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Light my (PBC) fire: tips on lighting and maintaining temperatures

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    I watched the enlightening Smoke seminar. At one point docblonder talked about the importance of the air intake vent being close to the fire to prevent smouldering (and bad smoke). I believe he was talking about the downsides of the minion method, where the fire "snake" is sometimes near the vent and sometimes far, so to prevent smoldering the Operator would need to open and close vents over time to "follow" the fire to keep it well-fed with oxygenated air.

    I feel like that's at least an argument to shove the charcoal basket as close as possible to the air intake vent (off center). I don't think my idea of lighting just one side of the basket would be a good solution, because it's essentially the minion method with the fire initially located far from the vent and thus producing "bad" smoke during the critical "cold meat" phase of cooking. Plus all those unlit coals would presumably produce bad smoke as they slowly light. However, I might try to stack a bit more unlit charcoal near the vent and a bit less on the "far" side, then cover the unlit coals with an even layer of chimney-lit coals.

    Another thing the Smoke seminar made me think about was the "quest for less intense charcoal flavor" that I remember a few users posting about last summer, I think CRO . I remember people talking about really getting the basket of charcoal well lit, such as dumping in a full-size Weber chimney of coal (100 coals?) instead of 40 that the small chimney produces. In light of Dr. Blonder's caution about a few minutes of "bad smoke" from a smoldering (cold) fire ruining a piece of meat, this technique sounds worthy of further investigation. I've never tried the lighter-fluid method but it seems like it would light the entire charcoal stack quite well too.

    What's the downside to lighting with 80-100 coals? Does the fire go out sooner (8 hours instead of 12)? Does it not maintain the same temp profile (250-290)? Is it just hard to wield the large chimney and dump out the coals? Do you achieve the same thing by lighting the fire with 40 coals and letting it burn longer before adding the meat (as Kathryn's updated technique does)? Does the fire smoulder if too many coals are lit and the airflow is restricted by the lid?

    So many questions for such a seemingly simple device...


      Marcel, the problem I have with the large chimney is that its too tall to dump out effectively when the coal basket is already in the barrel... That's why I pour them with the basket outside, and use the garden rake to hoist it in. I've used 50 coals for ignition and I've found I end up with variable temperature profile results. My first cook, I took about half the full basket and put them into the chimney. It certainly "worked" , but the barrel definitely ran hot. Last cook I used 45, and while I have no clue if +/-5 coals is enough to make a diff, but it was the best control over the temperature I've ever had.

      Another issue (as far as taste goes) is that Kingsford blue supposedly has coal dust component as well so my imagination suggests a purer product might produce better tasting food... The downside would be having to learn a new set of quirks!
      Last edited by JPP; April 24, 2015, 07:14 PM.


        marcel, like JPP I have found that 50 coals (Kingsford Original) were too many in the basket. The fire ran hot, then erratic, then cooled too quickly. I get a much longer, more stable burn when I use 40 coals. It's sort of a magic number for me.

        As far as using other fuels goes, I used some Ozark Oak lump charcoal to cook a couple of chickens last week and found that it runs much hotter than Kingsford Original does. However, the flavor profile was better, to my mind, with Kingsford. The next time I use Ozark Oak, I may mix the two.

        I have watched that Smoke seminar 4 times now, and each time I retain something new. It's a marvelous seminar--a real plus to have available to us Pitmasters.

        One thing I learned on Harry Soo's seminar is that many smokers are more sensitive to air flow adjustments at the top of the device as compared to the bottom. I have seen this in action with the PBC. Adjusting the lower vent does nothing for increasing the smoker temp, while pulling a rebar or cracking the lid makes a huge difference. For that reason, I'll be curious to hear about your findings when you move the basket closer to the lower vent opening.

        Keep us posted!



          Great advise here! I'm pretty much using every bit of it.

