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Fire starting / Big Joe warm up time


KJMark
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I finally got my Big Joe a couple of weeks ago at the local roadshow and have been learning to cook on it. The food has been awesome, but I'm not sure I'm using the correct technique to get my Joe up to cook temps. It has been taking me about 45 minutes to get the Joe up to 350-400 F and an hour to get to 600 F. Does this sound right? I've been using two of the KJ fire starters in the coal and leave everything full open until they start to catch the coal on fire (around 10 min). I then close the lid, but leave the top and bottom fully open until I get within around 20 F of my cook temp. I then close the upper lid around half way and begin to adjust as necessary. I realize the Big Joe has a lot of mass to heat up, but was expecting time on the order of 30 minutes or less. As a former gas griller, do I just need to be patient or are there some tricks I can use to expedite things? I would appreciate your recommendations.

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Thinking your times are realistic.  You'll find some guys claim to get up to temp in 10-15 minutes, but what does that mean?  You have a flaming fire that hot, but the ceramic hasn't come up to temp.  Kamado cooking is for those of us that are not "in a hurry" & enjoy the aspects of smoke & fire, not the go-go-go get it done fast crowd.  Give it time to enable the ceramic to come up to temp, sit back, relax, enjoy. 

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One way to expedite things for a former gas user is to change how you prep. Rather than doing what most gas grill users by prepping food THEN firing up the grill, you fire it up THEN do your food prep. The time from start to finish is then about the same as before.

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Thinking your times are realistic.  You'll find some guys claim to get up to temp in 10-15 minutes, but what does that mean?  You have a flaming fire that hot, but the ceramic hasn't come up to temp.  Kamado cooking is for those of us that are not "in a hurry" & enjoy the aspects of smoke & fire, not the go-go-go get it done fast crowd.  Give it time to enable the ceramic to come up to temp, sit back, relax, enjoy. 

 

Being one of those guys who gets up to steak-searing temps in 10-15 minutes (and no, that’s not just a claim, despite what you’re implying), the times I’m interested in doing that is when I want to cook something quickly over high heat direct, like steak, burgers, or grilled fish. In those cases I don’t really see the benefit of waiting until the ceramic comes up to temperature, as any radiated heat from the ceramic is going to be of minimal benefit for that cook.

 

Low and slow cooks are another situation entirely. Last week I made ribs, and wanted a temp in the 225-250ºF range. For that type of cook, heat soaking is desirable, and so I waited for that process to take place. In a slightly counterintuitive way, it takes longer for a kamado to get up to a lower temperature than a hot searing temperature.

 

Having said that, there are a couple of things that the OP can try. I’ve found that getting hot temps quickly is all about getting as much of the charcoal burning as possible. On my grill, I can get temps in the 250ºF range with only a small part of the charcoal on fire. But for hot temperature, I’ve found that you really want all the charcoal to be burning, putting out heat energy into the grill.

 

First, as has been mentioned, use more starters. The bigger area you have going, the faster you’ll get up to the high temperatures, if that’s your goal. If you’re doing a low and slow, one starter is good.

 

Second, after the fire has been going about 5-10 minutes, I stir up the top layer of charcoal a bit in order to help distribute the fire and to turn over any pieces that are only burning on the bottom. I’ve noticed that when my thermometer hits 500ºF, the top surface of the charcoal will mainly be on fire, but the larger chunks will have a dark spot in the middle that isn’t actually burning. Here’s a picture from the Serious Eats website that shows what I mean.

 

20150610-grilling-mistakes-01.jpg

 

This looks like a good charcoal fire, but it’s really not at full blast yet. You see those large pieces of charcoal in the middle that still look black? That’s charcoal that’s not burning. I think this acts as an insulator, blocking the fire underneath it, and preventing the temperature from rising higher. Turning those pieces over helps the temperature come up faster. 

 

Finally, check the air holes in your firebox, and make sure they aren’t plugged with little tiny pieces of charcoal. That will cut down on airflow, and make it harder for your fire to come up to a high temperature. Putting down a couple of bigger chunks at the bottom will help avoid this situation, as will getting a Kick Ash basket or similar item.

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If you want to get up to searing temps, i.e. 500°+, you need more oxygen flow than your getting. That's simple enough. Leave you lid open longer than the 10 minutes you talk about in your original post.

