Old School Style Barbecuer Question

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smokyvalleybbq

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Original poster
Mar 1, 2024
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Hey guys, I read Myron Mixon's BBQ Rules book and I decided I'm going to give the old school southern style of cooking a try. Which includes a cinder block or brick rectangle pit that you feed coals from a burn barrel, direct heat method. Anyway like anything in my life I try to take something and make it better. Have any of you tried to put a chimney on one of these? If I used a plywood or metal cover, it seems like the chimney might draw and cause an uneven cook on some of the corners. If I didn't have a chimney on it, the smoke from the coals just floats around from any crack it can find, which to me would work too, but I'm just thinking giving it a place to escape would burn more efficiently and cleaner. Have any of you who've used one have an input?
 
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Growing up, that style pit is all we ever cooked on. Whole hogs, chickens, butts, you name. Never had a chimney of any kind and it seemed to work very well for us...
 
Growing up, that style pit is all we ever cooked on. Whole hogs, chickens, butts, you name. Never had a chimney of any kind and it seemed to work very well for us...
You just had a flat metal or wooden top on it? And how far do you think the grate was above the coals? Plus, did you have holes on the sides for air flow coming in, or just where you shoveled coals in?
 
I built a cinder block pit at my old house but nowhere big enough for a whole hog. I used a piece of stainless for a lid, and a huge part of my heat management was just how much I slid the lid to create the exhaust. If I wanted 225-250, my lid had be slid back about a half inch. 275, maybe an eighth to a quarter. I loved it, so easy to adjust if I overloaded it a bit on fuel. Mine was more square than rectangular.

If I ever do another, the only thing I'll change is that I'll use a bag of concrete and a bunch of gravel to fill in the cinder block walls. They'll hold heat like crazy filled in.

One of my favorite things about that pit was clean up. I'd go wander around in the woods behind the house and pick up fallen branches and limbs. When the cook was done, toss the coals onto the floor of the pit (was also stainless) and load branches into. Good roaring fire took care of all the grease and cleaned my racks all at once.
 
I built a cinder block pit at my old house but nowhere big enough for a whole hog. I used a piece of stainless for a lid, and a huge part of my heat management was just how much I slid the lid to create the exhaust. If I wanted 225-250, my lid had be slid back about a half inch. 275, maybe an eighth to a quarter. I loved it, so easy to adjust if I overloaded it a bit on fuel. Mine was more square than rectangular.

If I ever do another, the only thing I'll change is that I'll use a bag of concrete and a bunch of gravel to fill in the cinder block walls. They'll hold heat like crazy filled in.

One of my favorite things about that pit was clean up. I'd go wander around in the woods behind the house and pick up fallen branches and limbs. When the cook was done, toss the coals onto the floor of the pit (was also stainless) and load branches into. Good roaring fire took care of all the grease and cleaned my racks all at once.
It sounds awesome. How was the smoke flavor, or the flavor in general compared to an offset? I'm an old school guy even though I'm 33. If I'm babysitting a bbqer for hours I'd rather be making and shoveling coals rather than adding a log lol. Nothing wrong with it though.
 
It sounds awesome. How was the smoke flavor, or the flavor in general compared to an offset? I'm an old school guy even though I'm 33. If I'm babysitting a bbqer for hours I'd rather be making and shoveling coals rather than adding a log lol. Nothing wrong with it though.
It's the best I've ever had to be honest. The absolute 100% best was when I'd shovel pecan coals into it and top it off with chunks of cherry. I'd think I could replicate it with any stick burner though.
 
You just had a flat metal or wooden top on it? And how far do you think the grate was above the coals? Plus, did you have holes on the sides for air flow coming in, or just where you shoveled coals in?
As I remember, it was 2 blocks high, maybe 3, then the grate, another block, then the lid. The lid was plywood, not OSB. Opening in one end the shovel in the coals from the burn barrel...
 
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It's the best I've ever had to be honest. The absolute 100% best was when I'd shovel pecan coals into it and top it off with chunks of cherry. I'd think I could replicate it with any stick burner though.
Were they green wood? I have a bag of cured pecan wood logs but they turn to ash and man would it mow straight through them.
 
We always used green wood...
We have walnut trees everywhere. So walnut is known to not be the best wood to smoke with, however if you burn it off in the burn barrel first I wonder if the coals left underneath would be good for the cooking process. We have walnut and some mulberry, I dont want to hack up the mulberry yet though, maybe in small amounts.
 
