Inherited a Brinkman horizontal Smoke-n-Pit with my new lakehome. Never used one before, but it seemed in good shape. Never smoked meats before, so thought I would try a new tradition with the family at the lake. Bought some babyback ribs from Walmart. Made a rub with paprika, onion, red/black pepper, basil and garlic. Read as much as I could on this forum on how to light the smoker (minion method), how to use a chimney starter, 3-2-1 method for fall-off-the-bone ribs, foil packs with mesquite chips for TBS, etc. Started the process at 7am this morning. Wrapped up around 3:30 this afternoon with mixed results. The ribs were not completely done as I would like. Still seemed a bit under-cooked, and didn't quite pass the bend test. But I was out of charcoal, so I moved them into my propane grill and finished them off there.
The thing I had the most trouble with was keeping the heat at 225-250 for the duration. It started out fine and stayed in range for 3 hours or so. Then started to drop. I opened the damper until it was all the way open, but couldn't get the temperature back to the 200s. So I threw in a few new briquets, and it rose to around 180, then dropped again. So, finally used the chimney again and emptied what I had left of the coal into it, started it, and put it in. Best I got was around 190 or so. Finally, with everyone hungry, I finished it off in the grill.
I'm looking for some tips on how to regulate the temperature better. I believe that was the reason why I couldn't get the ribs cooked and tender enough in the smoker. Didn't keep it at 220-240 for 5+ hrs.
(1) Did I start with too few briquets? Since they lasted 3 hours, maybe I just needed to empty the bag of coal in the first setup itself.
(2) Is it normal to need to completely replace the first load with another during a 5-6 hour cooking session?
(3) What is the temperature zone I cannot fall below to smoke a good batch of ribs? If I see the temperature falling, what are the quick things I can do to bring it back up again short of a complete reload of coal?
I plan to try again next weekend, so any tips/tricks you can offer a beginner meat smoker would be deeply appreciated.