Badger2W1, a first smoke can be pretty intimidating but it shouldn't be. You'll have it figured out in no time flat. Here are a few things you need to know.
1. Since you have a side burner, make sure your fire is hot and the yucky, creosote white and grey smoke has started to turn blue before you add your meat. Don't add your meat until you see this happen.
2. Don't sweat temperature swings. I've allowed up to 100F temp swings and the meat still came out tender and great tasting. You're more concerned about a minimum temperature than a maximum one. To give yourself some peace of mind on this point look up online how to prepare in the oven whatever meat you choose. You generally won't see temps less than 325F. Your smoker is just a smoky oven and cooks fine at lower temps. It just takes longer.
3. Use 225F as a minimum chamber temp. 250F is a good target for your first smoke.
4. Pick a meat that is very forgiving and easy to smoke cook the first time. Boneless, skinless chicken thighs, salmon, sausages, hamburgers, meatloaf, tri tip roasts, ABTs (Atomic Buffalo Turds), and meatballs are all very forgiving. Have a meat thermometer ready and make sure anything that involves ground meat, plus the thighs, are cooked to 165F internal temperature to kill bacteria. The tri tip, probably the most forgiving intact hunk of meat on a beef, should be smoked until an Internal temp of 125-135F. It will look pretty grey when finished, but you can caramelize the meat on the outside after the smoke on a grill or a frying pan on the stove top. You get all the smoky flavor and the color by doing so.
5. As you can tell, the meat is done when the meat reaches the correct internal temp.
6. Add wood and charcoal as necessary keep the chamber temp above your minimum. Personally I add hot charcoal to my rig, but it is different than yours.
Use the Search feature and type in ABT. You'll get lots of results and recipes. They are easy to make, and since you are still at school, will impress your friends. You can easily vary the spicy heat if you're not a fan of hot food. I use sweet peppers instead of Jalapeno's for example, in which case they are SBTs (Sweet Buffalo Turds) instead of atomic ones.
Here's my recipe for Italian ABTs or SBTs. Just as a point not to sweat the maximum temp, I've done these in the oven before at 425F. They were done in less than a half hour.
Italian Style ABTs or SBTs
16 oz cream cheese (2 x 8 oz packages)
1 cup Italian 3 cheese blend grated cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, and Romano)
1 cup Seasoned Stuffing
1 14.5oz can diced Italian tomatoes, drained. Drink or discard the juice.
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbs Red pepper flakes (optional)
Peppers and Meat
20 Jalapenos or 8 Poblanos or 6 Red/Green/Yellow Peppers, halved, seeded, cleaned.
1 lb Hot or mild (or both) caseless Italian Sausage
Bacon to wrap
1. Mix all the filling ingredients together in a mixing bowl or KitchenAid type mixer. Stir on medium speed until well mixed.
2. Spoon the cheese stuffing into the pepper halves.
3. Optional: Sprinkle the cheese stuffed pepper with red pepper flakes if a little heat is desired.
4. The caseless sausage in our local grocery comes in plastic that is kind of shaped like a cone. Just clip off one of the pointy ends and squeeze a strip onto the cheese like putting icing on a cake. Then wrap the ABT with a strip of bacon secure with toothpicks.
5. Use a 9x13 aluminum roaster then put the ABTs in the roaster. It isn't necessary but it helps at the end of the smoke.
6. Smoke in a 225-250F smoker for 2-3 hours until the bacon is brown and crisp and the IT is 165F.