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

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


    To make a foil liner for the bottom of the PBC: Take 2 sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil and crimp them together. Use the lid of the PBC to make an impression on the foil. Fold the foil just inside that impression so that it will fit neatly into the bottom of the barrel. Make sure the foil is as flat as possible so that it won't compromise air flow under the basket.
    Edited to Add: in Oct 2015, the Pit Barrel folks came out with an ash-catcher tray that easily attaches to the legs of the basket. It does a pretty good job of catching most of the ash.

    In my experience with a full basket of Kingsford Original, about 1/2 cup of ash deposits around the edge of that ash-catcher on the bottom of the barrel. Because I'm lazy but meticulous about keeping my PBC clean, I still put the aluminum foil under the ash-catcher to get that spillover ash.
    Thermometers: It's always good to monitor both the temperature of your PBC smoker and the temperature of the meat. That's the best way to achieve consistent results. Refer to the Thermometer Reviews and Ratings section of this website to decide which thermometer will work best for you.

    Place the temperature probe in the meat before taking it to the smoker. That way you can be sure it's exactly where you want it.

    Slide the smoker probe through the rebar hole so it can monitor the smoker temp during the lighting procedure as well as through the rest of the cook.

    Lighting using a chimney

    My method:
    1. Place the foil liner next to the PBC barrel. Place the empty coal basket on the foil.
    2. Fill the basket level with its brim (Kingsford Original), then take 40 briquets out and put in the chimney. (For my cooks so far, there's something magic about this 40 briquet number so I count carefully.)
    3. Put 2-3 sheets newspaper (single page width) in the bottom section of the chimney and set aside. Or forget the newspaper and use a Weber wax lighting cube set on the grate and put the chimney over it when ready to light.
    4. Set the basket aside and discard the fine bits of charcoal that have fallen onto the foil.
    5. Place the foil into the bottom of the PBC barrel. Make sure it is pressed down flat so as not to block the air intake hole or compromise air flow under the basket.
    6. Place the basket into the barrel and align the handle in the same orientation as the rebars. That way longer pieces of meat won't touch the handle and the meat will drip directly onto the coals.
    7. Place chimney on the grate in the PBC and light the newspaper. Note: you can also use a Weber Lighter Cube instead of the newspaper as noted above.
    8. Allow about 15 min for the chimney burn (10 min at sea level, 20 min at 5000+ feet). The goal is to get some ash around the edges of the topmost coals in the chimney before pouring. The time varies depending on the type of charcoal and on the design of the chimney. For example, compact chimneys can take upwards of 20 minutes for KBB coals at the top of the chimney to start to ash over.
    9. Holding the chimney in one hand, remove the grate and set aside. Pour the hot coals over the cold coals in the basket.
    10. Use one end of the rebar to evenly distribute these glowing coals.
    11. Leave the lid off and rebars out and let the fire burn for 10 more minutes.
    12. Add wood to the coals (if using). Put the lid on but leave both rebars out for another 10 minutes.
    13. Insert the rebars, position the smoker probe, and then add the (already temp-probed) meat.
    14. Holding one rebar (if necessary, use gloves to protect from heat), slip it out of one hole and push the plug end of the meat temp probe through the hole. Re-seat the rebar. Connect the plug to the digital thermometer so the meat temp can be read out real time.
    15. Close the lid securely. No smoke should come out of the lid's lip where it joins the barrel edge. This is important!
    16. If after 5 to 10 min the temp has not come up to 360 to 400 deg F, crack the lid but watch closely because the temp can run away. Get the temp up to 360-400, re-seat the lid firmly. The temp should settle in the 270 to 290 range.
    17. For a 225-250 deg F range, Step 16 is not usually necessary.
    18. If the PBC temp is too hot, stuff some aluminum foil into the holes around the rebar until the temp comes down to the desired level. Then remove the aluminum if/when necessary.

    Note 1: See the PBC-recommended method of lighting the PBC by clicking here.

    Note 2: I now use the Char Broil Half Time Chimney for my PBC. It's short and wide and the coals heat up in it quickly. For years I used the Weber Compact Chimney, but it took almost 10 minutes longer to get the topmost coals ashed over, compared to the Char Broil.

    Note 3: I edited this method after several months of using the PBC and having greater success by inserting Steps 11 and 12.


    David Parrish's method (from the PBC forum):

    I used the chimney method for the lighting process. I didn't really pay attention to times, but I can speak to the process.
    1) Fill PBC basket full of charcoal. Transfer coal into Weber Chimney until it is 3/4 full.
    2) Light chimney using a Weber lighter cube. Let coals mostly ash over.
    3) Once chimney coal is mostly ashed over, pour lit coal back into PBC basket and put basket in PBC.
    4) Let coals continue to heat up for a few minutes until all are mostly ashed over.
    5) Throw on the meat, close the lid, watch for peak temp about 5 minutes later. The peak temp is the best indication of how well you lit your charcoal. I aim for 380 to 420. Anything lower means I didn't get the charcoal lit well enough. Anything higher means I've got too much airflow. Usually this is due to the lid being cracked.
    Attached are pics of how the coals looked at the end of steps 2 and 4. I also added a pic of the meat on the PBC just before I closed the lid. The temp peaked at 419F about 6 minutes later. Success!

