We continue in our series of Learning How bbq vents work, Open or Closed. Whether charcoal grill vents or gas grill vents air circulation is key to the grilling process. Even the largest pieces of food
|Charcoal Grill With Vents|
So, to cut to the chase should you adjust your bbq grill vents to support better grilling? Yes. Now, how do you adjust the vents to improve the cooking process? We’ll go over the steps and processes necessary to help you get that bbq done below.
Although the above may seem simple there really is more to managing grill vents than just turning them. Let's walk through how we've learned to manage the process and how we cook perfect barbecue every time. Did you know that the end result of your barbecue can be affected by the outside temperature and time of year? Yes, take this example. It's a glorious day with temperatures around 78 degrees, almost no breeze and the sun fully peaked. This temperature is optimum for grilling. Very little time will need to be spent on managing the vents, however, just because the temps are optimum does not mean that one can simply avoid the process.
When the temperature is optimum one may have to manage the temperature more carefully because the external temperature adds to the internal temperature of the grill. If the temperature were to be in the 30s, and yes people bbq in the 30s one might expect their barbecue to cook for a longer period as the external temperature and moisture in the air can act to retard the cooking process. So, a 2-1/2 hour chicken might take 3 hours or more if the temperatures are not properly managed.
We've put together a few great methods we use to manage the grill vents. I hope you read through this post and gather up all the nice bits that will help you become a better barbecuer.
Let’s first start with a target meal to establish the desired cooking temperature. We've decided that we'll be grilling smoked baby back ribs that are using our natural dry rubs. We’ll concentrate on an average temperature between 225 and 240 degrees. There’s 15 degrees of adjustment and heat management which should not be too difficult on a Weber.
Setup Process: This process will require some basic tools. You'll need masking tape, a dark marker, a metal thermometer, bbq grill with vents and about 10 minutes. Let’s first start with the bottom vents wide open. This setup will allow maximum draw of air across the charcoals. Second, let’s take some standard masking tape and circle the vent adjuster on the lid of the grill. Now with the vents fully opened, let’s take a marker and create a line out from the left most opening of each of the vents. Transfer that line down to the tape. Now, let’s move the adjuster to the right until the vents are fully closed. Transfer a line down from the left most opening onto the tape. These two lines represent the vent when it is fully opened. Now comes the really important part knowing how to segment the line. Let’s divide the distance between the two lines into increments just like you would see on a scale or thermometer. Each notch would represent 10 degrees on the scale. My notches would be about 1/8 inch apart and I would have approximately 5 notches representing about 5 degrees each. Even more important is to realize that if your vent adjuster has 4 holes then the degrees total is cumulative making a 1/8 inch adjustment equivalent to 20 degrees. Many ask, "is controlling the vents that critical and sensitive?" And the answer is, YES.
Since this is a learning process let's start with a dry test. Get a bag of standard non-light charcoal and place that as you normally would in your grill. Let's assume you're going to make ribs. Only, you won't actually be making anything. Because in this process we're going to be measuring heat not focusing on the actual cook process. Now, with the vent gradients delineated start your charcoal and let it burn until it is ashed white. This is the critical measurement time to determine how your grill performs. Grab a sheet of paper or some method of collecting data. You will also need metal cooking thermometer or some other method of measuring the temperatures in the grill. Now, with the charcoals at optimum and the vents both bottom and top wide open let's put the lid on the grill. We want to achieve maximum cooking temperature to measure how the adjustment of the vents will affect the overall internal temperatures. Allow the grill to heat up for at least 10 minutes as we want an average unaffected temperature. Now take your measuring device and collect your first reading. We'll do the reading at the vent with the lid on. If you have a metal thermometer or a grill with a gauge built in then simply write down the temperature. Now adjust the top vent only to the first mark you delineated on the masking tape. Wait 5 minutes them take that reading. Now, take the second reading by doing the same steps. Allow the charcoal to continue cooking with the lid on for 5 minutes each time you adjust the vent.
Gather all the readings on to a spread sheet or make a simple graph and notice how the overall temperature was affected by the adjustments at the lid. This will be your guide for future grilling. Note, these temperatures are affected by what's happening around the grill. If it's raining out and your grill is constantly being rained on then you can expect that the moisture both on the surface of the grill and in the air will affect the cooking process. It is important to realize that the temperatures will lower as we burn through the cooking cycle of the charcoal. So, readings at the start of the process and at the end of the process will vary. We are seeking the optimum temperatures that is why we wait until the charcoal has ashed white.
But with all this knowledge how do you use it. So for this second step we are going to walk through the process of grilling ribs in wood smoke with you. Ready, set, let's grill.
For smoked baby back ribs that are using our natural dry rubs we’ll concentrate on an average temperature between 225 and 240 degrees. There’s 15 degrees of adjustment and heat management which should not be too difficult on a Weber. Let’s first start with the bottom vents wide open. This setup will allow maximum draw of air across the charcoals.
Now, with the vent gradients delineated and your charcoal burning comes the time to start the bbq process. We'll assume that you've followed our process for Rib Preparation and Cleaning. You've rested your marinated and seasoned ribs and are ready to get grilling. This process will take about 4 hours minimum so let's also ensure we have enough time to achieve great results.
