Welcome aboard, MinnowMC, and congrats on the new smoker! I don't know much about that particular rig, so some of your questions are difficult to answer without more info, or without seeing your rig...can you post some pics that show the parts you have questions about?
I tried to answer the general questions you had. Just look below for the answers to each question in red type:
Originally Posted by MinnowMC
OK, so I won a Broil King charcoal vertical smoker. Until that point I had zero interest in learning how to smoke. Now, I feel it's something I need to master. But no one I know has ever used one.
I've put it together, and read up on everything and have to admit - I don't know where to start. Zero clue, and I feel like I'm BEYOND over my head.
I've got regular charcoal and some seasoned wood chips.
So I should fill the charcoal tray with the charcoal and light it and leave it burning with lots of flame? You could get yourself some of those Weber charcoal starter cubes to do this...but the key is to let the charcoal burn down to hot coals before you start cooking. There shouldn't be flames. IMO, the best way is to use a charcoal starter chimney (you can buy these at most hardware or outdoor stores). Fill the chimney with unlit coal, use some newspaper to start it, then allow it to burn until all coals are glowing and beginning to ash over...then pour the coal into your smoker's fire tray.
Do I use the grate? Not sure what grate you mean...can you post a pic of this? If the fire tray has a grate in it, yes...use it. It'll help get better airflow to your burning coals.
What's the plate that fits over one of the trays with all the little holes in it for? Not sure...again, a pic would help. It might be a tuning plate that separates the fire from the cook chamber, with holes in it to allow heat and smoke through?
Do I soak my wood chips in water first or just throw them on the charcoal or do I fill a water tray and put them in the water there? Soaking wood chips/chunks is, IMHO, a complete waste of time. The water has to evaporate before combustion begins to produce smoke. You can simply throw a couple of fist-sized wood chunks on your hot charcoal every hour or so...or a couple handfuls of wood chips (although the chips will burn up much faster than chunks). Or, you can make little foil pouches full of wood chips. Poke a couple holes in the foil for smoke to get out, then toss the pouch on the hot coals.
Do I need to use water? Some people do, some don't. If you decide not to put water in the water pan, you could fill it with sand or lava rocks instead...just cover with foil to prevent dripping grease from making a big mess.
Can I do multiple meats at a time or ? Absolutely. This takes practice and some experience, however, because different types of meat do better at different cooking temps, different finishing internal meat temps, etc.
Do I add everything at the same time if I'm doing vegetable and pork and beef? Depends on the cuts of pork/beef. For example, a rack of pork ribs will cook in somewhere between 4-6 hours...while a pork butt roast could take 10-16 hours, depending on it's size. The same is true of beef...a brisket may take anywhere between 10-20 hours depending on cook temps and the size of the brisket. Veggies will obviously cook much faster, and should be put on the grill toward the end a cook.
Can I be helped? You came to a good place to get help! My best advice is to start easy and simple...I'd suggest you begin with a test burn in your smoker (run it without any food in it for a few hours). This will allow you to learn how to manage your fire and control the cooking temperature without burning up any food. Once you've got a handle on temp control, you might start with only one hunk of meat for your first cook. Once you decide what your want to cook, you can do a search here on the Forums for that meat. You'll find dozens of previous threads here about pretty much any meat you want to cook. Doing some reading before you start is a good way to plan the steps and methods for your cook. If you don't find the info you need by doing a search, just ask specific questions about that meat type and how you want to cook it...you'll get plenty of assistance!
Am I just overthinking it all? Hey, we were all beginners at one time or another! Trying something new that you don't know anything about can be intimidating, but there are lots of friendly, helpful experts here at SMF that'll be glad to help you through it!