Ok, so I am not really a complete noob at smoking now, but definitely done consider myself a veteran yet :) This is my second season of smoking. I originally started with 2 junky smokers, 1 vertical $30 smoker and an older horizontal $100 Char-Something offset smoker. I started to learn on those, but don't really feel like I ever learned truly how to control the heat properly. It was always a struggle.
So after my first trial season, I bought a MES 40 and AMNPS. I have been using it for about a year and I like it a lot. The only major concerns I have about using the MES are the temp is a little limited at 275 max, sometimes the AMNPS will stop smoking (so I have to check it regularly), and I do like the flavor of food cooked on real fire/smoke a little better. Now in saying all of that, I will continue to use the MES a lot and still love it. All the food I have cooked has been very good.
Now I am thinking about buying a 2nd smoker. This smoker I definitely want to burn with "real fire", no gas and no electric. I would love to have something that is not difficult to keep burning and maintain temps. I don't need anything huge in size, but am open to anything. I had heavily been considering buying a WSM, and still am considering it, but I'm not sure. I am not sure about whether to try to burn mainly wood or try something with charcoal. Can you burn wood on the WSM or is it just charcoal? As I remember when I started, the coals provided the heat and wood chunks on top just produced smoke. When I did it then, any wood I put on the coals burned up quickly. As you can see, I have concern about what to burn, how to burn it, and how to control/maintain it. When I started with charcoal, I had to work on it every 30 mins. I don't want to have to do that.
I love watching things like BBQ Pitmasters I see and read so much, but want to apply it at home. I would consider anything, from WSM to pellet smokers, to anything else. I want something that's produces good food on a real fire and that will not take all of my time to watch it when I smoke.
I do not have a specific budget in mind, but cannot get crazy. I would prefer to stay under $500, but would consider options up to the $1000 ballpark.
Any advice or suggestions are appreciated!