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Ok.. smoking turkey on a Brinkmann water smoker may not be your thing but for millions of people it is. And probable half of those million have problems maintaining a proper fire and turning out a good piece of meat on that 39 dollar hunk of metal.

I have recieved email after email that could be correctly labeled cries for help and folks.. I have heard your cries and am going to try and help you a bit here.

As many of you know.. I am more of a story teller so let me tell you what I did and perhaps you will learn something about smoking a turkey on the Brinkmann water smoker or the ECB (el cheapo Brinkmann) as some endearingly refer to it.

I own a couple of old rusty Brinkmann water smokers but they do not get used much.. they are some of the ones I started on years ago and have long since been abandoned for more shiny and expensive units that seem to work a lot better and have a temperature guage with actual readings instead of the “warm, ideal, hot” readings so prominently displayed on the lid of the Brinkmann water smoker.

The Challenge

This past weekend we drove to Austin, TX to visit some relatives and I was asked to smoke a turkey.  However, the only smoker available was a repainted Brinkmann water smoker.

I have always felt like I could smoke anything in any type of unit and make it turn out really good but after being used to a really nice unit you get a little “rusty” kinda like my old units out behind the house.

I figured what the hey.. I will just have to make it work so I got my 10 pound bag of 100 percent hardwood lump charcoal, my charcoal chimney, some mesquite chunks, some apricot chunks, some Bartlett pear chunks, some newspaper, a lighter, my digital probe meat thermometers and my cooking gloves and went to work.

Aquiring the Turkey

I could not find a “minimally processed” turkey so I was forced to purchase a turkey that was already 7% full of some broth/saltwater solution.

Normally I would brine a turkey that was labeled ‘MINIMALLY PROCESSED” but I would not do that with this one as it was missing the label and for me that is not ideal.

Getting the Coals Ready

I stuffed the bottom of the charcoal chimney with 2 pieces of old newspaper and then poured it full of lump charcoal.

I lit the paper and after about 10 minutes it was ready to pour into my charcoal pan.. I felt like it needed another chimney full so I did another batch and poured it in. I then placed the water pan in its position just above the charcoal pan and filled it about a quarter full of water.

Turkey Takes Center Stage

At 9:30 am I placed the grate in its position on the top of the smoker body, set the salt and peppered turkey on the grate breast side up and covered it with the lid.

The 2 chimneys of lump charcoal were giving my temperatures of 245 degrees so I opened the door to let some heat escape.

Make a note of this.. I did no modifications to the smoker at all other than to place some chicken wire on the bottom of the charcoal pan so the ashes could fall down without smothering the coals.

On a Brinkmann water smoker that has had no mods done to it.. the effect is different than on normal smokers. Because the charcoal pan is several inches below the door, opening the door allows heat to escape and therefore cools down the fire. To heat things up a bit you need to close the door some or even all the way to all all of your heat to travel up to the grate area without escaping out of the doorway.

The charcoal pan is about an inch and a half less in diameter than the smoker body and therefore creates a 3/4 inch gap all around the charcoal pan that allows for more than enough airflow.

On the same token, the lid on the brinkmann does not fit tightly. There are gaps that allow for more than enough updraft to allow the smoke to escape.

Controlling the Temperature

After about an hour in the smoker the temp begin to raise even higher.. it spiked up to 278 at one point and I had to remove the lid to let some heat escape several times. I kept the door all the way open and eventually the heat came back down to around 240 and remained fairly steady for about an hour.

At around 12:30 that afternoon the temp began to drop and so I shut the door all the way and was able to maintain about 230 degrees for a while but soon had to prepare another batch of charcoal in the chimney.

I could not pour this batch in because that would require removing the turkey, the water pan and the grate so I used my barbecue tongs to quickly place the lit coals into the charcoal pan through the access door.

This batch kept the temp fairly steady for another 30 minutes or so but I soon realized that I would need another batch of lit coals so I prepared them and “tonged” them in once again throught the access door.

That was the last of my 10 pound bag of lump charcoal so I was a bit worried that I would have to resort to finishing it in the oven (something I don't like to do).

