Ok, let me begin by telling you that I have over 20 years experience of cooking meats outdoors on a variety of equipment including some of the classics: Webber 22" kettles (Great for BBQ’ing), Big 'ol Stainless Steel Gas Grills (Awesome for GRILLING) and a GIANT Char Griller 2222 Pro Deluxe Charcoal Grill & Smoker (*MUCH too large for the average family use) *Plus, I live in sunny California where we can usually cook outdoors all year round.
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Recently, I tripped across an old Brinkmann Gourmet Charcoal Smoker/Grill #852/7080. This unit was shipped to the retailer from Brinkmann some 11 years earlier, 5/99 according to the box, and, it has NEVER been used! I tried it for the first time today (5.09.2010) I spent a full day of smoking meat with it. I can now give you a very learned review of its abilities as a meat smoker as I sit here with a stuffed belly.
I started out with TWO chimneys' full of charcoal, about 15 Lbs total – I use the larger chimneys that Webber makes and I only use Kingsford PRO grade charcoal when smoking meat, they sell it at Home Depot and it doesn’t cost any more than their regular grade stuff but it burns HOTTER- NOT good stuff for grilling chicken or steaks but it works great for smoking meat. I like starting the charcoal chimneys on the ground or on another grill. When ready, I placed the coals in the "firepan” and then I placed the “column” section on top of the “firepan” base, I filled the water pan with, wait for it, WATER! In my opinion, anything else is a wasted effort and expense, it’s ONLY there to keep the meat being smoked moist and to prevent any chance of flair ups from drippings hitting the coals below and it IS going to fill up with drippings as you smoke your meat. I got the unit up to temperature but I didn't trust the Brinkmann thermometer from the start - So I placed a trusted one on the lower rack from the get go. Soon the Brinkmann Smoker/Grill got up to 265 degrees (Fahrenheit for you foreigners) rather quickly and I threw the first batch of meat on –Whole chickens, about 12 lbs total, one rack only (bottom). Things were going nicely for about an hour and then the temp dropped off real hard, Hmmm. The reviews that I read earlier made me go directly to the "firepan" l lifted the “column” (Careful! - There's water in THAT pan!) off of the “firepan” with the lid in place (to trap the heat inside to help keep the meat hot – and I do this any time I have to add charcoal). I sat it aside, sure enough I had a insulation barrier of ash killing my heat, temperature had dropped to 235 degrees - too low for smoking meat. I stirred the coals to get the ash off and put the “column” back on the “firepan” and the temp came back up but I already know this was going to be an ongoing problem (from what I had read form other reviewer's experience).
Now, lucky for me, this unit had shipped with TWO bottom painted parts in the box (the one with the feet- but not the "liner"). So what I did was take the second "firepan" and drilled four 1/4 inch holes around the sides - at the 3/6/9&12'o clock positions and three inches down from the top lip. Next, I again lifted off the "column” portion of the Brinkmann (Careful! - There's water in THAT pan!) And sat it on the ground. Next, wearing leather welder's gloves, I dumped the hot "firepan" over into a stainless steel fire box, HOT coals and all I retrieved the “liner” and placed it in the newly drilled “cold” bottom. Next I took the grill rack I wasn’t using and put it over the bottom “firepan” with the hot liner in it and then I put the HOT coals on that grill then I placed the “column” (Careful! - There's water in THAT pan!) on the “firepan” base that now had the HOT coals on top of the grill rack that I had turned into a grate. Temperature came right back up AND STAYED THERE! Now, I’m not really excited about Brinkmann’s COLD_IDEAL_HOT thermometer arrangement, but in all fairness, the midpoint of “Ideal” to just before “Hot” was showing as a true 250-275 degrees Fahrenheit, according to my trusted thermometer, good temps for smoking meat. I just don’t understand Brinkmann’s thinking that their arraingement was better than fitting one that actually showed temperature. Anyhow, after modifying the “firepan” arrangement the temperature showed to be much more stable and the big drops in temperature stopped. I did find I needed to add about 10 COLD briquettes’ every 42 minutes or so by lifting off the “column” WITH THE LID ON to keep the heat on the meat (Careful! - There's water in THAT pan!) and, when I add those 10 COLD briquettes I “nest” them into the existing HOT coals with grilling tongs, it really helps in getting them going faster. * remember to keep the water pan at least ¾ full at all times – it helps keep the internal temperature more stable, even when you have the “column” off of the “base”.
I understand now that there is not enough airflow around and under the charcoal, with the original design, to allow the ash to slough off the coals as they burn down, thereby killing the heat output of the charcoal. I will be going over to Home Depot to purchase another 17” diameter grill rack so that I have the two to cook on and one to put charcoal on.
I should mention here that I DO think that this is a GOOD product for smoking meat< *with two “IFs”> IF you purchase another grill rack to get the charcoal off the floor of the “firepan” by making a grate out of it, and IF you drill four additional ¼” holes in the bottom to make up for the lack of adjustable vents. IF you do this then I think you will be very satisfied with this Brinkmann product. Apparently, no one at Brinkmann ever bothered to smoke any meat on it before they went into production. If they had, they would have very quickly discovered this major shortcoming in their design, and that’s a shame, because they could have gone from producing a charcoal fired meat smoker that was mediocre, at best, and with a very minor design change, they could have produced a super little charcoal meat smoker right out of the box! As for me and my Brinkmann Smoker/Grill? I love it now. Yes, it will stay in my collection where I look forward to using it exclusively as a tried and trusted charcoal meat smoker for all of my family sized meat smoking needs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take a nap.
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