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Q:I currently have a side box "barrel" type smoker, i know how to build a fire but i was bored and happend to read your article. the question i have is, should i use the grate in the bottom of the box to keep the ashes below the fire or build the fire right on the bottom? it seems like when i build an outdoor fire there is no grate and its fine, however my smoker came with one and i just used it not thinking about it much.
I would also like to take the time to thank you for your site, i visit it often and look forward to your newsletter every month. another question i have is, when cooking my brisket it does not maintain the one temp for a couple of hours like you said yours does, and seems to cook a lot faster then everyone elses i have talked to and read about.
I have experimented and have maintained anywhere from 220 temp one time and worked my way down to where im maintaining at 190-200 but it still seems to cook an 8lb brisket in maby 7-9 hours and dont just pull apart as i have seen a lot of others do. I have considered smoking it till 140 temp (to obtain the most smoke flavoring) then wraping it in foil for the rest of the smoke hoping to lock in even more of the juices and allowing it to cook in its self.
A: You should definitely use the grate.. you want the ashes to fall down below but not the coals. Your heat is going to come from the buildup of nice hot coals that get plenty of air. The grate keeps the coals up off of the bottom so as to allow air to get to the coals better making for a hotter fire.
As far as the brisket.. I would almost be compelled to say that your thermometer is not working correctly. If it is possible to take it loose from the smoker, hold the end of it down in boiling water and it should read close to 212 degrees.
It may not be right on since the boiling point is different based on altitude but it should be within 3 or 4 degrees unless you live in the Alps.
At 225 degrees the brisket should definitely require at least 1.5 hours per pound.
Here is another idea that just occurred to me..
You said that your smoker had the side firebox and this is a good setup however it brings with it a few problems if the smoker is not modified either by you or the manufacturer.
Where the heat comes into the smoking chamber from the firebox it is usually hotter and gets cooler as you get further away from the firebox. I recommend placing the brisket at the far end away from the firebox and see if you get a better result. Of course if you are already doing this then it almost has to be a thermometer problem.
Here is another quick test.. at 225 degrees you should be able to place you hands on the smoking chamber(close to the thermometer) and leave them there for 2 or 3 seconds or better without scalding your hands. If the smoking chamber is so hot you cannot touch it and your thermometer says 225 degrees then your thermometer is definitely reading incorrectly.
Try some of these things and let me know how it goes.. we may have to delve a little deeper into the problem.
I have a brisket in the smoker right now.. should be done around 10 AM tomorrow morning.