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Meet Meatbot: How to rebuild a used smoker and make killer pork BBQ

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Picture of Meet Meatbot: How to rebuild a used smoker and make killer pork BBQ
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The next few pages will show my restoration of my barn sale $5 smoker, which we dubbed MEATBOT, and the first smoked pork we made inside of it.
 
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Step 1: Clean!

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The BBQ was cleaned with my powerwasher to prep it for new paint.  I lightly rubbed the smoker down with 00 steel wool when it dried to prep the surface.  The handles were rotten and removed.  Upon inspection the metal looks pretty clean and unrusted, and all the parts are in good cosmetic condition other than some of the paint being baked off.

Step 2: First & Second coat

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I have a love for orange and copper colors, so I went with a tough 650 degree engine block paint.  The brand is VHT and they have some really great color varieties.   I did two coats to get good coverage.  The color is burnt metallic copper and was about $8 a can at autoparts store.  I used 1.5 cans for 2 coats.  A little excessive but I wanted a good cover coat.  If I had to do all over again I'd use 2 - $3 cans of Krylon BBQ black as a base coat and use the more expensive VHT as a top coat/detail paint, but this was a lesson learned in the process. :)

Step 3:

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I decided the orange looked a little much so I added some flat black racing stripes.  I placed one on either side for the handle regions on the main kettle body, and then added a third stripe down the front by the door.  I masked the door off and left it orange and painted the handle flat black.  I like little details, the door looks sharp.

The legs were removed and painted black.  All I needed to do to the legs was hit them with a wire brush to remove some rust and scale, then washed them.  The legs were rubbed with steel wool and hit with Krylon BBQ flat black ($3 can).  The legs will be reverse installed to the kettle body (the first of several 'cheap ass mods'). This modification is called the firebowl mod, it will allow me to lift the smoker directly off the fire & water bowls while smoking to add more fuel.  It is a very simple modification that makes the smoker more useful.






Step 4: New Handles

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Some repurposed scrap dowels cut into three  4" handles.  I drilled the dowels through on a drill press.  I took 1/4" threaded rod and cut pieces to slide through the middle using 2 acorn nuts and 2 large fender washers to secure it.  I might paint the handles at a later time, but for now I wanted to get them fitted.  When it was all done I was really pleased with how the handles looked.

Step 5: Thermometer calibrated and reinstalled

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I removed the thermometer from the kettle lid with a rubber mallet, since the stock thermometer is only pressed into place.  I then put the stock thermometer into a 225 degree oven and let it come up to that temperature.  After it was fully heated,  I used a 1/2" ratchet on the back nut to re-adjust it to read 225 (it read 300) and marked it with a sharpie (thank you /r/smoking for the tip)  Took me three tries to get it set perfectly, but it seems to work ok now.  [Big Update Edit: thermometer breaks in first 10m of the cook].

I was recommended to buy a wireless digital probe thermometer (Maverick ET732) and plan to when I can scrape up $60.

MORE TO COME!  (dampers, smokestack, firebowl legs)

Mucho thanks to the FrankenBrinkmann website and /r/smoking for inspiration and great information!

http://home.comcast.net/~day_trippr/smoker_mods.htm
http://www.reddit.com/r/smoking/

Step 6: Fire Bowl Legs

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This mod was described on the Home Depot reviews section of the smoker and was a very easy way to add legs to the firebowl.  

I used (4) 5.5" carriage bolts as legs, they cost about $2 each at Home Depot.  I used a phillips screwdriver and a hammer to make pilot holes for the drill and was surprised that the screwdriver easily punctured through the metal like it was butter.  I drilled the holes on an angle inside the lower bend of the firebowl using a 1/2" bit on my drill press.  Stainless steel nuts and lock washers were used on the inside of the bowl where it will face the fire.  Zinc coated nut used on the outside of the bowl.  I will probably spray paint the carriage bolts and nuts with 2 coats of flat BBQ black to be on the safe side since i hear zinc can offgas when heated.

