I did another test run on Friday. It's working great, but I'm considering adding a band of fiberglass wood stove seal around the lid, because it still leaks faintly.
The leakage is most prominent when the chimney is closed, so I'm figuring it's caused by backpressure. This means that hot air will always find the easiest out, so I need to revise my hatch seals while I'm at it.
On the plus side, the new heat sink is working very well. It shields the meat from direct heat from the coals, keeps the smoke chamber nice and hot, and is easy to clean in the kitchen sink. I'm considering grabbing a 9" one to run in my One-Touch.
I'm pretty sure I understand how to play shepherd to the NanoQ, too. I think I'm starting with fires that are too big (1 full chimney), when I should be lighting maybe five or six medium chunks of charcoal, and letting the NanoQ bring them up to temp on its own. It's easier for the controller to add air, but it can't just cut off air without me physically closing the shutter. I've also figured out that once things are going, and the controller is pulsing air in on occasion, I need to close the shutter halfway, to limit the passive feed through it. With just that tiny opening, my smoker overshot all the way to 300 degrees before I caught it, and took care of things. (I was away making boiled cider at the time, my bad!) I also suspect lack of season was at play as well. My smoker was looking a little shaggy before the overhaul, so I cleaned it pretty thoroughly, and I never got around to properly re-seasoning it.
Here's a rough rundown of how my NanoQ Standard operating Procedures are looking:
1. Do not interfere with the unit's ability to stoke the fire.
This thing does what it does admirably without human intervention; it's designed to feed a fire, not starve it It's better to allow it to do its thing at its own pace than to try an make it play at recovery.
2. Start with a small scattered fire.
It's called a stoker for a reason; it can manage building things up as needed, but it can't handle a big fire: it'll just sit there, feeding it passively. When loading your lit coals onto the unlit coals for a Minion Method fire, scatter them. If you think clockwise, put a medium-sized lit coal on the unlit coals every thirty minutes, that way the fuel is "zoned' with a unique initiator coal for each quarter. This seems to even out the heat distribution, and better ration your coal reserves.
3. Use the damper
Once it goes idle, the opening and fan body can passively feed the fire, creating overshoots. Keep an eye on it for the first hours, once it's at a steady temp (using a separate probe) and it's back to the occasional pulse, close the damper halfway. Believe it or not, that's enough air for the fire to coast, and the unit can always add more. It's surprising how much air the Pit Viper fan can push through that small hole.
4. Remember what its designed for.
Always keep in mind that this thing is made to feed air to a fire, not take it away. Run your setup with this mindset.
5. Don't leave its side for the first four hours or so.
Like any smoker, it needs to be babysat until it establishes its set pattern. Things could go very wild for a while, and you might have to pilot it for a bit before auto pilot takes over. After a while of playing with the smokestack and the inlet, you'll reach equilibrium. Once you're there, keep watching it for any sudden changes, and if it proves stable, then feel free to go take a nap, mow the lawn, or watch the game. The NanoQ can take it from there.
Thanks for reading, folks!