The Quest for the Perfect Dab

Are cold starts the next step in the evolution of low-temperature dabbing?
The Quest for the Perfect Dab
Ry Prichard/ High Times

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue. For subscription services, click here.

The art of consuming concentrates has undergone several evolutions over the years. Each advancement in dabbing has improved the efficiency of the experience, leading to more flavorful dabs as well as a more convenient cleanup. This evolution is probably best illustrated by the massive shift that occurred when connoisseurs first stepped away from hot dabs off of metal nails and moved on to new techniques in the quest for flavor.

When the first amber-colored extracts surfaced, concentrate fans were happy just to have a way to consume them—even if it meant using a harsh red-hot knife. The hot-knife concept was the basis for the first bongs made for concentrate consumption. These were made with skillets, which were like hot plates directly under a tube that filtered vapors through water for cooler, larger hits.

The next innovation in concentrate consumption represented a step forward and two steps back. It was a nail that fit into male joints with a borosilicate globe or dome around it to partially keep the vapor from escaping. This required glass water pipes to be made with male joints for the first time.

Additionally, the dome would have to be removed before each dab, and it would sometimes get stuck once oil built up in the joint. Thanks to the mess and extra steps it required, it didn’t take long for domes and nails to be replaced by the simplified, all-in-one domeless nail.

This is when the transition to lower-temperature dabs for flavor and comfort began. People started to let their domeless nails cool for some time after heating them up, which made hits less harsh. The carb cap was then introduced to allow vaporization to occur at a lower temperature for smoother, tastier dabs. Caps helped reduce the size of puddles left behind on the nail without compromising on flavor.

The Eternal Quartz banger with an insert.
The Eternal Quartz banger with an insert/ High Times

Another step in the quest for better-tasting dabs was the introduction of quartz in place of titanium and ceramic nails. On top of improving flavor, quartz nails provided an easier-to-clean surface.

Another major shift occurred when the glass artist Quave took the nail design a step further by introducing the quartz club banger (see photo)—the shape made it easy to insert a Q-tip inside for smoother cleanups, and it retained heat for longer-lasting low-temperature dabs. The quartz club banger’s top (the bucket) was cut at a 45-degree angle, inspiring tons of copycats for some time before the next step in the evolution of low-temperature dabbing—the thermal banger.

Pukinbeagle Glass introduced us to the thermal banger with a jacketed design. It was the first such device that used a bucket within a bucket. Thermal bangers also introduced us to the concept of flat tops and bubble caps.

While popular, this design had a flaw: Oil could leak between the two layers of quartz (the bucket within a bucket). Fortunately, quartz makers took the advantages of the thermal banger and tweaked the design. As a result, most bangers today feature flat tops without the jacketed design, and most dabbers use bubble caps.

Now most low-temperature dabs are dropped after heating all around the bucket of a quartz banger for close to a minute and after another minute or longer for things to cool down. The temperature starts high and rapidly decreases after the extract is dropped and vaporizes.

The ideal temperature for a full-flavored dab can range from 350 to 500°F. Unfortunately, most bangers don’t have the heat retention to stay in that range for long enough to completely vaporize a dab. As a result, puddles containing leftover terps and THC can be left behind, especially after big globs. Reheating the puddle to completion usually results in a harsh, flavorless hit. Even with a carb cap, you’ll usually end up sacrificing some of your concentrate with low-temp dabbing.

To completely finish a dab in one go, you’d have to drop the oil in earlier while the nail is hotter. That sounds reasonable; however, the problem is that THC boils off at 315°F, and most terpenes boil off at a much lower temperature than that. To finish a dab, you would be dropping it in while the nail is well over 500°F.

In addition to the harshness of dabbing at such high temperatures, a lot of your terpenes and cannabinoids will be scorched before they can add to the flavor and potency of your dab. Not to mention that research from Portland State University published in the journal ACS Omega found that dabbing at temperatures above 600°F could result in the release of noxious chemicals.

