My how times have changed.
I saw that this thread was kicked up again and looked at my original post. Scary stuff.
Here it is over a year and a half since I made that post.
Well I haven't used pine needles since about a week after that post.
I pretty much use long fibered sphagnum moss. Recently I found an oil free version of Aspen pine shavings that don't leave a residue behind. I actually use them with my animal cages.
I have also tried burlap and am very impressed and happy to use it. I just don't have a steady supply of it.
I also very much like Michael's method of the soup can inside the smoker.
I still only use sugar water for cut outs.
It's amazing how much has changed.
I hope over the year and half that this thread has been kicking around it has been helpful. I hope it keeps going.