1. Gather supplies. You will need: scrap paper, a digital thermometer that YOU have tested in boiling water, lighter fluid, a charcoal chimney, a long lighter, a cheapo stepping stone (otherwise your porch will scorch), and charcoal. I generally have two kinds of charcoal on hand. Some (lighter fluid free) briquettes and some good long-burning natural lump charcoal seen below.
*Not pictured is the 4-5 apple wood chunks (or other if that’s your preference) soaking in water for about a 1/2 hour. This keeps the wood chunk from flaring up and making your temperature spike for a bit.
2. Next, put paper underneath the chimney and shoot it with some lighter fluid. We only want lighter fluid on the paper. This gets the fire going easily, but burns off long before we get it in the smoker so it doesn’t taint the taste of the food. Put a layer of briquettes in the chimney.
3. Next, fill it up with lump charcoal and light it at the bottom.
4. Let it burn off all the nasty-tasting white, thick smoke. You want TBS (thin, blue smoke.) The picture below is the best one we could get of it.
Inside the chimney, it will look like the below picture. Notice that there’s no smoke to speak of clouding up the camera. Thin, hard-to-catch-on-camera smoke is perfect. Puffy smoke tastes horrid.
5. Put the coals in the base of your smoker, edging the hottest charcoal to one side and the not-caught-yet to the other. Toss a chunk of soaked wood on the not-caught side. Put the smoker on top and start watching your temperatures.
6. After 5-10 minutes you have a good idea of how hot it’s running. To bring up the temperature, you generally just need to increase the air flow. We use a small bedside electric fan pointed at the base. To cool it down, you can restrict airflow or just wait for it to stabilize and lift the lid to let out some of the heat.
7. Once the fire starts to die, and the temp is just steadily dropping, start another chimney. When it’s ready, carefully lift off the smoker and stir the coals to get rid of the ash that restricts airflow. Add your new coals and wood just like you did before, replace the smoker and keep going until your meat internal temp is where it’s supposed to be.