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Noob frustrated - can't get fire right.

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by itsmetimd, Oct 5, 2010.

  1. itsmetimd

    itsmetimd Fire Starter

    Grrrrr!!!  I'm about to quit messing with this stuff and just get my cue from the joint around the corner!  I just can't seem to get the fire right.  Is this just a noob thing or am I doing something wrong???  It seems like every time I find one thing and correct it then something else is wrong.

    Here's my setup - using a Brinkmann Smoke 'N Pit  I've modded the firebox to add a coal basket resting on 2 bricks, added a cookie sheet as a heat deflector, 2 paver stones to help hold temps, added stove rope to improve the seal and installed a chimney extension.  When I build a fire I put a single layer of unlit charcoal in the bottom of the basket then light about 3/4 of a chimney and once the top coals get some red and grey on them I add them to the box.

    I did this today and got the temp to about 245, then it started dropping.  I've got it to stabilize at about 225 but I'm having to add coals about every 30 minutes.  That doesn't seem, right.  Here are some pics, any help would be appreciated.







    Last edited: Oct 5, 2010
  2. rp ribking

    rp ribking Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    Buy a WSM.
  3. itsmetimd

    itsmetimd Fire Starter

    Come on now, that's no help! LOL  I guess that's the smoking world's version of a computer guy saying "Get a Mac." [​IMG]
  4. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    In that last pic if the door is closed on your fire box you really dont have any controll . There's a BIG gap in the door.

     To get maximum controll you need to seal up any non controllable air intakes . that way you have the say on how much air gets to the firel
  5. rbranstner

    rbranstner Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    It looks like you have taken all the steps with your mods to make your smoker more efficient. Your fire should be getting plenty of air with the charcoal basket and having it lifted. The only thing I see that I would do different is put more fuel in your fire basket. I don't have experience with a horizontal with a side fire box I'm a UDS kind of guy but when I put fuel in my UDS I fill that sucker up. Also have you ever tried burning lump wood instead of charcoal briquettes?
  6. itsmetimd

    itsmetimd Fire Starter

    Thanks, I may have to see what I can do there.  Last time I built a big fire in the fire box all the paint came off and the door warped.  I didn't notice how large that gap was until you mentioned it.

    Thanks.  I'll try loading that fire basket up next time.  I tried lump and switched back to the briquettes since I was having trouble getting the temps up I thought maybe I had inferior lump.  All the lump charcoal I've used has been recommended or better on the lump charcoal database site.  Hopefully I'll get it dialed in soon.
  7. rp ribking

    rp ribking Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    My Fault, I guess my drink was thinking for me. But................
  8. cliffcarter

    cliffcarter Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Try supporting your charcoal basket with something other than bricks, the ash that those Kingsford briquettes has no where to go and is choking off the air supply to your fire IMHO. And switch back to lump. Lump=less ash=better fire/temp control with the SFB. Not sure what the cookie sheet is for either, it looks to big to be an effective baffle. JM2C
    subzero likes this.
  9. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Go to your local hardware store and buy qty. 4, 3" long 1/4-20 bolts; qty. 8, 1/4-20 nuts; qty. 8 flat washers. Put 1 nut on each bolt and run about 1" of thread though the nut, put on one flat washer, near the top of your basket near the corner put the non-head end of the bolt through the metal weave of the basket, put on 2nd washer, then 2nd nut - don't tighten yet. The heads of the bolts should be on the ouside of the basket - the idea is to hang the basket off of the bolt heads using that metal lip that runs around the inside of your firebox just below the door. Run the bolts in or out as needed to be able to get the basket in and have the heads rest on the lip securely, once you have the lengths figured out tighten all the nuts securely against each other.

    OK... that will take care of getting your basket off the bottom and get the bricks out of there. For your set up, fill the basket about 3/4 full with unlit lump or briquets, then dump about 1/2 a chimney of lit on top of that. Should give you a couple of hours of good steady temps once you get the temps dialed.

    In the main cooking chamber I would suggest getting some unglazed ceramic floor tiles and using those as a combo tuning plate/heat sink. Measure the distance across the bottom of your smoker just above the cutout where the firebox connects to the main chamber, get tiles that are just a little big bigger than that measurement. Wrap the tiles in foil at the start of each smoke to prevent them from absorbing meat juices and turning into a bacterial hazard - also makes clean up a lot easier.

