How to keep charcoal smoker temp stable?

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by robertwhite, Jul 3, 2012.

  1. robertwhite

    robertwhite Fire Starter

    Probably asked a million times, but my search skills suck.

    I have a CharGriller grill with the side smoker box.

    I can't keep the cooking temperature even throughout the smoke and have a hard time even getting it to saty above 200* after 2 hours or so.

    I am starting with a load of charcoal (kingsford standard ones) in the side smoker pit area and when it is almost all white, I spread it out and put some wood chunks on top. I keep adding some charcoal when it looks to be 75% burnt out. This in itself is probably wrong, but I don't know for sure. Anyways, after doing that routine for 2-3hrs, I can't seem to get a hot fire anymore and it throws off the cooking time.

    I generally keep the smoke box vent halfway open and the grill stack vent the same. I am not having any trouble getting the smoke into the food, just can't keep the "fire" lit.

    Any hints, ideas, knowledge would be great, and don't worry about hurting my feelings, as I have my big boy pants on. [​IMG]
  2. I'm not a pro by any means (just starting out) but did you mod your smoker, are all the empty holes filled, is there any leaking smoke from the unit is firebox or lid?

    searched your unit and found these posts.

    Hope it helps until someone can give you the proper answers.
  3. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    a couple of ideas... first you might want to make a charcoal basket (or have one made)... In the mean time, try the minion method... put about a whole charcoal chimney full of UNLIT charcoal in the SFB (all piled up, not spread out).. now fill chimney about 3/4 full and light it.... burn until about 3/4 lit.. now dump the lit coals right next to and up against the unlit pile.... both vents wide open until temps start getting up about 210 or so,,, now start closing down the intake until temps become stable (not uncommon to have to close the intake completely because there are so many air leaks in these units)... If needed start closing exhaust vent as well...

    Your biggest mistake was spreading the charcoal out and then not adding enough each time... Do some searchs for mods on your smoker and you'll find there are quite a few mods that need to be down to these units... biggest one is the charcoal basket.. it raises charcoal up to give room for ashes to fall and not smother the fire... also it lets air circulate around the charcoal better...
  4. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    What JD said plus, I always push the burning coals toward the opening to the smoke chamber and add Lit charcoal on the other side. Adding unlit coals takes too long to start burning. Carfully try to remove spent ash to keep good air flowing to the fire...JJ
  5. cliffcarter

    cliffcarter Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    The charcoal briquettes you are using are creating too much ash which restricts airflow and causes the drop in temperature. Switch to lump charcoal, Royal Oak is the brand I use, and you will get much better results. IMHO you should start with 2 chimneys of fully burning lump and add 1 chimney when temps begin dropping. Then repeat the cycle until the meat is done.

    The stack vent should remain fully open at all times, regulate your temps using the intake vent on the sfb.

    Unless you have done most of the mods to your CharGriller(including the charcoal basket) using the Minion Method will not work, there are too many air leaks, you will end up with temps that are totally out of control.

    Here is a link to the thread on this site detailing the mods, if you wish to make them.
  6. First off, I'd not wait until the fire appears 75% out to add charcoal... that's too late, esp. using unlit.  The process I've used that works for me on my NB Bandera (admitedly not the same smoker but it gives an idea) is to start with one full can of lit charcoal, spread out to make a nice bed.  I immediately then add about 12 unlit coals to the fire along with one split hickory "mini log" (I get a bag of those from Bass Pro Shops in my area).  Once I reach temp, I can usually close the damper almost all the way.  I then typically add about 8-12 unlit coals every hour of the cooking time and a new log as required.  Get a fireplace poker and be prepared to rotate the log a time or two.

    I keep a metal bucket with a grill grate on the driveway near the smoker and about 5 hours into smoking (if needed) I will start another can of coals and quickly remove the old ash and add the fresh fire.  In more recent sessions though, I'm finding I need to do that less and less often and typically only in colder weather.

    I'm going to probably try playing with lump charcoal myself, but I've managed to get good results with the Kingsford standard and in twin-packs at Sam's it's certainly a lot cheaper than lump and I go through a LOT of charcoal!

    I also keep notes of every smoking session, including approx. weather conditions, types and size of meats, fuel additions and temps by hour, etc.  Referring to these have allowed me to tune my heat management.  Frankly, IMHO, THAT is the key phrase... "manage the heat."  there needs to be enough fuel at all times, that you are working to keep the heat down.  That is a whole lot easier than get temps back up when they've fallen.  I try to keep it so that I can maintain 225 with dampers at least 60% closed.  When I have to open them half-way or more, I'm adding fuel right away.

