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Smokenator Dry Runs

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    Smokenator Dry Runs

    In this thread, I am planning to post details for dry runs and cooks that I do with the Smokenator. I am planning to give information for the setup followed by a table of temperatures as the cook progressed with my own comments as to any changes I made during the cook.

    After the temperature table, I'll make comments and put questions I have in bold at the very end.

    That's my plan anyway...we'll see if it works

    The setup and temp tables are inserted as images because I am creating a BBQ diary that is in .pdf form. It is easier to just copy the tables from the diary instead of re-entering all the information again. So I apologize for the lack of ctrl-f-ability in advance!

    Here is the setup and the temps for my first dry run.

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    I was using a Maverick 733 to monitor the temps, and I ran the cables under the kettle lid. I learned afterwards that this is not recommended, so future runs will have them going through the exhaust vents. Maybe some day I'll try drilling probe holes in the kettle itself, but for now that will have to wait.

    I used 4 binder clips to keep the lid tight, but there was some smoke/steam escaping where the probe cables were.

    I was surprised that the hovergrill had a temp consistently 40 or 50 degrees higher than the normal food grate. I can't believe that three inches makes that much of a difference, but apparently they do.

    It seems to me that it took a *really* long time for the food grate temp to get over 200, not to mention near 225.

    I don't really have any questions right now...I have one more test to put up, but I will have to make the post later. For that test I used 45 unlit coals and 20 lit coals, and I monitored the lower grate and the food grate but didn't use the hovergrill.

    If anyone made it this far, thanks for reading. I hope to update this thread when I can and I am happy to accept whatever unsolicited advice you guys have for me! Thanks!

    Hey DrQuatch, nice post! I'm also a bit surprised by it taking so long to get up to temp, but I know from experience that the kettle is pretty leaky. I'm just curious: what made you close the bottom vent haflways after 30 minutes, since the temp wasn't up to 225° yet?


    • DrQuatsch
      DrQuatsch commented
      Editing a comment
      Can't say I have a good reason for closing the bottom vent other than I was too impatient to sit and do nothing...

      To be honest, I wasn't sure it was going to get up to 225, so I thought I'd see what closing the vents would do. Turns out I jumped the gun on it...next time I'll leave them open until it actually stabilizes.

    Interesting stats, Kyle. Like I said on your intro thread, I've had at least a dozen successful cooks with the Smokenator and here is what has worked for me:

    With the exception of a Thanksgiving turkey (I went without water) I've always used the provided water pan. For shorter, hotter cooks I like to fill it out of the gate (the humidity helps apply the smoke - make a point of watching the Doctor Blonder seminar on smoke) and then let it run dry after that. For low and slow I have found that the water pan needs to be refilled once per hour. Every other hour I knock the ashes off the coals. At the 4 hour mark I add unlit coals if the cook needs to go longer. The nice thing about doing it at the 4 hour mark is you can use unlit coals - there is still enough of a fire in the cooking chamber that this is just a continuation of the Minion Method. This is a lot of baby-sitting but with the hinged grate every step is quick and easy. I usually have the bottom vents open 1/4-1/3 and then will try to fine tune temps using the top vent only. For low and slow I always use Kingsford Blue. These techniques have produced excellent food for me every time I've utilized them.


    • DrQuatsch
      DrQuatsch commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for the info. How many coals do you light when doing the turkey? I'm going to post the numbers from my run with 20 coals, maybe later this evening or tomorrow...but it never got higher than around 260 at the food grate and the lower grate was much cooler.

      The seminars were one of the reasons I joined the Pit...the one on smoke was the first one I watched I think, so the humidity thing makes sense.

      When you start a cook and you have the bottom vents set to 1/4-1/3 open, do you start with the top vent fully open? Do you know how long it takes to come up to temp? Do you wait to put your meat on only when it has reached around 225, or do you put it on earlier? I feel like I have so many questions...thanks for your help!

    • JeffJ
      JeffJ commented
      Editing a comment
      For the turkey I lit 12 coals but I had all of the vents wide open and I removed the water pan. I was at 335 on a chilly November morning for the entirety of the 2 and half hour cook.

      When doing low and slow I light 12 coals, the bottom vent is open 1/4 - 1/3, I have water in the pan and the top vent wide open. I'll bring it up to 240 - 250 and add my meat AND that's when I add my wood. The temperature will initially plummet but it comes back quickly enough. When I hit 225 I close the top vent half way and casually monitor it for the next half hour to 45 minutes. Usually a couple of minor adjustments are all that's necessary at that point to hit the 220-230 range and keep it there at that point. Of course, weather conditions can affect things a bit and you may have to make a tiny adjustment with the bottom vents, but I usually save that as a last resort.