I done pit for years open front fire right under the racks controlled heat with splits. Always had nice smoke flavor and didn't use a lot of fuel.

Warren
 
We have walnut trees everywhere. So walnut is known to not be the best wood to smoke with, however if you burn it off in the burn barrel first I wonder if the coals left underneath would be good for the cooking process. We have walnut and some mulberry, I dont want to hack up the mulberry yet though, maybe in small amounts.
Never used any walnut mostly because I've not heard much good about it for cooking. Here's one article to read...
 
My uncle had an old block pit that he used for family gatherings and he did like you described; burned the wood in a pile, scooped the coals with a bull nosed shovel into a hole in the front of the blocks, and the entire thing was covered with a certain coated corrugated metal that make most people freak out. He used the same tin for his jerky shack, but that's a different story...

No chimney, the smoke just leaked out, BUT, there's always a but, he wasn't using smoking wood per se, it was the coals from hard wood. Yes, there was a smoke flavor, but not from using splits, logs, or chunks, just the coals. Whole chickens, mystery beef and pork cuts, and cob corn at the front.

Think like this, when you use lump charcoal, you get a smoke flavor, but not over powering smoke like you can when you use certain splits, etc. in an offset or other type of smoker.

As for green wood use, once it's burned down to hot coals, the resins and such are gone before you toss the coals into the cooker. He had mesquite and oak on his place and most all wood was cut a day or so prior to the gathering.
 
My uncle had an old block pit that he used for family gatherings and he did like you described; burned the wood in a pile, scooped the coals with a bull nosed shovel into a hole in the front of the blocks, and the entire thing was covered with a certain coated corrugated metal that make most people freak out. He used the same tin for his jerky shack, but that's a different story...

No chimney, the smoke just leaked out, BUT, there's always a but, he wasn't using smoking wood per se, it was the coals from hard wood. Yes, there was a smoke flavor, but not from using splits, logs, or chunks, just the coals. Whole chickens, mystery beef and pork cuts, and cob corn at the front.

Think like this, when you use lump charcoal, you get a smoke flavor, but not over powering smoke like you can when you use certain splits, etc. in an offset or other type of smoker.

As for green wood use, once it's burned down to hot coals, the resins and such are gone before you toss the coals into the cooker. He had mesquite and oak on his place and most all wood was cut a day or so prior to the gathering.
Yea I ws contemplating since walnut and mesquite produce a heavy smoke flavor in an offset, if they are already burned down to coals if the heavy bitter smoke done went away. What would you think? Thanks for sharing!
 
Yea I ws contemplating since walnut and mesquite produce a heavy smoke flavor in an offset, if they are already burned down to coals if the heavy bitter smoke done went away. What would you think? Thanks for sharing!
I would think that you'd be ok, but I'd also say you need to try it out first and see what you get.

My coals may be different than yours.
 
I would think that you'd be ok, but I'd also say you need to try it out first and see what you get.

My coals may be different than yours.
We have so many walnut trees it's not even funny. Since you burn em green do you think a couple 55 gallon drums worth filled with wood is okay for a rib smoking session? Or should I prepare for a lot more
 
We have so many walnut trees it's not even funny. Since you burn em green do you think a couple 55 gallon drums worth filled with wood is okay for a rib smoking session? Or should I prepare for a lot more
You don't need to fill a barrel unless you just want to. I used my fire pit, kept the fire fairly small and maybe tossed a couple of 4-5lb splits on every time I shoveled in some coals. If you were cooking a hog on a gigantic hog sized pit, different story. Green wood will require a larger coal bed (just to power through the green wood) and a longer burn down time, but same principal. When I first started with pecan mine was fairly green - but not 2 day old green. Maybe 2 months old green. It sure as hell wasn't easy to split so I started with smaller diameter stuff as the big stuff seasoned.

Every darn kid in the neighborhood showed up every time wanting stick roasted hot dogs and smores though.

Use some dry stuff to get a hot fire, start tossing on green. Figure 90 minutes, maybe 2 hours before you put the meat on the grates.

And that pecan that turns straight into ash - toss it in on top of the coals.

Straight coals are producing smoke as they burn to ashes. It's the thinnest of the thin blue smoke. Damn near invisible, but it is there. It's also why it tastes so good.
 
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