solaryellow - thanks, I'll probably get up with you after the first of September to pick up a barrel or two...maybe 3..lol I wish we had a store around here that catered to the Q'ers! Surely there has to be, but, if I have to drive 3 hours it'll looks like that store would be worth the trip.
SMC - thanks, I ran across that start up information some where on here and it has worked great the last two times firing her up. Had no issues with the lid etc and believe pandemonium was probably right a few posts ago about using to many coals and things got to hot. It was quite a coincidence though that when I wrapped the blanket around the lid the temps dropped 30 some degrees in 15 or 20 minutes. Another thing I just realized is make sure you make your basket first (3" above the drum bottom), then measure up from the coal grate to mark your first rake holes.
If you recall I started mine out at 2" and after raising it to 3" I haven't had any issues with the coals burning out, however, my first rack is now measuring just about 23 1/4 inches from the coal grate. What I've noticed with these first two smokes the bottom of the butts were stuck to the rack when I pulled them and I'm thinking that is being caused by not having a minimum of 24 inches from the coal grate. Thinking about abandoning the first rack bolts in place and just install another set of ss bolts so I can get the first rack minimum of 24 inches above the grate.
One other thing I've found, the expanded metal used to make the basket really doesn't need to be 12 inches tall (wide), 8 inches would be plenty and also if you go with the larger coal grate (18" or whatever it is) you'll be able to cut 3 pieces (8"x24") from a 24"x24" piece (Home Depot) which I believe would give you enough material to wrap the larger 18" grate. For the smaller 13 1/2" grate I used, I cut the 24"x24" in half (12"x24") and when joined together it was just enough material to go around the circumference of the grate.
pandemonium - thanks! My son did a nice job on it. It was his first flame attempt after coming out of retirement from an earlier career in rattle can art.