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I'm trying to slow-cook using indirect heat on my kettle-style grill, and having some temperature issues.

Most of my experience with my grill follows one of two patterns:

  1. First cook the food item (almost always meat) sous vide. Dump an inordinate amount of white-hot coals from the chimney into the kettle. Sear the meat for about 30 seconds for a quick crust without affecting the perfectly-done interior. Rest and serve
  2. Sear first (following method above), then cook indoors.

But, as much as I like the consistent results I get from cooking sous vide without having to pay attention, I am trying to improve my BBQ game.

So, I tried using fewer coals, preheating them a bit less, and reducing the air flow. Even still, low and behold, I got a fairly hot fire going that I really didn't want this time.

So, how do I cool it down? I'm trying to get from over 300 down to under 200. I think water will do the trick, but I worry it will put out the fire. I already have the airflow restricted--again, I'd be afraid of closing it off too much and killing the coals. What tricks are available to drop the temperature to a range I can start maintaining.

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3 Answers 3

Simple answer: fewer briquettes. Space them out a bit. You can make fine adjustments by raising the cooking surface or lowering the briquettes. I know my kettle has a lower briquette grill, if you take out the main one. I've also seen briquette grills with sunken channels to create small pockets of heat. I also have a couple of trapezoidal briquette holders, which I can use to position briquettes and create warmer or cooler spots.

Charcoal briquettes are designed to be a consistent temperature. Of course, poorer quality briquettes will be less consistent or burn for less time, but in general any single briquette will burn as long and as hot as any other.

Trying to douse or smother the briquettes may cause smoke or steam, but it's not going to have a good, consistent effect.

Interesting comparison info from Dutch Oven cooking: with a standard 12" Dutch Oven, 12 briquettes in a ring under the oven and 12 spaced around the edge of the lid will give you approximately a 350 degree oven for about an hour. Temperature is adjusted by adding or removing briquettes. This means, in a grill, 24 briquettes could give you a grill temp near 350, if the food is about 2-3 inches away. (The linked chart has a slightly different arrangement; 12/12 is what I learned as a simple rule of thumb, but everyone has different practices... or may desire top browning or bottom boiling.)

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Using a smaller amount of coals, you should have no problem getting your cooker to a low and slow temperature. I target between 225f and 250f most of the time, and have no problem doing so in my kettle.

When I do BBQ in my kettle, I use the Minion Method -- to summarize, I put a bunch of unlit coals to one side of the grill, holding them in place with either 1-2 charcoal baskets or a couple of firebricks, putting my smoke wood into this mix as well. I then dump about 15-30 lit coals, the number of coals determined by whether I want to target a higher or lower temperature. The coals on top will slowly ignite the ones beneath it, so you'll get a long, consistent burn if you keep the supply of oxygen to your fuel limited.

Once you have your fire going, let the cooker heat up and put your food on the grill so that it is opposite the fire. The vent on the grill cover should go over the top of your food, and you should use the bottom vents to control heat.

Using this method, I can get 6-8 hours of cooking time at a low temperature. More than enough for ribs or Chuck roast, and almost enough time for a sizable pork butt.

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Both of the answers provided were good suggestions for making and maintaining a cooler fire, but neither addressed the issue of cooling off an already-hot fire.

I doused it bit-by-bit until I hit the temp range I wanted, but I killed the fire in the process. There was plenty of smoke flavor in the meat by that point, so I finished it indoors.

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Sorry about that; I had misunderstood the nature of the question. In the future, if you shut down all your vents the temperatures should drop pretty quickly. The fire will almost be out, in fact. Then you can allow some oxygen back into the chamber to get up to your desired temperature. If I close both the top and bottom vents on my Weber, my cooking chamber drops to below 200f within 15-20 minutes. Then I take the lid off to let the coals ignite a bit, replace it, and control my temps from there. –  Sean Hart Jul 2 '11 at 19:58
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