I'm looking at buying a new smoker, my little cheif is ok but can only stay at 125F with no adjustments. I can go as high as 200 bucks but would like to stay below it. Is charcoal my best bet? Please help.
So many variables and so many choices too. Charcoal is great for flavor and gives you the chance to play with fire. Propane is great for ease of use. Same to be said for electric. I went with charcoal, old school was my thought. I now have four charcoal cookers. You can get inexpensive charcoal smokers for under your price range. The CharGriller and the Silver Smoker are two that come to mind, both of these are the side fire box design. They are however, fuel hogs. Typically 20# plus per cook. For a little more money you can get a Weber Smokey Mountain. These are miserly with fuel and hence will cost you much less in the long run.
Just my .02 cents.
Never have done any cold smoking, but have done beef jerky in the Weber, winter time only, and have been able to keep the temps as low as 140*. They are very easy to use and maintain temps. If you have a small electric hot plate, you could probably put that in the WSM and cold smoke that way. Just put a pan on top of the burner with some wood chips in it and have at it.
I love my MES. I just don't have time to sit and tend the fire (wish I did). You have to run out evry half hour or so to give it some chips, but otherwise self sufficient. Clean up; into the dishwasher!