Mike from White Plains here. I joined SMF this afternoon after successfully implementing the advice I received from reading SMF. I'm a novice, having only dabbled with smoking by using a smoke box on my Webber Silver C propane grill. Results there were good, but I wanted to switch over to charcoal and give it a whirl. Bought the Brinkmann Verticle Charcoal Smoker on the cheap from Home Depot and figured I would give charcoal smoking a shot.
Upon seasoning the Verticle Smoker using the manufacturer's instructions I quickly learned that there were some flaws with the Brinkmann. Temp too low, charcoal gets choked etc. I read SMF many posts (sorry for not knowing which ones to link to) on the subject and learned that 1) the charcoal pan that comes with the Brinkmann is useless; 2) the thermometer is useless (its about 40-50 degrees low); 3) I should purchase a square wok to use as a charcoal basket (or make my own); and 4) I should experiment a few times before trying a brisket.
Well, I followed all the advice (except for # 4) and the results were great. Here's the breakdown:
Purchased a 5.75 lb Brisket and made a basic rub from America's Test Kitchen (chili powder, brown sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne)
Mixed the rub and spread it all over the Brisket (flat cut with fat) after I made some criss-cross incisions in the fat layer, bagged it and refridgerated it overnight.
Got up this AM at approximately 6:30 AM, took out the brisket to get it up to room temperature and started firing up the Brinkmann. As you will see below, I used the old charcoal bowl as a holder for the chimney starter. I also modified the Brinkmann as recommended by buying a square stainless steel wok from Home Goods for about $12.00 (its on the ground in the picture below), and put a 14" terra cotta plant holder in the bottom to catch the ash. The wok fits perfectly on the rails for the old charcoal bowl. Used a combination of Kingsford Briquettes, and Cowboy Lump charcoal as the fuel and added some hickory chunks and some cherry chips for an initial burst of smoke.
Initial problems I noticed were; 1) used a little too much charcoal such that it was hitting the water pan; 2) temperature ran a little hot to start (presumably because of too much charcoal and the lump runs a litte hot). To monitor the temp, I used two Taylor probe thermometers. One with the probe in the chamber, one in the brisket. Temp was running 240-280 to start, but after I removed some charcoal, it ran around 230ish fairly steadily. Noticed that I would need to add more charcoal when the temp dropped to around 180ish, then it would rise up and drop back down. I don't think this was a terrible problem, but it does require a little monitoring. (by the way in the shot below you can see how perfectly the wok sits in the rails)
At one point the temp in the chamber dropped to around 175, and the brisket (which had reached 161, dopped back to 157. At that point I through a handul of lump on top of the pile (cold), and when it caught, the chamber bounced back up to 240ish perhaps a little higher for about few minutes then settled in a around 240, and the brisket started rising again. (had to also add water to the pan twice during the smoke). Didn't mop the brisket during the process. At around 1:00pm (about 6 hrs) the brisket was around 182 degrees and I took it out of the smoker. It looked really good.
Tightly wrapped it up in tin foil for a couple of hours to let it finish and to rest. But when I finally got a chance to taste it, it is delicious.
Would have liked to keep the temperature a little more constant, but overall the results were very good. The brisket was very tender and had a nice smoke ring and that smokey hickory flavor. One problem is a lot of the char is on the fatty side, which people may not eat (but then again you can eat the crust without the fat underneath). Do SMF smokers usually keep the fat on a brisket flat or cut it off? If you cut it off, does the brisket stay moist? What temp do you like to bring the brisket to before reomoving it from the smoker? I've seen some recommend as high as 200 degrees.
I also may have to drill some holes to lower the wok holder down a bit to get it further from the water pan. But the recommendation for the wok in the first place greatly increased air circulation and made the Brinkmann a lot easier to use.
Best part. I get to eat this tomorrow too. This was the experiment to see if I could do this. I've got this baby wrapped up tight in the fridge and will warm her up tomorrow slowly in the oven tomorrow before dinner. The family is coming over tomorrow for some dinner and we'll be enjoying this, plus some homemade mac and cheese, homemade slaw, BBQ chicken and some asparagus. The chicken was the backup plan if this was a dissaster, now its a side dish.
Thanks for all the advice and here's to more smoking Q!
P.S. I smell like a smoldering pile of hickory.