    ...... all else fails get the WSM [​IMG]
  10. meateater

    meateater Legendary Pitmaster SMF Premier Member

    You need to close that intake, your getting to much air. I have a char grill side fire box that I use by itself and I have the intake just barely cracked. Also try the minion method, fill your basket and put 10-12 hot coals on top, give it  a shot. Also listen to the above posts.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2010
  11. itsmetimd

    itsmetimd Fire Starter

    Thanks again guys, I appreciate the info and hopefully with a few more tweaks I'll get there!
  12. Dutch

    Dutch Smoking Guru Staff Member Administrator Group Lead OTBS Member OTBS Admin SMF Premier Member

    Learning fire control for your unit is one of the steepest learning curves you'll encounter. Once you figure out what needs to be done and when it will be a piece of cake and you'll be amazed with your results.

    Follow the tips and advice that the above posters have given you-these guys really know what they're talking about.
  13. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I can see by your mods that you've definitely put alot of homework and thought into this smoker...you want it to work, or you wouldn't have went through all this trouble and work. That said, seeing what you've put into it so far, you're on the right track. Lets take it a few steps further here, because your so close to having a really good rig, so lets keep it going.

    Short of reading everyone's reply word for word, I will add that I think your wire mesh for the coal basket is too close together, not allowing for ash fall-out. I try to use something in the 3/4" - 7/8" gap range. No matter how large or small the grate wire size is, it's the gap that really matters, IMHO. Of course the larger wire size won't warp as easily from heat, so we want that if possible, but it's not a must...warpage can be straightened out later before the next smoke.

    I've played with the SNP for 2 years, and a Gourmet since this spring. I will say that in either smoker when using charcoal briquettes for fuel, ash fall-out has been the key to getting my best results...if the fire can't breathe, it can't burn. Once that part is working, you'll be able to figure out intake vent and exhaust vent positions.

    Anyway, just wanted to toss that in, 'cause I know exactly how you feel...been there, I and don't want to see a potential smoke lover throw in the towel over something like this.

    Hang in there, 'cause great smokes are just around the bend. A little more perserverence and you'll find all the sweet spots to itch that will make your smoker happy, and in turn, it will reward you with better Que than you can get from any eatery.

  14. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    From what I can see in the picture,  the deflector plate may be acting as a wall and not as  baffle, decrease the pitch of the deflector plate and try to run it from front to rear touching the sides of the smoker

    The charcoal grate may be trapping ash, shake them every now and then or replace the charcoal basket.

    Another thing is the brick may be causing the airflow to go over top of the coals, try to configure so air goes below the coals.

    Have you calibrated (tested) your thermometer?

    Are you giving enough time for the added mass to heat up?

    Have you tried using wood, to bring temps up?

    Have you tried lump?
  15. itsmetimd

    itsmetimd Fire Starter

    I'll try that with the deflector and I've got some ideas to fix my fire box.

    I did calibrate the thermometer.  Reads right at 210-212 in boiling water.

    I do give it enough time to heat up (I wasn't at first) and it seems like it will just get to about 240 and then immediately start to fall.

    Haven't tried any wood yet.

    I tried lump but it seemed to burn up very fast and have lower temps, I know it's supposed to burn hotter so it's possible it was just my configuration.

    Thanks again for the input on my 'issues'... Lord knows I have plenty. :D
  16. itsmetimd

    itsmetimd Fire Starter

    Just wanted to say thanks again for everyone's input here, I did a few more tweaks before today's smoke and got my temps up no problem - I actually had to work on keeping them down this time, figures, huh? [​IMG]

    I removed the bricks from my fire box and took four bolts and run them through the bottom to make "legs" on the basket.  Putting them on the side of the basket seemed to make it hang too high in the box.  I also turned the cookie sheet to make the deflector more effective.  Seemed to do the trick.  I have a big cookout next weekend so we'll see if I can get the same performance out of it.  1,000 thanks... I would have had no idea how to fix this issues if not for SMF!

    Oh yes... and here's the Q-View of today's efforts. - http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/forum/thread/99396/philly-phatty-with-q-view
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2010
  17. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Good work! All it takes a bit of patience and a slight sense of adventure to keep you going until you find what works with your rig, even if you need to ask for some tips from someone else...as long as you find those sweet spots to itch your smoker and make it happy...then it's smoke heaven!

    BTW, once yuo start doing mods, you'll find a few really little things now and then to try to tweek it a bit more...this is an almost non-stop process for me, but it keeps things even more interesting.

  18. chefrob

    chefrob Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    nice job sticking with it and a big kudos for all the great tips on giving our boy a hand!
  19. take half of the stuff out of there.. all i got is the basket and the dryer vent hose on my CGSP and i have no complaints.. u dont need the plate or that brick or whatever that was under the basket
  20. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The one benefit of having the basket hanging is that you can empty the ash tray in the middle of the smoke if you have to.