So after lurking here for a few weeks, and completing some basic mods on my Char Griller SP (after market thermometers right and left @ grate level, Tall Boy smoke stack extension, inverted coal tray, expanded steel coal basket, gasket around SFB door, sealing up misc holes / gaps) I decided to get down to business. I seasoned up my pit yesterday, spraying everything down with vegi oil and running a full chimney of briquets and a chunk of wood through it. No problems getting it up to 250f on the SFB side, 220-230 on the opposite side. Seasoned up really nice.
Enter the meat - Decided to start with a nice rack of Spares. Trimmed them up St Luis style, hit them with some yellow mustard and "Famous Dave's Rib Rub" and let them sit over night. Being my first run i wanted to removed a few variables, thus the store bought rub.
Getting started on Q day! - Started by taking off the cooking grates and removing the inverted coal tray. Lined the bottom of the chamber in heavy duty foil and also wrapped the "bottom" of the tray (the part that would be facing up) in foil as well. Now because I had seen a ton of smoke loss from around the lid during my seasoning session, i decided to role up some extra foil around the rim of the cooking chamber to act as a gasket for lid. I put the inverted tray back in, keeping it snug to the SFB side and put the grates back on. I also place a tin pan with a couple inches of water in it ontop of the grates SFB side.
So far so good
Now it's time for heat - I started by measuring out a full chimney's worth of Kingsford. I took this unlit charcoal and poured it in the left half of the basket. I then took another full chimney of charcoal and got that started up. I let it sit in the chimney until the flame had completely gone out and it was pretty much grey throughout. I then took the started charcoal and poured it into the right side of the basket. My thoughts with this was that it would slowly burn across the the unlit charcoal and give a nice slow even burn (poor man's minion method). Put the basket in the SFB, open the air damper and close up both chambers.
*Note - my coal and hardwood are both reeeaally old. My father in law gave me his stash which had been sitting in a storage shed for at least 3-4 years. It was so old that I couldn't even tell what kind of wood i'd be using because the bag was so faded.
So this is where things started to get difficult. After walking away for about 15 mins I came back and was shocked the that the temp at grate level had only hit about 150f on either side. I doubled checked and made sure that the air damper and smoke stack were completely open, walked away for another 15 mins. Came back and again the gauges were only reading about 160 at this point. The reason I was so shocked was because during my seasoning session is literally only took a few mins to get the cocking chamber up to about 250f.
After about 45 mins of waiting I took a look in the sfb and noticed that none of the unlit charcoal was lit and the burning charcoal was looking pretty ashed out and weak. I decided to start up another half chimney worth of charcoal, got it to the point when it was totally lit but not totally grey yet and tossed this in the SFB. This seemed to help a little, with the air damper totally open I finally got temps up to about 200. Having already lost over an hour I said screw it and tossed my rack into the middle of the cooking chamber, gauges were reading about 210f on the SFB side and just about 200 on the opposite side. Again, walked away for 45 mins, came back and again was bummed to find temps had actually dropped a few degrees. At this point I started thinking "what's changed between today and yesterday when I season the pit? Everything was working fine then". The two things I came up with was the foil and the water pan. I get how the water pan might have an effect on temps, but i couldn't imagine it would be this extreme. Being kind of desperate at this point i decided eighty-six the water pan and all of the excess foil. Well, what do you know, after ditching those two things I closed the lid and within 5 mins temps were up and holding at around 220-230f on both sides.
Well, the good news only lasted for the next hour. Checked in and again, temps were down under 200. At this point i'd almost given up, the only thing I could think to do was to take another half chimney's worth and toss it in unlit. Luckily within the next 15-20 mins temps were back up.
At the 3 hour mark i checked on the ribs and again was surprised. This time though it was a good surprise, the rack actually looked GREAT! nice color, a little bit of caramelization and a good quarter inch of bone showing. I pulled the ribs off, wrapped the in foil with a little apple juice and tossed them in a 225f oven. 2 hours later I pulled them out and unwrapped... Hot damn, they were barley holding together! Next it was time for a little sauce and then back onto the pit which somehow now was still holding at around 220f and let them firm up for about 30-40 mins.
6 hours and about 20lbs of Kingsford later, I ended up with what turned out to be VERY GOOD RIBS! Moist, very tender and just the right amount of fat rendered. Honestly, I am extremely pleased with the results of my first run.
That being said, it's clear that there are some issues to work out. Any suggestions you guys have would be greatly appreciated!
1) Temperature control was a nightmare... i'll have to do a few more dry runs before the family bbq next weekend. Any suggestions based on what I described? Could sealing up the lid with foil and adding the water pan have had that much of an effect?
2) Holy crap I used a lot of charcoal. I'm sure I did something wrong here, all i read about was how a full basket should easily get you 4-5 hours worth of consistent heat. By the time it was said and done I almost went through and entire big back of Kingsford.
3) Famous Dave's Rib Rub isn't for me... too much bite, not enough sweet. I don't need candy, but I definitely prefer more sweet than tang.
4) Hah, learn what kind of smoke your cocking with. Again, I have no idea what kind of wood I was smoking with. In addition, the ribs ended up with a bit too much smokey flavor. This is undoubtedly due to the 2-3 chunks i ended up going through during the temp control nightmare. Also, the ribs ended up having a bit of a "Hillshire Farms Smoked Sausage" flavor. While I like me some smoked sausage, I really want my ribs to taste like ribs. Next time I need to work more on caramelization and less on smoke.
So that's about that... the process was rocky but the results were pretty awesome.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and again, any feed back is really appreciated!