id never put coals in my cook chamber. i thought of doing this BEFORE i purchased my smoker. now that i have it... no way. its my baby. fire in the firebox only for me. mine has a grill area above the firebox, but ill prolly never use it.
id say get a nice smoker to smoke things. buy a cheap charcoal grill to grill on. i have a gasser so i just use that to grill.
when i was down in florida i stopped at academy and looked at the old countrys. they arent half bad. pretty nice for a store bought offset. give em a try.
i did a TON of research for my offset. if u want to step it up a bit from the store bought old countrys, then call old country themselves. the ones they make for customers are a higher quality than the ones at academy. thicker steel and such. but they jump in price up to about the 900-1100 mark. but thats the cheapest ones i found using 3/16th steel that are still high quality. after that you jump up to the 1500 big boys. the gators and jj pits of the pit world.
20x48 Pits by JJ
Cinder block smoker