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Entries in Backwoods (8)


How to Light a Backwoods Smoker

Wow, I thought I had documented this but realized that I hadn't.  I've been asked this question a few times, and it's one of the most common questions asked over on the Backwoods Forum.  Nonetheless, it's worth covering for the pursposed of the readers here on  

Here are the steps that I follow:

  • Load 'er up!  I won't get into the benefits of briquettes vs. lump in this post, but suffice to say that I burn briquettes only in my Backwoods smoker(s).  That's right, just the plain 'ol blue bag from the good folks at Kingsford.  I find I get a much more consistent and longer burn (in this cooker) with briquettes.
  • Open both sliding vents and the top vent completely.  Top door shoudl be copletely closed.
  • I light the charcoal with a MAPP Gas Torch in the right front corner of the charcoal pan.  There are lots of ways to light the charcoal, but I find that a torch held in one spot for 60 seconds or so is enough to get it going.
  • I then shut the firebox door, but I do not latch it.  This leaves it slightly ajar and allows for more air flow. 
  • I leave it like this until the temperature reaches 200 degrees.  This can take 30-45 minutes.
  • Then I add water to the water pan, shut the left rear vent completely, close the firebox door, and close the right front vent 1/2 way. 
  • If you're adding wood chips or chunks, do it now.
  • In this configuration, the smoker will be completely up to temp in 60-75 minutes. 

A couple of thins to note.  My Pro Jr takes longer to come up to temp than my Fatboy used to, but that's to be expected given that it's much larger.  Additionally on the Pro Jr, I close the exhaust vent 3/4 of the way to maintain cooking temps at ~250 degrees.  With the Fatboy, I left the exhaust wide open at all times.

 That's how I do it.  But there are debates about adding water before lighting, type of charcoal, source of ignition, etc.  Find what works for you and stick with it.  It's important that you get some kind of routine down that's repeatable, even if it isn't this one.  That way, you'll be able to plan for start times when you cook.

Hope this helps a few Backwoods owners!



Photo Tour of a Backwoods Smoker

If you've been following along here, you know that I've been in a continuous upgrade pattern for the past couple of years.  I still enjoy cooking on my Big Green Egg & the Bubba Keg, but I first purchased a Backwoods Fatboy for more capacity.  Then, I upgraded to a Backwoods Pro Jr. for even more capacity.  This cooker seems to be big enough and still take up a reasonable amount of space in my garage since it's a cabinet/vertical style unit.

I thought I'd take a minute to breakdown how this vertical smoker is put together.  First, the units are all configured with a firebox below the cooking chamber.  The firebox is seperated by a water pan at the bottom of the cooking chamber.


Optionally, a heat deflector is available to act as a further barrier between the hot coals and the bottom of the water pan.


The commercial fire grate (on the Fatboy & larger models and optional on the smaller cookers), is suspended above the bottom of the cooker.  An ash pan sits on the floor to collect the ashes for disposal.  This grate is made of expanded metal to allow the ash to drop through onto the ash pan.

IMG_4040 IMG_4039

The stainless cooking racks are evenly spaced and mounted on rails that allow you to slide them out for easy access to the items that you're cooking.


The back wall of the cooker is hollow and seperated into 3 chambers.  The 2 outside chambers allow smoke & heat to travel from the fire box, up the back of the cooker, and into the top of the cooking chamber.  The heat & smoke are then drawn down through the cooking chamber (and over and around the meat) to the bottom of the cooker where the exhaust port is located just above the water pan.  The exhaust then runs up the middle of the rear wall of the cooker to the vent on the top of the cooker.

Here's a shot of the top vents or point of entry for heat & smoke into the cooking chamber. IMG_4017 And this is a shot of the exhaust port at the bottom of the cooker. IMG_4018 The air flow is controlled by two vents at the bottom of the cooker. The vents have slider openings and one is located on the right front side, the other is on the left rear. IMG_4025 The exhaust stack on the top of the cooker is very simple and has a door to swing over the opening. On the Fatboy, I always cooked with the exhaust wide open. The Pro Jr. works a little differently and I run with it about half open. IMG_4037 Finally, when you're done cooking on a Backwoods you will have to drain & dispose of the greasy water in the water pan. There's a large drain valve on the side of the cooker to help with that task since the water pans aren't removable unless custom ordered. IMG_4032 That's a quick (and picture heavy) overview of how a Backwoods Smoker is put together. There are variations and you an customize your cooker. However, for the mid-sized cookers this is pretty accurate.

