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Wood River BBQ Team

Fire Management

Maybe this will help Lang newbie’s, like me, with their fire management or give them some ideas to help develop their own technique. A couple of days ago I cooked St Louis ribs. Everyone liked them but I felt they were too smokey tasting. Part of the problem is I don’t know what competition ribs are supposed to taste like – it’s not the “fall off the bone” that restaurants serve or that my wife likes. The smoke was my own fault – as the fire burned down, I kept adding hardwood, even past the 145 degree meat threshold where I think the meat will not absorb any more smoke and my Lang 36 patio temperature was all over the place. I couldn’t hold 250 degrees.

Fire management is not rocket science even though I made it harder than it is and the web is full of management suggestions, some of which don’t even make any sense. Here’s what is working now for me on my Lang 36 patio. Yesterday, while cooking a ham, I took a simple approach and thought about what I was doing and I nailed it. I started out with a flat bed of lump charcoal and laid 4 logs on top – 2 bottom logs were front to back and the 2 on the top of them were side to side (like a log cabin) – and I started the burn with a propane burner. To establish a bed of hot coals, instead of using expensive hardwood ($12 a bundle), I used camp fire wood ($5 a bundle).  I cut each piece of the bundle in half and then split each piece in half again ending up with coke can diameter and about 8” long pieces. The Lang 36 chimney damper was open as were both pin wheels plus the fire box door and the cook lid – just like Ben Lang demonstrates in his video.

Once the bed of coals was established, I added 2 more camp fire logs (I got a little smoke but it quickly dissipated) and started the cook. The temperature was holding at 245 with the chimney damper fully open, the back pin wheel closed and the front pin wheel about ¾ open. When the bed of coals burned down and the temperature started to dip, I added 2 to 4 pieces of camp fire wood plus lump charcoal. I preheated the logs on the top of the fire box. If the temperature got away from me I merely opened the cook lid for a few seconds and closed the pin wheel to ½. I only had to do that one time. Once the temperature stabilized at 245 degrees I opened the pin wheel back to ¾. At about 50 degrees internal meat temperature, I added smoke – 3 pieces of pecan and chunks of cherry. Now I can “dial in” the amount of hardwood smoke flavor I want to taste in each piece of meat I cook by added or subtracting hardwood. When the hardwood burned down, I went back to camp fire wood and lump charcoal and just kept repeating the process through the 4 hour cook.

I think the trick, at least for me, is when cooking “low & slow” is to add fuel “in small batches” instead of what I used to do, which was to pile it on. I could have controlled yesterday’s fire for 20 hours if I had wanted to. Any suggestions from pitmaster’s , who have more experience than me, to improve what I’m doing will be appreciated.
rastephens

fire management

i am no proffessional by any means but the strong smoky taste  imo
comes from dirty or choked fire. we always use oak/ pecan for
the whole cook but using the same idea of smaller more frequent
sticks to keep ignition of each stick fast limiting the white or chalky smoke and keeping the good ole gc smoke pumping.
Ohiophil

This is my first stick burner I have started 2 fires in my Lang 48 patio, I picked up used, I have been smoking on a big green egg for 3 years, what I see is my coals are falling through the fire tray I need a tighter metel I to like using lump coal with my wood I will do some chickens this week end looks like last chance for weather in the 40's here is Ohio.
Thanks for the advice, wood river
Wood River BBQ Team

Ohiophil wrote:
This is my first stick burner I have started 2 fires in my Lang 48 patio, I picked up used, I have been smoking on a big green egg for 3 years, what I see is my coals are falling through the fire tray I need a tighter metel I to like using lump coal with my wood I will do some chickens this week end looks like last chance for weather in the 40's here is Ohio.
Thanks for the advice, wood river


Ohiophil: First, I'm glad your purchase is working for you -- you got an excellent deal. Second, on the camp fire wood -- I now only use the about 2 or 3 pieces coke can size pieces of camp fire wood and that's ONLY to establish the bed of lump coals. Camp fire wood burns hot and fast but you don't want to cook with it. Actually, I could skip the camp fire wood if I wanted to because before I was using a small brush burner, which didn't work well, to start the fire and now I have a bigger one from Harbor Freight. Once the fire is established I don't add camp fire wood. I use lump hardwood and a little lump charcoal up to 145* internal meat temp -- after that temp the product won't take anymore smoke so I only use lump charcoal.

Maybe you should think about a charcoal basket. They're easy to make or just put a expanded metal screen from Home Depot on your grate.

One thing that helps my fire management is that I have a layer of thin fire bricks in the bottom of the fire box. The outside bottom of my fire box is almost cool to the touch. As a result, all the heat is going where it should go -- to the cook chamber. You can substitute a double layer of heavy duty alum foil -- shine side up - as a substitute. The alum foil also make ash cleanup easy but you don't get much ash with lump charcoal. My unit is almost air tight and the fire just about manages itself with little temp fluctuations and longer burn time per load of fuel. It took a while for me to get the hang of it but my rig is now a joy to cook on -- and your's will also.
ckreidler

Wood River's technique is similar to the way I start and maintain my fires.  The only thing that  I would like to add for the new people out there in case you didn't known .  In reference to the campfire wood you still need to make sure this is NOT a soft wood such as pine or others of that nature.  Any thing that has a lot of sap or pitch can be a very bad thing for a number of reasons, both quality or safety of the food and also the the damage it will do the cured interior of you smoke.
Wood River BBQ Team

ckreidler wrote:
Wood River's technique is similar to the way I start and maintain my fires.  The only thing that  I would like to add for the new people out there in case you didn't known .  In reference to the campfire wood you still need to make sure this is NOT a soft wood such as pine or others of that nature.  Any thing that has a lot of sap or pitch can be a very bad thing for a number of reasons, both quality or safety of the food and also the the damage it will do the cured interior of you smoke.


Yes, ABSOLUTEY, no camp fire wood for cooking. I only used a few pieces of camp fire wood to establish the bed of lump coals. After I invested in the large brush burner from Harbor Freight, which I didn't know was available until I saw it promoted on this forum, I don't need/use camp fire wood. The small brush burner I was previously using took forever to establish a fire. The brush burner from Harbor Frieght has a trigger, which if pushed, sounds like a jet engine!!

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