          I tried something today that seemed to work really well regarding using wax starter cubes and a chimney. I took a piece of my smoke wood (I use chunks) about 2-1/2 inches tall, put a piece of foil over it, and placed the paraffin cube on top. When I placed the chimney over it (I have the full size weber model) the proximity of the cube to the charcoal forced the flames to fan out and contact a larger surface area of the charcoal. It was the quickest and most even ignition I have had using the starter cubes.


            I made a rig out of an old wire coat hanger with some needle nose pliers to hold the probe clip for my Maverick 733. I didn't want to just let the bbq temperature probe just hang freely. I just hang the rig over the rebar. Click image for larger version

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            • Jerod Broussard
              Jerod Broussard commented
              Editing a comment

              I free hang, well, probably more of a free dangle. When I finally get to run mine with my Auber fan, I will have that sensor and the maverick (both on alligator clips) go around each a rebar, then over it and meet in the middle and clip together.

            • fzxdoc
              fzxdoc commented
              Editing a comment
              Nice idea, PackWolf. That would keep the probe from touching the meat, perhaps, which I always have to check for and reposition the probe accordingly.

              At the present time, I just wrap the probe's wire over the rebar a one or two times and let it dangle at the mid-level of the meat.

              Your method is definitely worth a try. Thanks!


            Originally posted by PackWolf View Post
            Great advise here! I'm pretty much using every bit of it.

            I tried something today that seemed to work really well regarding using wax starter cubes and a chimney. I took a piece of my smoke wood (I use chunks) about 2-1/2 inches tall, put a piece of foil over it, and placed the paraffin cube on top. When I placed the chimney over it (I have the full size weber model) the proximity of the cube to the charcoal forced the flames to fan out and contact a larger surface area of the charcoal. It was the quickest and most even ignition I have had using the starter cubes.
            That's a good idea, PackWolf, because it would heat the wood up as well--right? Even though the wood is dry, I like to get the billowy white stuff out of the way in the pre-meat-hanging stage, which is why, at Ernest 's recommendation I switched several months ago to a second 10 minute burn with the lid on, rebars out, on the PBC. That's usually when I add the wood, too. Adding "hot" wood might inch me toward that coveted "blue smoke" stage sooner. I'm going to give it a go at my next PBC cook, which I'm hoping is soon! Like today!



              I did my first pork butt this weekend. I followed the lighting instructions perfectly (I'm at about 900 ft above sea level). Temp held steady for the first five hours or so, but then dropped to 190 while I was out running errands. Had to crack the lid a few more times thoughout the cook to keep the temp up. Towards the end I noticed I had several unlit coals on the side farthest from the vent. I moved those closer to the vent, and pulled one of the rebars to keep the temp at 250. This was an 8lb butt and cook time was right around 10 hours which seems reasonable. It was a very cold and windy morning so I think I may have burned too many of the coals when lighting. I noticed that even after the lid was on for 10 mins there was still a fire burning inside the barrel. Couple of questions, does anyone else have issues with the coals furthest from the vent not lighting? I'm not sure if the vent needs opened slightly as I feel it's about a quarter open but can't really tell. On a windy day, does it make sense that the lighting times may vary to get the best results? When adding wood chunks, I assume the fire on the coals should be out so that the wood smolders and doesn't catch fire? The pork came out tasting amazing, just trying to fine tune for the next cook! Thanks for the help!


                Open it a bit more and I think that will fix it. Opening too much won't really do anything since you have the exhaust plugged with rebar, but not having enough will starve the fire. Most people seem to not have a problem, but seems to be an issue for some of us.


                  Ditto what John said. Opening the vent a bit more seems to solve fire starvation problems.

                  I never rearrange the coals--well, I rotated the basket once and it stirred up so much ash that I never did that again. Of course I hadn't removed the meat. They were chickens and still tasted fine, but all that floating ash scared me. I didn't want to have to wash down those birds to get bitter ash off. I figured if I ever did it again I'd remove the meat, fiddle with the coals, let the ash die down, and put the meat back in.

