This isn't meant as a strict "This is what you gotta do, or else!!" guide, but merely a collection of my observations and thoughts about the way my DrumPit drives. With that being said, let me point out that every DrumPit handles a little different and I present this as a point of reference only. I've noticed that there have been many inquiries into the how and why of lighting fire and maintaining temp in the Ugly Drum Smoker and I want to share some of the finer points of what I have learned over the years.
1. The Charcoal Basket. The Heart Of The DrumPit…
My Charcoal Basket is the diameter of a Weber Replacement Coal Grate and measures 12 inches tall. The grate is suspended about 3 inches above the bottom of the basket and will hold about 12-14 pounds of Charcoal. This is enough Charcoal to cook for 14+ hours easily, low and slow. The thing about an UDS is that you never waste any Charcoal. When the food is done simply close all of the air intakes and the exhaust then over a short period of time the Charcoal will extinguish itself from lack of oxygen. Next time you get ready to cook just take the basket out, carefully, and shake the ash loose from the remaining Charcoal into a metal ash can. This ensures that, in the unlikely event that there is a live coal, you won’t burn the yard up, or your house down. Safety First Farkers!!!
Now, I like to fill my basket with a layer of unlit charcoal about a third of the way up from the basket bottom and then place three fist sized or smaller chunks of dry smoking wood into the Charcoal, at the ten, two and six positions, (visualize a clock face). Add another third full and repeat placement of the wood, this time at the eight, twelve and four positons. Then add another third of Charcoal.
From the now filled Charcoal Basket, take out 13 pieces of Charcoal from the center of the pile, and place into a Charcoal Chimney, (You Do Have A Chimney, Right?) Drizzle some Olive Oil onto a sheet of loosely crumpled newspaper and place under the bottom of the Charcoal Chimney. Now I light my Charcoal Chimney on the coal grate of my Weber Grill, but in the past have used a metal bowl with good results.
Ignite the newspaper around the perimeter of the bottom of the Charcoal Chimney with one of those extended Grill Lighters. In fifteen to twenty minutes the Charcoal will be ashed over and ready to be returned to the void that was left in the center of the Charcoal Basket.
Wearing Heavy Work Gloves,(Remember, Safety First!!) place the now lit Charcoal Basket into the center of the bottom of the Drum Smoker.
2. Air Intake and Exhaust. The Breath of The DrumPit…
I outfitted my UDS with three 1” i.d. black pipe nipples, one of these has a 90* elbow with a 30” length vertical pipe on the side ending in another 90* elbow.
I’ve read that some have had issues with using the vertical riser pipe with a ball valve to regulate the Air Intake, and of that I have no practical experience but I expect the trouble may be caused by either the inside diameter of the riser pipe used, the height of the pipe in relation to the exhaust height or the fact that the diameter of the opening in the ball valve is restricting Air Intake into the Drum too much to be practical. I use Magnets on my DrumPit to regulate Air Intake, in the beginning Sheet Magnets and later switching to nice Ceramic Ones. They Work Great!!
For my exhaust I use the 2” bung opening, threaded with an 8” tall black pipe nipple and ending in a 90* nipple. The only thought I gave to this approach? ”Man!! That Looks Cool!!!” I lucked up in that respect, this seemed to be just the right combination to work well for me.
Okay, the Charcoal Basket is in the DrumPit, time to catch the cooking temp and make with the Sweet Blue. Lid is secured on top. Exhaust is wide open. Air Intakes are wide open. Time to sit back and wait. Enjoy an Adult Refreshment or two. No need to be concerned with Smoke production or lack there of at this point.
We just want to catch our target cooking temperature as the heat increases. This part of the journey, on average, can be from twenty to thirty minutes. As the heat approaches the target temp, within ten degrees or so, I start dampening down the Air Intakes. First the two pipe nipples are completely closed at the bottom of the DrumPit, then on to the vertical pipe. Normally, the vertical pipe is dampened to a little less than half open to maintain a cooking temp of 250* for hours.
A thought about those pesky, runaway temperatures. The first thing I would inspect for are Air Leaks. If you lit the amount of Charcoal described above, and caught Temp on the way up, and are seeing a steady increase in temperature, then, my Friend, you may have an ill fitting Lid.
A Lid Clamp can help to secure the Lid tightly to the Drum top.
If one is unavailable consider using some Aluminum Foil as a makeshift gasket, that’s what I use on my Stubby DrumPit with the Weber Lid, and it works like a charm.
3. Sweet Blue. The Soul of Barbecue and The DrumPit…
The temperature is stable. All is right with the world. Now what about that Sweet Blue Smoke you’ve heard so much about? Well, it’s been my experience that if you have layered your Charcoal Basket the way I described above, then the heat from the lit Charcoal has been working it’s Magic on the wood chunks buried beneath, slowly causing the wood to heat up and start to burn. Not a raging inferno, but a slow wicking of delightful, sweet flavored smoke. Something you can put your face up to and take a quick smell from.
Sheer Pleasurable Aroma…The Stuff That Great Barbecue Is Made From.
Now, It’s Time To Cook Something Good!!!!
Hope Y’all find my musings helpful….