So, please confirm for me (as it’s a little obscure in the book) the bottom vent should be open, yes? Also, the top vent should be all the way open for quick cook things (burgers, etc) or the lid off, is that right?
The top vent can stay all the way open pretty much the whole time -- there's probably some scenarios in which you'd want to close the top vent a little bit, but I've always left it open all the way.
The bottom vent is the one that you'll be adjusting -- the more open it is, the more airflow, the hotter the coals will burn. I'm no expert on this by any means, but unless I'm wanting to smoke something for a long time, I just leave the bottom vent all the way open.
Re. lid off -- this was one of the 'mistakes' I used to make when I would do a barbecue. If you leave the lid off, your food won't really cook unless you're cooking the items directly over the hot coals, and the coals won't stay hot for anywhere near as long.
If you leave the lid on, you have a lot more options -- if you pile the hot coals up to one side of the kettle, you can use that side to cook 'direct' (i.e. the food is directly over the coals), and you can use the other side to cook 'indirect' (where the food is off to the side, and the cooking happens more like in a normal oven)
You can also mix it up, so you can cook things indirectly until they're done, and then stick them directly over the hot coals for a bit to get the "chargrilled" lines on them and stuff like that.
See, I was trying to say that you need them open to increase the oxygen so the coal thingies can burn properly.
But she kept saying to close them to ‘increase the heat’ and my gosh, she would not listen to me.
She is not.
so then she started ripping up bits of cardboard boxes and shoving them between the grate, just loads and loads of cardboard, lighting each piece individually with one of those long clicky lighters so everything was cold and covered in soot.
And yeah, as you've discovered, this is bad
All sorts of stuff on cardboard that would potentially taint the food and make it taste weird.
Also, that chimney lighter worked super well, Gaz. Brilliant recommendation, thank you
No worries -- I think it was one of our resident Yes Chefs that stressed how good they are to me, and it made everything so much easier! I watched my neighbours struggle to get their barbecue lit without one yesterday, took them nearly an hour of fart-arsing about, false starts etc. but they got it going in the end.