It sits at the perfect level now inside the smoker, and I can lift the smoker off cleanly from the firebowl when I need to dump ash, add charcoal, wood or refill the water bowl that rests on top.

The legs sit neatly under the smoker.  No more bricks to place the firebowl on!  I was thinking about adding handles to the firebowl, but all I am going to add is a damper to control air flow.  I own kevlar welding gloves, so I can easily lift and dump the firebowl as needed.

Step 7: Installing Top Vent

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So after looking at a lot of ideas for vents I decided to go with a large 1.5" hole on the top of the dome and make a single flap control to cover it.  I plan to add a second (possibly smaller) vent about 3/4" in size if this one proves to be inadequate.  I'd like to find a small smokestack to install at a later time.

I also painfully learned carbon steel hole saws are not really suited for working on metal.  Rather than incur the expense of $40 for a set of bi-metal hole saws for one single cut, I endured and did the slow and steady method.  It took about an hour, and a lot of oil, but I got through the lid.  

The vent lids:

I cut the vent lids from 18 ga aluminum with my tin snips.  I left a flap of metal in my cutout to bend upwards as the handle.  I also rounded the edges with a bench grinder and 1/2 round file, and I sanded the metal in one direction to add a nice finish.  I secured it with a small SS bolt and a leftover acorn nut to pretty it up.  I had to hand bend the lids a bit to accommodate the rounded dome.


Step 8: Bottom Vents

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I drilled 5 - 5/16" holes around the single 3/4" round airhole already on the firebowl.  The additional airholes will help to improve air flow and increase our fire management.  I added a similar vent flap seen on the lid made from 18 ga aluminum.

I started to think about the bottom vent and realized it's going to be damn hot under that firebowl while cooking.  I added a piece of 3" long scrap dowel as a cheap handle to the new vent cover.  I hit the wood with 2 coats of BBQ black to keep it from burning up.  

I then painted the leg black where the handle sits closest to when full open.  The way it is set up, the vent always closes to the left this way, and the painted leg marks full open, I sort of lucked out that it happened that way.  Painting the leg black as a reference helped a lot during cooking.

Step 9: Air management pt. 2 - vent cap/ash

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I had a small SS bowl in my scrap pile I used to use to hold juice/water on my Weber set up.  I decided to repurpose this bowl for a vent lid to keep ash away from the bottom vents during cooking.  I drilled 4 rows of holes with my drill press.  Neat didn't matter for this project, airflow did.  It took a bit to drill all these holes.  I also filed them down so there were no sharp edges.

I placed this drilled bowl (vent cap) open side down over the charcoal bowl's vent holes so the ash will stay out of the vent area, and fresh air will be drawn inside in all directions at the same time around the charcoal for better fire management. The large water dish will rest directly on top of this vent cap, which is a nice added bonus that helped keep the water boiling steadily during the cooking process by lifting it off the charcoal.

Step 10: 9 lb Boston Butt (BB)

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First, the whole BB was rubbed with brown mustard, and a dry rub to will be applied over it.  The roast weighs between 9-10 lbs. At an hour a pound we can plan to have this cooking for a minimum of 8 and maximum of about 11 hours.

Step 11: The rub

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This is my basic sugar based rub recipe.  I was out of brown sugar but we had an abundance of white on hand, so I improvised. White sugar wound up working very well.

Basic Rub Recipe:

1 c sugar
1/4 c salt
1 Tbsp Adobo
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp italian herb blend
2 Tbsp Chili powder
1 Tbsp cocoa/chipotle pepper mix
1 Tbsp of dried minced garlic
and a few other odd and ends from the spice cabinet.

Most of the spices we use in our rubs are sourced from penzey's. - they have amazing stuff.  They are also local for us in the KC Metro area.  Check them out, they do mail order, the 4-8oz bags of spices are your best bargain from them.

http://www.penzeys.com/

Step 12: Smoker ready to go

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I have everything ready to go, it's time to cap it off.  The first boston butt smoke in Meatbot starts!

I can tell within the first 5m that the next mod I'll be doing after this smoke session will be sealing the inside of the lid where it mates with the body of the smoker.  They sell a fireproof gasket kit for about $20.  Other than this, the smoker is working as it should.

