I also "pulled the hammer" on a Yoder Loaded Wichita, and while its old-fashioned aesthetics are beautiful to look at, I found out very quickly that it is a finicky beast that isn't designed to flow very well. The guys over at Yoder say "there are always trade-offs" in design choices, but they made some dumb choices on their pipe smokers that make fire management a real pain in the tookus.
I'd love to hear the experiences of other owners to see if I'm in the minority on this, but I have already seen other owners post questions about why they have to leave the fire door open most of the time to prevent their logs from smoldering heavy smoke, and I have had the same experience.
Here is why this happens (in my opinion). The firebox is mounted high on the cooker (above the center line) and before the heat can get into the cooker it has to fight past a welded deflector plate as well as the heat management plate, both of which force the heated air downward instead of allowing it to flow naturally upward. This is a bad thing because heated air needs to rise in order to create flow. Since the side door is so tall and its upper vent is so high on the door, when you close the door an interesting thing happens: fresh air is pulled into the bottom vent hole, and heat is forced out the top vent hole. This causes the fire to die down because it doesn't get enough fresh air. It needs fresh air from both vents in order to have enough oxygen to keep the fire blazing. As a result, we cook with the side door partially open a good deal of the time, which results in heat and smoke pouring out of the firebox, which equates to wasted firewood because that heat is not moving in the direction of the food. This cooker will actually flow backwards when there is enough wind moving toward the smokestack end.
Yoder Wichita Side View from official specification (fire movement added):
I have raised this issue with the Yoder folks and they told me outright that in order to get the best out of this smoker, each time I cook I will have to position the cooker so the firebox end is facing the wind. If the wind changes, I will have to keep moving the cooker around so it can take advantage of the wind, and flow better. I find that unacceptable. The Yoder folks are also quick to point out that the problem is with the "owner" because they have not learned the characteristics of their cooker. Hogwash. It's a design flaw, and we shouldn't have to jump through hoops to keep the fire burning. They claim that the key to working a fire with the Wichita (and probably their other non-pellet smokers too) is to create a massive coal bed first, usually with at least 2 charcoal chimneys full of lump charcoal, and then put a log on top of the coals. Then, after the size of the coal bed starts to dwindle (and it will) you need to add more coals if you want your fire to continue without smoldering.
I believe they could fix the problem with a minor design change, after which they'd be in line with just about every other smoker design I've seen where flow is naturally moving from lowest point to highest point. For example, in the illustration below, moving the firebox down and lowering the intake vents as low as possible should create plenty of airflow without resorting to wind pressure or, if you can believe they also suggested I use an electric fan gadget to deal with the flow issues. I refuse to use a BBQ Guru on my stick burner!
Example of a redesigned firebox for better flow:
Here is the firebox end of a Yoder Loaded Wichita after only a couple months of cooking. The only area that is not showing signs of heat flowing outwards is the lower vent area.
Here is a good view of how far the firebox is mounted above the opening into the cooker. It seems obvious which way heat is going to move when you open the side door, because the top of the side door is higher than the opening into the cooker.
I am interested in testing a different kind of door venting that might allow my cooker to flow better without changing anything else. As a test, I was thinking of cutting some sheet metal to fit the firebox side opening with a vent at the very bottom, something like the image below. A hinged flap could be used open/close the vent. This design wouldn't help the issue of heat pouring out when you open the door, but maybe it would allow enough fresh air to enter the vent to keep the logs burning with the door closed.
All that aside, Yoder is also having some quality issues right now and I have to believe it's because their business volume exploded recently with the popularity of their pellet cookers. I have had so many issues with my Yoder Loaded Wichita since it arrived it has really tainted my experience. Allow me to share:
1. They sent me the wrong cover. OK, no big deal they sent a replacement. However, each time they send me a replacement part, I have to repackage the other one and take it to a FedEx location for return, and these large parts will not fit in any of the FedEx drop boxes around town because they are only intended for use with small packages.
2. The smoke stack had a leak in the weld. Grease dripped from the weld on the very first cook. Replacement sent, original returned (heavy box).
3. Replacement smoke stack was all banged up with gouges and scratches. Replacement sent, 1st replacement returned.
4. A weld between the firebox and the cooker leaked grease on the first cook. Yoder said "within tolerance" and will not fix. I'm still angry about that one.
5. The cooker lid and the firebox lid have gaps that allow copious amounts of smoke to billow out during cooking (4 credit cards can slide under one corner). Yoder said "within tolerance" and will not fix. I have since applied nomex gasket material on my own dime.
6. The grease bucket with the Yoder logo is made in China. 'Nuff said.
7. The thumbscrew for the log lighter was not supplied. Sent via regular mail.
8. The upper Tel-Tru gauge became hazy after the first cook and got worse on each cook. It wasn't moisture, it actually looks like smoke got under the lens somehow. Replacement sent, and I still have to return the original.
9. The expanded metal grate for the firebox has openings too large to contain the coals. The first time I cooked on it, all of my coals ended up on the firebox floor. To solve this, I ordered a heavy-duty grate from Yoder and now I use both grates overlapping each other to reduced the hole size and keep my coals where I want them.
10. This is just a gripe, but the new Wichitas have a removable smoke stack whereas the older ones didn't. I would be OK with that except for the fact that the current covers they offer do not have a sleeve for the smokestack, which forces me to remove the smokestack and turn it upside down each and every time I finish cooking and put the cover on. YUCK! I am not buying their explanation that customers asked for this feature. It was done purely to make shipping easier.
11. The firebox end of the heat management plate does not conform to the round walls of the cooker body, so it leaves wide gaps on the sides that allow flames to scorch whatever is on that end of the cooker. Yoder had no comment on this issue. I have since put heavy duty foil in the gaps as a temporary solution.
Deep breath. Now, I'm not a quitter. Despite my bad experience, I have been cooking on this rig every weekend and I have turned out some very good BBQ. I am getting ready to do some St. Louis ribs and some sausage tomorrow, and I will do it with a smile.
Oh, one more thing. The Yoder folks also recommended I try cooking without the heat management plate to see if the unit flows better without it. I have done that, and I do believe I had an easier time without it, but it certainly wasn't a cure-all for the flow issues. Smoke was still coming out of the upper vent at times when the door was closed.