Questions about a Backwoods Smoker? I'd be happy to help. Drop me a note or leave a comment below.




Back to Basics

The last 2 significant cooks that I've done this summer were done at remote locations.  In fact, I haven't yet hauled the Backwoods Pro Jr. home.


So that means I've spent the last few weeks cooking on the Big Green Egg and even the Bubba Keg.  It's been kind of fun to get back to basics and not have the weight of preparing BBQ for a couple of hundred people.

Last weekend, I cooked 2 packer briskets on the Big Green Egg and really enjoyed the results.  This weekend, I think it'll just be some grilled chicken, maybe a fatty, and some ABT's.

I've gone back to the basics of late, and it's refreshing.




Update: Backwoods Pro Jr

If you're a frequent visitor to, you know that I was cooking on a Backwoods Fatboy before and have since upgraded to a Backwoods Pro Jr.  I certainly notice a few differences, and an inquiry from one of my brethren over at prompted to spend a little time documenting some of them.  So in no particular order, here are a few noticable differences.

Fuel Consumption:  It stands to reason that the bigger cooker will need more fuel, but I didn't expect the difference to be quite as big as it is.  On the Fatboy, I would use a half a bag of Kingsford briquettes for a 5-6 hr rib cook.  The Pro Jr took a whole bag, and then some.

Water Consumption:  Just like fuel, the Pro Jr uses more water than the Fatboy.  Again, my first cook was ribs and I expected a full water pan would last through the duration of a 5-6 cook.  Not so, at about the 5 hr mark, I was out of water.

Temperature control:  I noticed that I had a harder time getting the cooker to 250 (the temperature that I usually cook at).  The Pro Jr seemed to want to settle in at 225 and I eventually made peace with leaving it there instead of trying to get it to 250.  I also ran the bottom vent a little wider than I typically would have on the Fatboy, but frankly that could have had as much to do with the weather conditions as anything.

This is a big ol' cooker and I'm looking forward to firing it up this weekend and working on competition butts & brisket.  I'll keep you posted on any new observations.  In the meantime, here are a few more shots of the Pro Jr.


Braddog with the Fatboy on the left and the Pro Jr on the right 5 cooking racks on the Pro Jr with better clearance than the Fatboy

Auto water on the Pro Jr.






























The Upgrade: Backwoods Smokers Pro. Jr.

Much to my wife's dismay, I've upgraded....for the second year in a row.  Last year, I acquired a Backwoods Smokers Fatboy.  That upgrade more than doubled my capacity from the Big Green Egg, and I've really enjoyed cooking on a vertical, insulated cooker.  However, I learned very quickly that the stated capactiy of the Fatboy really wasn't accurate.  To cook pork butt & brisket well, the cooker really could only accomodate half of the available cooking racks due to limited clearance between them.

Traveling GearAdditionally, it seems that the more I cook, the more chances I have to cook.  And I'm talking about cooking for larger groups, fund raisers, family reunions, wedding receptions, and so on.  While I don't need the extra capacity every day, there are a half dozen opportunities per year to really take advantage and put on a big feed.

So, when I stumbled upon an opportunity to acquire a larger Backwoods Smoker, the Pro Jr., I couldn't pass it up.  A competition cook out of Columbus, GA had decided it was too large for cooking competitions and had downsized.  That may be the only time I've ever heard of a pitmaster downsizing.  Usually, Pitmasters are like boat captains and jonseing for bigger pit or boat respectively.  So I borrowed a trailer, made arrangements to meet Quenut halfway, and headed out to pick up the new cooker.

Before & AfterAfter a 700 mile round trip, a stop over in Nashville to hang out with Carey Bringle of Peg Leg Porker, and lunch at Martin's BBQ Joint, I made it home with the new cooker and the capacity to cook 35 pork butts, 36 sides of ribs, or 16 full packer cut briskets.  

That ought to hold me for another year!




The Hunt for Capacity

Well it's only been a year, but I feel like I need more room on the BBQ pit again.  You see, I'd been cooking on a Big Green Egg & a Bubba Keg but I continually needed more space that I just couldn't get with the kamado platform. 

