Getting Fed Up with my Smoker - Just a Rant

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by noggin, Aug 24, 2015.

  1. noggin

    noggin Fire Starter

    super short summary of the entire thread I had issues with an AMNPS as it wouldn't stay lit and switched to a tube smoker.  The tube pellet smoker kicks ass and is giving me no issues at all!

    Sorry for the long rant... there is a question at the end though.  Might be this evening before I can respond to any posts though, but I thank anyone that takes the time to read this post.

    I have a relatively low end propane smoker.  I cold smoked some cheese in it last winter and it was fantastic.  I've also made some excellent pork butts, briskets, and the best  chicken I've ever eaten in my life in it.  Couldn't eat the skin, but the meat, that was some good stuff.

    The chip tray that comes with it sucks.  Bad.  It has holes in it and sits right above the fire, so the chips would catch on fire.  Fixed that with some aluminum foil.  But, the chips would burn up with 30 to 45 minutes.  It was a pain in the ass to keep opening it to let out all the heat when I put more chips in.  The water tray was too small, too.

    When I got fed up with the chip dance, I replaced the chip tray with a large, flat, rectangular iron griddle from Academy sports.  I put a turkey tray full of sand on top of that to act as a heat sink and removed the water tray.  I switched to using an A-MAZ-N pellet tray for smoke generation.  I built a PID controller from a Raspberry PI and an analog board I designed myself.  It kept the cabinet temperature within 1 degree of my setpoint.  It was hell to get that A-MAZ-N tray to stay lit.  After a while, I realized that it was because I didn't have enough air flow.  Eventually, it'll light and stay lit, but it might take a few hours and half a dozen relights to get it to work.  

    Next, I did the mailbox mod.  But it didn't work at all for 225 smoking.  Cold smoking, fantastic.  But at 225, the airflow in the cabinet was so bad that it was pushing the smoke back out of my mailbox.

    I bought a smokestack from another smoker and mounted to my smoker.  It didn't really help.  Airflow still sucked.

    I recently moved to a new home that has natural gas.  I converted the smoker to natural gas, and I think it made the airflow situation worse.  It might not be worse, it might be the same.  It definitely isn't better though.

    I bought a 4" galvanized sheet metal pipe and a rain cap.  Air flow improved considerably, A-MAZ-N smoker will light and stay lit.  I can also keep it in the mailbox and it works pretty well.  Unfortunately, this has made it very difficult for the smoker to get up to temperature.  I didn't have a real baffle to put on top of the pipe, so I improvised with some tape just to see how it worked.  Ultimately, it seems like this could be the ticket.  I eventually found a balance where I could set the air flow where the smoker could maintain temperature and the A-MAZ-N tray would stay lit.

    I tried putting the A-MAZ-N smoker on top of the griddle, thinking that maybe the extra heat would help.  And it did.  Too good.  It would cause the entire tray to start smoldering and put out tons of smoke.  So I noped out of that choice pretty quick.  Then I put a chunk of hickory on top of the griddle.  Nuthin.  It made the hickory chunk warm.  That's about it.  After a 8 hour stuffed chicken smoke, the bottom of the hickory chunk was charred, slightly, but no measurable amount of smoke came from it.  

    Before I moved, the smoker was protected by a large brick wall.  Now, its basically out in the open and subject to all sorts of wind.  The last smoke I did, last weekend, was 8 hours long.  It was a stuffed chicken.  The wind blow out the flame 3 or 4 times over the course of 8 hours.  I improvised a wind guard and that seemed to work.

    Now, I bought the propane smoker because i expected it to be a set-it-and-forget-it deal.  I then decided it would be fun to make a Raspberry Pi controller for it.  That was fun too.  But lately, I'm finding that I'm just fed up with that thing.  I want it to work so badly though.

    I can fix the wind blowing out the flame with a wind guard.  The Raspberry PI can detect when the flame goes out and shut off the gas.  The Rasberry PI can be updated to relight the flame if I chose to do so.  But here's the kicker, all of that doesn't necessarily mean that I can count on the smoke generation to be good.  What I've learned is that when the PID controller is ramping up the temperature (has the gas set high) the pressure inside of the smoker is very high.  This reduces the "good" airflow that keeps the A-MAZ-N smoker lit.  When the smoker is at temperature, and the PID controller backs off to maintain temperature, the A-MAZ-N smoker stays lit.  What does this mean?  I need to INSULATE  the smoker to help it maintain temperature and to get it up to temperature more quickly.

