The easy to make, cost effective smoker tray that I bent into shape in minutes from some sheet metal serves my casual rib making needs very well and couldn't be simpler to use. While it's no custom full fledge meat smoker, it does make A LOT of smoke and help me turn out one of my favorite foods - BBQ ribs.
Step 1: Design a Metal Tray
The goal was to create a simple metal reusable tray that would hold wood chips above the bbq flame element in order to create smoke.
I used some old sheet metal to create the chip tray. Mark the dimensions of the box, in my case 20" wide x 4" deep x 1 1/2" tall. 1 1/2" is about the max height that the tray can be so that it still fits underneath the grill grates and 20" is the width of the interior of my grill.
The sheet metal will be folded up just like a cardboard box, so mark the bottom of the tray and the four walls. The four 1 1/2" corners that remain will be cut off.
Step 2: Jump Shear to Size
Step 3: Remove Corners
Step 4: Sheet Metal Brake (Bender)
Step 5: Bend Short Sides
With a little finesse it's actually a darn effective way to create the bend. While the bend wasn't quite as crisp as the metal brake bends in the previous step, it looks pretty much the same.
Step 6: Soak Wood Chips
I'm using pretty small chips here. Bigger chunks of wood will definitely smoke for longer amounts of time, but the catch is that they don't fit inside the BBQ all that easily. Small chips it is.
Step 7: Fill Tray With Soaked Chips
Drain the soaking wood chips and fill the chip tray.
I chose put the tray on the front burner (my BBQ has one in the front and one in the back).
Step 8: Replace Grill Grates
I bet you see where I'm going with this now...
Step 9: Low Indirect Heat
I made the chip tray only 4" deep so that they're be plenty of room behind it for the ribs. I recently read that it's not great to put the meat directly on top of the smoking chips...I'm sure this warning is very much up for debate.
In about 20 minutes once the tray reaches temperature, you'll see the wood chips start to smoke. That's the cue for throwing on the meat.
Step 10: Smoke Meats
Take the meat off the grill, remove the grates, dump the spent wood chips, fill with new chips, replace the grates, and finally, replace the ribs.
All in all I'd say that this approach is the best thing I've come up with to create a a poor man's smoker. After trying Mark Bitman's oven smoked ribs recipe, which I recreated on Instructables, attempting a version similar to what I've outline in this Instructable with disposable aluminum baking dishes and tin foil, and now this, I can definitely say that this DIY smoker method works the best.
I've got a ceramic bbq project slated for Spring 2013 which will hopefully provide me with a great backyard smoker/pizza oven/bbq grill, but until then, this works pretty darn good.