i do my poking usually on every second tending, unless of course theres signs of a faster burn, more ash built up in corners, and sides. I have a good hot bed of coals when i do the poking. stick in, shake rod a bit, and a ever so slight push pull foward-aft while doing so. i do the poking across back, then down sides, then front and a few spots randomly in middle of red coals, shut doors and shake down ash, with quick jerking/chopping short movements of shaker handle. wait a minute, then open ash door look for glow of emebrs on ash in ash pan area, if isee a glow, i leave ash door open, open feed door and add more coal build up rear first, then down each side, then in front, i poke/slide coal over some in middle to espose some hot(red) embers to help ignite the gas coal makes while it lites off. close feed door, leave ash door up for about 10 minutes, then close ash door. Leaving ash door open for about ten minutes get burning coal on bottom/middle of coal bed flaring up so o help lite off new coal on top.
If you have a weak ember bed, do the ash poking only in ash areas, leave hot embers alone, the shake to get rid of ash, but be careful not to shake too many embers down in ash pan, then load coal lightly around hot embers, out to outer walls, back and front, but leave hot embers exsposed in center(good size area). with some larger pieces of new coal on embers, l close feed door, leave ash door open, check in 10-15 minutes, if the ember bed has picked up, and coal on embers& edges is dancing blue and some more all around, a lil bit more on center embers, close feed, leave ash door open still, check again in 10 minutes. Third time the ember bed should be spreading underneath to new coal on sides,front, back. Look for glow on ash in ash pan.. if dull but good looking thru feed door, sahke ash grate again watch for underneath glow to increase some, when it does stop shaking. Then finish loading fire bos to usual depth, close all doors, set draft as you like. Check it again in an hour, open ash door, wait a minute, then slowly open feed door. blue flames should be on top of bed, and red embers getting bigger all around and bright under new coal, if so its good to go for 12 hours. shut doors and wait 12 hours for next poke, shake feed cycle.