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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.

Yesterday, I made the best brisket - ever because of Aaron Franklin. He's the bomb. Thanks, Buddy. I live in Central Texas.

I teach abroad in China, and i've had to be pretty creative to get cuts, wood, and a decent smoker. Franklin's class was an absolutely phenomenal way for me to connect some of the knowledge I learned from my Dad growing up. I can't wait to apply it all and get some Texas flavor going in Northeastern China.

I'm Smokehouse owner on the Island of Puerto Rico that the way what we make a BBQ is a lot difference of Texas Culture. Now I learn some new techniques and can use it on my restaurant

Great video, I think the order was a little jumbled, but over all I really enjoyed it. Can't wait to try my hand at BBQ now!


T D.

The comment about using oil (you prefer grapeseed) was odd. I get why you're using oil, but it doesn't seem like the type of oil would matter when lighting a fire. Was that just a general, "I like grapeseed oil for cooking" type of comment or is there some reason it matters in the context of starting a fire?

Chris J.

I sure appreciate your perspective on learning. Watch the fire and learn as you go, through successes and failures, and you're constantly analyzing data and growing in experience. Goes with a lot in life.

Matthew C.

I always knew that temperature control was crucial but the level Aaron brings to this topic is fantastic. I have a lot of work to do.

Leroy H.

Why not buy higher quality wood, save all that time and effort and have better BBQ?

Jason K.

Wish I had a firebox that big (mine's only 17" wall to wall), but it gave me some pretty good thoughts on the range of how the wood catches. Up until now I've been pretty instinctual on when to add, when not to and rotating coals to stoke or slow the burn. Although you did hit the nail when it comes to bad weather. Growing up in northern michigan we would use the coals in much the same manner to pre-heat the air as it is pulled into the firebox. But by spreading out the coals over a bigger surface area we called that insulating. Helps keep the firebox itself from dropping too much temp as the cold air rushes in/out. All in all a good lesson on wood/fire building. I've often used the paper/oil trick and on really bad weather days threw in some lump charcoal to assist in building up some coals.

Micah B.

I love how this lesson adds detail and visuals to what is taught in the book. I wish I had a firebox that big to work with! :)

Dillon T.

I like how precise he is with the temps...3-5 degrees is something I need to work at..I am currently running within 25 degrees

Paul K.

I like it but I have a WSM cooker so it's a vertical kettle...... rather than an offset...

Carson H.

This is really helpful to me to know what to do throughout a long cook Thanks!


However most of the principles would apply in one way or another. Plus you do know now how to set the fire if you were to get that type of smoker.