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Dave 1 resized.jpg Views:	1 Size:	81.8 KB ID:	12619Click image for larger version  Name:	Dave 2 resized.jpg Views:	1 Size:	75.5 KB ID:	12620

    Click image for larger version  Name:	Dave 3 resized.jpg Views:	1 Size:	79.4 KB ID:	12621

    Lighting using charcoal starter:

    The method for lighting the coals using charcoal starter is shown in the PBC video on their website.

    Many PBC users say that the temperatures are more consistent when using the charcoal starter method.

    Notes from PBC users:
    1. You must wait until all the coals are ashed over before putting the lid on to be sure the fluid has burned off. (Max Good)
    2. One PBC user (on the general PBC forum) said that "the biggest mistake is not using ENOUGH lighter fluid. The more, the better. When I first light it, the PBC should look like a scene out of Rocky--a trash can with flames shooting out of it. This will quickly burn off any lighter fluid and get a consistent top-layer of coals heated up. After 10 minutes (I am at sea level), I put the lid on and am ready to roll.You must absolutely follow Noah's instructions on this, including pouring the lighter fluid on the coals when it is still outside the PBC, then immediately put the basket in the PBC and light the coals. My cooks have become much more consistent this way."

    To maintain temperatures:

    Temperature too high:
    Stuff some aluminum foil in the holes surrounding the rebars. That will cool things down pretty quickly.

    Temperature too low:
    Crack the lid a half an inch or so and watch the temperature closely or it will get away from you. Overshoot your desired temperature by 20-30 degF and then re-seat the lid.

    More temp tips:
    Jerod B. says that the side nearest the vent runs hotter for the first couple of hours of the cook, then the other side seems to take over but never gets as hot, probably due to the drippings.

    One PBC user has had success in maintaining the desired temperature by putting a square of foil over the air intake hole, adjusting it as necessary to control the amount of oxygen getting to the coals. I haven't tried this yet but it sounds like an idea worth investigating.

    Many PBC users add the coals to the basket outside of the PBC and then quickly pick up the basket with an insulated glove on the hand and set it inside the barrel.

    One PBC user recommended using a garden rake to lift the hot basket up by its handle (when lit outside of the PBC) and place it in the barrel, or to remove the hot basket from the barrel at the end of the cook and to place the coals in a closed grill or some other receptacle to save them for the next cook. On occasion I forget to align the basket's handle with the rebars at the beginning of the cook, so the rake method would be a good way to align it the way I want.

    At the end of the cook:
    After dumping the cooled coals from the basket, I carefully fold up the foil liner, trapping all of the ash inside and dispose of it as well.

    Attached Files
    Last edited by fzxdoc; December 11, 2016, 07:54 AM.

    Kathryn thanks for putting this together. I think this is the start of something special. Just think if we had this kind of information for all the gold medal cookers and smokers!


      Great job!


        Wonderful! Thanks, Kathryn, for documenting this process. I hope this will be a "sticky" post.


        • _John_
          _John_ commented
          Editing a comment
          A sticky on the PBC section...

        I am very glad to see this. Thanks!


          I agree that this was great info. I will be looking at my PBC a little closer now and use some of these tips on my next cook. Thanks Kathryn.


          • Gunderich_1
            Gunderich_1 commented
            Editing a comment
            Just as an FYI, all of my cooks have been done using the lighter fluid method. I agree with what was said above when using lighter fluid. Use enough fluid to make sure you have a good high flame (and don't let it soak in). I have never had anything come out tasting like lighter fluid after it burns off.

          Kathryn, I echo the KUDOS for the great idea on this topic and section.
          For long cooks ( 10+ hrs), Brisket and PB. I start with a PBC basket about 2/3 full. I fill the big Weber chimney up to the holes and light until no smoke, hot fire, top coals just starting to ash (20 min at sea level). I then dump that onto the unlit PBC basket, it will be mounded full. Hang meat and close lid. I found out with this method the temp will peak around 340 and then drop to about 290. About 45 minutes later the temp will start to climb again, thats when I will cover 1 or 2 rebar holes with foil or magnets. This will bring the temp down to 200 - 260 for 8 hours keeping plenty of coals in reserve for the last several hours. Cover 2 holes for 200-240 range, cover 1 hole for 250-280 range.
          Several notes on this though. 1) My largest piece of meat has been about 10 lbs. 2) For Brisket I use a water pan on a "great grate" until I wrap to keep the temp low and things moist. I get great bark this way.


          • fzxdoc
            fzxdoc commented
            Editing a comment
            I think that Jerod B. said he had to get heavy duty magnets from Tractor Supply because the first ones he used melted. I seem to recall that comment of his, so be forewarned.


          • CRO
            CRO commented
            Editing a comment
            What I used for magnets was the Business Card adhesive ones. I peeled off the adhesive tape and stuck two together and then cut them in half. They produced two squares, perfect to cover the holes. I used the Business Card ones because that's what I had laying around.

