Alright.... I know you guys have been checking in every hour on the edges of your seats, so here's my report.
It actually turned out to be one of my best outings with this smoker yet- got some decent ribs and pulled chicken out of it using that 321 technique out of Jeff's cookbook- but it was a fight in the beginning.
It was a pretty chilly and blustery day, 40s and continual gusts of up to 30 mph, which I'm sure didn't help with the temperature war. As background, I have what Charbroil passes for an Oklahoma Joe these days, about 1/32 inch steel I think. I've sealed up most of the leaks with high temp silicone and have that stick-on gasketing around the smoke box door; still leaks some from that door, but I don't think too badly. I added an elbow joint to the exhaust port that comes down a few inches over the meat rack. I was going to put in some heat bricks until I saw a lot of you saying it's a waste of time.
I tried the Minion Method by filling a homemade coal box with lump charcoal and several pieces of hickory chunks and then pouring half a chimney of ashed over coals into the center. For the first couple hours I had to kick and claw with the fire box just to keep it over 200 with the exhaust draft wide open. Finally I just threw open the little ash access door on which the damper is mounted and that finally got my temperature up into the 230s (I was aiming for between 224-240). Oddly enough (for me- maybe you guys know this already) I found the fire burned at a more ideal temperature, and more steadily, as that big pile of coals reduced down. With a relatively small base of coals I would add a layer of lump on top and was pretty much able to keep temperature, although still with that door wide open.
I don't know how much more of a smoking season I have left with the cold and blowing wind settling in here, but I'm eager to get back at it and keep practicing. I did use a digital thermometer this
time and now see why you guys say the mechanical ones are useless. Still would love input from the old salts........ bughillbilly.