    • DrQuatsch
      DrQuatsch commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for the info...overshooting to 240-250 and then readjusting as it climbs back to 225 seems like a good strategy.

    Hey, this is great!

    My Smokenator is still in the box, ( I've been using the Vortex ), but this will certainly help when it come time to calibrate mine.

    I'm using a Kettle also and have noticed that it leaks. I also have the 733, and drilled 2 holes to run the probes through the kettle itself. I don't think you want to fool with cables running through vents.

    It's very easy to drill the holes. Steel punch an indentation, drill 1/8th pilot, drill 1/4th final. Put the edge of a small wood block on the inside of the kettle where the bit will come through.

    I keep all vents open until I hit the target temp. Yeah, I can hit 225 in less than 45 minutes with 8 lit coals and 2 x 2 fuse.

    Good luck and keep posting!



    • JeffJ
      JeffJ commented
      Editing a comment
      Have you tried running the probes through the bottom vent?

    • DrQuatsch
      DrQuatsch commented
      Editing a comment
      Thanks for the comments and the tips on drilling the kettle. I did a run with the wires through the top vent and it was less annoying than I thought it would be. That might be a different experience with meat on the grill though... Also, I don't have any tools

      As for the leaks, I was poking around on the internet somewhere and saw a "bear hug" method mentioned. Basically it amounts to measuring the diameter of the lid and kettle in a few different places and seeing where/if it is mostly not round and then hugging it and forming it back into shape.

      My kettle is about 8 years old and it was off round by a little bit...less than a quarter inch I think...but it was off enough so that the lid wouldn't rotate all the way around when on the kettle. Fixing that and using four binder clips completely eliminated smoke leakage.

    • FLBuckeye
      FLBuckeye commented
      Editing a comment
      I also run the cables through the bottom vent. I then close the vents about 95% of the way closed. I have a small table I use to set my Maverick on when I use the shorter cables. If it is raining, I put the sending unit in a gallon zip lock storage bag to keep it dry, although it is supposed to be water resistant.

    The Smokenator has a loyal following and it's users set up an informative forum. You can get good tips specific to that device at the Smokenator forum as well.


    Thanks for the responses so far...here is my second dry run that I did last weekend.

    I wanted to try and hit 325 at the food grate level, so I used more lit (and unlit) coals than the first run. But I still didn't leave the bottom vents all the way open as I probably should have...and the top vents for that matter. Anyway, here is the setup and what happened.

    You will see that I monkeyed with it quite a bit, at one point making 4 changes at once and ignoring Meathead's advice to just change one thing at a time. That would have made it easier to pin down what impact the changes each had...but I was just flying by the seat of my pants (and trying to document it).

    Some of the comments might be a little strange...I was just writing notes for myself and didn't necessarily intend to share them. I made a small image at the end to show what I mean with the water pan too, because that is probably the most confusing thing I wrote.

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    I was a bit surprised at how big the temperature difference between the two grates was...around 40-60 degrees. I guess that lines up appropriately with the 50 degree difference mentioned somewhere on here.

    Next time I will leave the bottom vents open all the way until it comes up to temp, or maybe I'll leave the bottom vents at about half and open the top vents...too many options to try! But I think I'll try leaving the top vents open since that was what JeffJ does. I'd kind of like to do two trials to see which method gets up to temp faster...top or bottom vents open.

    Here is the final state of the water pan so that you can tell what I am talking about in my 6:37 comments:

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    I was wondering whether not having the water pan completely block the rectangular hole would bring the temp up more...although I know the original design has the water pan inside the hole. It was just a thought I had, so I thought I would try it out. It seemed to me that the water was absorbing a lot of energy being directly over the hole and I thought that might have a big effect on temperature.

    Here are a couple of questions I have after these first two runs:

    What effect does the size of the water pan have and how full it is filled?
    I am using a loaf pan that is quite a bit bigger than the stock pan. What is the difference between filling it very full and just leaving it half full or less and refilling it more frequently?

    When stirring the coals, are you just knocking ash off them or are you trying to bring unlit coals into contact with lit coals too and redistribute them?

    Thanks again to anybody that read this far!