          • fzxdoc
            fzxdoc commented
            Editing a comment
            Kewl idea, CRO. Nice to hear they didn't melt.


          I have been lucky enough to have B & B charcoal briquettes at my local supermarket. When I am loading down the PBC with 4 or 5 briskets I fill my basket with B & B and leave enough room at the top for a layer Kingsford. The Kingsford does a better job of taking off at lighting with the Lighter Fluid Method.

          After lighting I give it a 20 minute burn, then I hang the meat.

          I am at sea level, however, I will open my vent to what would be b/n the 1/2 and 1/4 setting. If I have my Pit in the sun with ambient temp at 90 or more, I do not need my "extra flow pipes" to keep the temp at 250 or more. However, one must watch at the 4-5 hour mark. When the stall kicks in, and the subsequent high latent heat of vaporization of water does its thing, the temp will drop, at night as much as 30+ degrees.
          Last edited by Jerod Broussard; August 26, 2014, 01:54 PM.


            Thanks for putting this together. Very helpful. A couple of personal notes:

            1) I've found step 14 in Kathryn's list to be key. You've gotta get a temp spike when you start or you won't settle in to a sustained temp of 270-280. If you're going for lower, by all means skip that step.
            2) If I'm having issues later in the cook or if I'm concerned about even coal usage, I'll rotate the charcoal basket 180 degrees at some point later in the cook. This takes care of the side closest to the vent burning hotter.


            • Curtis Ellzey
              Curtis Ellzey commented
              Editing a comment
              How do you rotate the coal basket? Do you take the meat out first so you can get to it?

            • David S
              David S commented
              Editing a comment
              I use a little "hook" tool that I have from a firepit set. You could use a rake or similar. I don't remove the meat

            • fzxdoc
              fzxdoc commented
              Editing a comment
              It's Step 16 now, David, since I added a couple more steps in trying to perfect the lighting method that works best for me.


            Just wanted to mention that unlike Kingsford, the B & B charcoal briquettes do not spike very high above the settle down temp. I have had a temp spike of 295 settle at 290.


              Thanks for adding more tips, everyone. This is great information. Keep 'em coming!



                Very cool! Thanks for posting this Kathryn! This is VERY helpful and detailed.

                So, I had asked over in the original PBC comments thread about snuffing the coals faster at the end of the cook. I was wondering if this steel bucket would work? (I got this at Ace Hardware, btw) I was thinking I could lift the basket out using a steel rake, set it in the bucket, and put the lid on. The coal basket fits nicely inside. The lid fits tight. I doubt much oxygen would get in, so I'm hoping it would starve the coals faster.

                Primarily I'm looking to do this because on shorter cooks (wings, veggies on the grill grate, etc.) there will likely be plenty of leftover coals after the cook, and I don't want the PBC to just sit there and simmer for a long time. It took forever for the coals to go out on my two cooks so far. Also, with the fire basket out of the PBC, I can throw the cover on the PBC (as soon as it cools down) to protect against afternoon rain/snow.

                My main question though is, do you think this steel bucket would work for this? My main concern I guess would just be, do you think the lid would get too hot? The coals will be only about 6-8" below it. Any thoughts?
                Last edited by Curtis Ellzey; August 26, 2014, 06:20 PM.


                • Curtis Ellzey
                  Curtis Ellzey commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Cool! Glad you like the idea Rlasky! I've used my PBC three times since posting this and the metal pail works great. I have used the aluminum foil on the bottom of the PBC the last two cooks though and that definitely does help with clean-up. There's not a whole lot of room underneath the coal basket (needs to be unobstructed to let air through) and getting the aluminum foil totally flat is a bit tricky. There a wrinkles and such. I put it in there and then use the flat bottom of a hoe to flatten it down. But anyway, let me know how the metal pail works for you! I need to read up on if I can re-use all these partially burned briquettes, and if so, would I need to use double the amount, etc.

                • Curtis Ellzey
                  Curtis Ellzey commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Oh and btw, I've left the metal bucket out in the rain for weeks and no rust!

                • goosebr160
                  goosebr160 commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Curtis Ellzey, do you reuse your left over coals? I used this method to snuff out my coals after my first cook because rain was coming. I'm wondering if I can just pour new coals over the snuffed coals for my next cook.

                Awesome information for an awesome cooker!


                  Just an FYI to everyone.....if The Pit crashes for a week, doc tried to download her "PBC Word Document" onto the site.


                  • fzxdoc
                    fzxdoc commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Hahaha. Actually I'm parceling my PBC.Word. document out over a bunch of topics here. At least that's the plan. It's up to almost 120 pages now. Whenever I want to find something on it I have to use Word's Find function, even if I know the general section the info is in. That PBC site over on the freebie side is filled with amazing tips. Too bad it's so unwieldy. It's good we've got this space on The Pit, though.


                  Btw, #6 of the lighting steps - brilliant!! I can't believe I didn't think of that. I did notice that my handle got pretty grody, and every time I picked it up I grease all over my hand, so my solution was to food grade disposable gloves during clean up/prep (clean and toss 'em) but this is a great solution for avoiding having to do that. Nice!



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