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.
Get All-Access


[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.

I love he passion and have joined the cult demonstrating my devotion with a few perfect cooks!

Aaron Franklin is awesome!!! He is a great teacher of the craft.

Excellent, entertaining, and informative! Read Aaron's book and it helped me cook 6 great briskets, but I learned so much more from this course!

BBQ is not a skill I will use regularly but many of the techniques and tips translate well to other cooking. In addition to the amazing story of Aaron. I was lucky enough to eat at Franklin while in Austin on somewhat of a whim. I showed up, waited about 45 minutes and was one of the last few in the door before the sign went up.


Norm L.

Excellent, it was very informative and something I’ve always wondered about: how do you start and maintain consistent temps. I feel much more prepared to attempt it now

Jose B.

All the moms in the world: Never play with fire! Franklin: Play around with fire, its fun!

Nano M.

Really enjoyed Ch.2 Fire and Smoke and how much time Aaron spent talking about the importance of building a good fire and how to manage it to produce the right temps and good, clean smoke to make flavorful food. I especially appreciate Aaron pointing out how fun it is to work with the fire and how much of a learning experience it all is.


Telling us that the fire was the most important part, that is exactly what I hoped Mr. Franklin would say. This lesson was great. Thanks also to all of you whose comments I've been enjoying. A special woo hoo for the women welders creating the smokers they want. You are awesome and inspiring.

A fellow student

Interesting. Though doesn't talk about warming the wood. I was always taught to put the wood on top of the smoker box to get it warmed up and get more moisture out before putting it on the fire. Maybe I was over thinking it.

George B.

I wish he would talk about building a fire in a smaller seems that when I follow this I get 350+ temps....

Gary F.

If you do any cooking using wood, this lesson is a must. I visited my sister, in Ohio, who had just purchased an out-door, wood fired pizza oven. Information from this lesson directly applied. Only difference was the operating temp. 800 degrees. Getting the oven up to temp and maintaining it used the same plan. Did have to use some blacksmith tongs to place the wood chunks at the rear of the oven.

Robert H.

I love his approach as he does not make you feel like you are the rookie I am lol. He explains in detail. I really enjoy his lessons. Thank You AARON

Hendrik-Jan C.

How to build a fire. Of course I have built camp fires and fired up my smoker. What Aaron explains is something I recognize but did not realize until now. Wanna build a fire right now!

A fellow student

Sourcing going to need to make a few calls and see what types are available in my area. Great class so far