The OG Quartz banger with custom carb cap/ High Times

Fortunately, the latest step in the evolution of dabbing resolves this issue. Cold starts are like reverse dabs. Instead of getting a surface raging hot and waiting to drop the hash in, the extract is added to the surface while it’s still cold. The temperature is then gradually increased. This practice prevents waste while preserving flavor, time and butane with the proper tools. It’s a simple but effective method, and more and more products are being made with this concept in mind.

Taking some inspiration from the inner bucket of the Pukinbeagle thermal design, Eternal Quartz made a removable quartz bucket so it could be cleaned or used on different bangers. Shortly after creating these “quartz inserts,” the company started experimenting with different ways of taking “meltshot” videos. That’s when Eternal first tried out the “insert drop” technique and cold-start dabbing commenced.

The insert-drop method allows the temperature of the concentrate within the quartz insert to slowly increase as heat transfers from the outer layer of the heated banger. This causes vapor production to last longer than it would with traditional low-temperature dabs.

To do a cold-start dab with an insert, you need to put your hash in the insert and set it aside. Heat the bucket of your banger as you normally would and, after waiting a bit, drop in the insert. The wait time depends on the size of your dab and the heat retention of your banger. It can be anywhere from five to 40 seconds. On your final pull, the oil should be much darker and tackier than when it started.

After Eternal Quartz got things started for cold-start dabbing, other companies took the idea and ran with it. Riding the cold-start wave, OG Quartz created a banger design with an eye on convenience. The OG Quartz banger’s walls are three millimeters thick with a wide and curvy bottom that is easier to Q-tip than any other banger on the market. You’ll need a cap from OG as well. The inner wall of the flat top and the carb caps designed for the banger are tapered for proper seals. The stem reaches deep into the banger with a 45-degree cut at the end, which allows airflow to tornado through, constantly spinning the oil around the bottom of the bucket.

The carb cap’s wide diameter, combined with the bucket’s shorter diameter, thick walls, curved sides and dense bottom, allow for heat to transfer slowly enough through the banger to provide flavor without burning.

To do a cold start with an OG Quartz banger, you can either load your hash onto the end of the carb cap or onto the bottom of the bucket. Depending on the type of extract you’re using (less heat for rosin, more for THCA crystals) and the strength of your torch, you’ll need to heat the bottom of the banger for about five to eight seconds before the first hit. The oil should begin to bubble and vaporize when you inhale.

The cap is designed to be cleared like the bongs OG Quartz has been making for 22 years—well before dab rigs were a thing. When vapor stops forming, there might still be a puddle. After the initial hit, you can provide three-to-five-second bursts of heat to finish off the remainder. This method will save the dabbing community tons on butane as it only takes 15 to 20 seconds of heating to finish an entire dab. With the proper amount of torching, you should get all the flavor and potency in the extract without any burning.

The Peak by Puffco allows users to perform cold starts for flavorful dabs/ High Times

The concept of cold starts is improving the world of electronic vaporizers for concentrates as well. In fact, the Peak by Puffco takes advantage of cold starts for flavorful dabs, as the device works best when concentrates are preloaded into the ceramic cup before the atomizer is fired. As heat is transferred into the cup, hash oil goes from cold to hot so you can enjoy all of the terpenes that boil off along the way. If there is anything worth vaping left behind, you can hit the boost setting or reheat the puddle on a lower setting to finish it off without any burning.

Every time we think we’ve found the best method of consumption, a new innovation arrives and changes the game. Cold starts are the latest step, but there will doubtless be a new technique that improves consumption as we continue on our journey to the perfect dab.

Troubleshooting Tips

If you taste burning oil and everything on the banger is too dried up to be easily Q-tipped, you dropped your dab in while the bucket was too hot. However, if you’re not getting much vaporization and a huge puddle is left behind after your dab, you waited too long. Experiment to find the perfect-temperature dab.

While insert drops provide some of the most rewarding dabs in terms of flavor and vapor production in one heat-up, there are additional steps and tools involved with cleanup. It helps to have reverse tweezers, a shot glass full of isopropyl alcohol and paper towels on hand to get the job done quickly.

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