Thanks again for the quick answers.
- The lump charcoal was an unopened bag at the hardware store. I brought it home and it went straight into the charcoal pan. I live in Utah and the air is very dry. I don't think it was a moisture problem with the lump. The oak never touched water but was stored on a shelf in my garage. It could have been bad lump.
I filled the charcoal basket about 3/4 full of lump charcoal. Then I sprinkled some cherry wood over the top. They were chip type pieces (1 - 2 inches long). They were a commercial brand for smoking. I then fill my chimney started with lump charcoal. Once it is ready - I usually wait until I can see a good amount of red coals in the starter but have never waited until all charcoal was completely covered in ash. I then dump the lit charcoal on top of the charcoal basket and then lower the basket into the drum.
* note: I have never waited an hour to add my meat. I have always added it sooner. I believe this may be the problem. Combined with the fact that the grill rack was tightly packed with chicken. This could have seriously reduced air flow causing low temps and since it was too early could have also contributed to the bitter taste.
** another note: I forgot to mention that I am not using a conventional charcoal basket. I am using the dome from my old brinkman smoker turned upside down with 1/2 inch holes drilled through out. I wonder if the holes maybe don't go low enough down the dome. Maybe I need to drill another row or two lower and add a rack inside to give some space between the charcoal and the bottom of the basket. There are no holes in the very bottom. Could this be the problem? I will see if I can get some pics of the basket.
Brinkmann Smoke N Grill