My First Charcoal/Offset Smoker Cook - Questions

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by jtucker, Sep 21, 2014.

  1. jtucker

    jtucker Fire Starter

    Today I completed my first cook on the horizon offset that I picked up and refurbished a couple of months ago.  After a couple of years cooking in the electric, I must say that I really like the experience of cooking in the horizon.  Anyway, I don't have any Q-View to share, but I think the results were fairly good considering it was my first time using anything but electric.  I had some struggles, and could use some advice to accelerate the learning curve. :)

    I really don't have any idea how to start and maintain the bed of coals.  I used a full weber chimney of lump and let it get real hot.  Once the top layer was gray or mostly gray, I dumped it into the charcoal basket.  I then added some extra lump on top.  This was fine for the first 2 hours or so, but after I seemed to struggle to maintain and just generally felt like I didn't know what I was doing.  Any suggestions on the proper way to manage this part?  All in all, the smoker held temps really good, but I used nearly an entire bag of lump on one 5 hour cook.

    Somewhat related to the above, I was using chunk wood and I couldn't keep it from lighting on fire.  I tried dropping right on top of the coals and I tried separating the wood from the coals by pushing the coals to one side.  The chunk wood would just light right up and give a hard smoke, then die.  I struggled to maintain a slow burn of the wood to get to the good smoke.  Would split wood help with this?  Any thoughts?

    I kept temps 225-240 for the entire smoke (as per Maverick 732 & factory lid thermo).  First 2 hours out of foil, then 2 hours in foil.  As I was taking out of the foil for the final hour, the bones were literally falling out of the meat as I was moving back onto the grates.  I generally don't like "falling off the bone".  Clearly by the time I finished the cook, I was able to just pull the bones right out of the meat.  This has never happened on my electric.  Not really sure why it happened this time.


  2. cook with split hardwood, don't overcook the ribs.
  3. brooksy

    brooksy Master of the Pit

    Don't foil your ribs and you'll get more of a chew to them. As far as the wood goes the wood is always going to catch fire when you throw it on and you'll have heavy smoke for a few mins. It's ok! As long as the smoke subsides your good. Remember this if you can smell the smoke then you are smoking. Did you smell smoke in the air while you were cooking? It should take a split of wood about once an hour to keep you stable in your temps.
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2014
  4. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Jeff

    Are you talking about one of the Horizon Backyard smokers or one of the bigger ones?

    One of the first things to do is to make sure that all of the covers are properly sealed so that they don't leak. You have probably done this during your refurbishment though I guess.

    For a smoker of that type you are likely to get a fairly big temperature gradient along the cooking chamber so where you place the thermometer will be important. You will find it easier to regulate the temperature at the end furthest from the firebox. Next time move the probe of the Maverick around in the cooking chamber during your smoke to try to get a temperature profile. That way you will get to know where the hot and cool spots are.

    Rather than a pile of lump you may want to try using the minion method as this will give you a more controlled burn that should last you longer. Here is a link that may give you some food for thought. You will also probably find that good quality briquettes will last you longer than the lump that you are using.

    Ensure that you are smoking in a sheltered location. Winds will result in significant heat loss and result in more fuel being burned. You may even want to use an old fire blanket over the body of the smoker to give it a little insulation.

    Chunk wood is great and you can lay it on top of the coals when you use the minion method. They will start to burn as the fire reaches them.

    It looks from your ribs that they were probably cooking hotter than you thought. Remember the heat gradient along the cooking chamber. Unless you rotate them as they are cooking the ones closest to the fire will be hotter and likely cook faster. Where did you place your Maverick probe? Was it on the cooking grate right beside the meat? It appears from what you say that both the Maverick and lid thermometer were reading the same temperatures. I would normally expect the temperature in the lid to be slightly higher than at the level of the cooking grate.

    I hope this helps.

