Culinary Arts

Fire and Smoke

Aaron Franklin

Lesson time 28:30 min

Building and managing fire is key to barbecue mastery. In this chapter, Aaron demonstrates his technique for constructing clean fires, explains how to analyze smoke, and unpacks the anatomy and science of an offset cooker.

Aaron Franklin
Teaches Texas-Style BBQ
Aaron Franklin teaches you how to fire up flavor-packed Central Texas barbecue, including his famous brisket and more mouth-watering smoked meat.
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[MUSIC PLAYING] - So obviously, the foundation for any barbecue cook starts with a fire. That's your base. It's the base layer. It's a coal bed. It's the flames. It's the flavor. It's all the stuff. I've got a really specific way that I like to start a fire. I usually pick up my logs. Since the bottom of the fire box is round, this is kind of what I'm looking for. I want them to fit into a round fire box. So I picked these out earlier when I was splitting these up. That's kind of what I was thinking in my head. It's like, OK, well, I've got one dense one to go in the middle, and then I've got a bunch of dry small ones that I split to go in there. So all the flames kind of go through. It lights up really quickly. And that will be this one, first one. It goes right about there. And what this does is it creates a nice base right here. And then I've got these two wedges to be like the foundation for these lighter pieces. A couple light ones, I'm going to start with three. And I want to space the wood with about an inch gap between these three top pieces. That way, as the paper burns underneath it, the flames just kind of go through. It's a basket weave kind of scenario. There's enough airflow in there. Everything ignites itself. I've got this one. The next one is I'm going to put one dense one right in the middle. And the dense one is not going to burn very fast, because I want the other ones to burn quickly, create a coal bed, and then that heavy one will be in the middle. And it's just going to drop right in the middle. So two pretty lightweight ones here, and again, I'm going to put them just about an inch worth of spacing right there. I think that's a pretty nice looking base for that. So I totally realize that not everybody has a 42 inch long fire box to play with. So really, if you've got a smaller fire box, if you've got maybe a cooker that doesn't have really much of a fire box at all, you can totally use this principle. The idea behind it is that it gets a lot of airflow. It burns quickly. I'm not using very nice pieces of wood because it's not going to affect the meat because nothing's on there yet. But it will burn quick, and it will get my cooker up to temp super fast. But it also lays a good foundation. It's kind of like a little log cabin. So it's got a log there. It burns down. It burns down. And this kind of gets me in the habit of building a fire and working a fire the way that you really want to be able to work a fire to have clean flavors, airflow, and all that stuff. So this is a good foundation. I'm going to get it lit. So butcher paper comes in pretty handy for this stuff. It's kind of a cool trick. If you actually cook barbecue a lot and you have greasy butcher paper leftover from wrapping briskets, I like to save that stuff, and I like to use that to start my fires. But if you don't, a little oil-- I prefer grapeseed-- works pretty good too. Rub together. Got some nice oily papers here. Just...

The art of smoke and fire

Once a backyard hobbyist, Aaron Franklin is now the James Beard Award-winning owner of Franklin Barbecue, where the line for his famous smoked brisket is hours long. Now the Central Texas barbecue specialist teaches you his meticulous low and slow process for mouth-watering ribs, pork butt, and brisket. With perfectly seasoned cuts and optimal temperatures, you'll learn to handle an offset smoker like a true pitmaster.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Aaron’s class is an amazing insight into the world of Texas style BBQ. With an abundance of tips and techniques that make even a newb seem like a vet

Learning the importance of fire and how to pay attention to the heat, the meat and more subtle queues on my approach to cooking

Prior to taking this class I didn't know how to properly use my off set smoker, and my brisket was so bad I never tried to make another one. I just finished making brisket that Aaron would probably be proud to serve in his restaurant. This was a great class.

close to our hearts here in Texas! Loved the classes!


Richard M.

Kevin Gundy This is my favorite of all the lessons . The quality of your BBQ is the base fire. Thanks

Gabriele B.

Great class! Handy tips - would've been useful to see him operate a "normal" size backyard - struggling to understand how to adapt these concepts to my smaller offset.

A fellow student

So with a stick burner, is there really no such thing as "set it and forget it"? Like, do you have to pretty much stay right beside your smoker during the whole cook?

A fellow student

I wish I had an offset smoker, but not yet...I spent 10 years in Kansas City and became pretty familiar with Chris Marks (Three Little Pigs BBQ) and the Good One Smoker that he endorses. Three years ago, I ended up purchasing the Good One Heritage Oven smoker (see attached image). Honestly, I have struggled with its consistency. Before this, I smoked on a Weber kettle I had converted to a smoker. I had more consistency with my Weber. I'm curious if anyone else has cooked on a Good One smoker and had good luck.

Bryan K.

I did a mixture of what Aaron does in this video and what he does at the beginning of the brisket video. I made this same wood structure, but put lump charcoal at the bottom to fuel it. It’s working fine for now.

Le Vif B.

at 8:30 seconds where Aaron is describing the look of the smoke as it comes up the top, he references many times by looking or pointing, but as a student we don't get to benefit from a visual reference because there's no cut to show the smoke. Aaron is doing a great job of describing what we need to know audibly, but there arent' enough video cuts to really reinforces. Everyone learns in 3 different ways primarily: hearing, seeing, or doing. The benefit of a video course is largely to learn by seeing. I think we really need more video cuts to make this powerful - or simply as helpful as one might hope.

Paulína S.

there is something calming about fire, isn't there? It's such a strong element and you get to control it... I wish i had really one of his monstrosities of smokers! So lovely :) My grandfather has a build in one in his vacation house...might give it a shot when i visit next time :D sadly i am afraid it won't be sooner then next year summer (oh my gosh...) buuuut...heard rumours from my mum, my dad is building a bbq and smoker place so...finger crossed it's true and it will be finished when i come visit my motherland :D

Cory C.

When Aaron is talking about the sweet spot of cooking towards the end of the off-set, does that mean you need to rotate your meats from one side to another while in the cook to maintain consistency, say if you have the whole smoker full?

A fellow student

So interesting and insightful. Simple concepts making such huge differences in the outcome of your meal.

nathan C.

7am - "this is a good time to go get a beer"...................Yeah, I think I am going to like this class.