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the ultimate irony - temp control finally figured out - in the winter!

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
i live in north-central montana - lots of wind, sub-zero temperatures are not only common, but simply a fact of life. i'm not talking a couple of dips one or two degrees below zero (with wind chill) for a day or two; i'm talking two or three weeks at a time where the high temperature is maybe 17 degrees below zero - before the windchill; i don't want to talk about the lows, but 45-50 below is not uncommon - then wind on top of that to push them down even lower.

in this environment, i never thought that i'd be able to use my ECB, so i packed it away in the shed right after a disastrous smoke in mid-september where i had amazing problems keeping the temperature even at 225 due to wind and temperature etc., or so i thought. i resigned myself to having to wait until may or so to get that sweet hickory, maple, cherry or apple smell wafting up and down the street again.....

that myth was shattered last night. i decided to give the "weekend challenge" a go in spite of the fact that we're still in full winter here and just earlier last week we were below zero constantly from sunday through wednesday. thrusday, we poked a little into some nice territory (35-40 degrees and friday was alright too - i think we might have gotten near 45! so i gave it a try, for the sake of research, of course!

there was very little wind and the temps were right at 40 degrees, but falling fast since i got a late start and it was nearly night. i knoew there were temperature issues, so i simply loaded the chimney with a full load of briquettes (lump up here is hard to find in summer - in winter there simply is none) and got that going.

normally, i would put a small pile of unlit briquettes on each side of the ECB pan, with a strip of open space between, then dump the briquettes from the chimeny into the space in the middle, usually overflowing a bit to the sides as well. i would dumpp the briquettes when the corners and edges of them were starting to ash up a little - and there was the problem. i didnd't realize it or the implications didn't dawn on me, but i was essentially dumping a full chimney of barely-lit briquettes (or lump, in summer) on top of of roughly the same amount of unlit. this had always worked, but it was a long process and resulted in temperatures being all over the place rather than constant. in trying to make adjustments to get the temps up or down, i kept fiddling with too much and and would end up bringing them up when they needed to go down or vice-versa.

this time, however, i actually waited a little while, because i wanted to make sure they were going well so i wouldn't have any troubles keeping them lit. i watched the chimney belch its normal column of thick, white/gray smoke that smells awful (those who use briquettes know what i mean) and periodically fanned the bottom hles in the chimney now and then to keep it going. before long, small licks of brght orange flame started coming up between the briquettes and i noticed the the smoke density dropped dramatically. it wasn't a flame quite like fire, but more like a good bed of claos getting going good. a few minutes later, the smoke was gone and all that remained was the flame. the realization was dawning on me and i let it go a few minutes more. sure enough - the entire chimney, including the top briquettes, was ashed and glowing beautifully. no smoke, no sick smell that taccompanies barely-lit charcoal - it was all good!

because it was a short smoke (only an hour and a half or so), i dumped the fully-lit chimney into the pan with no unlit ones and simply added hickory chunks then and closed the door. i did not soak the chips due to the temperatures. by now it was down in the mid 30s, but the smoker temperatures were perfect and remained that way the entire time, dropping off only as the cooking time was enaring an end. a simple shake of the pan and knocking around of the coals allowed the temps to stay just right the last 15 minutes.

i am fully certain that had i dumped these fully-lit briquettes a-la minion on a few (not the amount i usually do, which is about the equivalent of a full chimney, but maybe half that amount, i could have maintained the temps for quite a bit longer, but since it wasn't needed, i didn't.

so to make a long story just a little longer, what everyone says about small fire and little fuel carefully controlled is not only right, but dead on - i thought i had been doing this, but as it turned out i hadn't been and even though my food was good, it was a great effort even with all the mods on the ecb and everything i did trying to "keep up" with the desired temps had the effect of over-reaching the shot and backfiring, both up and down the temperature scale. by waiting until the briquettes were fully lit, instead of barely lit, temperature control was a breeze and it showed in the end results.

to those with ECBs - do the mods, keep airflow wide open as possible, keep your fire small but well-lit and use a water pan of boiling water. most of all, tend the fire only as necessary - fiddling with it will only have you chasing your tail! most of all: let that first chimney of charcoal get completely and fully lit before adding it to the pan, with ot without unlit "minion" charcoal!
post #2 of 2
Good job, dude!
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