I've been using a lump charcoal and the minion method for starting it.
What can I do to tame down the thick smoke? I'm fairly new to the charcoal side of smoking so I know I need a little practice but any tips would be greatly appreciated.
Bury your chunks in the charcoal. I also put one chunk in the bottom of the divot where I dump my lit coals and it seems to help providing clean smoke. I use a mini, but the operation is pretty much the same.
I spread a full Weber Chimney of lit charcoal over the top of my charcoal on the theory that as the charcoal lights the new dirty smoke has to pass through a high heat zone which further burns it resulting in a cleaner smoke. I also bury my chunks of smoke wood. Through most of the cook very little smoke is visible. There are a lot of ways to skin a cat, this works for me. Also always keep the top vent 100% open.
How soon are you putting your meat on the smoker? Until the top layer of coals gets fully lit (at least in the portion burning with a minion method), brickette will be producing white smoke. Once it gets settled down at temp it should go very thin and blue (almost invisible). Also if you put more charcoal on top of the lit, it will start the white smoke process over. If you are on a long smoke and find a need to add more charcoal, pre-light it in a chimney before adding it.
Also BadmoonT2 is right about lit over unlit. That method works. Even on an overnight smoke that is what I do. Pour in unlit, bury some chunks of smoke wood and then pour the lit from the chimney when it's fully "lit". A thin layer on top works just fine for me. With a clay flower pot base instead of a water pan I can run a full 18 hour smoke on a full load in 18.5" WSM (and I mean full). I also use a BBQ Guru DigiQ2 power draft and that combo is about as close to set and forget as you will ever be with a charcoal smoker.
Been using the WSM & Guru since 2005 and love it.