      Hi DrQ,

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see where you hit 325. 325 is recommended for cooking Turkey (below is from the Ultimate Smoked Turkey recipe on this site)
      1. Roast the bird as close to 325°F as your grill/pit/smoker/oven will let you. It will cook in a humid, aromatic, smoky atmosphere to hold in moisture and add flavor. It will be done faster than you think.

      I keep all vents wide open until the target temp is hit. I don't use any water until I start smoking / cooking. I've been using a small 8 x 3 7/8 loaf pan about 3/4 full of water. But keep in mind, I've been using the Vortex and cooking hams @ 225.

      I'm not sure why you're having trouble coming up to 325. I'm looking at some of my cooking logs for 325, and I've been able to come up to temp within 1.5 - 1.75 hours. This method utilizes a 2 wide x 3 high ( 2 x 3 ) fuse with 16 lit coals to start.

      I believe the SN utilizes the minion method, meaning the charcoal burns from the center outward. I would try using the 2 x 3 fuse and dropping 16 lit coals in the center between the "fuse" ends.

      I'm just guessing and have not even pulled the SN from the box. There should be plenty of expert guidance on this site and SN forum.

      Good luck and keep on smokin!



      • DrQuatsch
        DrQuatsch commented
        Editing a comment
        Yeah, I didn't get anywhere close to 325. I thought 20 coals would do it...but it seems like the increased air from opening the vents fully is really what is necessary to get it up.

        1.5-1.75 hours seems like a long time to come up to temp. Do you wait that long to put the meat on or do you let it cook while it's coming all the way up?

        I probably won't do a turkey for a while, but I would like to do some chicken or maybe some wings at 325 (or hotter since I like the skin to get a little crispier).

        The Vortex seems like a pretty versatile piece of hardware. Some day I'll have to give it a shot.

        I'm not sure when I'll be able to do another run, but I've definitely gotten lots of ideas to try now. With a toddler and a 5 month-old, I'm lucky to get any runs in. Hoping to actually do a cook in the next couple weeks if I'm happy with my next dry run (and if the weather cooperates...)!

      • DrQuatsch
        DrQuatsch commented
        Editing a comment
        Not a bad idea for the Kingsford Competition Jeff...I'll grab some next time I'm at Costco.

      • Medusa
        Medusa commented
        Editing a comment

        "1.5-1.75 hours seems like a long time to come up to temp. Do you wait that long to put the meat on or do you let it cook while it's coming all the way up?"

        Yes, I do wait. I'm experimenting with putting the food on the grill as soon as the target is hit vs. letting it ride until the cooker is about 50 degrees above the target. Recovery is pretty quick, and often the temp shoots above the target. I'm still learning the timing for adjusting the vents to keep it close to target.


      I thought Smokenator by design was made to avoid going in the 300's though


      • DrQuatsch
        DrQuatsch commented
        Editing a comment
        Which is why it's so hard!

      • JeffJ
        JeffJ commented
        Editing a comment
        Not so much by design but by technique. Like I said with just 12 lit coals, no water pan and the vents wide open I was able to hit and maintain 330 on Thanksgiving day in Michigan (cold outdoor temps). I've played with the vents during normal cooks and it was pretty interesting to see how quickly temps would rise and drop with fairly minor tweaks, especially with the bottom vent.

        I've used the SN recently and utilized a similar tactic - filled the water bowl (but didn't refill when it evaporated - this was done to assist smoke application), a dozen lit coals and vents wide open. I was at 335 for 2.5 hours when cooking a meatloaf. Again, the key was having the vents wide open.

      When I do chicken on the kettle I use about 1/3 to 1/2 of a chimney, light it until the blue smoke stops and you see heat waves (about 10 min or so), add them to a corner of the kettle (usually behind two bricks end to end. Open both vents 100%, give it about 15-20 min, and when the temp hits 275 or thereabouts, close the vents- top to 1/3, bottom to 1/4 (it takes eyeballing it ahead of time to know where 1/4 is in relation to the vent handle). It might take 30 min total, give or take, to reach ~325. I can keep these temps fairly steadily, or even shoot up to 360-380 which I occasionally do for chicken. The coals last the 1.5-2hrs it takes to cook a whole chicken (depending on size) and not a whole lot longer in most cases, so very little is wasted. If there's still life left, you can shut all vents and save a few small coals for next use.

