Update: a bit more experience with Embers this evening...and my thoughts as I worked through somewhat of a challenge, shooting for a hot & fast smoke on a somewhat cold, but calm afternoon. It took a bit of trial and error, and I decided to just pour more hot coals to the fire, twice. Once I got a decent amount of hot coals rolling (2 full chimneys, burning) we were off to the races. I did decide I'm going to stick with Embers at least as long as it takes to use up what I have on hand. If I feel it's a suitable fuel for my intentions, I'll grab more and stock up again, but then I may stock up before I'm out. It does seem to be a bit more forgiving with my rig...the Brinkmann fire pan with 4lbs of pea gravel, and a non-modded WSM 18...fire doesn't run away in the cooler weather, at least. Maybe that's a good thing, especially for me, as I don't plan on many long smokes, and I am doing more hot & fast, just because I can, and like it. I'll do more low and slow before long, too, and have a better feel for that in cooler weather. For now, it seems the Embers need a good sized fire from the start to keep the BTUs coming, but there are probably more variables including the leakage my WSM has being it's not sealed with gasket material, etc. More to come as time allows for smokes.
Again, this is a copy/paste from the WSM thread, from post #26 and #30. If you'd rather just see what I was up to and read the entire posts, go here: http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/238021/ive-gone-completely-dark-the-dark-side-wsm-18-5-let-the-journey-begin/20#post_1492123
This evening, I decided to go hot and fast for the Rib Eye and Taters, so I dumped the ashes and fired up 2 Weber rapid fire chimneys, 1/2 full with Embers over propane burners on med/low flame until the charcoal was beginning to flame up through the center, about 5 minutes. Once ashed-over (about 15 more minutes minutes) with one on the WSM fire grate and the other on my Smokey Joe 14 fire grate, I dumped both in, heaping it towards the center and added a few smaller hickory chunks around the outside for a fast smoke.
I started the smoke with just sitting the barrel on, tossing on the rib eye and taters to the grate, inserting a probe and dropping a lid over it. So, cold smoker, hot fire, lotsa smoke up front. We'll see how the Embers takes off with wide open dampers. I'll monitor temps and choke it back if it's going to push over 350*, but I'd like to see it hit 300*...just for what if...and I've never smoked a hot & fast rib eye before, so, a lot of variables I'm playing the odds with tonight. I did probe from the start just so I can watch I/Ts by the minute, if desired, and I don't want to dump heat by opening the lid to probe. That said, no peeking until I see 135* I/T.
Low Temp Issues:
25 minutes into the smoke and I have 235* grate temp with a 22* ambient temp at start-up and calm winds. 35 minutes and the grate temp was already falling off @ 224*. Fired another 1/2 chimney and dumped in after disconnecting probe leads and removing the barrel...quick and painless. Temps were up to 245* on the grate @ 45 minutes, in the time it took me to plug the sensor wires back into the heads after sitting the barrel back on. I did spread the coals out all the way across the grate, in case that was part of the problem, but the original load of Embers were burning, just not as hot towards the outside, so I'm thinking that the WSM doesn't like a partially covered fire grate. Wait and see.
270* grate temp @ 55 minutes...better...not what I hoped for, but it may climb some more...oh, wait, temps are falling just about as soon as I could look a second time...268*...fired another 1/2 chimney for round 2 of probe disconnects and barrel left. 271* @ 70 minutes with the 2nd additional 1/2 chimney...I'm not adding more, 'cuz the WSM fire ring is about 80% level to the top, now. It's gotta just burn and do it's best from here on out. 280* @ 75 minutes in...still climbing...284* @ 80 minutes, and I finally looked at the meat temp: 84*.
Cruise mode now...so far, I'd say for hot & fast, in cold weather, with Embers...2 full hot chimneys is a good place to start...but then I haven't done any mods for leak control just yet. My Brinkmann Gourmet Stacker was about like this, too...but I'd have to say that rig was far worse, especially for it's size.
282* grate temp & 88* meat temp @ 85 minutes into the smoke...I think I can finally relax a little...might even still make that 2.5hr cooking time I figured on for 260-270* grate temp...
293* grate temp & 101* meat temp @ 100 minutes.
300* grate and 112* meat temp @ 115 minutes...
286* grate & 122* meat temps @135 minutes.
275* grate & 129* meat temps @ 155 minutes...missed the 2.5-hr mark, but hey, that's why I'm doing this...to find out what it will take for the next 2 rib eyes.
268* grate & 131* meat temps @ 170 minutes. I'd build the fire up more now, depending on how far off my finished temp was and how much coals burned off, but we're so close now that I'd just be wasting fuel. Ambient temp is down to 16* now...and I'm getting hungry. Oh, checked the fire...still have about 3 briqs deep across most of the grate, some spots burned-up a bit faster.
277* grate & 134* meat temps @ 180 minutes...huh...fire must have dropped some ashes and settled in a little tighter for a bit hotter burn...maybe...
--------------------break in post------------------
277* grate & 138* meat temps @ 195 minutes...and we're done...that's 3.25hrs & 0.85hrs/lb, for those who want to know. Oh, guestimated average grate temp would be roughly 250*, considering I started out cold and had some speed-bumps along the way, with an hour passing before I got over 250*, and with a peak of 300*, but mostly riding in the ~270* range once I had the coals jamming nicely.
--------------------break in post-------------------
I did miss the 2-hr mark, but I have a much better idea what it will take for time and fire management with Embers in the WSM on the next 2 hot & fast rib eyes with taters...no matter what happens tonight, I walk away with some more lessons under my belt, and that is priceless
It did some effort and fuel to get those grate temps up in the 300* range, but we did it!!! I'm getting more comfortable with the WSM and Embers now...for hot & fast, just kick it off with a big, hot fire that covers the whole fire grate and don't worry about high temps in the cooler weather...it won't run away very fast with the 4lbs of pea-gravel in the water pan. All things considered, I can amke this work...WSM 18, Embers, Rib Eye & Taters...yeah...done deal...oit worked for me, so I'm gonna stick with it for our upcoming Christmas dinner(s). And, I'm step further down that road on my journey with the WSM...a couple more weeks and we'll be tight friends.
Huh, I got the coals to die-out tonight when I actually got all 4 dampers in the FULLY CLOSED position...and there's still about 1-1/2 to 2 deep for briqs on the grate, although, I didn't shake the ashes off, so a bit less than it looks like...life is good!! She's under wraps until next weekend. I'll be thinking about what to thaw next for a couple more burns...hmm, wonder what's left in the freezers? OK, time for some rummaging...later!!