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Pitmaster Aaron Franklin Explains the Best Way to Build and Maintain a Fire While Barbecuing

"A fire is a living, breathing thing."

tyson cole aaron franklin Logan Crable

Your parents may have told you not to play with fire, but Aaron Franklin is here to encourage it.

The pitmaster behind Austin’s beloved Franklin Barbecue has long been willing to share his secrets to better brisket, as evidenced by his 213-page manifesto on the subject of making excellent barbecue. Now he’s released a video about how to effectively build and maintain a fire.

Since he started his eponymous Austin spot with his wife, Stacy, in 2009, Franklin has become meticulous about every step of the barbecue process, to the point where he’s fabricating his own pits. That means people are always asking him for advice how they can smoke their own meats too. Franklin says that when people do approach him, their questions most frequently focus on fire. Of course, there’s no one set procedure for getting this right, because as Franklin says, “a fire is a living, breathing thing.” But there are some best practices.

The key is to make sure you have a consistent bed of coals, and that will keep the fire burning at a more steady temperature. If you burn too much wood at once, you’ll spike the temperature of you cooker; and if you’re not feeding it enough the temp will drop too much. First, you want to assess the temperature outside, the warmer it is, the smaller the pieces of wood you’ll want to burn. Second, when you’re stacking your wood, pay attention to how the logs are spaced so that there’s enough air flow for them to burn, but not so far apart that they’re not able to work together. Third, pay attention to how quickly your wood is burning, because it will combust differently depending on moisture levels and density. Once you figure that out, you’ll understand the cadence of how often you need to feed the fire throughout the cook.

As Franklin cautions, it’s important to not use wood that’s too big, because it will cause bigger swings in the temperature of the cooker. Finally, he says experiment with how you stack wood and move it during a cook and that way you’ll be more adaptable to changing atmospheric conditions as well as the natural differences between your logs. When you watch the video below, you’ll really get to see the subtle ways in which he manipulates the fire to get the result he wants.

Franklin currently sells the pit featured in the video, which he designed and is fabricated in the U.S. This 625-pound rig is one of the best ways to do real deal, low-and-slow barbecue at home. However, if you don’t feel like tending a fire for 10 hours, you can always have Aaron Franklin send you a brisket to eat without all the work.

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