After a couple of months of smoking every week or two, I finally hit it right today. I kept having issues with the temperature going too high, and was finding myself adding ice to the water bowl, opening the door, closing the bottom damper (I installed this, see here), or taking the unit completely off of the fire pan. Food was coming out tasting great, but I wouldn't mind being able to walk away or jump in the pool for a while with the kids and not constantly monitor temps.
This time, I started my Weber chimney with only about 15 or so briquettes. I had been trying the Minion method, but using a nearly full chimney to get things started. The temp would spike early, and was difficult to bring down. I didn't Minion this time, just kept an eye on the temp and added coal as needed, about every hour and a half or so. Also, rather than tossing wood chips on the coals, I used a small aluminum pan. They smoked well without flaring up.
I did a butt from 6:30am-4:30pm, then a chicken from 4:30-7. This was my first smoker chicken, and it was fantastic. I should have taken some Q-view pics, it was beautiful with Jeff's rub (which, by the way, puts to shame the other stuff I was using!). Super moist, and great texture...tender, but firm and easy to slice. Definitely not the mush that has been coming out of the crock pot. My wife is looking forward to me doing the Thanksgiving turkey already!
12.5 hours of smoking, and I went through about 10-11 lb. of coals. Even better, didn't have to run for ice one time. I kept her right around 225 all day, it was awesome! The damper worked wonderfully, tiny adjustments as needed kept things humming along. Next week, I think I'll go back to Minion, but start with the smaller amount of coals in the chimney so things don't get out of hand again.
Many thanks to all whose wisdom I've gleaned over the past few months (especially Jeff, I listened to your e-course audio file on the lawn tractor this week and learned a lot!).