So, you find yourself with a dilemma for your next backyard BBQ; a grill or a smoker …. Which one will it be? How about both! Yes, many grills can be used as a smoker, and many smokers can grill, but this little baby is a true grill, then add a belly section to it and you have yourself a fantastic little smoker!!
This design is not new, it is based on the Weber Smokey Joe portable grill, but it is such a fantastic project that it needs to be told here! Before we start, however, please understand that this Instructable utilizes power tools and has sharp objects. Please familiarize yourself with all the relevant safety features of your equipment and wear the proper personal protective equipment.
Let’s start with a material list, shall we? Actually, let’s talk about the grill we are going to use. There are two versions of the Weber Smokey Joe grill, and either will work for this Instructable, but I find the Premium (or Gold) to be better for a smoker and here is why. The regular version has the incoming air vent on the bottom of the bowl of the grill. While this is OK for a quick cook of a steak or burger, it quickly gets clogged with ash during a nice 4-5 hour smoke of your favorite wings or bacon wrapped fatty. The Premium version has vent holes on either side of the bowl for a nice air flow over the top of your charcoal that won’t get clogged over a nice long cook. Just my 2 cents.
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Step 1: The Meat
Material list: I will list Amazon or Lowe's links, but these items should be available at local stores near you, in the U.S. at least. The best part is that if you already have the grill, you can use it for this smoker with no modifications and it still works perfectly well as a grill!!
- 1 each - 14.5” Smokey Joe portable grill
- 2 each (in addition to the one with the grill) - Weber 7431 Cooking Grate
- 1 each - 32 quart tamale pot (IMUSA works really well and is the perfect size, but there are several others that will work)
- 1 each - BBQ thermometer
- 12 each - 10-24 stainless steel hex nuts
- 6 each - #10 stainless steel split lock washers
- 6 each – 10-24 x ¾” stainless steel machine screws
- 6 each – 10-24 stainless steel acorn nuts
- 1 each – 10” clay plant saucer
- Jigsaw with thin metal cutting blade
- Drill with 3/16”, 3/8” and 15/16” bits
- Screwdriver – Phillips
- Wrench or pliers
- Metal file
- Flexible tape measure
- Marking pen
- Masking tape (optional)
- High heat spray paint (optional)
Step 2: The Marinade
The first step of this Instructable is to assemble the grill, if needed. I won’t go into the details of this, the manufacturer has provided their own mini Instructable in the box, so we will move on to the next part of the build, creating some airways.
There are several schools of thought about this step; imagine that! Some people advocate opening up the entire bottom of the tamale pot to allow the heat and smoke from the burn bowl to the smoke chamber, and this may work well, but I feel the heat may cause some deflection in the metal and warp the pot a bit.
In the past I have built one of these and drilled many large holes in the bottom. Which works well but I feel it impedes the airflow a bit, plus is a bit of a pain to smooth out the edges of the holes. What I have decided on for this build is to take out quarter sections of the bottom to maximize airflow, keep some rigidity and minimize effort in the cleanup.
I decided on a 12” diameter circle with 1-1/4” bands of metal remaining across the middle. Mark your circle and cross bands, drill 3/8” holes in each corner as a nice place for your jigsaw blade to start and finish, then proceed to cut along the lines.
Take a metal file to the edges and maybe some sandpaper to knock down any rough edges and the bottom is complete!
Step 3: The Rub
By this time, you have probably already checked to see if the cooking grate fits in the tamale pot, which it does like a dream! You may have noticed also that the grate rests on the ledge for the tamale steam rack perfectly, which is going to serve as our shelf for the clay heat diffuser: one shelf down!!
We still need to have two more cooking grates in the pot for our food. Take your flexible tape and determine the circumference of the outside of the pot, which in my case is right at 43-3/4”. If you don’t have a flexible tape, wrap a piece of string around the pot, mark where it crosses and measure the string!
I want my supports at 3 locations around the pot so I measure and mark spots just over 14-1/2”, trying to keep one of them in the middle section between the handles. They will work anywhere, but this will allow the thermometer to be lined up with the rests and centered. My OCD needs this!
Next, I marked spots in each of the 3 locations that are 2-1/2” and 6-1/2” down from the top lip. On the center location I also marked a spot 4-1/2” down for the thermometer hole. Now just drill a 3/16” hole at the 6 rest locations and a 15/16” hole at the thermometer spot. That’s it! The hard stuff is done!!
Step 4: Time for Smoke
If you are planning on painting the tamale pot, which looks really good and can be customized with your favorite logo or letter, now is the time. Since I am building this as a gift and want it to look nice and finished, I am going to paint the pot a gloss black. Be sure to clean the pot thoroughly to remove any manufacturing oils, and use a high heat paint, such as a grill paint or engine paint. The smoker will function perfectly without painting, it just adds a nice touch when you show it off to your friends! Please follow all the instructions on your paint and allow plenty of time to dry/cure. You will not regret it!
Now just set up the 6 bolts in the order shown with 2 each of the hex nuts and a lock washer on the inside, and the acorn cap on the outside of the pot. Install one in each of the six 3/16” holes you drilled. Tighten the acorn nut down all the way first, then tighten the hex nuts up against the inside of the pot. This will provide a large, strong rest for the grate and your precious morsels of smoky goodness.
Finally, install the thermometer in the 15/16” hole and tighten to secure.
That’s it! The construction is complete!
Step 5: Thin Blue Smoke
Now, I bet you are wondering what the clay saucer is for…. This will act as a heat diffuser to create even heat in the chamber, and as a heat sink, to hold heat and keep the temperature stable when you open the chamber to check your meat. In previous builds I have used a 12” saucer, but I feel this blocks a little too much air flow, so I decided to use a 10” saucer for this project. I have also found that wrapping the saucer in foil helps tremendously with cleanup.
To assemble and use your new smoker, place the charcoal grate in the bottom bowl, then place the tamale pot on the bottom bowl. One of the cooking grates rests on the bottom ledge in the tamale pot, which the clay saucer sits on. Next put another cooking grate on the bottom set of stainless steel rests, followed by the final cooking grate on the top set. You will need to work the lower grates around the upper rests, but they will all fit! Obviously, you won’t need to use both grates if you are only smoking one item, but what fun is that!!
There are tons of articles on the web related to the best method of charcoal configuration to use with these smokers; try looking up the minion method or the snake method. I personally like the donut, where you place a mix of charcoal and smoke wood in a donut around the outer edge of the bowl with an empty core in the middle. Then fire up 10-12 briquettes in a starter chimney and place it in the middle of the donut, which will slowly catch and burn to the outer edges over the next few hours.
Step 6: Let It Rest
That’s about it for this Instructable. Since this smoker is a gift for someone, I won’t fire up the actual one I built, but have included pictures using a previous build of the same model to show it in operation. Truly the best part about this style is the ability to remove the tamale pot and use the grill as it was originally intended. This portable grill/smoker goes on every camping trip and tailgate we attend. It is truly indispensable!!
Thanks for hanging out to the end of this thing! Pig out forever!!
If you like what you saw here, feel free to check out some of my other Instructables!! Thanks!
Second Prize in the