I found several reviews for this smoker and after reading them, I expected to have to do mods. However, I did a test run with some ribs before any modifications and they turned out excellent... some of the best ribs I have ever had, and I was born/raised/live in Memphis... The gauge is obviously way off because it never got above 150, but my ribs were perfect at 6 hours meaning that temps had to be at least 200 or 225.
I have not completed all of my modifications yet, but I thought I would go ahead and post up what you should do to get this smoker working perfectly.
1) install "nomex grill gasket" - purchase and apply this to seal the gaps around the doors. The stock green egg replacement felt gasket has been suggested, but after reading several reviews, they all say that the stock green egg gasket burns up in higher temps, which would not be ideal for the fire box door. Everyone in the reviews suggested the nomex gasket instead. This can be found on amazon for around $30 with adhesive.
2) install a new gauge - the stock gauge is said (and from experience) to read at least 40 degrees lower than actual temp. Which gauge you get is personal preference, but after reading reviews, I ordered the "river country 2" gauge" for around $10 plus shipping (google it). Tru-Tel makes the best temp gauges, but they are a little more expensive ($30+). To test and calibrate the gauge, use boiling water. As soon as the water begins boiling, dip the gauge probe in the water and it should read around 212 degrees.
3) replace the charcoal pan - the stock pan is a plain metal bowl with no holes. It doesnt hold enough charcoal, and when the charcoal burns, the ash smothers the fire. I am still researching which grill topper to get, but if you google "grill topper" you should find some that look like square baskets with holes. I am leaning towards the "kenmore oversized grill basket" from sears for $15. These toppers will hold quite a bit more charcoal and they also have holes to allow the coals to breath as well as letting the ash fall through. I will probably just set the stock charcoal bowl in the bottom, and set the new grill topper on top of it.
4) use lump charcoal - If you have done the above mods and still cant get temps (on an accurate gauge) to 225, try using lump charcoal. This is the charcoal that looks like burnt logs. It burns quite a bit hotter than briquettes.
5) wood chips - this is more of a tip rather than a mod. A cheap way to get more smoke is to soak some wood chips, wrap them loosely in foil, and toss it on the coals. Every once in a while, I simply toss soaked chips directly on the fire. They burn up pretty quickly, but it provides an intense blast of smoke for 10 minutes or so.
All-in-all, this is a great smoker for the price. The initial cost was $69 at home depot and total mods cost was around $60. For $130 total, this smoker is a phenomenal purchase.
1) purchase baby back ribs and remove the membrane on the back side of the ribs with a paper towel
2) rub the ribs with ball park (regular yellow) mustard and then rub them down with your favorite dry rub (I use a combination of rendezvous rub and a rub from a guy named "Wheeler" here in Memphis. Google "Memphis Dry Rub Recipe" to make your own. Let the ribs sit in the fridge over night (or for 8 hours) if you can (not mandatory) . I then sprinkle a little more rub on just before they go on the smoker
3) get the smoker to around 225 degrees and toss the ribs directly on the rack for 2-3 hours
4) remove the ribs and wrap them in aluminum foil and put them back in the smoker for another 2 hours
5) remove the ribs again and open the aluminum foil and fold it around the ribs to make a "boat" that the ribs sit in. Throw the ribs in the aluminum foil boats back in the smoker for another 1-2 hours. During this time, you can mop/glaze the ribs with sauce or a butter,brown sugar, and rub glaze or your favorite sauce. (I prefer leaving mine dry)
6) after a total cook time of around 6-8 hours at 225, the meat should start pulling inwards and you should start seeing the rib bone tips sticking out from the meat. This means they are done, but cut off a test rib to be sure.
7) remove the ribs and lightly dust with dry rub and/or sauce if desired
8) eat and drink beer ;)
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