“I have a CajunKing Smoker, which looks like a black R2D2, has two racks for meat and a pan for drippings/water, plus one that sits on the ground for the coals.”
You put the charcoal pan on the ground?
It should be placed on the bottommost tabs inside the smoker not on the ground like this:
The water pan is placed on the next higher tabs and the lower grill grate on top of the water pan. The top tabs are for the upper grill/grate as you can see here:
The first thing to do is to read the instructions that came with the smoker. They will tell you how long it should take to smoke/cook various types of food. If you can’t locate them go to the manufacturers website. You use charcoal for heat and soaked hickory, apple, and other wood chips for smoke. What you put on the bottom grate will cook to a higher temperature than what you put on the upper grate as evidenced by my report as linked below.
I have a water smoker that is similar to yours and I have smoked turkeys and hams for Thanksgiving and Christmas many times as well as other foods. The turkey comes out with a beautiful crispy skin and wonderfully moist and juicy meat. A 22 lb. turkey will take around 12 hours to cook and it’s ends up similar to deep-frying but with a great smoky flavor. Yeah, yeah, yeah, my deep fryer is way faster than the smoker or standard oven and the skin is crispy and the meat moist but it ain’t smoked.
This is my report on the homemade pastrami that I made
. I think you’ll find that our smokers are similar.
Since it is a WATER smoker, always keep the water pan filled with water because it keeps whatever you’re smoking from dehydrating while being smoked/cooked. You can also put some beer or other liquid in the water pan if you like. You will have to add more liquid during a long smoke. Never run that water smoker without liquid in the water pan!!!
There is no control over the draft with this kind of smoker. I’m toying with the idea of drilling some holes in the side of the charcoal pan but won’t until I find a replacement for it. Another idea I have is to insert a grate above the bottom of the pan so that the ashes have somewhere to go. I’ll see what happens.
You will have to keep poking the charcoal as it burns and creates ash and add more as it burns off. It’s good to do this in-between adding the wood chips because the wood chips should be added when the coals are nice and hot. I wear a leather work glove and reach under and rotate the charcoal pan as I poke the coals and add charcoal or chips. Sometimes I’ll even use a hair dryer to energize the coals, but you must be careful not to blow ashes into the air and then onto the food. Again, I slide the charcoal pan around while I do this.
This is the most basic of smokers but still produces great results if tended to during the process.
Happy future smoking!!!