    But... I'm tired of messing with it.  This was fun two years ago, but now I have a 9 month old kid.  I don't have time to keep playing with it.

    So here's the real question...

    $2000.  What smoker can I get that needs minimal supervision once it gets going?  I want it large enough to do a whole packer brisket or two 7 lb pork butts.  XL Big Green Egg?  L Big Green Egg?  Is there a good / great Natural Gas smoker?
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
  2. inkjunkie

    inkjunkie Master of the Pit

    I have both a Large BGE and an XL. Grid diameter on the XL is 18". Both packers I have done were larger than this, ended up on the XL. Done a "lite" rack of spares on the L, had to bend them to fit. Moral of my story, the L gets used for burgers, meatloaf etc....the XL does all the bigger stuff. I have had the XL since 04 or so, the L just a few months...Good luck on your decision.
    On either one, once you get the vents figured out it will hold that temperature until it burns out. Our XL went over 24 hours on a load of wood. Then there is always the option of a controller
     
  3. michaelt1959

    michaelt1959 Fire Starter

    As a fellow Texan, I encourage you to evaluate this fabricator.  I have looked at a lot of them, and I visited these guys last week as they are only 20 minutes from my house.  AWESOME units, excellent fabrication, and quite possibly some of the best made units you can find on the market anywhere in the country. 

    Exceptional value for the dollar - and the owner literally touches every unit throughout the process to ensure the quality.  No shortcuts - none. Truly hands on. He is has been in the fabrication for years and done some pretty special ornamental work, etc., over the years in this area and his reputation for quality there is A-1.  All he does now is "pits".  Great guy.  His name is Chris. Wife's name is Amanda. One or the other of them will answer the phone. 

    They have two (2) units right in your wheelhouse @ $2,000 or just under. I am deciding which I want now - both offsets, one vertical the other horizontal.  Was going to go with Yoder, but decided to buy local.  Just a better all around unit from these guys, and knowing they are in Texas is nice.

    Good luck!

    http://www.lonestargrillz.com/
     
  4. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

    Honestly, if you are looking at minimal supervision, a stick burner is not the way to go.  You'd be better off building or buying an Ugly Drum Smoker (UDS) or 2.  Your other option for minimal supervision would be any number of cabinet style smokers from several different manufacturers (Backwoods, Pitmaker, Stumps, etc.)  Even Lone Star Grillz (that Michael mentioned) is producing a cabinet style smoker now, price range is in the mid $2000's.
     
  5. michaelt1959

    michaelt1959 Fire Starter

    I concur with Bruno994.  If it's minimal supervision you desire given your toddler a vault is indeed the way to go because the best built stick burners require TLC, best I can figure. Lonestar's entry level vault is right @ $2K, I believe out the door.

    FYI ... 15-16 week wait period with them.  50% down, 50% on pick up.
     
  6. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

    BTW, Michael is 100% correct on the quality of the Lone Star builds, I have seen several up close, well built machines, but the same goes for Pits By JJ and Pitmaker as well, both in Houston.   Noggin, depending on where you are located, there might be others closer to you as well.  
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2015
  7. inkjunkie

    inkjunkie Master of the Pit

    Why are folks mentioning stick burners when the op wants minimal maintenance after getting it lit?
     
  8. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

    All the mentioned pit builders build both offset and vertical cabinet style smokers (Pitmaker, Lone Star Grillz, Backwoods, Stumps)
     
  9. bmaddox

    bmaddox Master of the Pit

    Since it sounds like you are pretty darn handy, I say save the money and build a UDS. Then reprogram the raspberry pi to control a pit fan to maintain your temps. Then throw in an amazen tube smoker to ensure the smoke keeps going. You could be set and ready to go for less than $300. I can fit a 16 pound brisket on mine with plenty of room.

    But that's just me and I am known to be on the cheap side. If you do go with an XL BGE then you could still do a pit fan and controller. 
     
  10. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

    I'm with bmaddox, UDS is a great and cheap investment and easy to manage the fire too.
     
  11. noggin

    noggin Fire Starter

    Wow, lots of great responses.  Thanks everyone...

    I took a look at Lonestar Grillz and I REALLY like that insulated smoker.  I'd want it with the side table and one or two other options, which would put it at about $2500.  $2000 would be what I'd want to spend at the absolute maximum, and even that is more than I'd like  to spend.  