  5. jtucker

    jtucker Fire Starter

    It is a backyard smoker and it has nearly zero leak. In my testing during the seasoning, their was about a 20 degree variance across the grates (hotter toward firebox). I feel like I have the tuning plate fairly dialed in. The lid thermo reads about 10-15 degrees cooler than the grate level probe. As a side note, I removed the lid thermo and tested at diff temps in the oven and it tested right on. I had the Mav prob in the middle (left-to-right), behind the meat (posterior end of grate), or essentially center of cook chamber/center of meat. I had ribs placed in middle, but didn't rotate. FWIW, the smoke ring I had was awesome. Best I've ever gotten.

    So do I establish a bed of coals, then use wood to maintain temp? Or do I keep adding coals through out the cook, and the wood is purely for smoke? This is the part I'm confused about....the elementary stuff.
  6. wood river bbq

    wood river bbq Smoke Blower

    If I'm understanding your post as to how you started your fire (placed chimney full of hot charcoal in basket and then added lump on top) you're going about it backwards. I fill my basket about 1/2 to 3/4 with lump (amount depends on the length of the cook). Unfortunately, I can't use a charcoal chimney due to the way the fire box is constructed so I place 2 or 3 coke can size pieces of camp fire wood, which burns hot and fast, on top of the pile of lump and use a propane brush burner (Harbor Freight) to ignite the pile. (NOTE; you don't want to cook with camp fire wood. It's only used to establish a bed of coals). Once the bed of coals is established I start the cook. I add pieces of chunk that I soaked in water for a couple of hours for a smoke flavor. I have to use chunk because hardwood is hard to come by and expensive in Tucson. Once the meat reaches 145* internal I stop adding chunks because the meat won't take anymore smoke. I only use about 6 to 8 pieces of chunk because I don't want the smoke to overpower the meat. To maintain the cook chamber temperature, I add a couple of hand fulls of lump when I see the temperature starting to fall. On a 3.5 hour cook yesterday (leg of lamb), I started with a 17lb bag of lump and used less than 1/2 a bag to maintain a cook temperature of 250*.

    So, to sum it up, make a bed of lump and then dump you chimney on top of it. It should take about 15 minutes for the bed of coals to establish. Once you see clear blue smoke coming out of the chimney you should start the cook. Start adding chunks for smoke flavor and when your temp start to drop add some lump charcoal. These offset take a little time to learn but are pretty simple once you get the hang of it.

    Hope the above helps.   
  7. wood river bbq

    wood river bbq Smoke Blower

    One additional note: after reading an article at on "soaking wood", I no longer soak the chunks. Contrary to popular belief, the chunks barely absorb any water, which is the reason wooden boats float and don't sink.
  8. jburn244

    jburn244 Fire Starter

    Yes, if you are looking to stick burn with splits you will start with a good hot coal bed (a combination of lit charcoal and 2-3 splits you let burn down to coals). Once your pit is up to temp, load your meat, then add one split (or I like 2 small ones) every 45 mins to an hour as your temp starts tailing off. Your coal bed is your foundation and splits keep your heat. There is lots of info on this technique out there. Read the Stickburning 101 document on this forum.

    You can try the minion method with charcoal and wood chunks, but in my experience I it doesn't tend to work as well with an offset. Creates a draft problem because you are choking off the firebox so much to slow down the burn, and also uneven temps (for me) even with tuning plates. But if you can work around that you can buy yourself at least a few hours of burn time before you have to start adding fuel. So it's viable to some extent but offsets aren't meant to be set it and forget it. The design really just doesn't allow it. 
    Last edited: Sep 22, 2014
  9. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I think it really depends on the offset. 

    I use the snake method on mine and I fond that it gives me consistent temperatures

    This setup gives me a good steady low cooking temperature 215 F-220 F but I usually use a triple width briquette snake as it takes less time to bring the chamber up to temperature. Yes it does need topping up after about 4-5 hours however I just start adding the additional briquettes backwards from the burning front and it starts to burn in reverse.
  10. Just my two cents. I dump 2 lit chimney of kingsford comp briquettes in my charcoal basket. I add peach mini splits every 30-40 min. After about 2 hours add another lit chimney of charcoal adding more minispits as needed. I keep my fire nice and hot for a clean smoke.


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