SFB Minion Method - Am I doing something wrong?

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by pvillecomp, May 15, 2012.

  1. pvillecomp

    pvillecomp Fire Starter

    I have tried the Minion Method now 4 times in the Trailmaster LE and the results are not what I expected.

    I'm using Lump charcoal from The Original Charcoal Company and when I load up the basket and pour a chimney of coals on top all I get is a super hot raging file until it burns down and then I can hold a decent temp. I usually have the damper on the SFB closed and I sometimes have to close the chimney down 1/4 of the way to keep it from raging out of control.

    Last weekend I had 3/4 of a bag in the basket and it only lasted 4 hours before I had to add more. After that I only added handfuls at a time to maintain consistent temps.

    I have sealed the firebox with hi-temp caulk and tried to put gaskets on the ash drawer and firebox door but they fell off almost immediately after the unit cooled down (most likely operator error on that front).

    Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    The minion method was designed for briquettes. When using lump, you need to make sure you're using a quality lump (IE: not Cowboy) and then you need to stack it very carefully in your firebox to avoid air pockets. Start with a quarter chimney of lit coals at most.

    Quite frankly, with all the natural briquettes available, lump for low and slow really isn't necessary. Go to Trader Joe's and get a bag of their natural briquettes. Being in NOVA, while you're there you can stock up on 3 buck chuck too. Fill up your firebox with briqs with some (3 or 4 chunks) smokewood mixed in. Leave a well in the middle of the pile big enough for 10-15 lit briqs.  Light 'em, dump 'em in the middle and with all vents open, wait for your smoker to get to within 15 to 20 degrees of your target temp. This is a good time to open the wine. Then start damping down the vents. I don't know your particular smoker, but usually if you close your vents down to 20% of max, it's a good place to start (IE 4/5ths closed). Pour a glass of 3 buck Chuck and wait a half hour. Your temp should have settled in right near your target. If it's too low, open the vents a bit. Too high, shut 'em down a bit. Pour another glass and wait 15 minutes. You'll get there. It's not supposed to be easy. If it was it wouldn't be any fun. Good luck!!

    Lowe's has Stubbs natural briquettes too, if you're not near a TJ's.
     
  3. pvillecomp

    pvillecomp Fire Starter

    I think you're right - with Lump less is more. I'll try using less at the start and only a 1/4 chimney to light it this weekend. It will mean more feedings, but better control.

    The Original Charcoal Company got pretty good reviews by the charcoal site everyone references here, and it's available at my local Food Dog (Food Lion) for 9.99 a 10lb bag. I still have 6 bags of it so I'll play some more. I have not seen natural briquettes around, but I'll start looking.

    Any other fire management suggestions are more than welcome.
    Truer words were never spoken! [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2012
  4. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Actually, it should mean less feedings. You can start off with as much unlit lump as you want, but starting with a small quantity of lit means longer burn times and a more manageable fire.
     
  5. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    As MD said... you can use all the unlit you want (more= longer cooking times without adding)... just don't light so much in the chimney... myself, I make my hole in the unlit charcoal in the corner (just big enough for whats in the chimney 10-15 briquettes ).. with chunks of smoke wood mixed all throughout.. If I'm not satisfied with the smoke I will throw some chips in when needed...
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2012
  6. pvillecomp

    pvillecomp Fire Starter

    Well I'm going to do a Brisket on Saturday so I'll give it a 1/4 chimney and a full basket. 

    Thanks guys. I'll let you know how it goes.
     
  7. pvillecomp

    pvillecomp Fire Starter

    Well - I packed the basket tightly trying to avoid gaps between lumps, and only used 1/4 chimney to start it, but it still rocketed up to 300. There must be air leaks in the Fire Box, or I just need to use less unlit lump. So I'll hit it again with calk and see what happens. 
     
  8. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    contrary to belief... I have to close my intake all the way shut and the exhaust all the way down to about a quarter of an inch opening... Are you closing exhaust down any ? If not I think you might need to try that... I know it is preached to run exhaust wide open, but mine just runs to hot so I close it down... sometimes almost all the way closed, just the slightest opening...
     
  9. pvillecomp

    pvillecomp Fire Starter

    I'm running with the intake fully closed and the exhaust closed 1/4 of the way. 
     
  10. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    obviously if it's running hot you need to close it down even more... close the exhaust to 3/4 closed (1/4 open)... or even more if necessary
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2012
  11. pvillecomp

    pvillecomp Fire Starter

    Once everything settles down 1/4 works well. The problem I'm having is that no matter what I do all the charcoal is lighting up at the start rather then burning gradually. So I spend the first 2 hrs or so battling to keep temps down. Once everything has settled into coals than I just add 1/2 a chimney or so at a time and I can maintain temps. 

    Perhaps it's getting to much air and I do need to cut the exhaust. Well next weekend it's a couple of butts and ribs so we'll see how it goes.
     
  12. cliffcarter

    cliffcarter Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    IMHO you should forget about using the Minion method for now until you learn how this cooker runs best. Start with 2 chimneys of lit charcoal or less and learn to control the fire with the intake damper on the firebox then add 1 chimney of lit lump when the temps drop and you are running out of lit coals in the firebox. Offsets are not meant to be "set and forget" cookers IMHO, you need to learn how to manage the fire, even if that means adjusting the intake on the firebox every 10-20 minutes. Always keep the exhaust fully open on your offset.
     
  13. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    That's my story and I'm sticking to it
     
  14. cpfitness

    cpfitness Fire Starter

    BUMP!  I'm not loving the minion method with this smoker.  I've sealed up everything, done the smokestack mod down to grate level and I have 3 tuning plates, one on an angle covering the firebox opening, the other 2 right up against and against each other.  I do need to get 2-3 more plates to run further across the cooking chamber.  I made the mistake today of using close to a half chimney to light it up and its running way too hot.  I have the firebox damper completely closed and I'm running 311 firebox side and 264 on the chimney side and thats with me just putting a pyrex measuring cup of icewater in there to try to absorb some heat!!!!  The only thing is today I only have a brisket on there,  usually I have a bit more food going which absorbs some of the heat and balances things.  IT seems though if I only use 1/4 chimney to light it up that it takes forever for the white smoke to clear and really start burning good.   I think I'm going to get away from this method unless I'm doing it overnight. The one good thing I can say is I seem to get close to 8 hours of steady temps with this method in this cooker but at least 60-90 minutes of that time is trying to get it burning clean.  

    I don't know how some of you guys do this.  It's awfully hard to plan to have friends over for food.  I got up at 5:30 today but couldn't get food on til 7 and if it's gonna take 12 hours we will be eating hotdogs during the 1 pm games! lol
     
  15. Where are you measuring pit temps in your TMLE? What type of thermo are you using?

    I've found that mine really wants to be a stick burner. Once I get the coal bed nice and hot, I switch to wood (small split and large chunk). I only add handfuls of lump hardwood charcoal when the coal bed starts to thin out.

    ALWAYS keep your exhaust stack damper WIDE OPEN. If you don't, you'll kill your draft and run the risk of building up creosote.
     
  16. jburn244

    jburn244 Fire Starter

    I think the Minion Method in general can be a lot more challenging with offsets. It's hard to cut the air flow to the firebox and keep the proper draft through the cooker for it to run properly and have an even temperature all the way across.
     

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