I too had terrible cooks at first, but I did not follow KISS or the three 3/4" nipples. I used a 3/4" nipple with valve plus a 1 1/2" valve from the center bottom, thinking the 1 1/2" would be used for water drain and air control. Doesn't work very well. Ended up installing a sliding door for air control, works for me. I also had lots of water from the first two cooks, since then it's been dry. I found the can in the middle of the fire basket with the divider wall works perfect to control the amount of coals burning, smoother temps and longer burn time.
I've had mine for a couple months now, I've went thru four bags of lump and three bags of brickettes. After ruining several pieces of meat, I started doing dry runs. Finally found what works for me. Brickettes only,No lump coals, circular basket burn, added two 1 inch holes in lid besides the 2" hole ( would not draft correctly, now it does), only 6 hot brickettes to start, not 10 or 12. Produced some good ribs last Sunday. First edible meat to come out of it.
So my advice is, don't waste money on meat until you figure out the drum. Eventually you'll find it. Don't give up, I was ready to sell mine twice, but I kept trying.
If your cook turns out bad and there is water still in drum and it starts to smell bad a couple days later< re sanitize it> 400 plus degrees cook will kill it. Oh yeah, keep the lid cracked open during heat up, gets the drum up temp temp faster, and releases the startup smoke and nasty tasting gasses and no I don't use fluid. I just don't like the smell or taste at first.
Hope this helps someone. Don;t follow what I did, follow KISS plans.