Re: Beginner is Springfield MO
With the charcoal model you'll definitely want to do something about the firepan. What happens is when you first build a fire it will burn well and the temperature will be hot enough to cook with. But as time goes by and the coals begin to burn down, ash builds up in the firepan and the coals start to smother in their own ash. Sufficient oxygen cannot get to the fire so it dies down and doesn't put out enough heat to maintain temperatures.
This isn't poor fire management on your part so don't beat yourself up.
What you need is a good charcoal fire grate or an elevated charcoal basket that sits in the ash pan. Once the fire is up out of the ashes and the ash is able to fall away from the live coals, they will continue to burn hot throughout the cook and life will be a lot easier. Of course then you'll need to make sure things don't get too hot.
Pork shoulders can take anywhere from 12 to 22 hours to cook depending on the quality of the meat and conditions in your smoker. I know of a fellow that cooked one with very high heat and finished it in under 3 hours. Of course you risk burning the rub and limit exposure to smoke so I don't recommend cooking this way but if you're low on time you can ramp the heat near the end to speed things up. Butts can take the heat pretty well and are a very forgiving cut of meat.
You can pre-light your charcoal to prevent temperature drops if the coals burn down too much. Otherwise it's OK to add unlit charcoal. Some folks mention and unpleasant odor when adding unlit Kingsford to the fire while others say thereâ€™s no bad smell (haven't heard how they respond to the new Kingsford). Another tip for adding coals is to put in a few chunks of lump charcoal with the briquettes to get things started and to give the temperatures a little boost if needed. It'll get the charcoal going in less time. A basket as mentioned above is the only way to run a Minion Method burn (that I know of) in your smoker. I wouldn't put any holes in the ash pan/firepan.