    I considered a UDS before I got my propane smoker, but I went propane because it seemed easier.  Now that I'm a bit more open to using charcoal, I've looked at it again.  I don't want to go through with what some people have done (drilling, cutting, burning, sanding, priming and painting) so this seems like too much work.  I have no doubts that I can do all of that, but having just moved into a new home and trying to keep up with the little bugger, I'm not too keen on taking on yet another project.  That said, http://www.bubbasbarrels.com/big-poppas-stainless-drum-smoker-kit looks like a really great option.  Not only that, it is a stainless drum, so rusting should be of little concern so longevity should be great.  The only issue with this UDS kit is that it has adjustable vents for the air inlets.  I think I'd prefer a ball valve to allow me to eventually hook my RPi into it... after programming it to drive a blower motor instead of control a needle valve of course.  
     
  12. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Your original smoker set up did not have enough oxygen... Flame consumes the oxygen and the AMNPS won't work.. The AMNTS should work.... Also sounds like the iron griddle blocked air flow....
    Had you drilled holes in the original smoker it should have worked... many have made that mod... 8 each 1" holes around the top of the side walls and 4 each around the bottom of the side walls should make the original smoker work and provide adequate air flow....
    There are several threads on here where folks have done mods to make the smoker work.....

    Dave
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2015
  13. bruno994

    bruno994 Master of the Pit

    Look into gatewaydrumsmokers.com if you haven't yet.  
     
  14. Since you asked and everyone else gave their 2 cents worth I would purchase a Rec Tec pellet grill. Set your temps and walk away. You can do 2 full packets or 8 boston butts. High quality, 6 year warranty and all said & done around $1,250 delivered.
     
  15. worktogthr

    worktogthr Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    You can get a pit barrel cooker. Enough for a large brisket whether you are hanging it or putting it on the grate. Beautiful thing is everyone has this impression that it only cooks hot and fast but the truth is you can modify your initial set up just a bit and achieve lower or higher temps.
     
  16. gr8day

    gr8day Smoke Blower

    My budget is just under 2K and I've decided on a Insulated Cabinet Smoker and I'm down to a Humphrey's Weeble or 270 Sumo, they are both under 2K delivered. I don't think I'll need it because I never felt the need to add one to the WSM but a Guru could be added on down the road. 

    Another option I looked at is a Pellet Grill and was considering the MAK 1 Star, I currently smoke on a WSM 18.5, also have a Weber Gasser and Charcoal Grill so I don't need a grill and I'm very happy with the food I produce on the WSM just looking for a dedicated Smoker with more capacity and a little less effected by weather.
     
  17. b-one

    b-one Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Look at a WSM 22.5 save the extra cash for food or something else.
     
  18. smokin phil

    smokin phil Smoking Fanatic

    If you want "set and forget", what about electric? I realize they have their cons, but tending a fire or your flame blowing out aren't. A decent unit, a few mods, you'd have a great smoker for 1/4 of your budget. Just something to think about.
     
  19. noggin

    noggin Fire Starter

    The tube smokers are more friendly to oxygen depleted chambers?

    I'm sure the iron griddle had some effect on the airflow, but I tried to minimize it.  I raised it up fairly high, see the picture below.  The tray on top of the griddle was filled with sand, but I've removed it and run it without the sand now.  You can also see where the mailbox mod comes into the smoker.  I'm thinking that before I finally give up on this smoker, I'm going to move the mailbox entry point to the bottom of the smoker.  

    (I noticed the leaves under the smoker and cleaned up before actually doing the smoke session)


    As for getting more airflow, here's a recent picture of the smoker.  The larger smokestack seems to give ample airflow, to the point where the gas can't raise the temperature to 225°C without putting painters tape over the top of using some really high-tech painters tape as a baffle...

    Is there any real difference between these and a UDS?  Visually, it looks like their air intakes (and maybe one is a water fill port?) are up high.  Otherwise, I didn't see much information on their website about their smokers.
    If I put a temperature controller on a smoker, I'd rather it be of my own design, or at least open source hardware and firmware so I can modify it.  I have some good ideas on how to further improve on any of the pit controllers on the market.
    I've actually considered adding heating elements to my smoker.  My Raspberry Pi could easily control the heating elements to add a good bit of non-oxygen-depleting heat that would make the A-MAZ-N smoker a bit happier.
     
  20. tjohnson

    tjohnson Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Insider OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Send back the AMNPS 5x8 and I'll send you a 12" Tube Smoker

    The Tube Smoker will work great right inside your gas smoker

    Then you can use what you already own!

    Todd
     

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