New toy, and 20+ lbs. of meat!
I'm a well-seasoned hand at doing what everyone says not to: DO NOT TRY OUT A NEW AND UNTRIED DISH ON GUESTS! I've done this repeatedly and gotten away with every time, well, except that once...but this time I'm really asking for it. I just found an upright charcoal-and-water smoker at the Goodwill, complete except for the base (which I discovered after I got it home, but I can set the firepan on our outdoor fireplace grate and take it from there). All this happened just a week before a party we're throwing tomorrow evening, the day before Labor Day, when I had intended to cook a bunch of my Fake Kalua Pig and a couple of chickens in the oven...so GUESS WHAT? That's right, boys and girls: my very first trial run of a completely untried cooking appliance from a frankly questionable source will be to cook two large pork shoulder butts (lower level) and two big fat roasting hens (upper level), along with a bunch of bratwurst strewn around the birds for the last hour or so. I spent the day today making potato salad, coleslaw and white bean salad (word to the wise: Peruanos are even better than canellini!), and then we went out and spent the next two months' rent money on booze and silly props, so even if the meat's a disaster the party won't be...except to me.
So watch this channel. Film at 11...
Good luck, Will. Make sure you keep the top vent all the way open and conrol your fire with the bottom vents, and make sure you're fire's stable (at least 1 hour) before you cook.
What temperature were you shooting for inside the cooker? The chickens and pork shoulder require two different temperatures to cook well. The pork should go at 250F or so, about 1 hour per pound or slightly longer. The chickens really do better at 375-400F. If I were in your shoes, I'd try to keep the smoker at 250, and pull the chickens out after 30 minutes and finish the chickens in a 400 oven. They'll have picked up some smokiness, and you should be able to save the skins from a rubbery death they would have died in a 250 smoker.
re: Professor Salt
If this were only that sophisticated! There is a fire pan, a water pan, two cooking racks and a lid, in that ascending order. There are no adjustable vents, no way to regulate temperature really, and the temperature gauge is this precision device that reads COOL, IDEAL, and HOT. As of now (4:30 pm) the chickens have been done for hours and sitting in a covered tray in the oven - I'm going for succulent, to hell with crisp - and the pork's just come out. I did pull the usual rookie trick of overdoing the smoke, but it's all edible. I have really been taking pictures this time, and I'll probably have the saga up for viewing tomorrow sometime, if I don't overdo the mojitos...
When Mr. Diva and I first got our smoker this summer, I posted some questions and got a response from someone who recommended this site for the Weber Smoky Mountain smoker. I don't know if this is the kind you have, but you might find this link helpful because I think the WSM is the water kind. I have found that pork butt is the most forgiving kind of meat to smoke, and I might think twice about smoking the chickens because the low smoking temperature will translate into rubbery skin. In any case, here's the link: