1. Always start with quality ingredients.
There is really no substitute for quality proteins. But beyond taste, responsibly raised meat helps lower the environmental impact of our diets, and allows us to know that the animals were treated humanely.
3. Start long cooks the night before.
Smoking large cuts of meat seem to take a little (or sometimes a lot) longer than expected. Starting the night before takes the stress away from rushing to finish the cook for serving time. Resting longer is almost always a good thing if it finishes early.
4. Cook by temperature and not by time.
Since there are so many variables, cook time is just an estimate. Temperature is precise. Always use a remote probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat. And remote thermometers can allow you to monitor the smoker and meat temps without having to be right there.
5. Temperature and fire control are super important.
There are a few tricks to getting the temperature up slowly and keeping it steady, like adjusting the vents and/or using a temperature control fan.
6. Don't open the lid unless you have to.
The lid is designed to be closed to maintain temperature and keep the smoke in, so only open it when necessary. When you do open the smoker, be sure to "burp" some hot air out before opening it all the way to avoid a scary and potentially dangerous "flashback."
7. Use a water bath.
The water will add humidity to the smoker's environment, which is good for attracting smoke to the meat. The pan catches the drippings, preventing flare-ups and helping to keep your smoker nice and clean.
8. Don't skip the rest.
After reaching the "pull temp" and removing the meat from the smoker, the internal temperature will often continue to rise. Resting gives the meat time to redistribute all those juices, so it stays that way. This is an important part of the cook, and cannot be rushed if you want perfect results. If it's a large cut like a brisket or a pork shoulder, rest it wrapped up in an insulated cooler.
9. Clean the grill grates right after using
Rather than waiting until next time. They are way easier to clean when still hot. And remember to clean your smoker once it's cool before the next use, as ash can impede proper airflow. A shop vac is helpful. You can (and totally should) re-use any leftover charcoal or wood chunks.
10. Don't over-smoke the meat
Using the right wood for smoke to pair with the protein you are smoking makes a big difference. And you don't want to use too much smoke, which can be a turn-off for a lot of people.