Step 13: The first casualty - stock thermometer

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The recalibrated brinkmann thermometer failed miserably.  I took periodic temperature readings from the top vent with an instant read probe thermometer we had on hand.  It ready 225-240 out of the vent fairly consistently.  If the smoker got too hot I closed the bottom vent down halfway.  The top and bottom vent controls worked very well.

Step 14: First firebowl change out, a look at the meat

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After 3 hours we needed to change the coals and add more wood.  We can see the meat has a very nice color developing.  I took the vent off, dumped the firebowl into the charcoal chimney and shook out the ash, and dumped it back in with some fresh hickory lumps. Then back to the smoke, adding charcoal and hickory wood every 90m or so.  

The biggest issue you encounter with this sort of smoker is the need to constantly add water to the bowl from a boiling kettle.  I added about 4 boiling kettles (about 3gal) to the water bowl over the course of a 7-8 hour cook.  Luckily you can easily access the waterbowl from the front door, and if you are careful water can be added to the bowl from here.


Step 15: Meat at 5 hours, 6 hours

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5 hours into smoke.  Then 6 hours in.  Note color change.  We did a second firebowl change at 6 hours.

Step 16: Texas Crutch, Igloo treatment.

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The cooking temperature stalled after 7 hours at 155 degrees, so I did the texas crutch.  I wrapped the BB in 2 layers of heavy duty foil, added 1/2 a cup of apple cider vinegar and sealed the pork BB up.  I removed the water bowl from the smoker, and added 15 fresh briquettes.  I sealed the smoker up with vents on full open for the next 90m and let convection finish the cooking.

The BB was pulled from smoker reading an internal temperature of 198.  We tossed the foil wrapped BB in a small Igloo cooler for an hour to rest.  The Igloo treatment can now begin, which will finish off any cooking and bring the juices back evenly into the entire BB.

Step 17: Voila! Meatbot delivers.

10 hours of smoky goodness at work here. Smoke ring 1/2" deep.  The keel bone wiggled a bit and pulled out cleanly. Overall my family and I were really happy with Meatbot and the BBQ it produced.  Thanks for reading my first Instructables listing.

Any questions?  steamcrunk@kc.rr.com // re:Meatbot  check me out on Tumblr: http://docsteamcrunk.tumblr.com
scottaco1 year ago
I have an unused smoker that was here when I moved in over 7 years ago. When I seen an instructable using one, I had to click on it. I admit I didn't know what to expect. You sir, just blew me away! Not only did you refab that beautifully, you gave me a lot of insight on what I've been missing out on by not learning to use the one I have.
Steamcrunk (author)  scottaco1 year ago
I encourage it. I bought mine and it took me over 2 mos of staring at it in the garage before I said, 'OK...lets do this...:"

Meatbot was a lesson that showed me it's surprisingly easy to see what you can do in a modestly equipped shop.
dix-huit1 year ago
Thanks again for this post. I'm now practically glued to http://www.reddit.com/r/smoking thanks to you!

I'm now about to embark on a similar project with a Brinkmann Smoke 'n' Grill that's rusting in my garden. I have a few questions if you have time to answer:

1) My original smoker is an open bottomed design, just like yours. From what I've read, this makes for pretty poor fire management and therefore makes regulating/controlling heat a bit of a pain. How much did raising the fire bowl & adding the bottom vent seem to counter this if at all?

2) Do you have any other ideas about addressing the point above regarding fire management in an open bottomed design?

3) Inside mine, it seems that the water bowl can hook onto the "shelf" that the lower grill would sit on, making it unnecessary to sit the water bowl on top of the coals or on your neat little vent cap. I'll probably leave it this way as I can refill water via the door still. In your opinion, would this work or is there a specific need to have the water bowl so near to the fire bowl (does it require a higher heat)? Of course, I'd have to come up with an alternative solution to keeping the vent cap in place.

