My friend Brooke recently lent me a Brinkmann Smoke'N Grill Charcoal Smoker and Grill. I am not a pit master. I enjoy grilling but I have never taken the time to begin learning the nuances of smoking...until now.
Here's where I am so far. Temperature is illusory. If you slowly bring a chicken thigh up to an internal temperature of 175°F with the smoker at between 250° and 300° (higher than the recommended 200° - 250° range but it's very hard to keep a lower fire going in this unit - also well within the Brinkmann's fascist thermometer's "ideal" range - I installed one with numbers on it) the meat and especially the skin have a rubbery appeal. The second time I did thighs I skipped the thermometer and gave them an additional hour (total of 4 hours). Perfect. Very smoky like smoked fish.
In order to keep the lowest possible temp and still keep the coals glowing I start with a smallish pile of coals (about all that will fit in the charcoal container). 8 or so coals get added every hour and soaked wood chips every fifteen minutes. It's a little fiddly being that involved in the process is part of the fun.
Some folks say that the food is done when the fat has melted away. I'm thinking this could be a good gauge for pork shoulder. On my recent attempt I went with an internal temperature of 150°. Again too high bit the fat didn't seem melted away at 145°. It also wasn't melted away at 150°. Next time I will go with the standard 1 hour and 15 minutes a pound and examine for fatmeltedawayedness.
The Brinkmann has a water container that sits over the fire and under the grills. I haven't done the research but I imagine this is to keep the temperature down and keep the dripping from landing on the coals and creating flare ups/off flavors?
The Brinkmann also serves admirably as an 18" kettle type grill as borne witness by the photo below in the grilling of a small rainbow of sweet potatoes;
If I have money to burn I imagine one of those big units with the fire chamber off to the side would be ideal (and less fiddly). But the Brinkmann is definitely a bargain and totally functional.