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Unread 08-21-2010, 07:53 PM   #1
SouthernSquire
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Default Reaching/Maintaining Proper Temperature (The Basics)

I have a modified chargriller smoking pro (extended chimney, baffel, raised charcoal box in the side fire box).

I am still struggling with the basics and am wondering if any one can point me to a good step by step guide to starting a fire, getting the fire up to temperature, and maintaining the temperature over a short and long burns. Aka the basics of smoking quality Que...

Even with all of the modifications, I am having trouble reaching temperature. I have checked and double checked. I have a good and unobstructed airflow. I've been told kingsford charcoal burns really low and that could be the reason why I am not getting to temperature, but I am not sure and don't know what alternatives I have.

1) How much charcoal/wood is needed at the beginning to reach temperature? I usually work with a lit charcoal starter can/chimney full of charcoal added to the equivalent of one-half full charcoal starter can/chimney (unlit) in the fire box and then will added wood chunks until I get close to the desired temperature in the cooking chamber. But this is taking a very long time and not particularly working well.

2) How often do you add charcoal and/or wood to a lit fire?

3) Is it better to pre-light the additional charcoal/wood before adding it to the already lit fire box or add unlit charcoal/wood to the fire box?

I know this is more art than science -- but I'm spending lots of money/time trying different things and nothing seems to be working. The angry girlfriend who wants to spend more time together isn't helping much either.

Help?
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Unread 08-21-2010, 07:59 PM   #2
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If using briquette charcoal, add it pre-lit. In an offset smoker like yours, I prefer lump charcoal. It burns hotter and faster. This also gives you a great ember bed suitable for small split logs. Watch for bluish smoke from the stack for a clean fire. Also check out KC Quer's Roadmap to Q-Talk for different tips on maintaining a clean fire in an offset smoker. (Located in the sticky's, top of the Q-talk page)
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Unread 08-21-2010, 08:45 PM   #3
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I found with my SnP that I would need to get the whole basket lit basically to get it nice and hot. What I would do is to light a chimney and get it good and hot. Then dump the chimney on top of the charcoal in the basket. I would still leave the firebox door open until the charcoal in the basket was well let and put off a lot of heat. Then close the firebox lid to allow the heat to flow into the smoke chamber. From there you can monitor your temps and adjust airflow. Personally I found it easier to get it hot and bring it down to cooking temp. I also liked it this way because I could have it a bit hotter when I put the meat on and the temp would drop quickly to my desired target temp.
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Unread 08-21-2010, 10:20 PM   #4
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For one, with that pit, I would suggest giving up on low and slow except for setting the ring and enjoy the world of BBQ a heck of a lot more.

When I think of all the money and energy wasted trying to get my NBS to smoke at 225 I want to kick myself in the head - especially after being raised fortunate enough to work at Kreutz
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Unread 08-22-2010, 02:47 AM   #5
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A little over a month ago I had ZERO experience and ZERO friends with smoking experience.... well when it comes to meats anyways lol

I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn the basics quickly and easily ---> Low & Slow: Master the Art of Barbecue in 5 Easy Lessons

I recently completed the 5 lessons and I am confident I am on the right path to BBQ greatness :)

now for your questions:
I only use lump charcoal, no briquettes... and apparently they burn completely different (times AND temps)

1)With lump I would load about two chimneys full of unlit charcoal into the firebox (on the grate ofcourse)
Id light one chimney full and when its fully engaged (no longer burning and glowing orange when looking through the holes in the chimney). This is usually accomplished in 10 minutes. Afterwards pour it into the firebox and add one split of wood or 3 fist size chunks to the top. Leave the firebox lid open until the charcoal stops billowing thick white smoke. Using this method you should have NO issues getting to temp.

I wonder if your thermometer is accurate... One full lit chimney should be enough to get it to temp... The unlit charcoal is to keep it going for the long haul. Do you have the typical weber chimney? maybe you have a smaller chimney?

2) I rock a WSM and I don't have to add anything for about 4-5 hours (or worry about the water pan either for that matter), which is why I decided to get a bullet vs a cheap offset in my price range :) You will need to learn your smoker to know when to restock to be honest...

3) I use the following guidelines to help me determine what to do:
low temp and low burned up charcoal: add a fresh batch of lit charcoal
low temp and low red hot charcoal: add a fresh batch of unlit charcoal
low temp and partially burning charcoal: the fire is choking, check the vents for ash or stray charcoal
high temp and low red hot charcoal: if you are using a water pan it might be low and your intake might need to be closed (is it really windy or are you catching a draft?)
high temp and red hot charcoal: the water pan is low, the vents need to be closed (i had issues when I moved my smoker and a wind kept stoking my fire) or there's too much charcoal on the pile.

