I use the heating element to pre-heat the chamber before firing up the coals. Once at my setpoint temp, I start the charcoal using the minion method. As the coals heat up the element backs off to maintain the setpoint, the charcoal takes over as the primary fuel with the heater helping out a little. As the charcoal burns down the element steps up and keeps the temp from dropping. I get excellent temp control and can stretch a couple chimneys of lump for more 6 hours. Best of both worlds, get true charcoal cooking with the precise temp control of a high end electric
The red stuff is permatex hi-temp silicon gasket maker/adhesive. It's tougher and sets up much quicker than regular hi-temp silicon sealer. Good for 650F.
Looking forward to seeing how your build goes, If I can help out at all let me know