The charcoals are ashed white and placed on one side of the grill to create indirect cooking. Ensure that you've added about 4 oz of smoking wood on the charcoal. We like to use Red Oak so we'll place that on the grill. Place the ribs bone side down on the grill opposite the charcoal. Place the lid on the grill. Wait 5 minutes then take your first temperature reading. We want to cook the ribs at an average temperature of 225 degrees. Adjust your top vents down to manage the temperature to reach the optimum. When the grill has reached the optimum temperature range check it in 5 minute increments. After about 45 minutes take your first temperature reading on the ribs. This will be your indicator as to how much longer you will need to grill the ribs. Also keep this in mind each time you remove the lid you will lose prime cooking temperature. So, it will take about 5-8 minutes to get the temperature back to the right cooking level. Add that lid off time to the overall time to cook the ribs. As a friend of mine always says "if you're looking you're not cooking". Limit the amount of time the lid is removed from the unit.
After about 2 hours check the temperature at the lid first. If the temperature is dipping open the vents up at least one notch. Check within 5 minutes to ensure the measurement adjustment is working. If you're in the cooking cycle and you realize you have more ribs left to cook than you have charcoal cooking time note it's ok to add a handful of charcoal. By adding charcoal you will restore the temperature of the grill. Keep in mind the restoration is not instantaneous as it will take at least 10 minutes to get a decent heat reading. Also, keep in mind you're at about 2-1/2 hours of cooking time at this point. Check the ribs for temperature. We are seeking an internal temperature of 170 degrees minimum. We like to cook our ribs closer to the 180 degrees but you can adjust as you see fit.
Now some have heard about the 3-2-1- process. We use that quite often and will describe it here.
The 3-2-1 process started about 15 or more years ago. It simply means grill openly for 3 hours, then grill in foil for 2 hours then rest for 1 hour. The grilling in foil adds your favorite mix of liquids because the process is designed to add moisture back into the meat. As an example we add brown sugar, honey, pomegranate juice concentrate and orange juice onto the foil then we place the ribs on top of the mixture meat side down. We wrap the foil over the ribs being careful not to tear the foil. Them we place the ribs carefully back on the grill in the same area that they were originally cooked. We close the lid monitoring the temperature. Remember our start out temperature was the target of 225 degrees. After 2 hours of temperature management we remove the ribs and place the foiled unit in an enclosed area like a dry thermos cooler or oven with just a slight vent. The vent is necessary to allow heat to slowly release from the ribs.
Following the 1 hour resting window we open the foil, remove the ribs and serve.
Let’s say you want to cook the very popular Dino sized beef ribs. Beef ribs of that size are going to take time and just the right amount of heat management. But no matter you’ve got your grill measurements marked, you have a good thermometer and you’ve properly seasoned your ribs with Jake’s Famous natural dry rubs for sale. Beef ribs require a higher cook temperature in the 275 degree range and will need to remain in that position for about 3 hours until their internal temperature reaches about 200 degrees. You’ll need an adequate amount of charcoal to cook for that long a period approximately 1/3 to a half a standard 15 pound bag of regular charcoal. To truly manage the vents and temperatures of any grill use only standard non treated charcoal. Standard charcoal will allow you to evenly manage the heat cycle. That’s a lot to say, when actually what we mean is, if you use treated charcoal it burns faster and makes the heat harder to manage. Now, keep an eye on the vents and properly rest the meat once it has achieved the desired temperature. I think you'll find that the results are well worth the setup process
Managing the vents with wood smoke can require some skill. If you’re planning on using wood just keep in mind that the use will drive the temperature up for a limited period of time. Wood depending on the chunk size can increase the temperature somewhere around 10 to 15 degrees. The larger the wood chunk the longer the burn cycle and the greater the increase in temperature. I prefer using about 4 to 5 ounces of wood only. The small an amount of wood is enough to adequately smoke the meat without overpowering the taste. If you can get segments that are about 2 ounces each then spread them out across the charcoals.
Grill vents will traditionally work the same across all Weber grills. For those that do not have Weber grills the concepts are the same. The keys are just keeping an eye on the location of the vents, whether they are on the sides, or underneath only. If the vents are on the sides you’ll still want to focus on indirect cooking that allows the air to draw across the charcoal toward the meat. I would really perform a dry run with a chimney full of charcoal in the grill without meat. Just let the charcoal get to its perfect state with the coals completely ashed over. Then start adjusting the controller side vents using the marking method that I described above. The process should be to layout the degree increments, then adjust the grill, wait about 5 minutes then adjust the vents again. Record the measurements before and after each time you adjust the grill. Once all the measurements are recorded including how long the charcoal lasts in the grill then it’s time to work on actual barbecue.
Exceptions and adjustments in the heat management process. Sometimes try as we may we find that we just can’t get a handle on the management of temperatures around the grill. We believe we have the answer to the issue. It is entirely possible that somehow your lid or grill has either been damaged or warped and is not closing properly. An easy way to determine this is to add a piece of smoking wood to the charcoal then completely close the bottom vents. You’ll notice right away once the oxygen is removed the wood source will begin to smoke. Note the locations of the smoke as it comes from around the grill. If the smoke only pours through the top vents then perfect your grill is fine. If the smoke pours from two or three spots besides the grill vent then you may need to tap the grill lid to make sealing adjustments. Now using remote thermometers with wires will cause a gap at the mating sections of the grill. This gap will cause you to open the vents an additional 5 degrees but this should be nominal overall. Try to spread the wires apart to balance out the gap. Remember, once you’ve figured out where your air losses are then you can design ways to compensate for the loss.
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Santa Barbara Rub
San Ysidro Rub
Santa Maria Dry Rub
Memphis Dry Rub
California Chipotle Dry Rub
California Chicken Dry Rub
Really Good Mild Barbecue Sauce
Really Nice Medium Hot Barbecue Sauce
Really Hot Barbecue Sauce
Maple Bourbon Barbecue Sauce
Memphis Blues Barbecue Sauce
Texas Style Inspired Barbecue Sauce
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See our video How BBQ Charcoal Grill Vent Work below: