I don't have a gas side burner so I place about a handful of coal in the chimney to get them going. I place them on the first coals of the snake w/wood on top of those in two separate areas for the early cook. I heat the grill for a bout 10 minutes after that before placing the meat on. I do use a water pan and have tried hot water to start things off with a bit more steam vs. just cold water. Right now, I'm only relying on the grills gauge which I know isn't sufficient and I'm going to get an external one soon. I use our meat thermometer to gauge the target heat I'm looking for. I try to keep the top vent at least 3/4 shut if not more to keep the smoke from escaping. The bottom dampers is where I adjust the heat. I check on my temp every 15 minutes or so and leave the lid closed as much as possible.