Intro: The No-Weld Double-Barrel Smoker (and How to Use It)
If you're anything like me, you have probably run into this problem:
1.) I need to smoke meat. (Not want... Need.)
2.) I have no concept of how to weld, and acetylene torches might as well be magic wands.
3.) I'm cheap.
(Well, as we'll later find out, maybe not so much on the last one...)
Meat smoking has been around for centuries, possibly as long as mankind has been alive. Originally used for fish, its primary function was believed to have been to keep flies away from the drying meat. Despite our primitive understanding of the fly reproduction cycle, we still figured out that flies make stuff rot... Rotting was bad... And flies didn't like smoke. This later lead to the preservation of many different kinds of meat through smoking.
Early smoking would have been as simple as hanging the meat near a fire, and then every time the wind changed, swearing out loud and going to move the drying rack. As time went on and we learned how to do much more advanced things (such as brewing beer) we would have advanced to the phase of swearing, then telling the kids to go move the drying rack. Eventually we learned how to build structures and the smokehouse was born, but swearing is still a long and time honored tradition with barbeque.
With the advent of the smokehouse, smoking of large amounts of meat could be done by a single family, enabling them to put away a surplus of food for harder times. Unfortunately, not everyone could afford to build a smokehouse, and as time went on, not everyone would even want to. Keeping a smokehouse going required a significant amount of wood and effort, and became obsolete as soon as grocery stores and refrigeration were available to the common man.
At some point, a man that will henceforth be referred to as "Jesus" realized that with a "smoker" we could have the flavor of smoked food combined with the convenience of a grill and the BBQ Smoker was born.
It may not have really happened that way, but that's how I like to remember it.
In all reality, the invention of "barbeque" is a mystery. Some attribute the word to the French term "barbe a queue" meaning "Beard to Tail", while others say it comes from the Caribbean Taino Indian word "barbacoa" - which basically means a meat-smoking apparatus such as a "smoker." In fact, the Taino barbacoa would eventually lead to Mexico's form of barbacoa that is a mouth-watering slow-cooked mess of beef or goat (typically from the head, or more specifically the "cheeks" of the animal) which should be another instructable all by itself. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. With America being the melting pot that it is, the Taino "barbacoa" and the French "barbe a queue" were likely to have been merged to refer to the type of cooking that made every part of the animal delicious.
In America, the barbeque, like almost everything considered truly American, originated with the cowboys. On long cattle drives, they were often left with the "garbage" hunks of meat such as the brisket and ribs. These cuts would have either had little meat on them, or been incredibly lean resulting in very tough hunks when cooked traditionally. It's little surprise then that they're the very cuts of meat that have become the staple of today's barbeque. A cattle drive's "cookie" (the resident cook) would travel quickly ahead of the herd in his canvas chuck (food) wagon, and choose the evening's camp site far ahead of the cowboys. He'd immediately get started setting up shop, and begin slow cooking the cheap meats (and beans) to make them more palatable to the cowboys when they arrived for dinner. This is also where we get baked beans, corn bread, and most of the other things we associate with a good barbeque.
Today when you mention "barbeque" people will think about throwing a hotdog or a couple burgers on the grill. But if you invite me to a "barbeque" and there's not some sort of slow-smoked meat involved, I'll hope you step on a Lego.
So an important note about this build: If you want a "set it and forget it" smoker, this is NOT the smoker for you!
This grill does not have a thermostat or propane (I suppose someone a bit handier than me could add that, though). This is a raw charcoal and wood burner, which means everything from the outdoor temperature, to the wind, to whether or not the sun is behind a cloud will impact the temperature inside the smoke chamber. You will have to babysit this smoker (about every half hour) for the entire 10+ hours that you're smoking! Make sure you understand this before you try building the thing then telling me it doesn't work. This is the nature of this design (and I'd argue every design using wood and charcoal).
Step 1: Do Your Research.
For a project the size of a double-barrel smoker, you'll want to make your plans in advance. (If you decide to go with my plans, then this step is already done for you!)
So start with your research. Fortunately for me, I had some help. (Image 1)
When it comes to good smoking there are two major factors involved. First, and foremost, the temperature. Good temperature control is a must when it comes to smoking foods. For this reason, I opted to spend the extra $60 on firebricks to help stabilize and maintain the temperatures. This also lead me to the double-barrel design. If I need to throw extra coals on the fire, or extra wood, I wouldn't have to open the container with the meat and upset the temperature. Additionally, by placing the fire box directly below the upper barrel the heat will naturally travel upwards, which should theoretically reduce the amount of charcoal necessary to maintain a good solid temperature.
