I was on the way home from work one day in mid-November and someone had set a Brinkmann two door vertical charcoal smoker on the curb. It was really clean and came with everything I needed, including a bag of charcoal and even an Ove Glove. For some reason one of the racks had been changed to a round grilling rack, but I didn't care because it was free. I knew nothing about smokers, but had been wanting to buy one. I went home and Googled this "new" smoker and realized that everyone pretty much thought this smoker sucked as is. I did a test burn and threw in some sticks to create smoke and the doors leaked so heavily that no wonder people think these things are awful straight out of the box. I did a lot of reading and came up with several modifications.
The first thing I did was change out the thermometer that came in the door. Almost every comment that I read about the stock thermometer was that it was way off. I went to a local BBQ store and bought a good quality thermometer with a large 3.5" face for about $40. All I had to do to connect it to the door was to buy a couple of washers larger than the hole (one for the front of the door and one for the back) and a reverse threaded conduit nut, which can be found in any hardware store. I also sealed the washer on the inside of the smoker with red Permatex high temp RTV silicone to seal in heat and smoke. I chose the red RTV silicone because it is made for ovens and is food safe. I found the red RTV silicone at an auto parts store, but recently saw it at Walmart for about $4.50 a tube. These pics are after several cooks, hence the darkened color of the washer and conduit nut.
My next problem was that the doors on this smoker are magnetic. MAGNETIC?! Who designed this and got paid for it? It had no choice but to leak because the magnet is small and there was a gap around the rest of the door. I had read that people were sealing the doors on other similar smokers with Green Egg felt, but I had also read that some of the felt adhesives used don't last and the felt eventually falls off. Instead I cleaned the inner edges of the smoker and door thoroughly with acetone (finger nail polish remover) and created a door gasket with the red RTV silicone. The RTV is like rubber in a tube, but it is very sticky before it dries. My attempt at making it pretty with a popsicle stick was futile, but it still works great. The problem after making the gasket was that the weak door magnets no longer held the doors shut against my new silicone gaskets. I got on Amazon and bought a 4 piece set of hasps (like tool box latches) and installed two of them on each door. They were only $6 and were delivered in 2 days thanks to Amazon Prime. These latches really pull the doors tightly against the silicone gasket and there is absolutely no smoke leaks around all sides of the door except the side with the hinges. For the sides of the door with the hinges I just shoved folded foil in the gap and it works great. I drilled all the way through the doors and sides of the smoker and attached the latches and catches with small bolts and nuts. I figured screws would eventually become loose after repeated use, especially with the thin sheet metal this smoker is made of. The bolts are barely long enough through the door to get a small nut on them, but because of this, they seat nicely into the flexible silicone gasket on the inside edges. After 4 cooks, the gaskets are still flexible and not coming loose anywhere. However, if it does eventually come loose, the RTV silicone is so cheap I can easily just repair spots or make a new one.
Additionally, before I ever smoked anything, I had read that the fire basket that came with this smoker is a major source of frustration. It is solid sheet metal and ash eventually smothers the fire as it builds up because it has no way for it to fall out. What I did was go to Lowe's and found grill wok on clearance for $7. The wok originally did not fit because the handles on the wok made it too wide to fit in the racks that came with the smoker. I just broke the rivets holding the wok handles onto the wok and moved them lower on the side of the wok so that they would slide nicely into the smoker racks. You can see the spot where the old rivet was in the pic. I just reattached the handles with small bolts, washers and nuts. I also drilled new lower holes into the frame of the smoker so that I could move the racks holding the fire basket down lower. In my opinion, the fire box was too close to the water pan in the original spot. Since using the wok, I have had absolutely no issues keeping the fire going, and if anything I have problems keeping the temperature down. I also use the old fire basket as an ash catcher in the bottom of the smoker. All of these pictures are after several cooks and it works great. I just smoked a 5 lb pork butt with it today, which is why it is so dirty with ash.
Here is a picture of it being used in about 35-40 degree weather with gusty breezes. The other grill under the cover is trying to serve as a wind break and the cement board on top is trying to act as a thermal barrier. Not great. I burned through a surprising amount of lump charcoal on this cook and I had to tend to the fire a lot. Annoying.
As I have only had this smoker since mid-November and have only tried smoking in cold weather, I have no idea what this smoker is like in warm weather. I have had no problems getting the heat high enough with the new fire box (wok) and all the silicone gaskets I have added, but I have had problems keeping the temperature steady. I blame the wind.
I made this insulated wind break box a few days ago for about $20. I took a 4x8 sheet of 1" Dow Scoreboard Foam Board (blue styrofoam) that I found on Craigslist for $10 and used a spray adhesive made for polystyrene foam to attach heavy duty foil on every square inch of the foam exposed to the smoker. I covered all seams and edges with foil tape that I already had. There is about a 2" gap between the smoker and the foam/foil box on all sides. I made the box so that the front door opens and the lid lifts up. I screwed in plastic drywall anchors on the front and back so that I could add a bungee cord to keep the box shut and not rip the foam. The lid has a 1/2" gap on either side so that heat and smoke can escape. I cut small holes in the bottom of the sides to serve as air intake. Additionally, I cut the top and bottom off of 2 pop cans and made a 4-5" tube with a diameter just a little larger than the 3.5" thermometer face on the front of the smoker. I connected the aluminum from the pop cans with staples and then foil taped the entire tube. I cut a hole in the front of the insulated box and inserted it so that it slid around the thermometer on the front of the smoker. This way I can tell the temperature without having to always open the insulated box and it also serves to center the box around the smoker so that there is an even gap all the way around the smoker and the box. It worked awesome today when I began smoking this morning when it was only 21 degrees outside and breezy. I used less than 1/2 of the normal amount of charcoal and even had to keep the fires very small in order to keep the temperature below 250. I had to open the door to the cooking chamber several times to let heat escape at the start because I made the first fire with the same amount of lump charcoal I was used to using and it was getting way too hot, even with the dampers fully shut. After getting the fire size figured out, I did not have to babysit the fire because the temperatures were very steady around 225. I literally added a few chunks of lump charcoal every 1.5-2 hours. The foil did great at keeping any of the styrofoam from melting and it still looks very clean. I figured I would have to deal with a lot of smoke residue, but that was not the case.
View of the thermometer through the front of the box
Front door, lid and pop can tube covered in foil tape that slides over thermometer.
Air intake on sides of the box
Gap at edges of lid and bungees holding front door shut
View from top of the box
View of gap around smoker
I live in Kansas where winters get cold, but I couldn't wait until warm weather to try this thing, especially because I am new to smoking. If anyone can learn from my experience, then this was worth sharing. If you have any better suggestions, please share.