I've been doing some heavy research before buying my first real backyard cooker. I know I don't have the skills or tools to build one, and I know I want an offset stick burner. I've read conflicting things about RF versus tuning plates (versus direct flow). Hoping for some opinions on the issue, as it pertains to a SMALL backyard cooker (36" - 40") such as the baseline Lang or Horizon. My budget is between $1200 and $1500.
First, I wonder if tuning plates (which must be close together near the firebox to prevent hot spots there) might cause food on the firebox end to receive less smoke? Also, along the grate there is relatively little open surface area until you get near the colder (stack) end... it seems to me like most of the smoke would exit the cooker without touching meat?
Second, I was inspired by Aaron Franklin and in his book he recommends direct-flow smokers, but he's not really talking about small backyard cookers. Still, he says Reverse Flow restricts airflow and makes it difficult to maintain proper (strong) convection. For that matter, he's against tuning plates for the same reasons.
Third, the website for Lone Star Grillz (FAQ) says (paraphrased): We prefer tuning plates to RF because it's hard to clean out grease from under the fixed RF plate. Also, RF requires a much larger fire and it's harder to maintain a good draw which can result in inferior smoke. I've seen that sentiment echoed on this forum, with concerns about keeping the firebox in an RF at the right temperature without overheating it.
Lastly, Lang's own website says (paraphrased) that the baffle catches rendered fat and "sears" the meat from below. To me, that doesn't sound like it's possible, except that it's maybe "air-frying" the underside of the meat with the sizzling fat. Is that really desirable in a low-and-slow cooker? I'd also worry about the smoke from burning fat. Is that a good smoke or a bad smoke?
Thanks for any opinions!