4) I'm considering adding a grill to my fire bowl to help keep ash & charcoal/wood separate (to stop the ash potentially choking the fire). You're clearly a man with a plan so I'm surprised that you didn't do this too and was wondering if you had a specific reason that I've missed or that you've not included?

Sorry for all the questions but your source smoker just seems so similar to mine - you seem like the perfect chap to ask!

Thanks again.
Steamcrunk (author)  dix-huit1 year ago
I'll try to answer in order as best I can:

1. the open bottom was a concern for me, but it seems to work as well as something with a bottom "cap". I was able to maintain temperatures pretty well. (+/-25-50 degrees)

2. The lack of a bottom doesn't mean there's a tight seal, but there's a very narrow gap between the firebowl and the smoker body. Since heat rises and pulls air in from the bottom,, it doesn't matter if it's through the vent or the gap between the two. Long story short, you adjust your bottom and top damper to compensate.

3. You can leave a water bowl hooked to the smoker body, but removing the smoker from the firebowl will be easier if the waterbowl and firebowl are together, as in my setup.

4. I want a grill grate for the firebowl have been looking for a 9-10" grill grate to do just that. I haven't found one yet, but will add one when the cheapest one appears in the shop via garage sale or curb find.

If you don't have a grate you can use some lengths of 1/2" rolled up coils of aluminum foil to get some air under the coals, but honestly, after 80-120m the bowl is already filling high with ash if it's burning correctly.
Splendid. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply in such detail.

Regarding point 3, that's a very good point about making it easier to lift the smoker up off the fire bowl. I think'll opt for a similar setup there then.

Ordered my tinsnips, sheet aluminium and welding gloves! :D
Steamcrunk (author)  dix-huit1 year ago
I should mention for people reading this, if you reverse the legs as I did (and many others do when modding this smoker) you lose the ability to attach the water bowl to the smoker body. When the legs are in their stock position, the water bowl rests on the extended metal of the legs. Reversing the legs removes this function, but allows the entire smoker to be lifted off the firebowl AND waterbowl.
Steamcrunk (author) 1 year ago
Thank You Instructables for giving my entry first prize on the weekend projects contest. My entire family and I are honored and thank everyone who appreciated this Instructables entry. I hope my future entries are as well received as this one as. Peace.
jaysum0251 year ago
SWEET MOD!!!
Steamcrunk (author)  jaysum0251 year ago
Thank you!
poofrabbit1 year ago
Hey congratulations on being a finalist in the weekend projects contest!
Steamcrunk (author)  poofrabbit1 year ago
Thanks, I had no idea I was even in the running until it was announced that I won!
agis681 year ago
man please send me a good size piece of this yammy ham!!!!love it
Steamcrunk (author)  agis681 year ago
That tickles my heart when people want to taste it. Thanks!
Bowtie411 year ago
A friend gave me a complete Deer leg quarter I think I'd like to try to smoke,since the wife isn't fond of deer.Since I've never used my smoker before,any ideas from other readers on cooking temp/time?Thanks in advance!
Steamcrunk (author)  Bowtie411 year ago
I'd look for a brine recipe for the venison. Then smoke with a strongly flavored wood tempered 50/50 with a fruitwood. Maybe Butternut and cherry, or Mesquite and Cherry, Hickory & Cherry. I think spicing it in a brine ahead of time might temper some of the game flavors down.

You might also make venison jerky. You could also butterfly the leg quarter off the bone, roll it up with rosemary sprigs inside, tie it with butcher's string to make a venison butt roast. Check the web for recipes, there are a lot of different angles for spice/smoke recipes.
Bowtie411 year ago
Can you explain exactly what the Texas Crutch/Igloo treatment is/does?I have a smoker I have never used,and all of this is new to me.Thanks!Meat looks great and gives me inspiration!
Steamcrunk (author)  Bowtie411 year ago
texas crutch keeps the meat from drying out. If the temp of your meat stalls for too long at a certain temperature, dryness can occur. Wrapping it in 2 layers of foil and adding liquid (beer, apple juice, vinegar, etc.) and placing it back on the heat keeps dry heat out, and so it finishes cooking to 190-210 by braising inside the foil.

