DIY: Home Smoker for Memorial Day

Folks in Louisiana love to entertain – and it usually revolves around food. Grilling, barbecuing and smoking are all popular here, especially this time of year. I’ve had an interest in trying smoking; past attempts didn’t really work. But I don’t need a large, expensive smoker that probably will not get much use. An internet search lead me to a site which had detail instructions on how to make your own mini-smoker. Just what I need, another DIY project!

hamburger - 3 - IMG_4523_1

I weighed the pros and cons and decided that a small smoker was what I really wanted. I don’t have a place to store a large grill/smoker and don’t want to cook alot of food at a time. So I used reward points and bought the supplies from Amazon.com (net cost was under $10 after reward points for the smoker) and had some help with the assembly. My first attempt at smoking was hamburgers, amazingly, they turned out really well.

The Smoker

The instructions and list of materials needed to build this mini-BBQ smoker are given the WEB site: Grilling Companion. Please visit the WEB site for all the instructions of this DIY project.

grillingcompanion.com/how-to-build-a-mini-bbq-smoker/

The authors, Steve Wilson and Tom, go into great detail; even giving links on where to purchase the supplies on-line. The links were still accurate and I was able to purchase everything listed. However, after receiving the supplies, I see that most of the items can be purchased locally. And of course, you can skip the DIY project entirely and just purchase a small WEBER smoker.

I give the authors credit for sharing all this information. It is obvious that they spent much time, trial and error to find a good solution for a mini-smoker. The smoker worked great! The hardest part is cutting out the metal bottom of the “smoker” pot – I asked my son and a friend with a machine shop for help on this part.

home smoker - 1 - IMG_4482_1

The smoker consists of a WEBER Gold Smokey Joe grill on the bottom and its lid on the top. An aluminum pot with the bottom cut out is the smoker. This pot fits exactly on the smoker, making a tight seal so be careful before substituting another brand of pot. This one has a lip towards the bottom making a convenient place to set a diffuser (which was a pie pan). Screws are visible where the grate rests about 4 inches from the top where food is placed. A thermometer is essential for smoking and it is visible sticking out of a top vent.

inside the smoker - 1 - IMG_4509_1

The WEBER Rapid Fire Charcoal Chimney is to the right of the smoker. I highly recommend this additional piece of equipment or something similar. Place newspaper in the bottom of the chimney under the coals. Light the newspaper and the wind channels the flames up the fluke and the charcoal becomes lit in about 15 minutes. No lighter fluid needed. Amazing!

How to Smoke

Whether you build your own smoker or use a purchased one, the premise is the same. The charcoal provides the heat and the smoke provides the flavor. The goal is to keep the smoker at 250 degrees for low smoking, 300 – 350 for medium. Wood chips, soaked in water, provide the smoke to flavor the meat. The food is slow cooked over a period of hours. Open and close the vents on the bottom of the Smokey Joe Grill to control the temperature of the smoker.

How Much Charcoal

Smoking requires vigilant attention to keep the heat adjusted. Vents in the bottom of the WEBER grill and in the lid can be opened or closed to increase or decrease the heat. My hamburgers cooked to medium in about 30 minutes. But some foods, such as a brisket may take 5 to 8 hours to cook. Additional charcoal is needed during the cooking.

During my first cooking attempt, the charcoal (1/3 chimney full) added to the smoker was too grey and the damp wood chips essential put out the fire. I added a second batch (1/2 chimney full) and this kept the smoker at 325 degrees for 2 hours.

A diffuser (pie pan) prevents direct heat from coming on the food and burning it. As the meat drips, the diffuser conveniently catches some of this cutting down on flame ups. I recommend using a diffuser. I don’t suggest adding water to the diffuser, as it easily spills while you remove the smoker to add more charcoal.

hot coals - IMG_4510_1

 

My second attempt was cooking chicken legs and thighs. The temperature rose to 350 – 400 degrees, initially, but dropped rapidly when I opened the lid and added the chicken. I had  to add more coals almost immediately. The lesson here is to open the lid as little as possible and be prepared to add more coals.

Safety Concerns

Safety issues are common sense. However, working in the medical field has shown me that folks have amazing accidents that could be prevented with a little caution. The smoker is as hot as a kitchen oven so use heavy mitts when working around the smoker. The same with shoes; charcoal spills are inevitable; I don’t suggest sandals here. And protect your eyes, as this system involves pouring the charcoal out of the chimney and into the smoker with smoke and embers flying around you. Also, I must have the world’s most curious puppy; I kept him inside while lighting the fire so charcoal or embers would not fall on him. The same can be said with small, curious children.

Hamburgers

Hamburgers taste great smoked, they are an easy choice for a beginner like myself.

Hamburger is graded for lean and fat content. I used 93/7 lean to fat, which is very lean. It is healthy but also dry. Next time, I will probably try 80/20 leanness. Your preference.

Recipe

  • 1 cup hickory or mesquite wood chips, soaked in water for at least an hour
  • 1 1/2 lb of ground sirloin or hamburger (suggest 80/20)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped or 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Soak wood chips in water for at least an hour.

Combine ground sirloin, garlic, onion or onion powder and Worcestershire sauce, form into 4 hamburger patties, thinner for quicker cooking.

Prepare smoker: light charcoal using a charcoal chimney (fill chimney 1/2 full). When charcoal is grey around exterior edges, transfer to bottom of grill.  Spread charcoal out to a single layer, if possible. Place smoker chamber and lid on grill, close bottom vents. Always leave the top vents partially open so the smoke can be released out the top. Using thermometer, heat to at least 250 degrees. (If smoker goes to 350-400 degrees, okay, as temp drops when food is added.)

Remove smoker chamber, add well drained wood chips around sides of charcoal (not on top of charcoal). Place smoker chamber back onto the grill, place diffuser on bottom grate of smoker chamber and place hamburgers on top grate of smoker chamber. Place top lid, with thermometer, on tightly, leaving top lid vents partially open. Open bottom vents partially. Monitor temperature, it should be between 250 – 300 degrees. Open bottom vents wider to increase the heat and temperature, close the vents to lower the temperature.Add a second batch of charcoal if needed. The hamburgers should be cooked to medium rare in 30 – 40 minutes.

Serve with favorite hamburger fixings. Makes 4 burgers.

hamburger - 1 - IMG_4523_1

Have a safe Memorial Day!

 

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