah briquette; if the smoke diminished, add some more wood chips.
posted by slogger at 9:35 AM on August 5, 2010

Ah... on non-preview, I see that you'll be outside. So frankincense is definitely the way to go then. It's gotta smell better than burlap! If you let us know where you're located, I may be able to help you with local incense or frankincense suppliers.
posted by Jahaza at 9:38 AM on August 5, 2010

fontophilic has it. Take a cue from meat-smokers: wet wood plus a heat source.

Or how about a battery-powered fog machine? They're expensive, but if you're in a metropolitan area, you can probably find some place to rent one.
posted by supercres at 9:39 AM on August 5, 2010

Take a cue from meat-smokers: wet wood plus a heat source.

This will create smoke, but I find smoke from wood sources bothers people's allergies more and is more choking than frankincense resin smoke.
posted by Jahaza at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2010

How about a couple drops of olive oil?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:52 AM on August 5, 2010

I used to burn incense that came in the form of sawdust that you put over hot coals. I'm betting that any sawdust-y material would have the same effect of producing smoke over coals. But it'd smell great if you used incense!
posted by Temeraria at 11:20 AM on August 5, 2010

Speaking as an old altar boy, we used to get a small coin-shaped charcoal biquet - I'm assuming a lot like your hookah coals -- and then dump a couple of tablespoons of incense (frankincense and myrrh? maybe) on them. Lots of smoke for a fairly long time. A couple of possible sources: 1, 2, and even an Amazon link.
posted by rtimmel at 12:09 PM on August 5, 2010

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