The Igloo treatment allows the meat to slowly cool. You always want any cooked meat to rest for 10m minimum to finish cooking and evenly redistribute the meat's juices throughout the entire cut of meat. The idea with the igloo is it allows for carryover temperture (the meat keeps cooking for the hour its resting while slowly cooling) and allows the juices to settle in the cut so the entire thing is juicy.

http://www.amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/texas_crutch.html

dix-huit1 year ago
Really inspiring post - thanks so much. I have exactly the same model rusting in my garden, left by the house's previous tenants.

Any tips for reading resources regarding the actual operation & cooking side of things. Never used a smoker in my life.
Steamcrunk (author)  dix-huit1 year ago
http://www.reddit.com/r/smoking/
http://www.amazingribs.com/
Jubbly. Thanks again.
Remag12341 year ago
Never run out of brown sugar. 1 Cup of regular sugar, add 1 tablespoon of molasses and mix well. Add more molasses if you want darker sugar. Never worry about rock hard brown sugar again.
Steamcrunk (author)  Remag12341 year ago
you should make an instructable on this. :)
nanaverm1 year ago
This may encourage our family to use the smoker like this that I bought used for $10 about 6 years ago and never got up the gumption to try. Thanks a lot!
Steamcrunk (author)  nanaverm1 year ago
Yes! that will be amazing and your family will love you for it. My son is 5, and the smell of Hickory or Mesquite or Apple wood burning makes him yell "MMMMMMMMMMMMMM!" because he knows something good is about to follow that smell in the near future.
Remag12341 year ago
When you need Brown Sugar just add 1 tablespoon of Molasses to 1 Cup of Regular sugar. Add more molasses if you want darker sugar. Never worry about rock hard brown sugar again.
Steamcrunk (author)  Remag12341 year ago
My wife told me the same thing, I was worried the molasses would have borked up the dry rub so I forwent it.
I've used it for years in everything that required brown sugar and never had a problem. As you know brown sugar hardens after opening the package, I make enough for the recipe so that is never a problem.
Steamcrunk (author)  Remag12341 year ago
thanks, you've convinced me. I'll give it a whirl next time (and spare my wife the underhanded glares when she suggests it).
fzbw9br1 year ago
looks good

the only question I have is, What is a Keel Bone?

Steamcrunk (author)  fzbw9br1 year ago
In all likelihood this was me messing up chicken and pork terminology. the bone I pulled from the roast was just a flat bone (that looked like a sailboat's keel board -- eg. http://sailingbuzzardsbay.frankgerry.com/img/keel.jpg). I pulled this bone from the second BB from my 2-pack cryobag ater cooking, I think it was the lower section of the BB.

tl;dr: There's a bone on a chicken called the keel bone, I think I was waxing poetic when I referred to the bone I pulled from the pork BB as the 'keel bone'..
Steamcrunk (author) 1 year ago
Hey everyone, thanks so much for the comments and questions. It's been a real genuine surprise and honor being featured here.
Awesome instructable. Makes me want to comb the garage sales this weekend to find one of my own. Maybe I can paint it purple & gold and sell it to a LSU tailgater for big $$$!
Steamcrunk (author)  Whitey Whitney1 year ago
My friends in Tennessee said I got the VOLS colors wrong.
mhgarten1 year ago
For your first instructable I was impressed you kept every step included and detailed enough to help without being too technical. great job and looks awesome! can't wait to try my hand at a meatbot sometime
Steamcrunk (author)  mhgarten1 year ago
Thanks. I wanted to submit this to the BBQ contest but was a day late remembering the entrry time. I was really happy they featured it here.
zap19981 year ago
Nice job. I like how you included the goof ups and improvements along the way.
Steamcrunk (author)  zap19981 year ago
I think what you learn along the way is as important as a problem free build. I was really psyched about recalibrating the stock thermometer for example, but it was just a dismal failure when put into action. This is also where we all shine, when we find creative solutions on the fly that complete the task at hand. Thank you for your comment.