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Charcoal Burn questions.


Ben Maas
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So I’m now a couple months in on a Big Joe 2. I’m absolutely loving it, but after decades of work with gas, it has in some respects been humbling. The ability to do low and slow has been amazing and I love the taste of meat cooked over wood. 
 

ive now done a couple longer cooks- Pork Butts.  The one I did today was a huge success (the one a couple weeks back, not so much).  At the recommendation of this forum, I purchased an iKamand and it has made cooking so much easier and more dependable. One of the things I’ve run into, however, is limits as to how the charcoal burns. I end up with a big burnt section in the middle that’s plenty hot, and the fire doesn’t spread to the edges. In extreme cases, I need to move the heat shield out of the way to move the charcoal back into the center to keep the grill hot. Today, I tried a new charcoal and the pieces were a lot larger and seemed to work better. But there was still that center heavy burn. 
 

Does anyone have suggestions as to how to get more even burns - especially on longer (low and slow) cooks.

 

and just because, here is the butt I did today. The bark was fantastic and the meat was juicy and tender. Did 9 hours at about 250 degrees with an injection marinade and a homemade rub. Used chunks of applewood and a bit of hickory.  Served with homemade tortillas and New Mexico Green chili.  

228EDA1D-ECDC-4AB2-8254-809EC287276A.jpeg

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As an aside, I am not at all a fan of technology. As to your question, are you not completely filling your basket with lump? With a full basket of lump this should not be an issue with or without tech... The fact that it is burning heavier in the center on your grill does not mean that the fire will not spread as necessary when needed. On long cooks, particular at lower temps, only a relatively small portion of lump is burned at all in my Big Joe.

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this is strange. I would think with the heat deflectors in, that heat would be throughout the entire grill. Its not over a flame, so the entire piece of meat should get the heat. especially on a low and slow, it shouldnt be a problem

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3 hours ago, TrentR said:

... I would think with the heat deflectors in, that heat would be (uniform) throughout the entire grill. ...

It's not. There are two consistent hot spots, even cooking low-n-slow. 

- perimeter of the heat deflectors, where hot air from the fire is rising

- area of heat deflector that's right above a hot spot in the fire. 

 

The former can be mitigated by awareness, and regular re-arrangement of food so everything cooks equally. I always cut rib racks in half because it's the only way to get the ends away from the perimeter. 

 

The latter can be mitigated by putting a water pan over the hot spot. Without water in your drip pan, there's still a hot spot.

 

Frank

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I did my first low & slow cook over the weekend. It was a pork butt as well, and cooked around 12 hours. I used the slo roller, however.

 

I put a drip pan right on top of the slo roller with about 1/4" of water in it. I only added the water for weight because it was windy and the pan was blowing around when I was setting up the grill.

 

I lit the charcoal in one spot, right in the center, with a Looftlighter. The temptation was great to light more spots because it took a while to come up to temp, but I stayed patient. It was almost an hour before I was happy with the temperature stabilization and put the meat on.

 

I left it alone and didn't have any trouble. The meat came out perfectly.

I looked at the charcoal after the cook was over, and it seemed to kind of spread out from the middle, but maybe skewed to one side of the firebox. I didn't expect it to be perfectly symmetrical.

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Try a cook without the iKamand and see if that makes a difference 

I'm not a fan of pit controllers but i imagine a fan directing air into the fire would effect the fires ability to spread evenly throughout the fire box as it would get the lit section super hot to increase the temp rather than allowing the fire to slowly consume the available fuel around it (hot small fire vs big cool fire)

That having been said, even on low tech cooks, i've found my fires do not burn symmetrically in the fire box.

If i start my fire in the center of the fire basket and leave it for a few hours i find the fire spreads towards the front and back of the grill before moving outwards.

 

Hot spots in a Kamado are hard to avoid due to the fact you are cooking directly above your heat source and a 15mm piece of ceramic plate can only deflect so much heat due to its lower thermal mass and surface area. I have BGE guys who aren't a fan of the 2 piece deflectors in KJs because they claim the gap between also lets too much heat through (even when pushed together they don't exactly seal off the fire from the meat)

I'm told the SloRoller has helped reduce hot spots, but i'm yet to test that theory for myself. 

If i'm doing a low-ish and slow-ish cook (300f+ brisket cooks) i tend to use a water pan as an additional heat deflector to stop the bottom of my meat from getting crispy. Other tricks like flipping the meat every hour or so helps too.

