Hey Forum, here is a challenge to you who have been members a while. We have lots of new members joining in.

Tell us, what are your most valuable lessons, to give to the new owners of Cookshacks?

My first thoughts:

1. Read the forum, especially the archives
2. Keep good notes, you're own experiences will help you the most
3. Remember, this isn't a cake recipe...so time and temp are now the only way to judge when it's complete.

And try to appreciate what BBQ is all about and understand what this statement means:

quote:
It's done when it's done


2009 Update.

I know it's not "lessons learned" but in my way it is more "advice" to new users Big Grin

When I'm teaching newbies, or someone who just wants to learn Q or improve their Q, My rules are (not just for CS):

1. Know your temps -- for your smoker Without knowing how your smoker cooks, you'll never been consistent

2. Know you temps -- for food After you've cooked enough, you'll be able to look and know when stuff is done, or by touch, but until then, know the target temp for finishing the various cuts of meat (except ribs, don't do temp)

3. Practice You'll have success quick if you follow the advice of the forum, but like momma always said, Practice makes Perfect

4. Patience In some ways, this is rule 1. You'll get the most out of it by being patient and having more fun. In today's I gotta have it right now world, that and BBQ don't mix. Slow down, you type A's learn to relax and take your time.

5. Learn from the Forum Masters I don't mean me, I mean all the forum. We have only 10,000 posts and 75,000 responses. It's VERY likely you'll never ask a question we haven't heard. And check the main forums (by topic) I've collected it there by reason.

5a. Learn to search I get tons of emails from people who don't want to post and we have lots of lurkers every day and they both have one thing in common, they're embarassed to ask the simple questions. (probably because we'll tell them to search) but if you get familiar with the forum and how to search, you'll be able to get the information without asking.

more to come...
Original Post
4. The CS is very efficient, and it is easy to overdue the smoke. When I first used my Smokette, I had several pieces of meat that were bitter. Go easy on the wood until you get a feel for your unit.
5. Periodically folks ask about using their CS in very cold weather. As far as I can tell it doesn't affect cooking times unless you are opening the door all the time. I have smoked meat when the temp. out was well below zero and the time didn't differ from summer time smoking.
For me, two things:

#1 Patience - allow the cookshack to do it's thing, and avoid opening the door, especially in cold climates. "It's done when it's done"

#2 Digital thermometers - probably the most valuable piece of advice I've gotten off this forum. Even before I bought a CS, I used them with my water smoker, and NEVER had a bad piece of smoked meat.

I've even used them on pork ribs with the same success.

I also use one to monitor the temperature inside the smoker.

I did use logs alot with my water smoker, because of variances in weather, wind etc.

But with the Cookshack I've found that it's so consistant due to it's insulation, that I really don't use logs anymore.
The most valuable lessons that I've learned are:

1) Don't worry. Unless you REALLY screw up, you're probably gonna have edible product. Don't be afraid to experiment - but keep notes.

However, to be on the safe side, don't try something new when you're going to have guests over. Not so much from a "taste" issue, but more from a "when will it get done" issue.

2) There isn't necessarily just ONE correct way to cook something. It all comes down to your preferences. For example, I've experimented with rubbing pork butts with mustard before applying rubs, and not rubbing, trying different rubs, and trying different woods. My conclusions have been, well, inconclusive. Great results with different methods. And the differences, at least with pork butts, haven't been all that great.

3) Buy a decent thermometer, use it, and believe it. This will keep you from opening the door on the long cooks (pork butt, briskets) and keep the moisture in. It's rumored that each time you open the door, you add an hour to your cook time. I think that's pretty accurate.

4) Chicken skins will not crisp in a Cookshack Smokette. Period. Simple solution - finish on the grill, under the broiler, in a hot oven, even a deep fryer.

5) Don't tell your guests how easy it is to do. You'll find it easier to convince your friends to help you out on those nasty household projects by offering a meal of pulled pork in exchange.

5b) Don't tell the Mrs. how easy it is to use. She'll attempt to fill the free time you now have (no tending the fire, adjusting air, etc.) with an expanded "honey-do" list.

