I've had my loaded Wichita for about six months now and I wanted to share my experience with it here. I do a lot of research and reading online, but I am not generally one to post reviews and feedback online. I've seen some negative comments posted about the Wichita, ironically posted on this forum, so I felt the need to share my experience with the hope that it may help others to make a decision about buying a Yoder stick burner or improve the operating experience of a current owner.
This is a somewhat lengthy post, so let me say up front that I love my Wichita. It's a stick burner so it does require some supervision while cooking, but the payoff is well worth the effort. It consistently produces the best BBQ/smoked food I've ever eaten.
When I first got my Wichita, it required a lot more supervision than it does now. I had to tinker with vents, open doors, etc. Honestly, even though I had to pay more attention to it, leave a door cracked, tinker with vents, etc. it never bothered me. As long as the pit temperature is where it needs to be, my feeling is, so what? It's still producing amazing food. Anyway, I can now blame those early experiences on me - the operator and I think there are two primary causes. First, although I had used other lower quality stick burners before, I needed to learn how to operate the Wichita most efficiently. Second, the wood I was using was not as well seasoned as it needed to be. I used to try to start the cooker on a single chimney of lump charcoal. While it worked, I don't think that was enough of a coal bed to run an efficient fire. I then bumped that up to a chimney and a half, and fire management became easier. Recently, I've been starting off with a full two chimneys of lump and that seems to have been a game changer. On top of that, the "seasoned" oak that I purchased when I got the cooker has had an additional 6 months to season. It ignites much more quickly and burns cleanly without any heavy white smoke.
Maybe it's the combination of starting with a larger coal bed and the seasoning of the wood, but I do not have to tinker with open doors and vents much at all. On occasion I do need to leave the firebox door cracked for a few minutes to ensure a new log ignites cleanly, but after that, the door remains closed and I get good clean smoke for a solid 45 minutes before I need to add more fuel. I use oak as my primary wood source to produce good heat. I'll add some flavoring wood to that, but I've found that it's important to use wood that produces good heat to keep that fire running cleanly. I will also add another chimney of lump with every third log or so in order to maintain a good coal base. I have not tinkered with the chimney vent at all. I leave it wide open. My firebox vent usually sits about 3/4 of the way open. My temps vary from side to side by about 75 degrees even with the heat management plate, but I like that. I almost always cook chicken along with ribs or pork butt and higher cooking temperature is ideal for the chicken.
In summary, if you're considering purchasing a Yoder smoker, I highly recommend them. Mine is a thing of beauty and produces outstanding food. If you have a Yoder and are struggling with fire management, try experimenting. Try starting with a larger coal bed. Make sure your wood is well seasoned or try a different variety of wood as your primary fuel and heat source. The Wichita is a great cooker and I suspect the Cheyenne and Kingman are as well.