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Starting a Fire for Low and Slow - Definitive


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This topic comes up over and over all over the place. I am thinking it might be good to post a sticky or have a new section that new AKORN users or even new Kamado users in general can be directed for common issues and solution.

I will attempt to detail exactly how to start a fire for slow low cooks.

1. Use only 100% lump

2. Pile the lump in the middle of the coal grill to form a "volcano". Your pile should extend from edge to edge and come within a few inches of the bottom of your diffuser. As much as 2 or 3 inches deep around the edge but remember "volcano" You want a little hole about 2.5"X2.5" wide and deep in the center. (as close to the grate as possible since you need this air flow)

3. At this point you can add 1-4 chunks of wood to you pile if desired. Spread them around in different locations and don't cover you hole.

4. Open top and bottom vents all the way.

***NOTE for step 5 - Veggie oil works well but now I use alcohol on the cotton. I cram a plastic jar with cotton balls and dump alcohol in it. Then I always have a stash near the grill and ready to go. The alcohol isn't as finicky as the oil. I also use SUPER JUMBO cotton balls so 1 is enough. - edit 6/23/2012

5. Do not use a chinmey of any sort to light it. Even a Weber light cube it too much. (maybe 1/4 of one would work I have not tried it). I use 2 large coton balls. I stretch it a little and drizzle a little vegetable oild on it (too much and this won't work so this part might take a little practice but cotton balls are cheap). Light it and drop it down in your little hole. Wait a moment to ensure it lights well and then repeat with the next one. When you drop the 2nd one in the hole be careful not to smother the first.

6. Carefully place 1 or 2 pieces of small lump over/in the hole in such a way that it does not starve or smother the cotton but it exposed to the flame.

7. Once you are certain the cotton is going well you may place your diffuser and cooking grate back on the grill. and close the lid.

8. Watch the temp carefully. It may take 5 to 15 minutes or more to see it move up in to the 100+ range. No worries, have a cold one while you wait.

9. Once you hit 160 you want to start closing it down. Start with 2 on top and 2 on the bottom. The idea at this stage is to slowly ease up to around 200.

10. Once you hit 200 cut it back a little further. 1 on top and 1 on the bottom. Watch your temp very careful. 1 of 2 things will happen at this point. It will continue to rise slowly (this is good, cut back to .75 on top and .5 on teh bottom) or it will stall or even drop in temp a litle. (if this happens open it an additional .5 on top and .5 on the bottom)

11. Coming out of step 10 you should be able to get your cook to stabilize at your targer temp near the 2 and some change mark. Once you have eased in to your target put the top at .5 and the bottom at .5. Observe and you should be at a pretty stable point.

10 and 11 take the most practice and I can't stress enough how important it is to work the vents in .25 to .5 point increments, allow at least 10 minutes after an adjustment to observe the difference before making further adjustments.

In general terms each set of adjustments represent 1/2 the movement of the previous (roughly) and you will narrow in on your target over time. The more you do this the better you get and the faster it can be done. I have burned for over 20 hours and hardly put a dent in my fuel supply, refilling should not be required.

Now - why cotton balls and not a chimney or even weber cubes? The chimney will certainly light too much lump at once and believe it or not so will the weber cube. After using the cotton ball you can observe that the very edge of 3 or 4 pieces of lump are actually lit. This is all that is needed bring the tmep up in a kamado cooker. Other methods like using paper, fluid etc light way too much lump and will cause issue with your burn.

Lighting in this fashion I would expect a look of shock on your face when after 8 hours of burn you look to see that there is only a little charing to all the lump you put in the cooker.

Give this a try, use plenty of patience the first 3 or 4 times and let me know how it works for you. Works miracles for me and I feel pretty good that it will work for you.

I am also interested in any modification to this basic procedure you coem up with that helped you out. No doubt others would also benefit. For example, there are other ways to light insteaf of a cotton ball I'm sure. It just seends to be very small.

Good luck and happy grilling!

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A few more helpful hints on vent control and/or clarification.

I also adjust the vents together and once i hit my target I'm almost always in the area of .75 on top and .5 on the bottom. Once I get down to .5 on the bottom I almost exclusivly adjust only the top vent. Normally at this point the only change I make on the bottom would be from .5 to 1 if I start to lose temp and upper vent adjustements in the .5 range don't do the trick.

If 2 is too hot and you move it to 1 to slow things down and you start to lose temp. Going back up to 2 as you have already proven won't help. Instead go to 1.5. If 1.5 is yet again too hot now you already know that 1 is too low so go to 1.25. This "halfing" of the control movements as a general rule will get you where you want to be. It is also very important to give teh cooker enough time between adjustments to level before making another change.

Always cut back about 50 degress cooler than your target or it is already too late and control of the temp will be a nightmare.

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I made this a Sticky here in the Akorn forum.. Some of the other ceramic cookers that are a bit more air tight don't seem to require as much of a regimen to get them going where you want them, but this looks like a good procedure for the Akorn :)

Thanks John, I hope it helps. Honestly after you do it a few time you can cut a lot of corners and do it fast. This would be helpful for any new kamado user despite the brand.

I honestly think that most folks who have been cooking on a kamado for some time do many of these steps already to one degree or another but they do it while on auto pilot. Riding a bike is 2nd nature once you have done it a few times.

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I think a video tutorial of this process would be awesome :)

I think you are right! I'll do it and post it when it is done, I already have a few ideas that will make it great like a time lapse of the gauge (who really knows what happens when we are sleeping?).

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Great post and very much appreciated.

I am going to throw my 2 cents in the ring on closing the top vent. One thing I have been taught and also learned the hard way, is to keep your top vents all the way open if possible, especially if using wood chunks. The reason for this is that you want the smoke to kiss the meat on the way out, you don't want it recirculating and smothering the meat.

As for the cotton balls, I like that idea and will try it. I am using the weber cubes right now, but my Kamado is pretty tight and I don't have a problem with Low temps.

As for the WSM, I have 2 but I have never closed all 3 of the bottom vents completely, but I have closed 2 and had one 75% closed and I always leave my top vent wide open. The people that are closing all 3 may have an air leak @ the side door, which is not unusual.

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I like this post too. Very imformative. I like the volcano approach, makes sense. Maybe to to get the hole in center nice and round is to place some sort of tube (paper towel, toilet paper or smaller diameter of some sort). Then pile the charcaol around as you previous posted in volcano style, then gently remove tube to have a round shaped center for your lighting material.

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Great post and very much appreciated.

I am going to throw my 2 cents in the ring on closing the top vent. One thing I have been taught and also learned the hard way, is to keep your top vents all the way open if possible, especially if using wood chunks. The reason for this is that you want the smoke to kiss the meat on the way out, you don't want it recirculating and smothering the meat..

I've seen that information around a lot as well-- including almost every BBQ book i've ever glanced at while considering a real charcoal grill purchase in the last year.

Anyone got feedback on this? Should the top vent stay as open as possible? Is this possible on the CGK to keep it low?

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