A journey into what has gone from a fun, part time hobby to a fulfilling and rewarding obsession.. Culminating in a style I like to call "Authentic Southern (Utah) Barbecue"

Thursday, February 27, 2014

You always remember your first time...

Now that the pit was seasoned, or at least to a point I was comfortable that all the processing crud was pretty much gone, it was time test it out and actually use it for what it was meant.  During the seasoning period I didn’t really get a good chance to mess with the damper and draft controls and since my intention was to use wood I figured there was going to bit of another learning curve.  To my surprise, it really wasn’t too bad.

First off I got a small amount of coals going, (half a chimney give or take), until they were good and ashed over then put them in the middle of the grate.  I flattened them out to give as much surface area as possible for the wood to sit on.  Since I wasn’t real sure what size pieces the wood should be, I started with 3 or 4 pieces about the size of my wrist and 12 to 14 inches long.  I left the door open until the wood caught fire then closed it to see what the temps would do.  Right away I discovered that I needed to leave the door open longer and let the wood really get burning before closing things down and working with the draft.  Once things were burning good and the temp came up, I began to work with the draft and dampers to see how various adjustments affected the inside temp.  It didn’t take long to discover that the adjustments did not need to be very big to make a big difference.  I took about an hour moving the draft in and out and found that the temp could be easily changed by moving the bolts no more than about a quarter of a turn then giving the pit about 10 minutes or so to stabilize.  I also discovered that the damper did not make much of a difference so, for the time being I just left it wide open.

A couple of items of note at this point, it was discovered that the wood splits should not be more than about 10 to 12 inches long and no bigger than your wrist.  If they are too long, once the center of the split burns through the ends have a tendency to fall away from the main pile and will smolder and not burn very well.  If they are too big around it takes a long time for them to get burning adequately and will also cause the fire to smolder.  As has been said numerous times, it is better to have a small hot fire so I can attest to the validity of this.  I also found out that by keeping the wood to this size, I only needed to add more about every 45 minutes to an hour and it certainly didn’t need to be 3 or 4 pieces.  1 or 2 at a time was plenty.  I am at 6,000 ft. ASL so this process may be different for someone else at lower altitudes; it’s all about the combustion.
First Ribs with Rib Tips
I fiddled with the controls and fire size for about another 2 hours trying to get a feel for what it would do and once I was comfortable with it, it was time to get cooking.  For the first cook I went with 3 racks of spare ribs.  Since I knew the cooking time wasn’t going to take all day and if I messed them up I wouldn’t be worried about the cost, I figured it would be a good start.  I had the pit rolling with Oak wood and stuck with my usual way of rubbing them with my own variety of rub with the intent to continue to follow the 3-2-1 method.  The ribs were full spares so I cut them down St. Louis style and besides the ribs I also threw on the tips that had been cut from the racks.

First Ribs
Things started off great once I put them on but I found myself making the same mistake I did in the past; thinking that I needed to be always messing with the controls.  I was hoping to get the temp to hold around 245 to 250 degrees but since I was playing with the controls too much I was getting big spikes both up and down in the pit.  I sat and thought about it for awhile and remembered several places had mentioned some pits just run where they want to run.  So, with nothing to lose, I set the draft at what seemed to be a good point and just let it roll.  Oddly enough, I found the sweet spot to be right around 260 degrees.  I did move the draft and damper a couple of times to see what would happen but it either caused the pit to get quite hot or on the other end it would cause too much smoke.  From that point I have been able to better control the temps with either slightly bigger or smaller pieces of wood or by adjusting the draft and damper but for the most part, it wants to run best at the 260 degree mark.
Coming out of the foil

Overall the cook went pretty well and I was happy with the results.  With me messing with the controls so much and opening and closing the doors and firebox the flavor I wanted wasn’t quite there but my expectations weren’t really that high either considering I knew I would be learning the pits properties and used this more of an educational event.  Don’t get me wrong, the ribs turned out great but I knew they could be better and it was going to just take some time and a better understanding of what needed to be done, or not done, over the course of the cook.  I have also discovered over time that when I do ribs on the pit, the method works better with the times being changed to 3-1/12-.75, (3 hours in the smoke, 1 ½ hours in foil and finish them off for around 45 minutes).  If I cook them for the full 6 hours they come out a bit overcooked.  No big deal…just needed some time to get it all tuned in.