Written by adam on Aug 31, 2006
Tips for Keeping You Fire Burning
Filed Under: How To
The number one grilling holiday, Labor Day, is only a few days away, and I thought I would put out some grilling tips and recipes for you to take with you to the back yard. This is a short piece that I wrote for my grill review site, Grill Mojo. If you are planning on doing some barbeque this Labor Day, you may want to check out this tutorial so you don't suffer any setbacks when it comes to keeping the fires burning.
This is a lesson taught to me when I was a Tenderfoot Boy Scout more than 20 years ago: firebuilding. It's a lesson that sticks with me to this day. It can be applied to the beast in any situation: fireplaces, campfires, charcoal grills, chimney starters, smokers, all the way up to controlled forest burns or commerical bbq kitchens.
Fire needs three things to burn: oxygen, heat, and fuel. For grillers and bbq-ists, losing just one of these three ingredients means a dead fire. And a dead fire can break your meal. Fortunuately, I have some tips that can help you keep the home fires burning, so that you can pull out an award winning piece of meat.
When we're talking about fuel, we mean whatever the fire is going to burn. This can be raw wood, newspaper starter, pellets, charcaol briquets, or lump charcoal. This is the easiest to keep control of. Just make sure you have enough fuel to last you through your grilling or bbq session. Be prepared is my motto. Take stock of what you have before you even light the grill. Don't just mentally guess what's in the storage container; you need to physically look.
When dealing with your fuel throughout your cooking, just keep an eye on how much is left in the grill. When the coals are hot, you can always add more without using lighter fluid or matches. But don't wait too long to add more. Remember that it takes time for fresh coals to ignite, and while that's happening, the other coals are dying down. Learning the proper time to add fresh coal is just something that comes from experience.
Once a fire gets going, it's extremely easy to keep it going. You don't need to add additional heat. Just keep feeding it fuel.
The main issues with heat are how to get the heat to the fuel. Most common is the use of accelerants such as lighter fluid. You pour on the lighter fluid, wait 5 minutes for it to soak in, then light it. Other ways to bring the heat are using a chimney starter, or an electric starter. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but all do the job of creating heat.
I think this can be the most confusing and confounding of the three fire requirements. It is a fact that oxygen must be present for combustion to happen. However, when it comes to a fire, the answer is slightly more complicated that just having oxygen present. A fire needs enough oxygen to burn, and it needs a steady stream of it. If you've ever watched a campfire burn, you know that it has a life of its own and even "breathes" sometimes.
Mojo Reader Ben Witt pointed out that his Char-Broil bullet smoker has a bowl for the charcoal to sit which is a major design flaw. The charcoal sits down inside a bowl, and no air can get under the fire, so many times, it will snuff itself out from lack of oxygen. If you have a setup like this, Ben suggests drilling some holes into the pan so that air can get under the fire.
Small fires are sometimes very sensitive about their airflow and can often go out without warning. Most grills have a raise grate for resting the charcoal. This serves two purposes: one, to allow oxygen under the fire, and two, to allow ash to fall away from the still burning fuel. One thing to consider in this situation is that you need to remove or spread out the ask if you are barbecuing all day. The ask will build up under the fire and reduce air flow. I just take my fire poker and spread it out every couple of hours.
When building your grill or smoker fire just keep in mind that fire needs those three key ingredients: heat, fuel, and oxygen. If you consider those factors, and plan ahead, your home fires will burn all day.