|Questions on BBQ Vents|
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
We've been asked this question in so many forms that it begs an answer.
And that answer is YES! BBQ Vents should be Open when grilling.
But after that question usually comes the next question, By How Much?
To answer this question we really need to understand a few things namely your grill type, what you're grilling, when you are grilling it and where you're grilling it. So, let's get you the information you need so you can get on with your barbecue. My personal experience before and during Jake's Famous Foods extends from small 10 inch Weber grills to even smaller Hibachi units all the way up to Ugly Drum Smokers and half barrel grills with pull handles. I've even acted as Pit Master on large door units that you shovel wood and coals into making chicken for 300 plus guests. So, I have some personal familiarization with the topic but best of all I like my standard every day of the week 18 inch Weber. The unit is easy to use, doesn't take a lot of work and always delivers excellent results as long as I keep it clean.
So, onto the question SHOULD BBQ Grill Vents be Opened or Closed for BBQ making. Since we need a meal to trigger the question let's say we're going to make Beef BBQ Ribs. Good Beef Ribs take time and these make an excellent practice item. You'll know you've achieved success when the ribs are juicy from top to bottom and literally melt in your mouth with each bite. Now, on to the grill. My standard Weber is black with a half dome-shaped lid. The lid has a circular steel vent system with 4 holes and a tab for adjusting the grill in one direction or the other. Since our question is about before and during the grilling process well concentrate on startup and a degree of management.
On Start Up, we suggest that you open the top and bottom vents as wide open as you can get them. What you're looking for is the classic wind tunnel and draw effect. The air around the bottom of the grill is drawn into the unit and used to assist in the burning of the charcoal. The spent air or carbon is expelled through the top of the grill's vents. This top vent is the key to managing the process of grilling. So, once you've started your charcoal the draw effect takes over pulling in the air which is then used to aid in the burning of the charcoal.
The temperature of the coals will depend on how much air is made available to the charcoals along with just how many charcoals you have on the grill. Also, the temperature will adjust over time especially when you lay burning charcoal on top of non-burning units. The non-burning units will shortly begin to burn and thus increase the overall combined temperature.
Vent management is simple at this stage. If you want the maximum amount of temperature for say broiling then allow both the bottom and top vents to remain completely wide open. For broiling, you'll want to ensure that you have a minimum of 40 or more coals connecting or overlapping each other so that they can all burn at the same rate to deliver maximum heat. Placement of the coals may not be as critical but what is important is that the coals are connecting in some way and overlapping is an excellent way to maintain contact.
For slow smoking, we'll want to have just as many units of charcoal but we'll want to lay them out so that the burning process is managed and that cooking occurs over time. Try this method to manage a long period of burning. Layout charcoal units in a 3 unit pyramid shape with two units on the bottom and one unit on the top. Lay out the pyramids so that they are touching bottom and top. Follow that pattern around the circular base of the grill. With your charcoal laid out start 8 units in a charcoal chimney. These will be the units that get everything going. If you don't have a charcoal chimney just place the 8 charcoals in a stack on top of some heavy paper or newspaper. Light the paper and allow the charcoals to burn until they are practically ashed gray.
As a heads up if you have questions on smoking or bbq recipes you can get to our website Jake's Famous Foods. You'll get some good information and some killer recipes on the site. And for additional questions just go to our BBQ Questions FAQs. section. On our BBQ Questions section, we tackle some of the critical and burning barbecue questions.
One the charcoals have reached their desired level place them at the head of the charcoal semi-circle touching the first pyramid. These burning charcoals will create a domino effect burning through the pyramids one by one delivering heat to your ribs. Beef ribs want to be slow smoked at 225-250 degrees. Keep in mind if you decide to use wood in the smoking process you may need to adjust the vents to compensate for the additional heat that takes place as the wood is burned.
Now as I write this I am actually running the barbecue for some Beef Ribs. I'm using my 3-2-1 process with a twist. I've been into the barbecue process for about 2-1/2 hours and just as I thought the temperature has crept up on me from 225 degrees to about 290 degrees. This creep usually happens when wood is introduced into the process. If you're using wood chips then you can easily compensate for the rise by adjusting the vents closing them slightly. This will burn less oxygen and will reduce the overall temperature. The adjustment process may take up to 8 or 10 minutes. So, once that happens and you've adjusted your vents just keep an eye out as the temperature slowly comes back in line.
I must also say only adjust the top vent. Do not adjust the bottom vent until you see that you upper adjustments have little to no effect. If it's required that you adjust the bottom vents then only adjust them 1/4 of the way. It's very hard to restart a charcoal burn if the coals have all but gone out. Restarting the charcoals and achieving maximum temperature can take as much as 40 minutes.
My adjustment after 10 minutes has yielded a decrease of about 15 degrees. I will need to adjust the vents again keeping in mind that once the wood is burned through I will need to open the vents to allow faster burning.
Let's cover the question how much should you adjust or more like how do you determine the rate of adjustment. I'm going to show you an easy method for creating adjustments for your grill.
Adjustment 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 leftmost 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 leftmost 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 total of the degrees 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.
Gather all the readings on to a spreadsheet 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 are why we wait until the charcoal has ashed white.
I've checked my ribs and pulled the lid to confirm that the raised temperatures was in fact due to the addition smoking wood. My temperatures are now leveling off by another 15 degrees and with time will be right where I want them in that 225-250 degree zone.
Now since I'm using the 3-2-1 process with a twist in about half an hour I will be wrapping my ribs in foil but first I'll include a nice liquid mix of pomegranate syrup, honey, brown sugar and some orange juice. This will flavor and help tenderize the ribs. Once tender I will turn them over then allow then to barbecue for a half an hour meat side up. Then I will remove them and allow them to rest for 30 minutes to complete the process.
Summary: You may have noticed in my barbecue process that I had to adjust my vents. As I said with the addition of wood the temperature will creep upward and greater management will be required. But by using the 3 unit pyramids placed side by side you can easily achieve the 225 - 250-degree temperature for sustained periods.
One of the easiest ways to truly gauge your grill is by performing a dry run. That simply means setting up your grill without having the purpose to cook something. You may have to sacrifice about 50 or 60 coals in the process but you'll really get a good grasp on managing temperatures. In a lot of ways, the preparation process for barbecue is like golf. Most everyone that plays golf will go out to the practice range and hit golf balls to determine how far each club will normally take a ball. Well, the same can be said about the test process for the grill. Make the setup process fun and when you've gained enough information put on a couple of steaks and relax.
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