                  I usually get 10 hour cooks with my pork butts, too, and I let the fire get good and hot before adding the meat. Only once did the fire poop out at 8 hours--a pastrami and pork butt cook. I hadn't done anything different for the lighting process. That taught me that there are variables that either I have not learned to control or that may be out of my control. Whichever it is, there's always a solution (finish it up, foil-wrapped, in the oven), the food still tastes great, and you'll still have had a whale of a good time cooking on the PBC.



                    Yeah, I was having problems with ash stirring up anytime I opened the lid. Like I said, it was a very windy day . I did end up finishing it in the oven, but that wasn't a problem. This was the longest cook I've done so far as I've only done ribs and chickens the other two times I've used it. I just wasn't expecting the unused coals, so wanted to get some thoughts! Thank you to the both of you!


                      I'm having trouble getting my PBC temps up. I've used the technique clearly written by fzxdoc several times now and have struggled getting the temps into the low 200's. I can get the temps up temporarily by opening the lid (more than a crack) but then they go back down often to below 200 degrees. I'd like to learn how to the keep the temps up to make Chicken/Turkey. Also, I don't really like to keep the lid open as usually use some smoke wood and don't want to loose all the smoke.

                      The only difference to the technique I use is lighting the coals on an outdoor gas burner. The other variable that might be effecting the temperature is that I've been cooking 4-8 hooks worth of meat, either half chickens or ribs. I understand that the temp will drop when the meat is first placed but thought the temp would stabilize quickly after that. Next time I'll leave out one of the rebars as mentioned above. Any other ideas for me to try? Should I open the bottom vent up a little more?


                        Big Jim , what is the altitude where you live? How far open is your lower vent?

                        It sounds as though you're not getting a good enough light on that fire and/or that the fire is starved for oxygen.

                        Are you using Kingsford Original charcoal? Is your charcoal dry (do you keep it in a sealed container?)

                        You could open your lower vent some more to see if the temps go up.

                        What is the highest pit temp before you add the meat?

                        I often cook on 6 to 8 hooks, and when it's chicken and sausages on hooks or bacon-covered meatloaf (on the grate), I use Kingsford Competition which burns a lot hotter. In fact, sometimes I have to foil the rebar holes to keep the smoker temps in the 330-360 range.

                        For other meats, the mid-200s work well for me and I use Kingsford Original for that.

                        And, to answer your question, pulling a rebar will help to keep the temps higher. If you're using 6-8 hooks, though, I imagine that both rebars are spoken for.

                        Are most of the coals in the chimney pretty well ashed over when you pour them?



                          Kathryn, thanks for the tips! I am at sea level, but I'll try opening the lower vent a little more. I suppose it can't hurt as I use my PBC mostly for shorter cooks. The highest pit temps I've gotten up to before adding the meat is the high 200s. Maybe i should wait a little longer with the lid open before hanging the meat? I keep my coals in the garage so their not exposed to the elements. I'm going to try some Kingford Competition next time I do poultry. I'll report back! Thanks again


                            Big Jim , let us know how your experiments turn out. I hope that opening that lower vent helps.

                            I keep my charcoal in the garage as well, but I store it in big Rubbermaid containers to keep the humidity out. I think a lot of Pitmaster folks here do the same.

                            When I smoked 3 chickens and 18 sausages in my PBC a couple of weeks ago, it was crammed pretty full with both rebars in use, so I had to keep the lid cracked throughout the entire cook to keep the temperature up above 325 with Kingsford Competition.

                            Do you let the fire burn, with the lid off and rebars out, for an additional 10 minutes after pouring the coals? Then put the lid on (rebars still out) and let it burn for another 10 minutes? For me this is essential to get the temps up before adding the meat, especially for chicken or for a lot of meat. If I'm smoking something that is to be "low and slow" then I often don't bother with the second 10 minute (lid on, rebars out) step.



                              Did another pork butt today and opened the vent a little more than it was. Temps definitely maintained better throughout the cook, but the coal farthest from the opening still didn't burn through prior to me rotating the basket. I did get about 14 hours out of the coal though. Wondering if I should try to open the vent even more, or just stick with where it's at now as I was pleased with the cook?



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