The Key To Lighting A Fire In Your UDS Drum Smoker
What all pit masters need to know about lighting a fire in your UDS Drum smoker
I get a lot of questions about startup on all different kinds of smokers. One of my favorites smokers is the Ugly Drum, so let's start there.
First - how to light a UDS drum smoker. Later on I'll address temperature control and different scenarios that a person can get into whenever he/she has a fire they can't control and/or temperature fluctuations. So I'll try to split that up into about three blog posts.
So, let's talk about charcoal.
Charcoal is the most important fuel to use when lighting your UDS smoker. You can't use wood because it doesn't allow enough combustion air. This will cause your fire to go out and you'll get a byproduct of soot.
Whichever brand you choose, you might want to sort the lump out, because when you dump out a bag of lump you usually wind up with big chunks and a lot of fines towards the bottom.
What I usually try to do is just take the big pieces. They are pretty brittle. I break them up, or set them down in the bottom of the charcoal basket. And then I mix. You can mix a little bit of lump and a little bit of briquettes to get a tighter pack.
Lump charcoal is all natural wood that's been heated up to just past the point of kiln dried. The moisture and all the resins are out of it. And it's gotten almost to the point of combustion. That's what makes it turn black.
Briquette charcoal is more of a refined process which uses ground up wood like sawdust and wood chips.
The process is the same with both kinds but with briquette charcoal a binder is used to make the shape of the briquette. Whatever charcoal you use is completely up to you.
Once I have my lump mixed...
I get out my DraftMaster™ or Premium 12 by 12 charcoal basket that we manufacture. You can find them Here. We make several different ones, but the one I like to use in this application is the DraftMaster™.
The depth of the charcoal part is nine inches with three inch legs underneath and an ash pan. That will hold about 15 pounds of lump and about 18 pounds of briquettes. All I do is set the basket outside of the drum and fill it up to about three quarters full.
The third step is filling up the charcoal chimney. My favorite chimney to use is the Weber charcoal chimney that you can buy at Lowe's. Its affordable and the perfect size for helping to light my ugly drum. I fill the chimney slightly heaping and try to keep the big chunks of lump out if using lump.
Then I make a big wad of newspaper or just turn on the flame of a Turkey deep fryer burner. Some people even use those little starter cubes. There's really no wrong way.
The goal is to get a fire lit underneath the charcoal chimney. Be sure to set the chimney on some kind of a noncombustible surface. You know, not on the deck. I have set it inside the Weber charcoal grill or inside a fire pit before.
I let it light and burn until it gets to be about salt and pepper colored on the top . Eventually I'm going to set the charcoal basket in the bottom of the ugly drum. I prefer to have the heat shield and everything in there first. If you don't have a heat shield, no big deal. You're still gonna do the same process. Just set the basket down in the bottom of the drum.
I am about ready to close my drum up when...
The charcoal is salt and pepper colored. Before I pour the charcoal in, though, I close all the air inlets. I dump the charcoal dead center on top of the charcoal basket so it burns downward like a fuse. Then I put in the SuperTuner™ baffle plate, as well as the cooking grate.
Then I shut the lid. Now once I get the lid shut, I open the exhaust first and then the air inlets. I am using the the style that we manufacture (measured at an inch and a half id) and I get great results opening just one air inlet up.
In order to cook at 300 degrees Fahrenheit with normal elevation (2000 or less feet) I open one air inlet all the way up. If I want to cook at lower temperatures, I would stick my index finger inside the damper and close the blade to where it touches and then pull my finger out.
That always gets me started about 225 degrees. So, set your damper according to what temperature you want to use. If you want it to be a little higher than 225, like 250, for example, just mess with it a bit. Your damper is going to be about 30% open. Get your damper set, walk away from it and give it about 10 or 15 minutes.
You ought to be able to get some meat prepped or hang out with company during that time!
In about 15 minutes, come outside and check on it.
Your drum should be running above 150 by now. If you're cooking low and slow, you're probably at about 225, pretty easily. If you don't have a heat shield/baffle plate combo in there, you might be running a little bit hot. Don't worry about it.
If you're cooking hot and fast, and your damper is all the way open, you're probably sitting right about the 250 - 300 degree mark. So that should be pretty good. The most important thing is to make sure and keep the barrel closed.
Don't let the barrel stay open for a long period of time. Because, on ugly drums, when you have a full load of charcoal in there, if you get too much air to it over a long period of time, you've basically got a rocket stove.
I've seen three or four foot flames coming up out of those things! If you leave it open too long it'll also melt all your paint off. So, secret number one is KEEP IT CLOSED. If you notice that your temperature is too low, open your damper blade just a quarter of the way.
If you notice your drum is running too hot...
Close it a little bit. If it's running really hot, close your smokestack down by half. You shouldn't ever have to run your smokestack closed at all, except if you're running over or overshooting temp, then you might damper it down a little bit.
Once you've made your adjustments, just walk away from your cooker. Mess around with some more meat for a little bit, grab a beverage, or help the wife! Then, in about ten minutes, go back outside and see if your temperature changed at all. Remember, the biggest secret to running an ugly drum smoker is to make sure that you make minimal adjustments, minimal times. Don't get antsy. Don't run the dampers or move them a whole lot, because you're just going to be fighting yourself. Basically- BE PATIENT. Don't be in a hurry. You're cooking barbecue!
On my next two blog posts I'm going to talk about how to control this thing. About keeping it from running too hot or too cold. I hope you enjoyed this! Make sure and check out all of our UDS Drum Smoker Parts and UDS Drum Smoker Kits!
Now that you know the key to lighting your UDS Drum Smoker, what kind of charcoal are you going to use?