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View Full Version : Help maintaining a Santa Maria Grill fire


bicktrav
01-28-2020, 11:14 PM
Hi everyone! I recently got a Santa Maria Grill with a 30x20 pit, and I could use some help maintaining the fire. I've mostly been building my fire directly on the bottom of the pit. The grill has no air intakes save for a couple of holes at the corners, which are mostly there for drainage. I can get the fire going, but it usually burns out and the logs start to smolder, which gives the food a bit of a creosote vibe. Would using a grate to elevate the fire be a good idea? I have one but haven't been using it because I've been concerned that the glowing embers will just slip through the expanded metal to the bottom of the pit, and that seems counterproductive to creating a good coal bed. Am I wrong about that? Also, how do you know when you've achieved a coal bed, and you're ready to cook? Is it when the wood gets gray, scaly, glowing? This is my first wood-fire device, so any help you can give would be much appreciated!

SmoothBoarBBQ
01-29-2020, 12:57 AM
I'm a visual person so I think this video here helps a lot. While it doesn't pertain specifically to Santa Maria style grills the same concepts apply.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Azfvya6n4Y

Also, the grate is a good idea. Even if the embers fall through they still stay hot and this allows for the ash to fall through and give some airflow all the way around the wood log which is on top of the grate. When it comes to fire management the best advice is to always build a good coal bed first. This means light off the fire and let your first pieces of wood be sacrificial...let them burn down until the coal bed is just hot glowing embers. From there you can put on a few small logs (no thicker than a soda can) and then let it all burn nice and clean.

Good luck!

bicktrav
01-29-2020, 08:15 AM
I'm a visual person so I think this video here helps a lot. While it doesn't pertain specifically to Santa Maria style grills the same concepts apply.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Azfvya6n4Y

Also, the grate is a good idea. Even if the embers fall through they still stay hot and this allows for the ash to fall through and give some airflow all the way around the wood log which is on top of the grate. When it comes to fire management the best advice is to always build a good coal bed first. This means light off the fire and let your first pieces of wood be sacrificial...let them burn down until the coal bed is just hot glowing embers. From there you can put on a few small logs (no thicker than a soda can) and then let it all burn nice and clean.

Good luck!

Thanks for the input. Great video! How do you know when you've achieved a sufficient coal bed? Is it when you've got no flames left and the stuff is glowing orange? Should there be any smoke coming off the coal bed? Only asking because every time my flames go away, the fire tends to smolder and produce a ton of smoke. Does that mean I haven't burnt it down to coals yet, that instead, the fire has gone out due to lack of oxygen?

charcoalwilly
01-29-2020, 09:23 AM
You can certainly roll with all wood, but I often use bed of charcoal and add small splits or large wood chunks on top for flavor.

What I have found really works well is using rectangular troughs to hold the embers. Works like a charcoal basket. A bit unconventional, but it concentrates the heat and allows lots of airflow from both underneath and from the sides. Burns super hot and clean and the rectangular shape lines up perfectly for columns of steaks, chicken pieces, burgers, tenderloins, etc. See the photo below.

May also be worth cutting a few intake holes. I found a guy on Craigs List to do the same on my smoker for reasonable $. Adjusting intakes on my Santa Maria definitely makes a difference.

JAKs Q & brew
01-29-2020, 09:37 AM
Where did you get those troughs?

bicktrav
01-29-2020, 09:47 AM
You can certainly roll with all wood, but I often use bed of charcoal and add small splits or large wood chunks on top for flavor.

What I have found really works well is using rectangular troughs to hold the embers. Works like a charcoal basket. A bit unconventional, but it concentrates the heat and allows lots of airflow from both underneath and from the sides. Burns super hot and clean and the rectangular shape lines up perfectly for columns of steaks, chicken pieces, burgers, tenderloins, etc. See the photo below.

May also be worth cutting a few intake holes. I found a guy on Craigs List to do the same on my smoker for reasonable $. Adjusting intakes on my Santa Maria definitely makes a difference.

Great advice! Would also love to know where you got the troughs!

tom b
01-29-2020, 10:02 AM
I usually cook over some thing like this, a mix of flaming logs and embers. I preheat my wood splits also

https://i.imgur.com/U7V0F31h.jpg

tom b
01-29-2020, 10:03 AM
and if you use a fire grate a piece of expanded metal will help contain the embers

bicktrav
01-29-2020, 10:13 AM
I usually cook over some thing like this, a mix of flaming logs and embers. I preheat my wood splits also

https://i.imgur.com/U7V0F31h.jpg

How do you preheat your wood splits?

tom b
01-29-2020, 10:16 AM
See the pic they are sitting on the ledge next to the fire. I doubt you have a ledge like I so just put a couple splits near the fire.

bicktrav
01-29-2020, 10:18 AM
See the pic they are sitting on the ledge next to the fire. I doubt you have a ledge like I so just put a couple splits near the fire.

Ah, got it. So those unburned splits in your pic are in the process of preheating. What does warming them accomplish? Does it just cause them to catch quicker and burn cleaner?

tom b
01-29-2020, 10:18 AM
yes they fire right up

charcoalwilly
01-29-2020, 01:31 PM
Where did you get those troughs?

Great advice! Would also love to know where you got the troughs!

There is a guy who sells custom-made charcoal baskets on Etsy. He used to sell on EBay as well. Laser cut and really nice quality. Not cheap, but it will outlast me for sure. Just send him a message and tell him what size and how many.

https://www.etsy.com/listing/467075328/charcoal-andor-wood-basket-for-bbq?ref=shop_home_feat_1&frs=1

I have three of baskets/troughs. Each is 16” long X 5” wide x 3.5” tall. I later added stainless steel bolts to bottom of troughs to raise it up “1 for airflow.

A cheaper option is to bend a piece of expanded metal or use firebricks similar to what Tom did above. Basically anything that will concentrate your embers (same reason why some guys like round fire boxes on smokers).

Let us know what you decide to do!

SmoothBoarBBQ
01-29-2020, 01:47 PM
Thanks for the input. Great video! How do you know when you've achieved a sufficient coal bed? Is it when you've got no flames left and the stuff is glowing orange? Should there be any smoke coming off the coal bed? Only asking because every time my flames go away, the fire tends to smolder and produce a ton of smoke. Does that mean I haven't burnt it down to coals yet, that instead, the fire has gone out due to lack of oxygen?

Generally you've got a solid coal bed when the wood is burnt down and the coals are glowing...but really what you're looking for is intense heat. The purpose of the coal bed is provide heat to cooker, and the main point is to provide enough heat to light the next piece of wood on fire.

Have you checked your wood to make sure it's cured? I've had some super wet wood before that won't catch fire and just smolders and steams but never catches fire.

charcoalwilly
01-29-2020, 01:49 PM
I forgot to mention something. If you go the charcoal & wood chunks route, I highly recommend checking out Fruita Wood. Nice people, local business and they have great selection (red oak for traditional tri-tip!).

Fruita Wood Chunks (https://fruitawood.com/#!/U-PICK-EM-NO-Bourbon-or-Merlot/p/69028244/category=20346062)

I usually order mix of 3 varieties (all separated in the box). Love the cherry, peach and post oak. They will also remove the bark if you ask them.

Truthfully I don’t think you can taste the difference when grilling (versus smoking), but it smells fantastic and its a good backstory for your guests :clap2: