I just purchased a new Brinkmann Charcoal smoker from Rona a few weeks ago. It's a new model, they don't even have a picture of it on their website as of yet. The factory part number is 855-4305-F. It replaces their smallest offset smoker and costs $269. The big difference is the chimney is now on the side, not the back. My previous smoker was a WSM 18.5". It was the older model without the built in thermometer.
One thing to remember while reading this. This is a Cheap Offset Smoker (COS), it's not built like a Lang, and it is not going to perform like a Lang. The closest smoker I have had experience with in the same category is the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) 18.5". So, as a point of reference, I'll be comparing the two.
The smoking chamber and fire box come in to half cylinders, you need to screw them together with the supplied M10 screws. I've read and seen youtube videos on gaps, etc. Looking around the smoker the only place I can find a noticeable gap is on the far left side of the fire box. There is a small gap about the width of a ruler between the upper and lower assemblies. The main cooking chamber seems to be sealed tightly, and there are no gaps around the main cooking door that I can find.
The biggest downfall is the grease drain. Their is a small hole in the bottom of the cooker for the grease or drippings to drain out. The smoker comes with a small attachment that goes through the hole and you can attach a soup can to it. it doesn't work, the grease runs down the attachment and over the side of the can and onto the ground.
The steel is not super thick, probably about 1/8".
There is no baffling between the fire box and the cooking chamber, it's just a hole that allows the smoke and heat to run form the firebox into the cooking chamber.
Overall, I'll give construction 4/5. Once assembled it's solidly built.
You can set it up to be a grill or a smoker. The unit comes with charcole and cooking greats for both the fire box and cooking chamber. The total grilling area is about 764 square inches. The surface area for just the cooking chamber is around 26" X 17.5". That's a rough measure with my tape. The 18.5 WSM has a total cooking area of 537 square inches, the 22.5 WSM is 795 square inches.
As a smoker it's smaller then the WSM. I was able to cook 4 small half chickens and 1 rack of ribs (I had to cut the rack in half). There was still a little space, so I probably could have gotten another rack on, or some larger chickens.
Overall rating 4/5. In the price range, it's about $100 less than the WSM and about 100 square inches smaller.
Terrible. That's all I can really say. For the actual assembly, all you need is a standard (slot) screw driver. All of the nuts/holes are self tapping so you really don't need a wrench. Some of the angles are a bit awkward if you're doing this by yourself.
Overall Rating 2/5. Terrible assembly instructions, Weber's assembly instructions are way better. The assembly is awkward and time consuming. The WSM can probably be assembled in less then 10 minutes. My Weber 22.5" gold only took about 15-20 minutes. For the Brinkmann, you're looking at an hour.
Heat Control for a cook.
This is not in the manual, but what I do is same as my WSM. I put 1 full chimney of unlit charcoal in the fire box, and then add another full chimney of light coals on top of it. I let the cooker come up to temperature and then close the firebox vent. I try to run my smoker between 250 and 275, without overshooting. I was able to maintain 275 for most of the cook. After an hour and a half, I had to add 1 chimney of light coals again. That lasted me for 4 hours. With the thermometer on the lid reading around 280, I put my spare thermometer inside the cooking chamber and when I lifted the lid after half an hour to mop my meat, the hot side was 250 and the cold side was 225. One thing I did learn after messing up on the maiden voyage, you need to move your meat around on the grill to compensate for the temperature difference between the two sides. All I do, is rotate left. Do this every half hour or so, and you'll have evenly cooked food at the end.
Controlling the temperature is a dream. Adjust your vents and wait a few minutes. If the temperature doesn't change, make another adjustment. The key to good temperature control is continuously monitoring your temperature and making adjustments before you get a big swing.
Rating 4/5. If you're cooking multiple items, you'll need to move it around for an even cook. The top gauge reads between 25 and 50 degrees higher than the cooking surface, but remember, hot air rises. I seriously don't know why BBQ manufactures don't put the thermometers by the cooking surface, or just under the cooking great.
I'll give this a 4/5.
Solidly built. There are not many gaps for heat to escape.
Price/value. It's $100 cheaper then the WSM and out of the box easier to use and easier to control the temperature.
Food is fully accessible. The lower cooking chamber of the WSM cannot be accessed without removing the top cooking great and all of your food. Although not the end of the world, it is inconvenient.
Temperature Control. If you're just getting into smoking or cooking with charcoal, the Brinkmann is easier to control.
Terrible assembly instructions. The WSM is way easier to put together.
The grease catch is useless. Also, if you're doing some serious smoking, you'll fill up a soup can after 1 or 2 cooks. The WSM has a waterpan/grease catch pan that installs as part of the unit, is easy to clean and 100% re-useable.
Cleaning. The fire box on the Brinkmann is difficult to empty. The WSM, you take apart, place in garbage bag, turn upside down and remove the fire ring from the garbage bag. Easy.
This unit is made for people who are just getting into smoking as it's easy to use, and priced under $300.
Hope this helps.