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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 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:

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...
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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 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.
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.

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.
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.)
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

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