New to smoking and having problems

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by bobbiek04, Mar 15, 2010.

  1. bobbiek04

    bobbiek04 Newbie

    Hello everyone, i have spent some time reading through the forms and decided to give smoking a try. I have been an avid griller and have almost always used gas, so making the leap from direct heat gas grilling to the low and slow method of smoking is giving me some problems.

    I had a gift card to Home Depot and decided to get the brick-man horizontal smoker with the firebox. For my first smoke i got two pork spare ribs, trimmed them up St Louis style, and got to work. I had a horrible time getting the smoker up to temperature. I ended up using an 18lb bag of charcoal and barely getting the temperature to 225. I used an oven thermometer instead of relying on the cheap one that came with the smoker. One problem that i thought of was that i had to keep opening the lid to check the temp, so for my second try i got an oven probe digital thermometer.

    The second problem i had was with the firebox grate. late into the smoke i noticed that the heat had weakened the steel and the grate had bowed down into the ash, choking the fire. So for my second time i got a 1/4" steel dowel and cut it to length to support the grate better. After making these changes i gave it another try today and had no luck. I went through the same amount of fuel and the temps were lower. i only averaged about 200 degrees.

    At this point i am running out of ideas. i know there are several mods that can be done to try to improve things, but i don't know if they will help that significantly. I'm thinking about extending the chimney because the hood temp (with the cheep thermometer)was around 300. Do you guys have any other ideas or suggestions?
  2. rbranstner

    rbranstner Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Are you sure your digital thermometer is calibrated correctly? My only concern was maybe that one is off and you are actually around the 300 degree mark like your cheap thermometer is reading. Yea using a regular oven thermometer is kind of hard because you can't see it until you open the door then you lose lots of heat or in my case with my UDS when I take the lid off my fire gets more air and the temps start going up. I can't help you with any mods as I am not experienced with your type of smoker but there will be others along shortly that an give you all kinds of idea's on what to try. If your temp are are around 200 for sure then it almost sounds like your fire isn't getting enough air or something to bring the temps up higher.
  3. caveman

    caveman Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    Welcome to the forum. You should stop by roll call & announce your self so everyone can you give a hearty welcome & we can introduce you properly. As far as the smoker, first you might want to go to lowes & purchase a grill basket. It is around $15 - $19 bucks, give or take a dollar or two. I believe the area you are using to set your coals on in the SFB is too low for ventilation & is choking out your fire. This basket will elevate your fire & give you great ventilation. Don't put the wooden handle on & if you have access to some type of heavy duty wire cutters or bolt cutter, cut off the basket handles. There is a post of a modded basket in the Charcoal smoker section of this forum, if I am correct. Secondly, I would try either mixing in some lump coal or going all lump. Royal Oak is great & your local Walmart should have it & is cheaper than charcoal. It burns hotter with less ash so it does not choke out faster. The third thing is this: In opening & closing your vents, make small adjustments, wait fifteen minutes, then make another adjustment if necessary. Remember, every time you open your lid, you are letting your heat escape & that heat must be replenished, which causes you to use extra fuel. (Charcoal, lump, wood)

    Be patient & keep mental or paper notes of what you are doing. Good luck & don't forget roll call.
  4. smokingriley

    smokingriley Smoke Blower

    I have the same smoker and had very similar problems. The charcoal grate in this thing is not the greatest. What I did was I bought a Char-Broil stainless steel shaker basket (used for grilling shrimp/veggies on the BBQ) and cut the handles off and used that for my charcoal basket. - I fits perfectly and supplies good airflow to the coals. Next thing I did was add a baffle at the fire box opening to redirect the heat across the bottom. Then I extended the chimmny inside the smoking chamber. I used some aluminum flashing. The temp guage on the top of the chamber is not very accurate so I installed 2 more guages at the grate level on the hood. I got most of my ideas form this link. Hope that helps.
  5. bobbiek04

    bobbiek04 Newbie

    @SmokingRiley how much charcoal/lump coal do you start with and how frequently do you have to add it?
  6. bman62526

    bman62526 Smoking Fanatic

    Yep...I would agree. The firebox grate in those might as well be made out of match crap!

