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Felipe

8700+' altitude Kamado - newbie issues

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I happily bought my Akorn Kamado this weekend and set myself for my first two cooks. I learned a lot but it was much harder than expected. Temp control was really hard. 

 

My location: 
South America
Altitude: 8760 feet above sea level. 
Temp: 69F

 

Coal used: 3.3-5.5 lbs per cook

 

The main issues I had were: 

- Starting the fire was hard. The coal would shut off and start releasing smoke, but without much flame. The fire starters would also shut down easily. I had to use several firestarters. I discovered my best luck with paper towel/oil. 
- Fire would take around 2.5 hours to reach searing temps (550F), with a lot of effort. 
- I could not go above 600F. My initial coal was all consumed and my patience had ran out after 2 hours. I had both vents open. 
- Heat output wasn't even. Since I struggled so much, I ended up with edges being lit up and other parts not so much. 

 

Video on starting issues: 

 

 

After adding paper towels with oil: 

 

 

 

On my first cook, I had to add new coals and ended with irregular spots at the end, but it wasn't too bad: 

 

 

Can anybody come up with tips for my next cook?

 

1. When starting the fire, should I leave the lid open? Can it be closed before the coal is completely white? 

2. If I am going hot and at ~ 600F, will closing the top vent increase the temp even further? 
3. How can I avoid/reduce the time that the grey smoke is coming out?
4. If there is less oxygen at this altitude, should I think of using super big lumps and sieving the coal to remove dust and small pieces that can block airflow?
5. Am I forced to use some additional air circulator/fan in the bottom intake?
6. Should I consider a basket like the Kick ### Basket? 
7. To start the fire, should I look into more artificial solutions like using a Bernzomatic propane torch and/or a chimney starter?
 
 

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1) leave the lid open and bottom vent wide open until you have sufficient coals lit. The ash over, completely white is what you do with briquettes and has nothing to do when using lump.

 

2) yes but not all the way closed. If you leave the top vent wide open your loosing a lot of heat and burning through more lump than needed. Close the top vent a bit to trap some heat in the Akorn.

 

3) it just needs to get fully going before the gray smoke stops. By closing the top vent a bit (see #2) should speed this up.

 

4) I wouldn't worry about this in an Akorn they generally don't have air flow issues.

 

5) probably not once you get your lighting procedure down.

 

6) definitely not.  The Akorn has a lump grate so the kickashbasket won't give you more air flow than you already have. 

 

7) couldn't hurt. Propane/MAPP torches work really well. A chimney can help but only when grilling. If used for low-n-slow you'll end up lighting more lump than you need. 

 

One major thing to note - you definitely didn't have enough lump to start with. Always start with a full bowl of lump all the way up to the bottom of the 3 diffuser tabs. 

 

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55 minutes ago, ckreef said:

 

One major thing to note - you definitely didn't have enough lump to start with. Always start with a full bowl of lump all the way up to the bottom of the 3 diffuser tabs. 

 

 

Definitely this.  I made this error in my first couple of cooks.  Now I load it right up to just below the tabs, and top up as needed for each new cook.  Make sure you stir up the lump though to make sure there is no ash or small bits blocking airflow as this can be an issue.

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Thanks so much guys, what a relief. I will fill it to the deflector tabs! 

 

For setting the coal: is there a special way to organize or set it up so it lights evenly more easily? 

 

The Akorn manual showed a pyramid style, but I don't trust it as much. 

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I think most of us don't put much thought into organizing our lump.  Just dump it in, fill it up and go for it.  Of course, I think there are a few that may do otherwise, but the key is to just find what works for you.  Remember, it's your grill and your cook.  Just like you're doubting the manual now, you might at times doubt the advice given here.  Always feel free to go with your gut (unless it's a safety issue of course, lol).  On a lot of things there really is no right or wrong.  

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I did that volcano thing once and the cook was fantastic.  Nowadays I find shaking the bag of lump into the firebox works out pretty well and the cook is fantastic!  Don't overthink it.

 

I will say, the charcoal can make a huge difference too.  I have a box of Chargriller branded stuff sitting in the cupboard under my gasser as it was, to put it bluntly, rubbish.  I may smash it up a bit with a hammer and see how that helps. I use Gidgee (aussie wood) from a local supplier now and it is fantastic, and burns clean really quickly.

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5 hours ago, Felipe said:

Thanks so much guys, what a relief. I will fill it to the deflector tabs! 

 

For setting the coal: is there a special way to organize or set it up so it lights evenly more easily? 

 

The Akorn manual showed a pyramid style, but I don't trust it as much. 

 

This is the method I use. 

 

https://www.kamadoguru.com/topic/36214-tube-lighting-method/

 

Although those pictures were not in an Akorn it's the same method I use in my Akorn except fill it up to the tabs. 

 

I suspect at that high of an altitude your vent settings will need to be a bit more open than what we use down at sea level. But that's just my suspicion. 

 

Basically ignore the manual it's junk. 

 

 

 

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8 hours ago, Felipe said:

 

For setting the coal: is there a special way to organize or set it up so it lights evenly more easily? 

 

Don't worry to much about getting all the lump going. What your after is heat, on most cooks anyways. Once your sure you got some red glow in the lump, get the lid shut so the Akorn can start building up that heat.

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To me, the Kamado is not the best tool to use to sear meat, it's more of a low (or medium) and slow cooker for longer cooks, say 6/8/10 hours or more.

For searing get a smaller cooker with the coals right under the meat, like a Hibachi or the smallest Webber (my go to cooker for burgers and steaks).

Kamado's take too much time to come up to temp and require too much lump for a cook that (after coming to temp) takes under 8 minutes to complete, lots of wasted heat for short cooks.

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16 hours ago, AntinOz said:

I use Gidgee (aussie wood) from a local supplier now and it is fantastic, and burns clean really quickly.

 

You start with wood? or is it just better quality charcoal made with Gidgee. 

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32 minutes ago, Felipe said:

 

You start with wood? or is it just better quality charcoal made with Gidgee. 

 

sorry for the confusion, it is charcoal manufactured from an australian native wood: Gidgee.  I am sure there are comparable products available to you.

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