CENTECH and COLTRAIN:
According to that picture, that is WAY too much wood chunks. That basket you took picture of can last a full 24 hours I think. Too much wood chunks may cause for too much smoke causing food to taste more like the ashtray. But I'm sure that you have a point regarding the cheap charcoal.
When I get charcoal, Kingsford is usually fine, but when you buy it make sure to find ones that are all natural; no crap added to them.
Centech, when you were saying about chunks buried in the coals, more on top.. literally dude, just 1 or 2 chunks is all that's needed. Follow what I wrote regarding lighting it:
- pour 1/3 bag of un-lit coals in fire basket.
- fill a chimney about half way with coals.
- light the chimney and let those coals burn for 10-15 minutes so they are not flaming anymore; just turning white or white already.
- pour the coals over the un-lit coals in the basket.
- move them around a little with some long tongs to spread out the lit coals, but not too far from each other.
- place 1 chunk of wood on some of the lit coals.
- for longer smokes, place 1 more chunk near by but on the un-lit coals.
Judging by your description of the temps going nutty, as I learned the hard way and someone else on this board corrected me, it may be a problem with your air flow. Use the math.. how much circular area do you have for your exhaust? If you leave the 2" bung hole open completely, and for the intake 1 and a half of your 3/4 inch pipes should be totally fine.
Maybe clean out the old nasty ash too.
Oh by the way, did you ever do an initial burn-in? Burn a load of coals or bunch of wood logs to really high temp to burn whatever stuff may be inside the barrel. Not quite the "seasoning" of 350 degrees.. if your inside of the barrel has weird stuff in it, it might help.