I want to introduce myself and tell my story.
First off, I am from the little town of Merchantville which is right outside of Philadelphia. I was an apartment dweller for many years, but dreamed of the day when I would have a house of my own with a backyard where I could grill and smoke at my leisure. That day finally came in the fall of 2011 when I bought my first house and started off with the ubiquitous gas grill. What I really wanted to do was smoke meat. That Christmas I received a charcoal vertical water smoker as a gift. It was the cheap square kind. I was excited, I couldn't wait for the first warm day to use it. I read up all winter on different recipes and types of wood. Finally the first warm day of spring came and I fired up the smoker with some ribs in it. Man it was a lot of work! I couldn't keep the temp up, I was constantly dropping into the 125-150 degrees range. After many hours of smoking, the ribs were nowhere near done. I ended up finishing them in the oven. I was disappointed to say the least! My excitement was deflated. A few weeks later I tried again, same problems, couldn't get the temp up, meat was undercooked, etc. I gave up...maybe smoking was not for me. Another winter came and went and now it was summer of 2013. I got the itch to try smoking meat again...got out the same equipment, followed the same steps, and got the same results....I tried it one more time that summer and again it was a failure. Another winter came and went. Then this past spring, I got the smoking itch one more time. This time was different...instead of researching and studying recipes, I focused my research on the smoker itself. That is when I came across this forum (I should've started here to begin with). From reading posts on here, I learned a wealth of knowledge, tips, and tricks to get the most out of my cheapy vertical water smoker. I got a Maverick thermometer and learned not to rely on the built in thermometer. Also, I learned my temp problem was due to poor airflow to the charcoal basket. I replaced the stock charcoal basket with a modified grilling wok which allowed for more airflow. Now my problem was not low temp, it was now high temperatures! But that was ok, I learned how to control it with the air grates. Finally I figured out how to get a steady 225-250 degrees and learned not to keep opening the door to check on the meat. My smokes were finally coming out as good as they possibly could in an entry level smoker. Now I was hooked and smoking meat every weekend.
For Christmas this year my fiancee got me an Oklahoma Joe Highland offset smoker. Much like that first smoker Christmas gift a few years ago, I can't wait to use it. I'm counting down the days to the first nice spring day when I can throw a pork butt on it. I'm not going to make the same mistakes as before though, I'm going to utilize this forum and its members to get the most out of this smoker. In return I look forward to sharing my successes and failures so that others may learn too.