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Temperature control for charcoal smoking/indirect grilling


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Apologies if this question has been answered before. There are so many different types of bbq/smoker on here that I couldn't more generic advice on temperature control with charcoal grilling.

My first experiment with indirect grilling or smoking was last week was with a rack of spare ribs. I have a drum-style of bbq so I put my coals up one end and the ribs on the grill near the middle, bone down. I was using lumpwood and noticed that the temp on the hood of the bbq rarely went above 180C and I'm neurotic about whether new coals will catch. 

Anyway, long story short, I think I cooked them too high (averaging 150C-180C) with no water bath, because although they were cooked and tender on the inside, they were tough and hard work on the outside. I also didn't wrap them, but we live and learn. 

My question (finally) is: How do you maintain a low temp like 105C (225F) using briquettes or lumpwood? Is it better appreciation of the damper on the lid or do you just add less fuel? I notice that some people dampen wood chips which would reduce temp but I'm so worried about new coals not catching. 

Also, what do you do if it's too hot? Again, is this the damper or physically removing coals. 

Sorry if this is a daft question.

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Great questions!

Without seeing your exact set up, it's hard to pin point exactly what could help.

The basics of temperature management of any BBQ is basically air flow Vs amount of fuel. 

Your doing the right thing with trying to control the temp with the dampers, but if the BBQ isn't very air tight, it may be difficult to keep it down. 

One of the best methods I found was using The snake method, this works well as it limits the amount of fuel that can set light, so even in leaky bbq's it should help keep the temperature down. 

If you get spikes in temps, you can try to add a bowl of cold water, as that will absorb a lot of heat. I wouldn't personally try adding wet wood as it can smoulder and create an acrid taste. 

The best thing is to try changing one variable each time and see what works for your grill.

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26 minutes ago, markie_q said:

Great questions!

Without seeing your exact set up, it's hard to pin point exactly what could help.

The basics of temperature management of any BBQ is basically air flow Vs amount of fuel. 

Your doing the right thing with trying to control the temp with the dampers, but if the BBQ isn't very air tight, it may be difficult to keep it down. 

One of the best methods I found was using The snake method, this works well as it limits the amount of fuel that can set light, so even in leaky bbq's it should help keep the temperature down. 

If you get spikes in temps, you can try to add a bowl of cold water, as that will absorb a lot of heat. I wouldn't personally try adding wet wood as it can smoulder and create an acrid taste. 

The best thing is to try changing one variable each time and see what works for your grill.

Hi Markie,

Thanks for the quick response. My bbq does leak like a sieve! It's an Outback full drum (they stopped doing them in 2018). The front and rear edges close relatively closely but either side doesn't really meet. The bottom vents are just vents - permanently open. The charcoal area consists of 2x baskets (30cmx30cm approx.), one per grill. I'm not sure how I'd achieve a snake setup in such a small basket. Maybe I could just bank the coals either side in a 'minion' type approach but then I'm potentially doubling the fuel.

Big birthday party coming up this weekend. I don't want to s@d up a couple of racks of ribs. I've got a digital thermometer on order for better temp illustration.

I think I'll do the same but be heavier on the dampers while checking the temp with my gadget if it shows up in time. I'm planning on a 3-2-1 for the ribs and then review, re-fresh coals and re-set for the chicken etc.

Already got my eye on a Weber 57cm kettle. Seems easier and more my style... Just not sure I can justify the £270 +/- notes at the moment when it may be that I'm just not doing the basics properly on what I've got.

Outback Full Drum

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7 hours ago, danielson23uk said:

My bbq does leak like a sieve!

First job matey is get some fire tap and fill jionts like the doors.

7 hours ago, danielson23uk said:

 The bottom vents are just vents - permanently open.

No good at all, without any control of the air intake your onto a looser,  if you are into DIY?? find a thin sheet of tin cut a section from the tin sheet, drill a hole through both the tin sheet and near the vent so that you can fit the tin over the vent and the fix it with a small bolt or rivet. This way you can then slide it to open the vent and control the air.

 

Ice.

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Just seen the photo you added....can see the 4 slots they cut into the fire box,  another way just to try it out, you maybe able to fit a tin cover that you could slide. This way you could then have 2 vents covered and 2 open and see if that helps???

 

Ice.

Edited by Icefever
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