super short summary of the entire thread - I had issues with an AMNPS as it wouldn't stay lit and switched to a tube smoker. The tube pellet smoker kicks ass and is giving me no issues at all!
Sorry for the long rant... there is a question at the end though. Might be this evening before I can respond to any posts though, but I thank anyone that takes the time to read this post.
I have a relatively low end propane smoker. I cold smoked some cheese in it last winter and it was fantastic. I've also made some excellent pork butts, briskets, and the best chicken I've ever eaten in my life in it. Couldn't eat the skin, but the meat, that was some good stuff.
The chip tray that comes with it sucks. Bad. It has holes in it and sits right above the fire, so the chips would catch on fire. Fixed that with some aluminum foil. But, the chips would burn up with 30 to 45 minutes. It was a pain in the ass to keep opening it to let out all the heat when I put more chips in. The water tray was too small, too.
When I got fed up with the chip dance, I replaced the chip tray with a large, flat, rectangular iron griddle from Academy sports. I put a turkey tray full of sand on top of that to act as a heat sink and removed the water tray. I switched to using an A-MAZ-N pellet tray for smoke generation. I built a PID controller from a Raspberry PI and an analog board I designed myself. It kept the cabinet temperature within 1 degree of my setpoint. It was hell to get that A-MAZ-N tray to stay lit. After a while, I realized that it was because I didn't have enough air flow. Eventually, it'll light and stay lit, but it might take a few hours and half a dozen relights to get it to work.
Next, I did the mailbox mod. But it didn't work at all for 225 smoking. Cold smoking, fantastic. But at 225, the airflow in the cabinet was so bad that it was pushing the smoke back out of my mailbox.
I bought a smokestack from another smoker and mounted to my smoker. It didn't really help. Airflow still sucked.
I recently moved to a new home that has natural gas. I converted the smoker to natural gas, and I think it made the airflow situation worse. It might not be worse, it might be the same. It definitely isn't better though.
I bought a 4" galvanized sheet metal pipe and a rain cap. Air flow improved considerably, A-MAZ-N smoker will light and stay lit. I can also keep it in the mailbox and it works pretty well. Unfortunately, this has made it very difficult for the smoker to get up to temperature. I didn't have a real baffle to put on top of the pipe, so I improvised with some tape just to see how it worked. Ultimately, it seems like this could be the ticket. I eventually found a balance where I could set the air flow where the smoker could maintain temperature and the A-MAZ-N tray would stay lit.
I tried putting the A-MAZ-N smoker on top of the griddle, thinking that maybe the extra heat would help. And it did. Too good. It would cause the entire tray to start smoldering and put out tons of smoke. So I noped out of that choice pretty quick. Then I put a chunk of hickory on top of the griddle. Nuthin. It made the hickory chunk warm. That's about it. After a 8 hour stuffed chicken smoke, the bottom of the hickory chunk was charred, slightly, but no measurable amount of smoke came from it.
Before I moved, the smoker was protected by a large brick wall. Now, its basically out in the open and subject to all sorts of wind. The last smoke I did, last weekend, was 8 hours long. It was a stuffed chicken. The wind blow out the flame 3 or 4 times over the course of 8 hours. I improvised a wind guard and that seemed to work.
Now, I bought the propane smoker because i expected it to be a set-it-and-forget-it deal. I then decided it would be fun to make a Raspberry Pi controller for it. That was fun too. But lately, I'm finding that I'm just fed up with that thing. I want it to work so badly though.
I can fix the wind blowing out the flame with a wind guard. The Raspberry PI can detect when the flame goes out and shut off the gas. The Rasberry PI can be updated to relight the flame if I chose to do so. But here's the kicker, all of that doesn't necessarily mean that I can count on the smoke generation to be good. What I've learned is that when the PID controller is ramping up the temperature (has the gas set high) the pressure inside of the smoker is very high. This reduces the "good" airflow that keeps the A-MAZ-N smoker lit. When the smoker is at temperature, and the PID controller backs off to maintain temperature, the A-MAZ-N smoker stays lit. What does this mean? I need to INSULATE the smoker to help it maintain temperature and to get it up to temperature more quickly.
But... I'm tired of messing with it. This was fun two years ago, but now I have a 9 month old kid. I don't have time to keep playing with it.
So here's the real question...
$2000. What smoker can I get that needs minimal supervision once it gets going? I want it large enough to do a whole packer brisket or two 7 lb pork butts. XL Big Green Egg? L Big Green Egg? Is there a good / great Natural Gas smoker?
Edited by Noggin - 12/5/15 at 1:21pm