As the title says, just bought my 1st "real" smoker. So far, I have only smoked using my propane grill using foil pouches, aluminum baking pans, and stainless steel smoke boxes, sometimes a combination of the 3. My grill has about a 1 - 1.5 inch gap all the way across the back so unless I used A LOT of smoke, the meat would only have a hint of smokiness.
I bought this grill after a lot of research, and it was a toss up between this one and the 24" Camp Chef Vault Smoker. I went with this one partly due to the $100.00 (approx) price difference, and partly because I could just run down to Bass Pro shops and pick it up on my lunch break. The camp chef had a better wood chip pan design, but I still read about people switching to a cast iron skillet due to it warping even after just seasoning the grill.
Anyway, on to my questions:
The cast iron skillet:
1) Does this prevent the wood from catching fire, or does it need to be covered with foil to restrict oxygen? On my propane grill this didn't seem to matter, I frequently had issues with the wood chips catching fire no matter the number of holes I poked, how many chips I used, or whether or not I soaked them. In fact, I noticed the wood chips in my smoke boxes really didn't start smoking until the chips pretty much completely dried anyway (I'd open the smoke box lid periodically and look), And I said, even then they'd still flare up sometimes.
2) Would a thinner metal cake pan work as well? It seems like the cast iron would take a lot longer to heat up. Or, would the thinner metal help cause flare ups?
Next... Smoking wood:
1) Are chunks better than chips? Damn near any big store carries bags of chips. I'm sure I can find chunks somewhere, I haven't ever looked, but I've heard with chunks there's less times you need to open the door to change the wood. Are chunks less likely to catch fire?
2) Has anyone really experimented with soaking vs not soaking on propane smokers? My experience on the grill has been that soaking only makes it take longer before the chips catch fire. I've used both with very little problem with it, and times where it was constantly flaring up.
3) This might be a "depends on what you like" type question... but how much wood? Like I said, on my grill theres so many holes and gaps I have to use a crap load of wood, using two to three smoke boxes/pouches/baking pans at a time to get a decent smoke flavor.
I tried using rolled up wads of aluminum to seal off the large gap in the back, but then I'd have to turn down the burners so far the wood would barely smoke, otherwise the temp would go way too high.
Last... Smoking multiple racks of ribs (or other items)
1) I've only ever smoked 1 rack at a time, due to lack of grill area, since one half was for smoke boxes. Probably 90% of the time I'd only smoke 2 racks at a time. Are there any considerations as far as smoking two racks on two of the built in horizontal racks, or would it be better to buy a rib rack and smoke them vertically on the same rack?
When I saw considerations, I mean things like heat... would the lower one cook faster than the higher one? Would they need to be swapped half-way through the cook to even that out?
2) Does anyone know what the temperature difference would be from the lowest to the top rack? The thermostat is always at the top of these things it seems like, so I wondered how to know what your temp is like towards the bottom.
Thanks in advance for any replies.