6) Learn about the cuts of meat, pork, etc. (many of the so-called "butchers" in todays supermarkets have little knowledge as meats arrive pre-cut) Find a good supplier of meat. It took me a bit of research here in Maine. Finally have a great butcher, plus use BJ's wholesale club. I still usually have to pre-order to get a Pork Butt or Shoulder, or packer cut brisket. Seems like the stores cut them up into various pieces pretty quickly.

7) Finally - we're a real friendly bunch on this site, but sometimes get tired of answering the same old question again and again. Learn to use the search function on the forum. It's quite powerful and you'll find that most questions have been answered many times already. Also - read Smokin Okie's guides. Well-done. There are lots of other bbq sites as well. I like the virtualweberbullet.com forum. Even though it uses another smoker type, theres a lot of valuable information on it.

I think someplace in the archives is a list of favorite bbq books. I don't have many, but use the "Smoke and Spice" book a lot.

A shameless plug. Take a look at my website. (listed below) I've gotten lazy the past few months, but have documented some of my experiences with the Smokette.

8) Repeating #1. Relax. Don't worry. Experiment. Load the smoker, have a few adult-beverages ready, and enjoy the result. You're gonna love it.
Yeah! Just what Dave said! Big Grin

Once you get the basics down, don't be afraid to experiment with flavor and spices. There's more out there than your local cuisine!

Be cautious when smoking poultry. It takes on smoke much heavier than beef or pork. Start out light and adjust to your own tastebuds!

Be willing to think outside the box and share your experiences with us.

Enjoy and have fun with your Q.
quote:
Originally posted by SHACKMAN:
[qb] The CS is idiot proof -- read and listen to Smokin and Tom -- you can't go wrong. [/qb]
I don't know about that, Tom can't go wrong, but I have my moments Big Grin

Thanks for the replies, keep them coming.

My intent is to build a thread at the top of the owners forum with this information.

Russ
I think my #1 tip would be to invest in lots of aluminum foil.
Line everything that the fat will be dripping onto and into. Except I don't line the racks themselves. Even us lazy folks don't do that. And don't scrimp on the cleanup. It's lots easier to do if it's done every time you cook.
I agree with mainelydave, let people think what they want to think about the hard work you put into your finished product. You did spend a lot of time in deep thought.
Peggy
quote:
Originally posted by 2greyhounds:
[qb] I think my #1 tip would be to invest in lots of aluminum foil.
Line everything that the fat will be dripping onto and into.



Peggy [/qb]
Out of everything I've picked up from these forums, foiling the bottom and the lid on the firebox is the greatest thing since pulled pork! Cleanup would be an incredible pain without it!

I did learn one important thing, however... If you're cooking in cold weather, don't leave the CS door open while you take the food inside to FTC... When you get back, any grease that may have sneaked under the foil will have hardened and will have glued the foil very effectively to the firebox lid and the smoker floor! I only did this once! After that, I've remembered to close the smoker door to keep the inside warm...
I would add:

1. Don't peek too often. It can increase the cooking time a bunch.
2. Be prepared for the "plateau" when the internal temp on butts and briskets hits about 170F and sits there for an hour or more. Be patient, it will go higher.
3. Spraying the racks with a bit of cooking spray will help in clean up.
4. And ditto what GeiyserQ said about the drip pan. Forgetting it is not fun and is really embarrassing (especially the second time.)
I have been smoking for a week now on my CS 55. My number one tip is to smoke it early, Wheter you plan on freezing it or holding it over in a cooler wrapped in aluminum foil.

You will feel rushed if people are standing around ready to eat, and the saying on this site is "its done when its done".
When I first got my Smokette,I set it up with foil, plugged it into the wall outlet, put some ribs in it , set the temp and went upstairs to watch TV, and surf a little. I was waiting for the wonderful aroma of hickory smoke, ribs and a good rub to start perking up my appetite.

About an hour later, I went down to check out the cooking. No smoke coming out, no heat to touch on the CS' walls. No wonderful aroma. The unit was plugged in to it's usual outlet. What the h*** was going on.

And, here is the lesson. My outdoor outlets at home are all on a ground-breaker circuit. The ground-breaker had tripped (My better half sometimes waters them!). Resetting it did the trick. I did not even know where the reset button was until this happened.

Now, I always listen and feel for the click when I turn the temp control on my unit ( I unplug it and turn the switch off after each use), and go around to my back door and check the reset button on the outlet there that has the circuit breaker to see if it needs to be reset.
My most valuable lesson was don't forget to punch a hole in the aluminum foil.