I Was Forced to Make a Hard Decision

The turkey had reached 154 degrees and after just a few minutes the Brinkmann was once again losing heat very quickly.. when it dropped down to 210 degrees I made an executive decision to do what made sense and finish it in the oven.

Fortunately they had the oven already heated up for something else and I just borrowed some unused space on the top rack and it was finished in that 375 degree oven in just a matter of 20 minutes or so.

The turkey was oh so delicious and extremely moist and juicy but as I thought about what I shoud have done to make it more of a success on the fly I realized that the only thing that would have helped would have been to have had a little more charcoal.

About 15 pounds would have been perfect..

Last Thought on Smoking a Turkey on a Brinkmann

I believe the key to getting good temperatures in the Brinkmann water smoker is to start out with plenty of charcoal and use the door to control the heat. Remember if it gets too hot you can always remove the lid for a minute to let some heat escape.

I also read the other day that you can place a clean 55 gallon barrel over the brinkmann water smoker to help hold in some heat for those of you in super cold climates who are having trouble getting adequate smoking temperatures.

So see.. smoking a turkey on a Brinkmann water smoker is not that hard.. just think it through, go ahead and do some mods on the brinmann if you can, and have plenty of good lump charcoal on hand.

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  1. My solution for heat loss when using the ECB in cold windy weather is to construct a heat shield using 20 inch wide flashing from the home store. I made mine 23 inches diameter which gives a 3 inch space between the shield and smoker body. This provides enough space for air circulation and makes it easy to slip over the smoker. Use aluminum rivets to bolt the ends together. I kept a leftover piece of flashing to sit the smoker on while it cooks. Works like a charm!

  2. I followed your guide for smoking a turkey in my Brinkmann Charcoal Smoker, I modded it as well and my Thanksgiving Turkey came out AMAZING!!!!! Internal temp was 161º, very juicy, tender and rich in hickory-smoked flavor.

    I added a vent cover to the lid, put in a Grill Care heavy duty temp gauge in the lid and drilled holes in the charcoal pan. This was my very time smoking a turkey and I’m very pleased with the results. Thank you again! My guests LOVED the turkey.

    1. I have the old Brinkmann Smoker, & use natural charcoal, adding soaked apple wood & walnut right on top of the charcoal now & then, according to how much smoked flavor is desired. I also like to burn some of that wood (not wet) as fuel as the charcoal begins to diminish. I simply add the wood &/or more charcoal through the vent door, using a good tong grabber – never have to remove the lid except to check the turkey, or whatever. Love the results with this grill! Sweet tender steamed smoked flavorful meat! Slow & low.

  3. I have the old-style Brinkmann charcoal smoker. If you reverse the legs from inside the barrel to the outside you can put the charcoal pan on a couple of bricks. When you add charcoal, just lift the smoker off the charcoal pan and set it aside. Refresh your charcoal as needed and then replace the smoker over the pan.

    When adding charcoal I will use a couple of vice grips to clamp a old grill grate over the charcoal pan and sift the HOT ash out of the overturned pan. Do use caution and don’t be wearing shorts and flip flops to do this.

  4. Dec-2014 – my smoker is the newer style of the ECB smoker. no feet, has vents in bottom and sides of coal pan. still has the idiot temp gauge. comes designed to allow mid section to be lifted off coal pan.
    Mods i did: placed smoker in a sheltered area out of the wind. added 1/4 inch hole next to idiot temp to allow insertion of real temp gauge. placed whole smoker onto 2 concrete blocks, not really needed but raises height. put a metal coffee can into center of water pan, should allow more heat to reach 13# turkey. will be smoking in a couple of days and post results.
    when at proper temp will start smoking.

    future mod may be adding fire brick around coffee can to radiate heat when smoker is lifted off coal pan.

