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May 26, 2006 09:11 PM

New Smoker - need help

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I recently purchased a Bandera smoker/cooker. Though the $800.00 smokers appealed to me more, my budget sent me this way. Plus, it looked more my size - very fitting for a 5 foot 100 pound women.
I have only tried smoking a small pork roast on it and it turned out terrible! My husband did not want to use the hickory (wood chunks) I got, and I don't think we used enough charcoal. We could not get the temperature above 180 degrees. I am thinking we need to add at least 4 to 5 pounds of charcoal and more hickory.
A friend gave me a bag of Cowboy Hardwood Charcoal. How do I use this? I would like to smoke some ribs and a pork roast this weekend. Of course after reading the thread on "Memorial Day Menus" I don't know why I am sitting here. I need to be making a road trip!!!
What I need is some help on how much charcoal to add, and if any of you out there have this smoker and (or) can give me some tips.
Thank you,

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    Professor Salt

    You ought to visit the BBQ Brethren site. These are hardcore BBQ fanatics who have their own forum dedicated to slow smoked barbecue, and are real helpful to newbies. Here's a link to their Bandera FAQ page.

    Controlling your fire is the trickiest part of mastering any smoker, so don't feel bad if your first attempt was less than stellar, (we all go through the learning curve). Ideally, you should fire up a load of charcoal a few times without food in it. It gives you a chance to practice working the vents and controlling the heat, and also seasons your smoker with a coating that seals the metal interior.

    When you say your pork roast turned out terrible, I'm guessing you mean "dry." What cut did you use? You want to use a fatty cut like shoulder or pork butt for long slow smoking, not a lean cut like loin or tenderloin.

    Charcoal should be your main heat source. Use a few (like one handful, no more) of wood chunks (not chips - burns up too easily) every hour or so for smoke flavor. If you use add too much wood, it creates a too-heavy smoke, and your food tastes like creosote.


    4 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt

      experiment, experiment, experiment. a good way to start, as it is relatively cheap, is with different chicken pieces and work your way up to a large roaster. I don't know what part of the country you are in right now but the high temperature you will attain is directly related to the weather outside. Here's another great site:


      1. re: byrd

        Yes, you sent her to the right site.
        I have a Bandera and frankly have not had much luck with it. Temp control is crazy and it uses twice the wood that my old propane tank convert uses.

        1. re: Spencer

          The electric smokers(Bradley, Cookshack) take the luck, pain, and guess work out of home smoking.

          1. re: TomG

            and most of the true bbq flavour we're looking for...

            Three words: Weber Smokey Mountain.
            Extremely reliable
            no-hassle cooking
            Wins contests every weekend


    2. Thank you all for the great responses! I intend to spend the day just playing with the darn thing. Professor, thank you for the BBQ site. Once I learn their lingo, this will be very helpful!
      I usually cook Boston Butts, but for some reason picked up a different cut. So, I will go back to the cheaper cut.
      I learned to smoke on a large drum grill, with the heat on one side and the meat on the other side. I thought that this smoker would work the same way. I'll keep trying though!
      Again, thank you all. Have a good weekend!

      1. I agree with the other folks. Definitely use lots of charcoal, then control the temperature by controlling the amount of air you give your charcoal chamber (I have never seen or used the bandera, but I'm sure there air vents which allow you to regulate how much air flows to your charcoal). The more air, the hotter it burns; the less air, the cooler it burns.

        One method, which works with other smokers is called the "minion method" (kudos to Jim Minion, btw). Essentially, it means to put in as much unlit charcoal as your smoker will hold. Then, put in a few handfuls of lit charcoal on top. If you only allow a small amount of steady air to that charcoal chamber, then the smoker will very slowly burn through the pile of charcoal, and keep the whole thing at a good temperature. It allows you to have looooong burns without adding charcoal all the time. In my smoker, I can go 18+ hours at 240 degrees without reloading it with any additional charcoal. Most smokers probably won't go that long, but who knows.

        Good luck and keep experimenting. On the other side of the experiment is some darn good food!

        1. If you were using briquets that was probably the problem. "Lump" charcoal burns hotter and leaves much less ash, as it does not contain all the binders (mostly clay I believe) that go into briquets. Whole Foods carries lump charcoal and it is finding its way into some normal grocery stores as well.

          I use a chimney starter with a pile of charcoal about the size of a volleyball, dump it into the fire chamber when it is well-lit, then cover it with the rest of a 4-kilogram bag. This is good for several hours at 225. The trick, as others say, is to regulate the airflow in order to control the temperature. You'll pick it right up, though.

          And, while a pork butt or a brisket is really good after about twelve hours at 225, there's also a lot to be said for cooking a pork loin for a few hours. It's really "grill roasting" more than "Real Barbecue," but it gets an intense smoky flavor, stays tender and juicy, and looks fabulous -- be sure to tie it up every couple of inches for a regular shape, which oimproves looks and promotes even cooking. I use an internal thermometer and take it off at around 135 iirc but ymmv. Usually takes me a little over two hours at 225-250.