I'm new to the forum (and to smoking meat in general), but I read a few posts here before I went shopping this morning. I picked up a Char-Broil vertical, charcoal smoker for $75 at W-mart. I added a remote digital thermometer and a grill wok to use as the charcoal basket too.
After assembling the smoker, I seasoned it, and then warmed up some kielbasa rings and macaroni and cheese over new coals and wood chips for dinner. It wasn't an ambitious meal, but it was good food. Some smoke leaked around the top door, but the sausage reached 160 degrees F in just over 20 minutes on the new thermometer.
Tomorrow, weather permitting, I'm going to cook my first whole chicken. Also, I've ordered some 1/8" Nomex gasket to seal the doors after seeing where the smoke leaked.
I already believe I am going to enjoy smoking a lot more starting off with a $75 vertical smoker than a $50 bullet. Without modifications, I'm starting with top and bottom dampers, and I have full access to the charcoal, water and meat through the large doors.
Thank you all for documenting your smoking experiences here. Without finding this forum, I would have been stuck at "I...like...ribs..."