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looking for a first smoker/barbecue pit?

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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Joined: 25 January 2010
Location: Chinook, MT
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    Posted: 17 February 2010 at 17:15
i strongly recommend a 30-dollar brinkmann smoke-n-grill, otherwise known as an ECB. looks like a short, black R2-D2 from star wars. found in wal-mart, k-mart and other "marts," it is cheap, but durable - i've got one over a dozen years old that cooks better now than it did when it was new.

this smoker is easy to use and turns out very, very good barbecue; it can help you "get down to fundamentals" of fire control, temperature control, airflow etc. and it is nearly impossible to actually ruin a piece of meat when using it. further, with about 15$ in modifications (http://www.randyq.addr.com/ecb/ecbmods.html), it can be made to work even better and allow you better control of airflow, smoke, temperature etc. the ECB is a charcoal smoker that allows you to learn barbecue the way it was meant to be learned, with wood (and charcoal) that force you to develop skills that will make this more than a passing interest - the challenges involved will step up with each advance and your quest for knowledge and skills will allow you to grow to a true pitmaster.

finally, after trying this and getting good with it, you can decide if this barbecue/smoking meat is really the thing for you. if it isn't, you're only out 30 bucks; but, if it is, you can continue to cook VERY good, VERY authentic barbecue with it and improve your recipes and methods, or you can "step up" to another type of smoker. i say "step up" in quotes because your ECB is perfectly capable of cooking barbecue as good as a more "advanced" smoker, but there are nuances etc. that an offset or other "advanced" smoker can take advantage of, plus they are usually bigger and will allow you to cook for a crowd (all those neighbors up and down the street who have been smelling your barbecue!). in other words, if you truly have an interest and a knack for barbecue, a more advanced smoker can make a good pitmaster better - but keep in mind that the best pit in the world won't make a novice into an expert or a bad pitmaster into a good one.
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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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Joined: 25 January 2010
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote TasunkaWitko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 February 2010 at 17:17

from the BBQFAQ:

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[Can you give me some pointers on selecting a barbecue smoker?]

Selecting a barbecue smoker is like buying any other piece of equipment.  You need to do some homework and decide a few things before you rush out and buy one.  Consider: where will you use it--backyard or porch or apartment?  How much do you want to spend--$30 or $3000?  How much room do you have--four square feet or an acre?  How serious are you about barbecue, once a month or every day?  How many people do you want to feed when you have a barbecue party--two or a hundred?  What kind of weather do you have--hot humid Florida or cold freezing Maine?  How much barbecue do you want to do at one time--a few hot dogs or a load of pork shoulders, ribs and a couple of briskets?  Do you want to be able to cool-smoke some fish or bacon?  Do you want a combination unit--smoker and grill?  What level of attention do you want to have to put into your smoking--tending a wood burner every 30-60 minutes or a gas or an electric Lazy-Q unit every few hours or so?  How long do you want the smoker unit to last--pass on to your grandchildren or replace it every other year?  Do you want a smoker that you can take to the beach or the mountains, or do you want one made out of bricks that forms the focal point of your patio?

When you know the answer to all these question, picking out a smoker will be fairly straight-forward.

[I've seen some inexpensive bullet water smokers.  Are these smokers any good?]

There are two main types of barbecue smokers, horizontal and vertical.  The horizontal smokers usually have a firebox off-set to the side to provide the heat and smoke.  I highly recommend the vertical water smokers to the beginner, especially if you are not sure if this is the way of life for you.  They are very capable cookers and can turn out prize-winning food [and] can give the beginner very good barbecue.

[Is it really possible to get good barbecue from an inexpensive water smoker?

The Brinkmann water smoker is an inexpensive tool which can make some excellent barbecue.  It is sometimes referred to as an ECB on this mail List (El Cheapo Brinkmann).  Don't let this moniker fool you however.  The ECB makes some mighty fine barbecue right out of the box.  However, there are several modifications which can improve its performance, ease its use and therefore enhance your enjoyment.

There is a gentleman named Harold F. from Oregon who has ten or so Brinkmann water smokers, and he often uses up to four units to compete with.  He has won the Oregon state championship, as well as taking first in ribs (open) and brisket (invitational) at the 1994 American Royal Barbecue Championship in Kansas City.  The invitational is all-state, comprised of champions or winners of previous cook-offs.  There are over 50 cooks competing and the cook-off is KCBS sanctioned.  If you learn to use your water smoker, world class results can follow.

[I've read several posts from barbecuers who use electric smokers.  They say they get good results with a minimum of work.  So why should I bother with all the hassle of a wood burning smoker?]

I have both an electric (Southern Pride) and a log burner (Klose BYC). There is absolutely no comparison between the product from the two pits. Everything I do in the BYC is superior to the electric. The advantage of the electric is that I can pretty much set it and forget it while the BYC needs to be watched and fed logs every hour or so. So when I'm lazy or real busy or I'm cold smoking something, I use the electric and the result is usually very good. But when I want to do it right, I fire up the BYC. I used to think smoke was smoke and heat was heat, but there is something magical about cooking meat with burning logs. It's hard to express, but the time, effort, and care put into tending the fire is reflected in the end result. It's also more fun and more satisfying.

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