The steaks look fantastic. It's a shame they were too smoky. I call that the ashtray effect. ...and I avoid it thru technique.
You can assemble the cooker, but I wouldn't put food on it till it's burning clean. I recommend to get a clean burning fire, start your charcoal in a chimney or place a starter cube in the charcoal pile. Once the chimney is volcano fire shooting out the top lit, pour it onto the unlit charcoal and spread it around. When the unlit charcoal gets warm from the lit (from the chimney or the starter cube), it will stop producing "nasty" smoke. In fact, it should burn very clean with no visible smoke at all -- just heat waves coming out the top vent. Once there is no visible smoke or at least very little, add your food and smoke wood. All the smoke you see should be produced by your smoke wood.
If one piece of hickory was too smoky, try a milder smoke wood. Cherry, apple, peach, etc are very mild and impart a pleasant flavor IMHO. Or try no smoke wood at all. Remember, just because you can't see smoke doesn't mean you are not getting a wonderful smoky flavor on your food. I like one chunk for short cooks and basically never use more than three (one at a time -- every hour) for even the longest cooks ...but again, that's just me. I think of smoke wood as a spice and I don't want to overpower my food with any one spice. Oak, Hickory, and Mesquite are much stronger IMHO. I use Oak for Beef Brisket, Tri Tips, and Chuck Roasts.
<<<< Disclaimer: I am fanatical that I have a clean burning fire. Some folks don't wait at all and put their food on a smoky cooker. YMMV. >>>>
Edited by Bama BBQ - 10/6/13 at 6:48pm