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Nov 23, 2009 11:24 AM

First Time BBQ/Smoker: Suggestions?

This coming weekend I will attempt to use my new bbq/smoker I bought a month ago off craigslist to smoke something for the first time. I have used it many times for normal grilling, but I have yet to bbq/smoke anything. I understand the concept of smoking, but does anybody have any first-time suggestions?

- I will be using charcoal (Kingsford) as my main source of heat/smoke.
- I have an oven thermometer that I will be using to monitor the internal temperature of cooking chamber.

- I have yet to decide what to make. I've heard that whole chicken is a good way start, but I do not have the fridge space to properly brine. Is this an issue? Shold I do something else? I feel comfortable finding a good recipe once I decide, but I am unsure what I should start with.
- I have yet to practice controlling the temperature of the smoker, so I am unsure how much charcoal I would really need to create enough smoke for however many hours I may need to cook for.

Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions!

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  1. Can you tell me what make and model of smoker you have? That would help get you pointed in the right direction.

    2 Replies
      1. re: Mike CP

        OK, that helps. If that is indeed the model you have, it is known as an offset smoker. When used properly, they can crank out great BBQ. Charcoal, will NOT, however, generate enough smoke to flavor your food, so you'll need to add wood chunks(not chips) No need to brine your bird, just use a dry rub. For poultry, I use cherry, apple, maple, or pecan wood. Add about 3-4 fist size pieces of wood once you've dumped your charcoal in the firebox. Make sure your temp is in the 250 degree range. Here's a link that will also help:

    1. Follow above directions regarding temperature.

      I would first do a couple of pork butts, they are very forgiving. Try and find some smaller ones, 6-8 lbs or so, put some rub on them (I usually coat with cheap yellow mustard first), and put them on early in the morning. Keep your temps in 250 range and babysit your smoker. I normally pull them at around 190 internal, takes about 1 1/2 hours a pound approx. It will sit forever around 160 or so. If you want to speed it up, foil the butts around the 160 mark and cook in foil until you hit the 190 mark.

      Make sure you have enough beer to keep you going through this butt cook.


      2 Replies
      1. re: duck833

        Thanks for the suggestions!

        Yes, beer should have been one of the 'knowns'. But thanks for the reminder :)

        1. re: duck833

          Pork butts are good, also fresh sausages. Smoked fresh hot pork sausage, about 250 degrees, maybe 2-2 1/2 hours (keep a tester link or three handy for your first run). Natural casing, only, please.
          Apple, or hickory for stronger flavor.

        2. Use lump charcoal instead of briquettes. Add a handful of wood chips or a chunk or two of smoking wood. Apple and pecan are great with poultry, and hickory goes with pretty much anything.

          Try spatchcocking the chicken (cut out the backbone), and using a dry rub or marinade.

          1. I have used charcoal in the past to get the fire started, but have to use real wood or chunks to make smoke for 6-8 hours. I personally don't like smoked chicken. I'm a butt/brisket/turkey kind of a man. Don't brine, dry rub. Never let the temp get over 225.

            1. Mike..
              I think your idea of Chicken(s) is an excellent idea to get acquainted with your new cooker....Learning what it will do, want do, and how to make it respond/react to your needs is critical.....Fire/Temperature Control is paramount in BBQing...It must be learned, and learned on your particular cooker...It comes with lots and lots of practice...and patience. Chicken is very forgiving to the inevitable “spikes” of highs and lows in temperature you will no doubt encounter in the beginning....It cooks fairly quickly (about 2 1/2 ~ 3 1/2 hours + or -) it’s relatively inexpensive and, it’s good eats!! I like the spatchcock method...It cooks quicker, has more surface area for seasoning and smoke to lay on etc.

              Some suggestions...If you have a choice...Royal Oak Hardwood Charcoal briquettes will give you a good uniform, somewhat longer burning hot fire, with a lot less ash than the blue bag Kingsford...Start your initial fire in a Charcoal started with newspaper, and any subsequent charcoal you add to the fire...Adding raw unlit charcoal briquettes will cause a temperature drop, and some will say a funny taste as the built in “starters” binder’s etc in the Charcoal burn off. Note: Lump Charcoals tend to burn hotter, but for less time than do briquettes and they contain no additives, starters, binders etc. It can be added raw directly to the fire without fear of “contamination". If added in large quantities it will cool the fire, and drop the temperature in the cooking chamber however.

              At some point I suggest some other method of monitoring cooking chamber temperatures other than an oven thermometer...You will have to open the door to see it allowing precious heat to escape...It cost cooking time, and fuel for the cooker to respond back to cooking temperatures ...It’s often said, “If you’re lookin, it ain’t cookin” There are several options on the market for thermometers that allow you to monitor temperatures without ever opening the cooking chamber door...I leave you with your own research to decide which one is best for you and your budget...However, one usually gets what one pays for.

              Last suggestion(s)...As you learn (must learn) Fire Control in your cooker....Leave the Exhaust (smokestack) open at all times...Control your fire with the air intake damper ~~~ The more open... the hotter the fire...The less open... the cooler.

              The number one mistake new, inexperienced backyard BBQ’ ers make is Over smoking the Meat...Start with a couple of big chunks of wood...You’re looking for a thin, almost invisible blue smoke....At some point you may not see it at all...Trust me...It’s there ~~ In time you will learn the amount and type(variety)of flavoring wood(s) you and your family enjoy!

              Lastly...Keep a detailed Log Book everytime you cook...Write down everyting you do... Recipes,Times. temperatures, amounts and kind/type of fuel and flavoing woods...The weather..Cold, hot, windy, raining, Your results. What to be sure NOT to do next time...What to be sure TO do next time...Anything, and everything...write it down...It's a great learning/teaching tool...

              Have Fun, Good Luck, and Happy Thanksgiving!!