Introduction: From Vent Tab to Safe Handle: Easy Upgrade for Weber Smokey Joe Grill
Sometimes it's the simple things that get tossed to the side for "higher priority" tasks. In this case, I've been putting off adding these nifty little handles to the vent tabs on my Smokey Joe since I picked it up secondhand for 5$ two years ago. It was an upgrade I identified immediately and would remember every single time I had to adjust the bottom vent (mostly to end the cook) and have to go looking for my bbq glove or a utensil of some sort that I could use to tap the vent closed. But then I would forget when I was enjoying whatever I had just cooked up!
When I would remember outside of grilling, I didn't want to spend any money. Why would I go spending 3$ on knobs for a 5$ grill? But I hate messing around with the metal tabs unless I'm in my bbq gloves and sometimes they're just not next to you when you need them. I figured I would make the knobs for the handle from scrap wood but as time went on, I realised for the amount I love the grill, 3$ was more than worth it since I hadn't gotten around to making the knobs.
So I caved and bought the knobs but they still sat waiting to be installed for almost a year just because there always seemed to be something else to do and gosh it's not the end of the world to go looking for the gloves for the sake of safety is it? But what if for one second you're just not thinking about the heat and you reach for that tab underneath the grill anyway, without the gloves or any utensil? Well you get burnt, that's what! And then you get your act together and add the infinitely simple handles that you should have two years ago.
So here's how I added handles to my little engine that could of a grill (after my thumb and forefinger stopped throbbing a couple days after burning).
All you need material wise for this project is a knob, a bolt and a matching nut.
- Knob - Look in the cabinet section of your hardware store. The choice of knob is entirely up to you. I went with wood because it's good for insulating against the heat that might be conducted through the bolts but you could find a heat resistant phenolic handle as well which would be a nice choice but make sure it's heat resistant. I am very happy with my 1.50$ knobs. (Alternatively, you could use wood beads if you have any kicking around. You could also fashion your own knob as I initially planned to do. Just cut some wood into a square or cut a piece of dowel and round one edge.)
- Bolts - I used a 3" bolt for the top (this had a Philips head) and a 6" bolt for the bottom vent (this was a carriage bolt) mine were both 1/4" that I had on hand and happily weren't so long that they would extend well past the grill.
- Nuts - match the thread of your bolts, easy peasy.
Note: you can certainly add washers to your heart's content but I just didn't feel the need.
For tools, all you need is a drill and drill bits to corresponding to your bolt thickness. A center punch and some machinist oil would be great to lubricate while drilling and I just used 3in1 motor oil and a nicely pointed screw to score the metal for this.
Step 1: "Tap" Your Knobs
The hole in my knobs wasn't quite large enough to fit the bolts so I just reamed them out a bit with a drill bit that was slightly smaller that the threads of the bolt. This is a great task for a drill press, but for those of us without one you just need to take your time.
Not pictured here, is the other hand I used to hold the knob in place. If you want to be 100% careful, go ahead and find a clamp to hold it steady. (I would, if I were to do it over but if we're being honest, sometimes we forget when something seems simple enough.)
Once you've opened up the hole, just thread the bolt on to check that it's wide enough for the bolt to go in but still have some bite and widen as necessary or move on to the next step.
Step 2: "Tap" Your Vent Tabs
You're not actually tapping these in the sense that you are adding a thread for the bolts to use but you are drilling a hole for the bolt to pass through.
To do this, I first emptied the grill of any leftover coals and the grates and removed the ash tray. You could apply masking tape or some other covering near the drilling area to help guard against scratching the grill's surface when the bit makes it through the tab but I didn't bother.
For the bottom, I turned the grill over and rest the bowl on a piece of cardboard to prevent scratching the rim and for the lid, I held it upright with the tab against some scrap wood.
Use your centre punch to create a divot where you can start your drill bit and prevent it from "walking". Add a drop of oil to the divot. Now drill carefully through the tab.
Step 3: Install Your Nifty Handle and Put the Grill Back Together
For each vent, push your bolt through the hole in the vent tab, secure your matching nut to the other side and thread the knob onto the bolt's end. Now you've got a safe handle for adjusting your vents!
Put your grill back together and admire your handiwork or better yet, fire the little guy up and get dinner ready.
As mentioned earlier, the length of bolts I chose (3" for top and 6" for the bottom) mean that the handles do not exceed the "footprint" of the grill and my cover fits just fine with no protrusions from the handles.
I'm really glad I finally got around to this even if I feel silly for needing a literal (minor) burn to get me going but at least it's done now and my wife can rest easy too.
Hope you found this helpful for your own grilling situation. It really is such a simple fix for such high impact - the best kind of upgrade.
Thanks for reading!
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