Don't get me wrong, I love my Big Green Egg and am a huge advocate.  In fact, I often do demonstrations for the local dealer and have sold an untold number for them and to friends and family who have acquired one since I did. 

The problem is, when you start turning out good BBQ folks begin to ask you to cook for a variety of events.  I cooked for a good friend's retirement party, a wedding reception, numerous office luncheons, and last year a local fund raiser.

Now I suppose I could say no but the truth is that I get a kick out of providing good BBQ to folks and seeing their reaction.  Maybe I'm just an egomaniac but I figure as long as I have the ability to cook for these events, why not?  Hey, it keeps me off the streets!

So while I'd love to have a big Ole Hickory pit mounted on a trailer, that's probably not gonna happen given that I can't park a rig like that in my yard.  I can however continue to go vertical.  My Backwoods cooker does a great job in a footprint that fits nicely in my garage.  Luckily, there are several larger cookers from Backwoods that fit in only a slightly larger footprint. 

I've located a Pro Jr. from Backwoods that I'm trying to acquire.  That should double my capacity and hold me for awhile!  :)

I'll keep you posted and in the meantime, let me kow if you're interested in a slightly used Backwoods Fatboy.



Smoked Pork Steak

I grew up in the midwest and pork steaks were something that we grilled often.  I was probably 25 years old when I realized that people elsewhere in the country didn't know what a pork steak is. I was reminded of this again last month when I was in Murphysboro, IL for the Business of BBQ with OnCue Consulting at 17th Street Barbecue.  Dinner that evening was lightly smoked pork steaks finished over a high heat grill, but not everyone was familiar with a pork steak.  These pork steaks were tasty, but I like them dry rubbed and smoked until they're so tender that they almost fall apart.

But I digress.  For the unitiated, pork steaks come from pork butt sliced into steaks.  They are very common at bars, restaurants, and backyard cookouts in the midwest.  I grew up eating them grilled hot & fast, but a few years ago I began cooking them low & slow on the smoker. 

I've experimented with a couple of different flavor profiles, but we prefer them seasoned with a basic grill seasoning and smoked until they are melt-in-your-mouth tender.  Here are a few shots of the smoked pork steaks that I did last week.

Your typical pork butt But this one is "sliced" A Pork Steak Pork Steak on the Backwoods Fatboy The finished product

Is this cut of meat available where you live?  Leave me a comment and let me know.




BBQ Ribs in 2 Easy Steps

When I first began trying to create great ribs, I stumbled upon the 3-2-1 method. That's the method that involves 3 hrs in the smoke, 2 hours in aluminum foil, and another hour in the smoke (or a variation of these times).

That method produces pretty good ribs, but there are some that say the time in foil is steaming the ribs, not BBQing them, etc. I say if you like your ribs that way then have at it.  In fact, I was a 3-2-1 guy myself until this summer.  I've had the chance to cook more ribs this season than ever and here's what I've learned.

  • Foil...who needs it?  Partly due to the fact that I've begun to cook on a Backwoods Fat Boy where doing a whole lot of ribs at once makes foiling a huge, time consuming effort, I no longer wrap my ribs in foil.  The Backwoods & the Big Green Egg maintain a moist cooking environment and I don't find that I need to bother with the foil to get great results.
  • Cooking at a little higher temp isn't a bad thing.  I've always tried to keep the cooker at 250*, but it turns out that most things are just as good at 275*.  When demonstrating the Big Green Egg this summer, it was hard to keep the temp below 275* what with everyone wanting to see the meat on the cooker.  Frankly, those are some of the best ribs I've done.
  • Patience, as I've stated earlier, truly is a virtue.  Foiling the ribs and messing with all that always seemed like the magic to getting really tender, juicy ribs.  But guess what, if you're patient and let things take their own course, good things will happen.
  • 3+2+1=6  Now I didn't have to take up BBQ to learn that math, but my new approach to BBQ'ing ribs has them finishing in that amount of time or less...usually less.  I think that foiling made me feel like I was a more integral part of the process than I really am.  Frankly, the fire & the smoke are doing all the work and don't really need my involvement othen than tending the fire.

So my revised rib process looks like this:

  • Put the ribs on
  • Take the ribs off when they're done

Doesn't get much simpler than that!