Temperature is directly related to the amount of oxygen your kamado is able to process. You want searing temps quickly, light 3-4 spots in your lump, leave your lid open longer, not more than 15 minutes, never unattended, close the lid, adjust your vents, and get after it.

Getting to any temp is easy if you understand airflow through your kamado. Have you spent time getting to know your kamado? Do you know what vent settings yield what temps? If not, you're not in control of your kamado. In fact, your kamado is in control of you! And that's ultimately very frustrating to you, right?

I posted a primer on how to control temps in a kamado. You might want to take a look at it. You'll find it here.

http://www.kamadoguru.com/topic/22363-maintaining-constant-heat-temp/

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Has anyone tried putting a starter cube at the bottom of the pile and lighting it from underneath via the ash drawer? Would that help speed up a high-temp process since it would be lighting from the bottom up?

 

I'd still light a few spots on top as well.

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Has anyone tried putting a starter cube at the bottom of the pile and lighting it from underneath via the ash drawer? Would that help speed up a high-temp process since it would be lighting from the bottom up?

 

I'd still light a few spots on top as well.

 

When I use a firestarter, I do try to bury it in the charcoal. I don't know that it speeds anything up much, since I usually only use firestarters for low & slow. When I'm going for hot and fast, I pull out the MAP-PRO torch and hit it in 3 or 4 spots.

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A big thank you to each of you who responded. I appreciate the helpful advice. I certainly enjoy the low and slow process on my weekend cooks, but need to get things moving a little faster for my family after the workday is done. You have given me some good ideas to try out. I was thinking that I might be able to repurpose one of my propane tanks to light things up with a torch similar to a weed burner. Is this overkill? What do you all think?

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The folks over at amazingribs.com also recommend the BBQ Dragon... It's basically a battery-powered fan like a hair dryer, that can be directed into the intake vent of your kamado to increase airflow.

 

I haven't tried it, but I can't think of any reason why it wouldn't help speed up the lighting process.

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When I did my 30 days of cooking, there were nights that I NEEDED to get my grill up to temp so I could eat dinner before midnight. And I'll echo some of the points above. The more spots you light, the longer you leave the lid open, the faster you'll come up to temp.

 

If you come home from work at 5:30, light the grill in 4-5 spots, leave the lid open umtil you've got a solid burn ... then form and season your burgers or chicken or steak, you'll be ready to cook at 6, pretty much guaranteed. 

 

Once I got the knack of it, I never once had a problem getting a roaring fire going in 30 mins so I could cook dinner. 

 

You don't need a fancy starter or a MAPP torch or any special equipment. Trust me. I cooked for 30 days straight without a break w/out any of that. I had basic starter cubes and a chimney starter. If I can do it for 30 days with just those two items, anyone can. Sure the other dealies are cool and fun and maybe faster and I've used a friend's MAPP torch now and it's pretty freakin' awesome. But I can still bring my grill to temp with a Weber chimney full of lump and some brown paper bag faster than he can with his MAPP torch and fancy equipment. 

 

I have noticed that a lot of people who come from the Weber world or the gas world, want to put a small amount of coal in, or light a "medium heat" gas fire and come back in 20 mins to cook. And a lot of people who are into the "stuff" want to say you need this or that or the other item to start your grill and get it to temp fast. Horse pookey. If you want fast heat on a kamado, you want fast fire, which means lots of lighting spots (or a full chimney starter of lump). You can't just set the dial for medium and walk away. 

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I use a heat gun with a cool down feature to start my charcoal. For hot and fast I hit 3 or 4 spots until I see it catching (1 min max) then I switch over to the cool down (basically just turns off the heat but keeps blowing the air). I can then stoke the charcoal until I have a roaring fire if I want.

For low and slow I just light the middle and stoke it just until I know that it is going. If you have electricity close and a heat gun give it a try you will be surprised. I know that I was and will not go back to cotton balls and alcohol. Also check out YouTube for videos of people using a heat gun to start charcoal.

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  • 5 years later...

It’s still not clear to me how long and to what extent the coals must burn before you spread them around and also much they are spread and where you put the wood chunks so you can get a long smoke. ..some in the middle of the burning coals and some on the edge, then hope you guessed right that the coals will burn to the wood before your meat is done..guess its something you learn by experience. 

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