Temp control is all about fire control and fire control is about air and fuel. Its no different than an engine :)
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Unread 08-22-2010, 05:41 AM   #6
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I also have a chargriller with a SFB with no mods (I just raise the fire grate so it is not sitting in the drawer). I do however, have grate level thermometers on both the left and right side of the grill.

I start my fire with kingsford coals arranged in a circle about three levels high with cowboy hardwood lump charcoal in the center. Once the flames die down I am at 225 in the main chamber. add wood chuncks and i'm off to the races.

DISCLAIMER: only my third time running it today but all three times it has been this consistant.

Either way, good luck!
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Unread 08-22-2010, 07:23 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by barbefunkoramaque View Post
For one, with that pit, I would suggest giving up on low and slow except for setting the ring and enjoy the world of BBQ a heck of a lot more.

When I think of all the money and energy wasted trying to get my NBS to smoke at 225 I want to kick myself in the head - especially after being raised fortunate enough to work at Kreutz
I totally agree. You'll get a cleaner fire as well. I'm actually not using any charcoal in my Char-griller offset. I start off with hickory/pecan and get a decent bed of coals and then add small splits of fruitwood, preferably, as needed. I keep the vent open most of the time for a cleaner fire and it stayed in the 275-300 range most of the time the other day. I keep a split or two on top of the fb warming up before going into the fire, and I look for the smoke to disapate before throwing it in, not for the temps to go down. This is key. If I wait for the temp to go down, it's to late. Go by the smoke if burning sticks. If you can't get fruitwood, get as much bark off as possible. This all works for me, and it's a lot more fun than my wsm.
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Unread 08-22-2010, 07:48 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by txschutte View Post
If using briquette charcoal, add it pre-lit. In an offset smoker like yours, I prefer lump charcoal. It burns hotter and faster. This also gives you a great ember bed suitable for small split logs. Watch for bluish smoke from the stack for a clean fire. Also check out KC Quer's Roadmap to Q-Talk for different tips on maintaining a clean fire in an offset smoker. (Located in the sticky's, top of the Q-talk page)
I found the tip about putting a handful or two of lump on the coals when the fire's getting too small. That's my problem with the small offset, and the reason why I said to keep an eye on the smoke. Like Donny said, it's just too hard to burn low-n-slow, unless you start considering anything under 300 to be low-n-slow. If I'm smoking at 225, it's either a miniscule bed of coals ready to go out at any time, or I have it choked and not burning cleanly. The only way to cook at 225 on this thing (char-griller offset) is to use charcoal and chunks, but I find that expensive.
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Unread 08-22-2010, 09:14 AM   #9
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Let me be the first to say "build a UDS."

Seriously, I have relegated my modded CG to grill duty. It burns too much fuel and is a pain to maintain temps where you want them. I switched to a UDS back in the Spring and haven't looked back.

There are some other cookers that do better than the CG that cost less than $1000.00. A WSM, a BGE, the Bubba Keg, the Big Steel Keg, a Weber kettle, are a few.
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Unread 08-22-2010, 02:18 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Boshizzle View Post
Let me be the first to say "build a UDS."

Seriously, I have relegated my modded CG to grill duty. It burns too much fuel and is a pain to maintain temps where you want them. I switched to a UDS back in the Spring and haven't looked back.
Seriously? Well seriously, as long as there's not terrible variable wind, (which will mess with temps in any smoker to some degree), my CG offset is no problem, even "unmodded". I think the problem is when you try to do low-n-slow too low, or focus on the gauge instead of what your smoke looks like. I focus on getting good smoke, not being anal about the temp I want with it.

Now am I gonna start cooking butts and brisket on it? Probably not, as two butts basting a brisket while I sleep is "Job #1" for my wsm, but if the weather's nice, I'd rather feed sticks to and watch my Char-griller's smoke any day. Sounds like an excuse to drink some beer.