  5. I’ve smoked my Thanksgiving turkeys every year for the last 16 years on the cheap Brinkman charcoal smoker. I fill the bottom pan with good charcoal, light, then add a few pieces of wet wood. About every 3 hours I add more briquettes and wood. The temp goes up and down a little but no biggie. Its better to start hot and finish a little cooler. I use no seasoning but I do brush the bird with butter. You want about 180 in the thigh and 160 in the breast. About an hour per pound but a little faster if its windy. The wind stokes the smoker hotter. The turkeys taste amazing. The meat is always tender and juicy and the skin is a rich dark brown. Its the only way I’ll make turkey.

  6. Waste not want not. How I did it.
    This ill favored smoker may well be the no-name generic smoker I bought some 20 years ago and put back into service when I had a steer butchered down and was looking for a little variety. ( We had these ribs which were easily five inches thick which I marinated in an orange juice-soy sauce mix which needed to be handled in some way…preferably cooked.) I had about two pounds of dry charcoal (also 10 years old, but still in the bag) and whole dead bonfire base of charcoal which could charitably be called dry. Four days of spread out drying, and stored in a bucket. It worked beautifully…I had to set it up like building a forge fire…dry in the middle and perched on a few newspapers, a little house or fort of sprayed damp finings on the sides to focus the flame inward, and plenty of the “sort of damp” stuff (charcoal is hydroscopic) Like what happens in my forge, the charcoal will dry out and burn comfortably soon enough. I never let it get hot enough I think…In my defence, this was my second smoke in ten years, and it turned out a little cool. We ran out of time or it would have been fine…the meat after two hours was only at 130. I think another hour would have done it up as nice as some of the pictures on the web site. But my nervousness of not being able to get it above 130 won out. I smoked store bought bulk cheddar cheese on the remnants of the fire. Worked a treat! Useful stuff that smokey cheese!

    lessons learnt…don’t let your neighbour “help out” You have to take responsibility. this is important, you can hurt somebody in many ways from burns to contaminated food (idiot neighbour wanted to add more charcoal starter after it was burning and the food was on (your need to get it running hotter, burp! here hold my beer.) …I showed him the door.) Second, I run a forge. Getting charcoal hot is what I do for a living. A better temperature gauge would have been useful at least for the first few smokes. I was going by “can you rest your hand on the top? Yes? well, add a little more charcoal…
    I eventually had two little piles of maple. Some wet soaked, some dry. The dry seemed to be better at jacking the temp. (not surprising) The soaking wet lumps lowered the temp at first, and were better at moderating the temp. The dry just turned into replacement charcoal. Use sparingly around the sides. Wait until you can see the sides of the charcoal pan before messing with it. Don’t worry, they all eventually smouldered to a delicious conclusion. Keeping the door open at the bottom raised the temp, and lifting the lid off cooled things down if it started to get yowee hot. I avoided lifting the lid as much as possible since I did not want any creosote (turned out there was none). I flipped the meat once at about the 1.5 hour mark, and idiot neighbour kept adding more maple to raise the internal temp. (get outa here before you overcook it you fool! Leave my smoking area alone! Its fine!)
    My feelings….like driving a standard transmission motor car, you have to think while driving this smoker. As cheap as the ancient smoker is, it turned out a beautiful tasty and safe product. Lots more charcoal would have been helpful and handy.
    Hope to do some more once the rains stop. Until then I have a fridge full of perfectly good ribs. (well, less than there were yesterday…grin!)

    1. Yse brinkman that has seperate pan on bottom on older style i cooked turkeys at 180 an hour per pound ,i would remove all meat and restart second pan of charcoal since it takes 14 to 16 hours now i use pull be hind gas grill with water pan same area as grill space it has wood chip tray a foot wide and 4 feet long can cook 20 turkeys at one time

  7. I have a big cooker have done 22 Turkeys at one time inject with teriyaki sauce and cook at 180 degrees one hour per pound my water pan is close to same size of grill i use gas and pecan wood and shells my grill is 48 x36cook all by biggest bird size

  8. To keep the heat up, I have been using a water heater jacket from Home depot.  It is foil on inside and out with some sort of insulation.that doesnt melt or burn.  Just wrap it around the Brinkmann and control temp by opening and closing the insulation.