This question pops up fairly frequently... this is a post I wrote (and saved for such occasions):
Ideally, you want to cook with hot coals. However, with a stick burner (at least with mine) - when you're cooking low and slow - you are gonna have to add a stick every 30-45 minutes or so.*
Which means you will be cooking with coals and occasionally some flame.
I start my fire about an hour before I plan to put on meat. I load the firebox with a lot of wood and a little charcoal. I put on some lighter fluid and light it.
I leave all vents open and leave the firebox door open. After about 45 minutes, the fire should be roaring. That's when I close the firebox door. Wait about 10 minutes: the smoker will get HOT
- 350 or so. That's when I put on the meat and turn the dampers to almost closed. It takes me about 10 minutes or so of fiddling with the cooking chamber door and dampers to get it to my desired temp (which is usually around 250.)
When you add more wood, you need to give it some air so the split will catch fire (Otherwise it will smoke too much.) Yes, the temp usually jumps a bit then. So, I mind the doors and dampers for a little while until things settle again.
A stickburner is more work. But, I like my results (and so do most of the people I have fed.)
Lately I've been adding really small splits (hardly bigger than kindling) about every 20-30 minutes. It requires a little more monitoring, but the temps don't jump so much doing it that way. It also minimizes the white smoke.