Regarding the uds, everytime I'd open the lid on my uds, the temps would start climbing, especially if checking a bottom rack. No hurries and no worries with the Char-griller though, and that's pretty dern therapeautic....and an excuse to drink some beer.
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Unread 08-22-2010, 05:56 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikeTRON View Post
3) I use the following guidelines to help me determine what to do:
low temp and low burned up charcoal: add a fresh batch of lit charcoal
low temp and low red hot charcoal: add a fresh batch of unlit charcoal
low temp and partially burning charcoal: the fire is choking, check the vents for ash or stray charcoal
high temp and low red hot charcoal: if you are using a water pan it might be low and your intake might need to be closed (is it really windy or are you catching a draft?)
high temp and red hot charcoal: the water pan is low, the vents need to be closed (i had issues when I moved my smoker and a wind kept stoking my fire) or there's too much charcoal on the pile.
Very helpful set of guidelines for adding charcoal. Usually, with my Chargriller(baffled, no SFB) I decide to refuel when
Quote:
low temp and low red hot charcoal: add a fresh batch of unlit charcoal
. Tried that today, and it worked better than what I had been doing, which was -Preparing a half basket of lit charcoal and then adding it. By that time(an additional 10+ minutes), the temp had usually dropped even further and I had to open all the vents up until the white smoke went away.

This way kept it more stabile, and since the unlit charcoal seemed to light gradually, I didn't have to over-compensate for high volume of smoke and then shut back down again. Wherever you got that set of temp control tips, it's a good source! Thanks for sharing!
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Unread 08-22-2010, 06:55 PM   #12
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Get the firebox. I used mine for grilling for a year before I finally caught it on sale at Kroger for $40. It makes smoking with the Char-griller a lot easier.
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Unread 08-22-2010, 07:12 PM   #13
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Now I'm a n00b so don't beat me up much, but it doesn't seem like anyone mentioned if he's losing alot of heat aroudn the seals. My Chargriller is terrible in that regard, so no matter what the temp coming out the sfb the leaking wouldn't keep it in to maintain?
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Unread 08-22-2010, 07:29 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by deuceklub View Post
Now I'm a n00b so don't beat me up much, but it doesn't seem like anyone mentioned if he's losing alot of heat aroudn the seals. My Chargriller is terrible in that regard, so no matter what the temp coming out the sfb the leaking wouldn't keep it in to maintain?
I LIKE my firebox to leak, cause I'm burning sticks and I want more air for a cleaner fire.

Now for the cooker itself, I think you can go to a little trouble if you want to, but the leaks aren't a big deal unless it's windy, and a decent windbreak is a good thing, but a little harder to finagle than for my little wsm. This is why I've called the Char-griller a "fair weather smoker". If it's not bbq weather, the wsm gets the nod.
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Unread 08-22-2010, 10:17 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dave Russell View Post
Get the firebox. I used mine for grilling for a year before I finally caught it on sale at Kroger for $40. It makes smoking with the Char-griller a lot easier.
Not gonna happen! I researched offset indirect vs an"in the cooker box indirect" way of doing 'Q before I bought the Chargriller. I do want the control, both of the smoke and the temps... and I've got it with my current set-up. Did an 8 hr cook today and maintained tmep of 210-230° and thin blue smoke the entire time, once I got the cooker back up to temperature after the (refrigerated temperature) food went in. Was stabile enough that I went on an hour and a half ride and stopped at one of our favorite sandwich shops for a cuban coffee. Still on target and thin blue smoke when I returned.

In fact the only time I had any problems was when I wasted some time turning the cooker around so the intake would face the wind. I read in another thread that Chargriller offsets performed better with a better burn if the intake faced the wind. Not so with my Chargriller(no SFB). Mine's almost fully baffled, left to right and has a few other mods too. Once I turned it back so the exhaust stack side was toward the wind, the temp went up by 30-40°(in 5 minutes) and stabilized. With intake facing the wind, the temps were way low with the intake side way even lower(by 30°) than the middle and left side. This is what I typically see during a long cook:

That's between 220 and 230°, including one inside on a grill grate.

I can run errands, go for a ride, stopping for a coffee or sandwich, or go walking at the mall. I have about an hour and 45 minutes adter adding charcoal and a wood chunk or two, before I need to check it again. These Chargrillers can be made to keep steady temps and consistent smoke without constant attention, but do need some mods for Low and slow BBQ, with or without a SFB.

As someone else mentioned.... because of the large thin skin, they're pretty much of a fair weather smoker. I have a vertical cabinet smoker that I have wind breaks for, and can throw a welding blanket over. I bought the Chargriller for one reason.... I like the large accessible surface when cooking lots of different pieces of meat. Pulling shelves out to turn meat over is messy.

BTW: Used just over 7 lbs of charcoal, total of lump and briquettes today during an 8 hr burn. Plus threw one or two wood chunks in each time I added charcoal.
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