      I do not use a Smokenator since it's pretty easy to do what you want w/o it, but I would imagine using the SN for a shorter hotter cook like a chicken/turkey the fuse or Minion isn't necessary.
      Last edited by Huskee; April 21, 2015, 10:00 PM.


      • DrQuatsch
        DrQuatsch commented
        Editing a comment
        This is about how I have done chicken in the past without the SN, though just a bunch of chicken thighs and not a whole chicken, so the cook only took about one hour.

        One of the runs I plan to do is with a chimney of all lit coals and nothing unlit in the SN as you describe.

        Since it is so easy to do chicken without the SN, I think the only time it might be necessary to use it for the hotter cooks is to increase the capacity without having to worry about direct heat on the pieces nearer the fire.

      Originally posted by Huskee View Post
      When I do chicken on the kettle I use about 1/3 to 1/2 of a chimney, light it until the blue smoke stops and you see heat waves (about 10 min or so), add them to a corner of the kettle (usually behind two bricks end to end. Open both vents 100%, give it about 15-20 min, and when the temp hits 275 or thereabouts, close the vents- top to 1/3, bottom to 1/4 (it takes eyeballing it ahead of time to know where 1/4 is in relation to the vent handle). It might take 30 min total, give or take, to reach ~325. I can keep these temps fairly steadily, or even shoot up to 360-380 which I occasionally do for chicken. The coals last the 1.5-2hrs it takes to cook a whole chicken (depending on size) and not a whole lot longer in most cases, so very little is wasted. If there's still life left, you can shut all vents and save a few small coals for next use.

      I do not use a Smokenator since it's pretty easy to do what you want w/o it, but I would imagine using the SN for a shorter hotter cook like a chicken/turkey the fuse or Minion isn't necessary.
      That chimney that you add to the corner (kettles are round by the way .. no corners that I can see ), are you adding to more charcoal or only what you put in the chimney?


        cdd315 WHAT? Your round grill doesn't have a corner? Lol, I guess edge is a better word. Anyway no, just the half-ish chimney of well lit coals. Prolonged cooks would require unlit coals, but for anything an hour or two it's not needed.


          Third time is a charm!

          Finally got some decent weather yesterday (after snow on Saturday morning...) and was able to do a 3rd run with the SN.

          I tried @JeffJ's method of fixing the lower vents and just adjusting the top vents and it worked great. I'm planning on cooking a few slabs of ribs when the in-laws come to town next weekend, but I'd like to do another trial and see how fixing the top and just adjusting the bottom vents does too, just for comparison.

          I started with more unlit coals than the first run because I wanted more time to be able to see how I could control the temperature when I saw changes coming, and I'm pretty happy with how it turned out.

          Anyway, here is the info for the run and then the temperature chart. I also made a figure (yes...I'm an engineer) plotting the temperatures over the whole run.

          There are a couple of questions that I have at the very end of the post, too.
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          The average temp at the food grate from 5:20 PM (when it first went above 200 F) to 7:55 PM (the last temp above 200 F) was 220 F with a low of 203 and a high of 246.

          During this time the hovergrill averaged around 264 F with a low of 230 and a high of of 304. The hovergrill temperature was higher by anywhere from 27 to 72 F during this time as well.

          I was a bit surprised at how much more stable the food grate temperature was than the hovergrill temperature. I would definitely notice the temperature shifting looking at the hovergrill probe temp sooner than I would see the change on the food grate probe.

          I have been measuring the temps in the middle of the grate...right where meat would go. I'm not sure where I'll find room for the probe if I have a couple slabs of St Louis on the food grate. I was thinking of hanging it down through the lid and figuring out how close to the food I can get that way. I would probably need to do this by necessity if I were to use my rib rack for standing the ribs.

          Having fun playing around with this...I was very happy with this run. Very glad that I did these runs to have a little more intuition about how to run this thing before throwing some food on too.


          1. It took about 45 minutes for the temperature to get over 225 F at the beginning. This seems to be on par with what others have said, but it seems like an awful long time to wait. The average temp at the food grate for ALL of the temperatures was 207. Is there a good reason to wait for the temp to come up before putting the meat on? Would I be somehow harming the meat by putting it on when I know it won't come up to temp for 45 minutes or more?

          2. When you knock the ash off of the coals, how do you prevent the ash from flying up and getting all over the grill? Should I close the lower vents to keep the air from blowing upwards while I am agitating the coals and then reopen them when I put the lid back on?

          Thanks all!
          Last edited by DrQuatsch; April 27, 2015, 09:40 PM.