1. Full Packer Brisket in about 9:30 PM
2. Temp @ 225
3. Watch News and go to bed, thinking I have done brisket no need to go check on the smoker.
4. Wake up with the wife screaming "What the *&^( did you do to my patio."

This was not priceless! I am sure if the product was not so darn good both of us would have been gone. Bob
I'm a new owner who has used my CS-008 about 6 times now. I have probably spent more time reading the forums than actually smoking.

There seem to be 2 types of smokers (people not appliances):

Type A Smokers:
concerned with every single detail. Must try to control all variables such as exact oven temp (even at each rack level) which is graphed out on paper. They calculate effects on cooking times based on voltage drops across extension cords of varying gauges. They measure external temp, wind speed, barometric pressure and moon phase and how they affect the viscosity of the marinade. They calculate the density of different hardwoods and mix them in exact proportions to achieve smoke rings of specific thicknesses. They debate endlessly about the virtues of different brands of aluminum foil. They go to ranches and examine the pedigrees of cattle and hogs to choose meat that will taste the best. Cooking times are exact and to the second. Their motto "it's done when I predict it's done"

Type B smokers:
Buy what they can find, rub with what they have, smoke long and slow while drinking a cold beer. Even if it takes twice as long, they fully and unconditionally accept that "It's done when it's done!"

Best advice - Relax, the CS will do all the work and your results will be fantastic! Wink

Jon E.
Jon.. that's great.. I started out as a Type A.. but as time goes on.. I'm moving rapidly toward Type B.

BUT, I know I'll keep asking questions.. Difficult to totally eliminate the Type A tendency.. maybe there is a group I can join to help me out here.. some sort of 10 step program. I know our church has outreaches for other issues.. I never considered this in that light tho.. Thanks.......
When I first received my Cookshack, and as a newbie, I spent a majority of my first smoke fooling with the thermostat. My thermometer would rise, drop and rise again. So I would raise and lower the thermostat accordingly.

Called CS. They were concerned and very helpful. After a brief discussion, they determined that everything was normal but not to hesitate to call back if i was not happy with the end result.

I left the thing alone for the remainder of the smoke. Meanwhile, I entered the forum to kill some time while the smoker was puffin away. There it was...all the talk about temperature swings. Conclusion...forget about it. Relax and enjoy the smoker.

I have learned over the past year that the temp swings are nothing to worry about. It will do it's thing just fine. In fact, unless you need to monitor the temp of the meat, don't even use a thermometer for the smoker temp.
1. Being able to read others real world experiences and learn from their encouters.
2. Buy and use a thermometer, I have had so many folks tell me that they cant get the meat to come out consistent, and my first question is: Do you use a thermomter? I almost think it would behoove CS to supply one with all cookers.
3. To know that what ever the "certain" few who are, (and I would not metion names Smokin, Tom, and about a dozen others,) well seasoned and the information they put fourth is as reliable as the sun shining daily.
4. Customer support, there are numerous feed back posts that are useful from which users have contacted CS and posted their results.
5. Meat cuts, prices, and trim styles there are some excellent archives on how to trim, what the various part names are and how to season.
6. The fact that this is a friendly run forum which welcomes all types of cookers from the backyard beginner to the competition cooker, the ability to tap a knowledge base such as this is a valuable tool to one who desires to learn.
Here's a post I found while doing my Administrator duties todaym from Halter:

quote:
I began smoking about two years ago using a Brinkman water smoker. Within six months I realized this was for me and upgraded to a Cookshack. Since then I have used this site extensively and have never had an unsuccessful experience. I read posts to this site occasionally of new smokers who are having bad experiences and feel guilty that by taking the advice on this site I have found smoking great food to be pretty easy.

As a way of saying Thank You to all of you who have been such help and maybe to give a little something back, I have put together "my" Ten Commandments to help those who are still starting out. I'm not near as qualified as so many of the experts on this site to be giving advice, but I hope these basics are of help to someone.

Good luck and good smoking!

TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR NEW SMOKERS

1. Buy the Model 55 and a Food Saver. - It's just as easy to make more and the Food Saver allows you to keep it without any loss of taste. This type of food is so economical you will pay for the extra capacity within a year.