 

Honestly, I think you may be overthinking this

If the food is coming out as you like it, just keep rolling with what you're doing and stop worrying about what the grill looks like after you're finished 

Edited by Polar Bear
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15 hours ago, jtemple said:

I looked at the charcoal after the cook was over, and it seemed to kind of spread out from the middle, but maybe skewed to one side of the firebox. I didn't expect it to be perfectly symmetrical.

The flow of oxygen and source of heat will predict the burn pattern.  I often start my burns off a bit away from the centerpoint, maybe 2/3rds to 3/4th across the charcoal area, directly away from the lower vent.  This is because the burn pattern will skew back towards the vent (oxygen source).  The goal is to get the charcoal to burn in a predictable and usable pattern.  Assuming you clamp off the vents when the cook is over, you can see the results by looking at the left over charcoal.

 

 

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Sorry if I wasn't clear- sometimes when I'm writing on my iDevices, it doesn't come out the way I wanted.  the question is not one of the top half of the grill being uneven.  The meat is cooking ok, but rather the charcoal is almost burning out at times because the center is used up and the sides aren't.  My Pork cook a couple days ago did go better- I used more charcoal and I used a different brand (which had larger pieces.  I went from the black package Fogo which was mostly golf ball sized pieces to the Kamado Joe which had big pieces).  the smaller pieces burned up quickly and that may have been part of the problem. 

 

The first couple cooks I did had me lighting the charcoal in multiple places which burned well, but also caused the grill to overhear at times for low and slow cooks.  I then went to a single point of ignition which really helped with the interior cooking temperature, but at the expense of not everything lighting and me having to move the coals around to keep the fire from essentially going out.

 

Obviously with the iKamand, the grate will have the most air coming towards it so that makes sense.  The question is rather about how to configure the charcoal, and perhaps the lighting of that charcoal so that more of it burns properly.

 

thanks for the help, everyone.  Still learning to use this beast- every cook teaches me something new.  And I'm loving every moment of it.

 

--Ben

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On 9/9/2020 at 2:36 PM, Ben Maas said:

The first couple cooks I did had me lighting the charcoal in multiple places which burned well, but also caused the grill to overhear at times for low and slow cooks.  I then went to a single point of ignition which really helped with the interior cooking temperature

Nevermind, John uses a single starter for this.

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With my deflectors in the bottom position, the only hot spot i get is around the edges and in the back of the grill, but as long as you know where they are you can work around them. Also as you learned brand and size makes a difference. I use a controller only for piece of mind on long cooks. I didn't start using it till i learned how to control the temps first.

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Forgive me. I don’t know the abbreviations- what is a KAB?  As I mentioned above, I’m running a Big Joe 2. And other than the iKamand, it’s completely stock. No basket- just the standard fire box with the big heavy iron piece with holes in it between the ash box and the fire. The deflectors are in the lowest position and the grill grate is on the top. 
 

Did another cook tonight and it really seems that my issue is lump size. The Fogo black bag was quite small and tends to burn quickly and not very controlled. (The fires also tend to be hotter which is a problem for low and slow cooks) The Kamado Joe lump (which is generally quite large) seems to have a much more controlled fire. 
 

I'm still learning here- trying to learn all the Finer points of working in what is a new way of cooking for me. As I mentioned earlier, I like it, but it is a learning curve. 
 

-Ben

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I went with a Kamado Joe specifically to get away from electricity and gas.

 

For most any low & slow cook, I fill the fire box as full as I can get it.  I also try to use quality lump (the better the quality, the bigger the pieces).

 

I use Cowboy brand when I want to grill or do pizzas.  Those smaller pieces burn faster and hotter.

 

I've never user a Kick Ash Basket, but I have recently purchased one and will use it the first chance I get to see what, if any, difference it makes for my cooking.

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It makes a world of difference. When I first joined the forum, it seemed that John sort of steered people away from using tech. Now, it appears to be a total 180°. Anyway, I was grateful for the first stance because it forced me to learn the grill and I didn't want to deal with more tech anyway. The baskets sealed the deal for me. There is zero need to use one now, imo. Note: I said need, not preference or desire.

 

Those basket dramtically increase airflow allowing the grill to come up to temp much quicker than with the factory grate. All issues with incomplete burn patterns as described by the OP ceased. I found it even easier to dial in temps. Then the convenience of cleaning, plus, if needed, pulling the entire section of grates, deflectors and basket out makes it a no brainer buy for me.

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