    BTW... on using a charcoal starter chimney.  I always use a folded paper towel soaked in vegetable oil to oil the grates on my grill just before putting the food on... I don't throw it away, I keep it for the next grilling / smoking session and put it into the middle of the crumpled newspaper in the bottom of the chimney.  I find that it works like lighter fluid with none of the negative effects!
  7. I have the same smoker as you.  I have been meaning to mod it but I haven't yet.  I have used charcoal in mine a few times and had temp problems.  I prefer to use hickory chunks alone.  With a little practice you should have no problem keeping your temp anywhere you want it.  I usually keep my coals on the vent side of the sfb, add chunks between the coals and smoke chamber to smolder, after a while I will move the smoldering chunks on the coals and repeat the process.  I always get great smoke and stay at 225 this way.  Hope this makes sense.  It was a lot harder to explain than I thought it would be.  One more thing, because I haven't done any of the mods yet, I can only use a small portion of the smoke chamber.  Basically, I can a little less than 3/4 of my smoke chamber.  The side closest to the sfb gets to hot. 
  8. michel

    michel Newbie

    Well what i do, and this is my first time using my smoker, i make a pouch alu foil, were i put in my wood chips. There soaked into water prior doing that, make pea size holes in the package and leave or tear a bit open. So there is a airflow going on, what i did is maybe not the way to do it but still.

    I put briquets in the coal basket, my mistake! I should have just gone to my fire pit make a nice pyramid and lit them. As it is way easier doing it there, with some lighter fluid or whatever. Once the are well gray ash like, i put them onto a steel plate. And top the basket full! Way easier then, fiddling around in that contained area were the basket is in to lit them.

    Then i put my pouch not in the fire, but in the water pan, yah weird i know. do that for one hour, open it add more coals/briquets (in my case already lit, thank you fire pit) and i use my leather gloves to put them in.

    I grab the pouch out the waterpan, that now not only has water..but also juices of meat over it. Top that in the briquets, now some will say NOO WILL NOT WORK WELL! you loose heat, no biggie..

    You top that of with some more briquets (already lit) and you see you're temp meter rise, i prefer SLOW smoking, so i do not mind adding one hour of cooking to it to begin with.

    Hope this helps...

    The best tip for me that works really well, is just make sure you already have lit briquets will work just fine!
  9. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

    Charcoal basket will fix alot of your problems.  I use straight up Kingsford blue bag with oak and mesquite chunks in my Chargriller with SFB.  The temp fluctuation is a given in a thin walled Chargriller, there are some mods as mentioned earlier to seal it up better, but I have never done any of those.  Exhaust fully open to keep a good draft, adjust the intake to about half open or so and let the minion method via the basket do it's job. 
  10. Starting small,. I took just the Char Griller SFB and moded it in to a mini smoker as a learning exercise. I raised the grate height 1 1/2 inches, and added tabs to mount heat deflectors under each grate, and one is interchangeable with an under grate  water pan if I need more grate cooking area.  First revelation - it needed better sealing. I used some auto body tools to better match the surfaces on the door to its opening, then sealed it with food safe RTV (the red 550+ degree stuff). I put wax paper on the opening edges where the door sits, then put the RTV bead on the door's edges where it meets the opening indentations, and GENTLY  closed it so the RTV did not squeeze out, I further sealed it by using a putty  knife to fully fill the edge gap between the door and  SFB body. The sealing alone  has resulted in a good four hours of constant  225 degree temp on one minion-sized fill of the coal grate. If I need more time, I can slide out the drawer, add a chimney of hot coals with little temp drop or heat loss and finish whatever I am smoking.

    My next  step up is a used Smokin Pro.  I will start with sealing and the lowered chimney stack tube, and plan on a minioned  barrel grateful of charcoal and a minioned SFB grate full of charcoal to hopefully use the barrel grate height adjustment for cooking and a regulating the cooking chamber, and the SFB for any fine heat tuning and my smoke source. I will update when I get a chance after learning the new grills quirks. Oh yeah, I also think the pro is more of a CES (Cost Effective Smoker) that a COS.  Appreciate everyone's inputs.  
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2014

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