2. Never make anything unless you have plenty of time this sport is not for spur of the moment urges or last minute meals

3. Never make anything the first time for guests refer to rule commandment #2

4. Understand and purchase the right cut of meat study info and pictures on this site and talk to your butcher

5. Don't worry too much about perfect recipes it's the smoke and the slow cook that brings the flavor (but do learn how to brine poultry and fish)

6. Really! You don�t need that much wood you just have to take a leap of faith on this one

7. Always trust your thermometer (Polder type) � I like the ones with remote readouts (to set by my recliner) so I feel like I am doing something while the Cookshack works.

8. If you do not trust your thermometer use a secondary insta-thermometer and this does not give you the OK to open the door every 10 min and stab the meat

9. Leave the door closed there is nothing to see but a piece of meat getting darker. You couldn't tell if something was done by looking at it anyway.

10. If in your research you come across two different opinions take the one offered by Smokin' Okie - he is never wrong! He could have led Dante through hell.
I started out by using used chicken pot pie tins (drip pan) with a rock in it to help it not move. It worked, but was to small to hold the greese. I then purchased a couple of baking alluminum pans, and they too were a pain. I was recently in one of those dollar stores, and found a metal bread pan that measures 1 1/2H x 7 1/2W x 12 1/2 W for $2.00. It's a perfect fit under my 008, and is large enough to accomodiate any amount of greese in the drip pan. Best part, no spilling & no mess.
Thanks for all the good insights.

One thing I brought to CS was the use of steam table pans for a lot of stuff. Half size fit nicely in the Consumer models. Holds ice for cold smoking, beans for smoking etc. I also now use plastic ones for all my curing brining etc. You can get inserts to keep the meat out of the grease, sop, or whatever, lids too. Sure they cost a little more that disposables and Wally World stuff, but the way I look at it, if you are going to shell out almost half a grand for a CS, a few bucks in good prep gear will pay for itself many times over.

Jerry
Started a smoke once, always looking for that smoke to start out the top after about 20 minutes....no smoke after 1/2 hour, and then I realized that I had checklisted everything except plugging it in.....it really adds alot of time to your smoke sessions!!!

Fresno
My 008 resides on a deck just off of the kitchen. The location is perfect except that there is no overhead covering. It seems like the first 5 or 6 smokes that I did were during heavy snow or rain storms. Needless to say, everything was coming through the top vent hole and onto the item I was smoking.

I tried all sorts of makeshift covers for the vent but nothing seemed to work well. One day, when walking through the plumbing section of my local hardware store I spotted my solution - A heavy galvanized 90 degree street elbow such as the one here. As I recall, 1 1/4 inch is the perfect size to fit over the vent and its fitting. I think I paid about $3. Keeps the elements out without blocking the vent, heavy enough that it's not blown away by high winds and, if you don't look to close, it looks like it's a part of the unit.
dls,

Unfortunately if I understand what you're recommending, modifying the vent hole with an addition of an elbow, I can't recommend your solution, as it makes a modification to the smoker and making modifications to the smoker would violate the Warranty. Sounds like a good idea, just not something that anyone with a warranty can do.

You might contact CS with your idea and see what they think and they'll let you know if it's okay or has any adverse impact. Then we can go with it.
Smokin - It's not a permanent modification. Simply something that I set over the vent and its fitting when the weather is bad. When it's not, the elbow is stored away. Fortunately, I'm not mechanically inclined enough to be making permanent modifications.
quote:
Originally posted by arkansasQer:
[qb] dls...

I see where you're heading with this...it's just a weather 'cap' of sorts that sits over the vent. Not a bad idea. It should be heavy enough not to blow over too. It won't restrict the air flow out of the cooker, but does keep the rain out. Good idea... [/qb]
arkansasQer - You've got it
Stupid questions from a newbie..so I take it I should not use a mop on brisket with my Smokette since I'd be opening the door every so often, right? Also, when people talk abouit using a thermometer to monitor progress, are you talking about using a remote thermometer and running the thin cord through the smoke hole on top? thanks to all!
AndyE,

You're right on about the thermometer. As far as the question to mop or not to mop........that's a long lived debate. The more the door is opened, the longer the cook time, but if you have a mop that you just absolutely love to use, then a little planning ahead for longer cook time is worth it.

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