Maybe I should have also pointed out that another benefit to 3 gallon batches is you don't need to make a starter when buying new yeast. IMO 1 vial will get you started pretty well for normal gravity beers.
I have been converting all grain recipes from 5 gallons to 3. I haven't brewed enough beer to recommend two recipes. But here are some example of what I have brewed or what I plan on brewing.
Dark Wheat w/ European Ale Yeast (Base for Fruit Beer) 3 Gallons
Although it's a fruit beer base, I tasted it before adding the fruit and I was intrigued.
Briess 2-Row 4 lbs
Weyermann Dark Wheat 2 lbs
Caramel Munich 2 oz
Hallertau Pellets .4 oz @ 60 mins
Williamette Pellets .4 oz @ 30 mins
European Ale Yeast
My efficiency was only about 60% so my OG was about 1.046, FG (before fruit addition) was 1.012. IBU 19; SRM 7.19
I added 4 lbs of blueberries. Which would have been better if I had hit a 75% efficiency. In retrospect with 60% efficiency I would have gone for 3 lbs of blueberries.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Clone, 3 Gallons
This is a 3 gallon version derived from the BYO version
and some simpler online recipe versions.
Briess 2-Row Brewer's Malt - 5 lbs 8 oz
Caramel Pils - 5 oz
Briess 2 Row Caramel 20 - 2.4 oz
Briess 2 Row Caramel 40 - 2.4 oz
Perle @ 45 - .9 oz
Cascade @ 5 - .6 oz
Cascade @ 0 - .6 oz
Cascade @ dry - .6 oz
American Ale Yeast
Just for fun I converted the weights on the Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu (my wife and I love it) clone from this source:
The ingredients are hard to get, but some of the more rare stuff (orange honey, syrup, hawthorne berry) are available at a nearby health food store.
...and it looks like this (definitely something I'll try in kind of distant future)
Two-row pale malt - 6 lbs 13.2 oz
Orange blossom honey - 1 lbs 12.8 oz
Rice Syrup - 1 lbs 3.2 oz
Alexander’s Muscat conc - 9.6 oz
Hawthorne Berry Powder - 4.8 oz
Simcoe Hops @ 60 - 2.4 oz
As for my setup...
All I have to say about the 5 gallon cylindrical cooler and paint strainer mesh bags is that they are made for each other. The bag is perfectly tall enough and the elastic fits the rim perfectly. I just had to learn that when mixing not to twist the bag (actually closing the lid and gently but firmly shaking the mash works even better since less heat is lost). When sparging wheat mash without hulls, I had to tug the bag a little here and there to get the sparge running. I haven't maximized my efficiency but I'm working on it. I don't think my equipment is keeping me back; I think it's more about the grain and the water.
I brew in the kitchen, so there's nothing special to see there. Here's a snapshot of my compact fermentation closet. It's very small but somehow it looks a bit bigger in this photo. The ambient temp is about 68-70 and under a wet shirt about 63-65 F. The top shelf has two or three gallons fermentation tests, and at the bottom there is room for three carboys. The shelves are used for bottles. Above the frame is a shelf with the 5 gallon cooler hanging upside down, and a Mr Beer Keg (can't fit the bottling bucket there unfortunately).