    I like the suggestions about using a shaker basket, as that is also what I did. However, if the shaker basket is still sitting too low in the firebox - then you will still be choking the fire. Buy a slightly wider firebox grate and that should raise your shaker basket. Whatever you do - steel rods, modify a larger grate, etc...the end result should be a shaker basket that's at LEAST 4" above the bottom of your firebox.

    If your digital thermometer is good, and you've raised the fire in the firebox - you should easily be able to maintain 250 - 275°, if not - you need to regulate your airflow a little better.

    Make sure your exhaust damper is WIDE open. Dump in your lit coals (I assume you have a charcoal chimney) and then open your intake vent 3/4 of the way open.

    Once you get up to around 250° and if the temp is still climbing - close your intake vent to 1/2 way and see if it levels off.

    Oh - and YES, do the chimney mod! If your cheapo therm is reading 300, then it's probably actually closer to 350!!

    All of your heat is coming in the chamber, rising to the top, and going out the need to extend that down to grate level to help keep the heat in.

    Good luck and keep trying!
  7. smokingriley

    smokingriley Smoke Blower

    I start off with 1.5 -2 chimney full of lump charcoal. Lump works best I've used both lump and briquettes. Lump burns hotter. I usually add more lump around every 2 - 2.5 hours. I also throw on a couple of chunks of cherry, apple or pecan wood on to get a good smoke flavor.
  8. acemakr

    acemakr Smoking Fanatic

    Bobbie, Riley is spot on.
  9. mr500

    mr500 Meat Mopper

    Im assuming tha you are using the Minion method here? U start with 2 full chimneys? About how many cold coals are you throwing into the basket before you toss on the hot ones?

    I dont start with a full chimney. Maybe thats my problem with temps not getting up there.

    Seems I still have a 50 deg. diff from side to side. Im turning the coal tray over and using that as baffle. Still working on it. Ill get it ONE day im sure!!!
  10. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Untill you extend your chimney down to grate level inside the smoker all your heat is going to try and go straight up, then along the top of the lid and out. Also definately get the shaker basket - I fill mine about 2/3 of the way full with a 50/50 mix of lump and briquets, then dump a full chimney of lit (again 50/50). I usually average about 225-250 in the chamber with about 10-15 degrees differance from right to left.

    Keep making small adjustments and you will learn to dial it in. Also remember top vent is open 100%, controll your fire with the lower vent. Don't give up you will get there.[​IMG]
  11. bobbiek04

    bobbiek04 Newbie

    Thanks for all the help, i got some sheet metal and the basket from lowes. I'm going to try to find some time and make the mods. I will post some before and after pics and let yall know how it worked
  12. bobbiek04

    bobbiek04 Newbie

    Good news guys i got the temp up this time with no problem. Here is what i did. Just like you guys said i went out and got the basket and a couple of cheep sheets of steel from lowes. I used the old charcoal grate turned sideways to support the basket.

    Before: I used 1/4" steel rods to stiffen the grate

    There was only about 2-3" of clearance at the bottom

    After the Basket

    Now there is a good 4 inches underneath. Now there is no excuse to have bad airflow!

    For the baffle i cutout a pice of thin sheet metal maybe 1/32". If i have problems i will have to get someone to cut me a thinker one. I left about 2 or 3 inchen underneath.

    I had an extra sheet so i decided to make some tuning plates.

    I decided to go ahead and season/test it and sure enough...

    The only problem is that i used an oven thermometer on the cold side of the grill and it was reading about 25 degrees colder than the hot side. Now it sounds like i have to dial in my plates and try to get that heat spread evenly. Any suggestions on tuning plate placement/sizes?

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