            1. You can start with the vents wide open and then fix them once you are close to your desired temp, this will speed things up a bit. Also, low and slow translates to a small fire and it takes a while for a small fire to heat a chamber the size of a kettle.

            2. I've never had a problem with ash flying up especially if the water pan is in place.


            • DrQuatsch
              DrQuatsch commented
              Editing a comment
              1. Good point.

              2. I've been using a larger pan that sits on the food grate above the SN. I was moving it to stir the coals instead of just stirring from the side and ash was flying around a lot. I did another run yesterday and found that leaving the pan in place and just stirring from the sides helped a lot, plus I don't have the added danger of potentially spilling the water on the coals when I move it.

            Did a 4th dry run yesterday evening. In the 3rd run I started it by fixing the bottom to half open and leaving the top wide open (per the advice of JeffJ and the opposite of the advice given on the SN setup page). So yesterday I tried the opposite setup with the bottom vents wide open and the top vents set to half open.

            In the 3rd run it took about 45 minutes to get up to around 225 F. In this run, I let it go a little over an hour and it was still not even 190 F at the food grate level, so I opened all the vents and it got up to 220 in only ten more minutes.

            I am glad I tried both methods and, per the advice of JeffJ on my last post, in the future I think I will just leave the vents wide open to start with and turn them down once it hits temp.

            I think one principle that I've learned about controlling the temp so far is that if the top vent is more open than the bottom vent it promotes better airflow to the coals. Letting the bottom vents be more open than the top vent is a good way to slow it down if the temp is rising too rapidly or to bring it down if it is too high.

            For this run, I monitored the temperature at the food grate and also with one probe stuck through the top vent. The reason for this was that if I want to do multiple racks of ribs in a standing rib rack I won't be able to place the probe on the food grate because of space limitations, so I will be forced to put it in the top. I just wanted a baseline to be able to see what sort of temperature I could expect at the food grate given this temp. Seems to be about a 20-30 degree difference for the most part.

            Anyway, here are the numbers. I was quite happy with how stable I was able to keep the temp, but you can definitely see that it took much longer to get up to a good cooking temperature.

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            Here is a plot of both temperatures for this run:

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            And here is a plot comparing the temperature at the food grate of this run to the previous run. You can see that this run was MUCH slower in coming up.

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            Attached Files


            • JeffJ
              JeffJ commented
              Editing a comment
              Nice work, Dr. I have cooked some really good food with the Smokenator. With all of these test runs under your belt I am confident that you are primed to rock out some great Que with your SN. I look forward to some pics of your SN cooks.

            • DrQuatsch
              DrQuatsch commented
              Editing a comment
              Thanks! And thanks for your advice...weather is looking good for tomorrow!

            Cooked those ribs up on Saturday and they turned out well. I need a little more experience in judging when to take them off, but they were certainly done and not overdone. I just wasn't very confident that they were finished...but we needed to eat

            Wish I had taken some pictures, but the in-laws were over and didn't get around to it. I did three racks of St Louis in an upright rib rack. It was tough to figure out where to put the thermocouples for the Maverick. I couldn't clip it to the grate because the ribs were in the way, so I wound up placing both probes through the exhaust vent. One was monitoring the temp between the third rack and the edge of the kettle and the other one was monitoring the temp at between the 1st and 2nd rack.

            I should have shuffled the racks around every hour or so, because it was definitely hotter right by the SN (although I couldn't get a probe over there too see how much hotter). I did shuffle them around a bit for the last two hours of the cook, but I think next time I use the upright rack I'll shuffle them whenever I refill the water pan. I was trying to keep the temp between the racks at the top around 250 because I figured it would be a lot cooler near the bottom.

            I also had covered the charcoal grate completely with foil to catch all the drippings (made for really easy clean-up) and opted not to put a water pan down there (I figured the water pan above the SN would provide plenty of moisture).

            All said and done I think the ribs were on for about 6.5 hours and I left the water pan in empty for the last two hours to help dry up the bark. Everyone was quite pleased with the result.

            I think that next time I do ribs I will do them flat on the cooking grate and maybe on the hovergrill as well if I have more than 2 racks. I know if I do that then I'll have to shuffle the racks during the cook as well so those on the hovergrill aren't cooking at a hotter temp the whole time.

            Thanks again to everyone for all the advice...looking forward to a lot bbq this summer!


            • JeffJ
              JeffJ commented
              Editing a comment
              Congrats on the cook DrQuatsch!


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