Hoping to find one in time for the 4th, thanks in advanced.
Depending on what you intend to feed this group of 15 an 18.5" Weber Smokey Mountain fits your budget at $299 and required few if any mods. You could easily load it with enough chickens, pork shoulders, chuck roasts, or brisket to feed 15 people. A big turkey would fit too. Ribs would be tricky for a group that size unless you used a couple rib racks and trimmed them a little.
The Brinkman vertical is probably the right smoker for you but the WSM would work too.
you can do a heck of a lot of ribs in A WSM like this. I would go with the quality of Weber. As I have for years and years. I love my Webers.
That is so creative!!!! Way cool!
If you get much salt air there you will totally want a weber. the enamel coating is the bomb. I see you are inland a bit but on the west slope of the mountains. Something to consider. No I don't work for Weber or anything, but I am sold on the quality and use it right out of the box without any mods. I have a WSM and A performer and A 27 year old Weber propane grill that I can still get parts for. I am sold.
They should have display models I would think. Home depot is where I got mine and the only smokers on display were Weber. I actually built a UDS before I got the cash together for the WSM and it is still working great. It is a toss up what smoker to use nowadays. I live alone so most of the time I just fire up the kettle. Unless I am doing a bunch of meat for the family on a special occasion or something. Like right now. moink balls and ABT's with an ear of corn for the ball game. I envy you for getting to go shopping for new gear.