I really need some help figuring this one out. This is my third weekend smoking on a Brinkmann vertical, the older single door model. I had fair luck the first two weekends getting the heat up, better last weekend thanks to ideas from here about modifying the charcoal pan. But both weekends previous I ended up finishing things in the oven because I could not keep the temperatures up. Yesterday, whole new problem, I thought I had it licked. I had picked up a Weber rapid fire so I could start more coals as the temperature began to drop.So I used the rapid fire to start my first batch, worked beautifully and soon dumped a red hot batch of charcoal in. I'm using regular blue bag Kingsford right now, trying not to burn to much money to fast . I give the a few minutes to set while I stick meat on the racks, 4 whole chickens, and then I slide them in. Now it was a pretty wind day for around here, 20 -30 mile gust, and so I had moved the smoker around to try and block some of that wind. Based on last weekend, same charcoal and windy, I expected to see the temp soar up since I had the bottom vents full open and tops half. Last weekend it seemed that my modified pan really made the difference, I used a 3/4 hole saw to cut out 6 holes, 4 around the sides and 2 in the bottom. The temp had jumped quickly up to 350 on the door gauge, which is about 70 off, but by closing down vents I got it back close to 300, translated 230. This time though, no deal, the temp stayed in the 170 range. I had replaced my broken wireless probe with a cheapo wireless from wally world and for starting off stuck the probe in a potato and used it to try and get a read on internal temps of the smoker. I know that may have been off some, but comparing the door and probe it was pretty close to the 70 difference I expected. The probe, on the top rack measured generally 140-160 with a spike to 190-205 once when I dumped another heap of coals from the rapid fire in and stirred the pot a little.The water pan I had only a few inches of water in and I finally took it out after a few hours hoping to raise the temp. After 3.5 hours I pulled the meat to the oven, turned out nicely, sorry forgot to get a q-view on that.I went back out, and took the picks below after letting the smoker work on a tater with a probe. The door temp reads 270-280, the probe 205. This is with the probe on the bottom rack and the water pan gone. You can see the top vents here open, bottom vents are also wide open and the coals are really nice and red. By this point all the misquite chips are burned off and I'm just wanting to see the temp get up there. Same picture with a flash. You can kind of see 2 of the holes I cut in the pan here and the ash that has fallen out below. The pan was empty where I started. The coals coming out of the rapid fire bottom were pretty ashy, maybe the wind really sped up the process. I closed down the top vents and left it and about 15 minutes later checked and finally had a reading above 220. So my questions: Did I mess up by having top vents to open while trying to get the heat up? Could to much air passing through the smoker, bottom to top have sucked the heat out? Would the use of wood chips over wood chunks I used last week make this difference? Is it better to not have the water pan when temps won't climb or maybe have put sand in or more water? I thought this helped keep temperatures down as well as catch the drippings. What should I look for when my temps won't go up but I have just put the charcoal in? Would the grill wok mod, or expanded metal mod of the charcoal pan helped? I would like to get this down, I'm really wanting to do a brisket on Wednesday, but not spend my whole day off standing, staring at a smoker, I don't expect to spend hours away from it either. But at the temps I got yesterday, I'm not sure I can safely smoke a brisket. Please gurus of the smoke, lend me some insights before I go MAD.