To Build A Fire
I’ve been semi-obsessed with honing my pork shoulder skills in the last few months. I guess part of me feels like I won’t be complete until I can consistently crank out a solid pork shoulder. Plus pulled pork is cheap and it always makes for good eating, so why not go for it?
But I think there’s more to my pulled pork obsession than my drive for legitimacy. I’ve been putting my pork shoulder on the Big Green Egg early in the morning, rather than late at night. I’ve come to realize that I derive perverse enjoyment from rising at 5 am on a Sunday to play with my Egg.
I’ve been an early riser since before I can remember. When I was a toddler, I would apparently get up before dawn and rummage through the bread drawer for stale hot dog buns. Later in my childhood, I would watch G.I. Joe at 6 am with the sound off. I had to be sneaky since I wasn’t allowed to watch that show. In middle school, I would wake up an hour early and read a book until it was time to get ready for school. In junior high, my dad would sometimes take us ice fishing. Even though I didn’t really like to fish growing up, there was something magical about waking up before dawn in the middle of winter and going ice fishing.
My early rising tendencies have continued into adulthood. In fact, I’ve started drafting this post in a hotel room in New Jersey at 5:30 a.m. because I’m all out of whack from taking the red eye yesterday and I can’t sleep. So when I have a free Sunday, I look forward to setting my alarm for 5:00 and puttering with my Big Green Egg. It’s just a part of who I am.
Last Sunday I gave it another go. My biggest challenge recently has been my fire. I’ve lost my fire a couple of times along the way each of the last two times I’ve smoked a pork shoulder. I finally got it right this time.
Previously, I was relying on a very detailed fire-building technique posted by a prominent BBQ blogger. To protect the innocent, I won’t name names here. Maybe I was doing it wrong. Maybe I missed a step. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working for me.
I had a breakthrough when I attended EggtoberWest. First, the folks at EggtoberWest filled my BGE with way more charcoal than I usually use. This was an eye-opener. Of course it makes sense – I was losing my fire because I wasn’t using enough charcoal. So this time I piled the charcoal in, all the way to the top of the fire box.
(Sorry, I didn’t take any pictures of the fire building process. Not on my radar screen at 5:00 a.m.)
Second, I received some good advice from my new friends at Dixie Q. It seems like everyone recommends starting your fire in the middle of your pile of charcoal. This is what I was doing. However, this technique caused problems for me because the fire would burn through the coals in the middle of the egg before it reached the coals on the edges. No good. The folks at Dixie Q recommended splitting one fire starter into four small chunks and placing the chunks in a diamond formation in the charcoal. Another brilliant idea.
In the end, my fire performed admirably for a nice, long, 12 hour smoke! My pulled pork was better than ever.
I’m still not ready to post details about technique, although I’m honing in a good North Carolina-style product. I will give you a “recipe recap” on my fire building technique, though!
A good, solid fire is very important when smoking low and slow. Here is my fire building technique.
Start by giving your BGE a good, thorough cleaning. Remove all the old charcoal from the fire box and clean all the ash out of the bottom of the BGE. But don’t stop there. If you haven’t done so recently, you should remove the fire ring and the fire box from the BGE and clean out any charcoal that was stuck between the firebox and the walls of the egg. You want maximum airflow for this fire. (Note: check out the components of the BGE here if you’re unclear about the difference between the “fire box” and the “fire ring.”)
After you reassemble your egg, fill the fire box to the top with charcoal. Open the bottom vent. Split one BGE fire starter into four pieces and place them in a diamond formation in your charcoal. Light the fire starters.
After the fire starters have been burning with a high flame for a 5-10 minutes, and when the charcoal near the fire starters begins to burn, put the Plate Setter in place and close the top of your Big Green Egg. Wait for the temperature to rise to about 200 degrees. When the temperature reaches 200, start closing the bottom vent and top vent gradually as the temperature continues to rise. Stabilize the temperature at 250. Then . . . wait.
After the temperature has been stabilized at 25o for 10 minutes or so (one suggestion is to wait until the outside of the BGE begins to feel warm), you’re ready to go. Open the lid, add wood chips if you so desire, place the grill on the plate setter, and you’re off and running.