Second is the smoke itself. This is down to preference (I prefer oak/hickory) but there's little doubt that you need to keep the smoke in contact with the meat as much as possible, particularly during the first hours of the process (but that's later). This is why I opted for a low-set chimney in my design, instead of the chimney sticking out of the top like you'll see in most low-end ($600 or less) smokers.
After shopping around for various smokers, it soon became obvious that in order to get a quality smoker with the features I wanted, I would have to spend $800 and up. I didn't like the designs with the firebox offset to the side, the chimneys directly on the top, or in the worse case scenario, the single barrel smokers that required you to remove the meat in order to add charcoal or wood to the fire. And so, it came time to tweak my own based on a number of the double-barrel designs I'd found online.
Step 2: The Plan
After digging around a bit on the internet, I saw a common theme emerging. A lot of people had created a lot of different kinds of smokers, but virtually all of them required welding, and none of them seemed to cover everything I wanted in a single design.
My requirements, in order of importance.
1.) No welding.
2.) Truly smoke the food. This isn't just a grill.
3.) Allow for full control of the temperature of the food during the smoking process.
4.) Purchase as little as possible.
5.) Don't look tacky.
So this is the design I came up with. As you can see in Image 2, the idea is to have two types of control over the smoker. Smoke, and heat. By separating the burner into a second barrel that sits beneath the first, this greatly simplifies my ability to control both. By adding bricks (firebricks are a must) to the design, I will be able to retain heat and much more easily regulate the temperature of the smoker by adjusting the amount of Oxygen (air) that I let in to the "Oxygen Vent" (Image 1). Check on #2 and #3.
The entire unit is held together with just a dozen bolts, not counting those on the hinges or handles. The hinges worked out to two dozen bolts, and the handles are only 4 more. Add one more bolt for the Oxygen Vent, and you're looking at just over 3 dozen bolts, nuts, and washers. The vent pipe is just regular galvanized piping, and the rest, we'll get to later. But all said and done, not counting the barrels, you shouldn't be out more than $150 in parts. So "check" for points #1 and #4.
As for #5, well... That's a matter of opinion... So far my price breakdown looks like this:
Barrels: $20 x 3 ($60)
FireBricks: $2 x 28 plus tax ($60)
Throw in the cost of some broken jigsaw bits and some odds and ends, and this smoker is still going to run me in the $300 range. If you can get your barrels for free, that will significantly cut down on your costs.
Step 3: Materials - the Barrels
My barrels set me back about $60 ($20 a piece), but I was fortunate enough to find a farmer that was suspiciously buying hundreds of gallons of honey from overseas.
So why would I suspect this farmer that sold me the barrels would be suspicious? Well, look at the labels. Groeb Farms was one of the many major honey suppliers in the U.S. that have recently gotten busted doing this. (They only received a slight slap on the wrist). I've blocked the name/address of the farmer to protect the probably guilty, but I've digressed...
On the up-side, this means the barrels I'd gotten had contained food-grade stuff and I wouldn't have to worry about them having previously been filled with liquid kryptonite or anything.
According to user Luny:
They're absolutely right, and I should've pointed this out up front. Unless the barrels have had food-grade stuff in them, you don't want to take the chance. Even using a torch to completely burn every bit of paint off the barrel, sanding the entire thing, then giving it a good wash in denatured alcohol before painting it with stove paint wouldn't be enough for me to be comfortable if it had a toxic chemical in it. Keep in mind that your food will spend an entire day in these barrels in some cases. It's gotta be food grade.
My only suggestion would be to include a caveat to ONLY use barrels that are food grade and certainly nothing that has ever contained any kind of chemicals.
Penny helped load and unload them.
Step 4: Materials - Firebricks
I'll give the firebricks their own page because I can't stress enough how important they are, but they're the first place people will skimp when trying to cut corners.
First, there's the temptation to try and use regular bricks. Don't even bother. Bricks aren't really "baked" anymore, but are instead made by pressing concrete together at high pressures with a resin to bind them. This makes them perfectly suited for most brick-related projects, but utterly useless for stoves that will get in excess of 600 degrees. As the bricks heat up, the resin starts to break down and you'll quickly be left with a pile of concrete that's now an un-brick.
Firebricks are fired in a kiln at high temperatures and specifically made to withstand the heat of a stove. What's more, they're sometimes actually cheaper than regular bricks anyway. I ended up spending $2 per brick at Allied Concrete (there happened to be one within driving distance). My design required 28 bricks, so all said and done, taking taxes and gas into account, the bricks ran me about $60.
The firebricks will do four awesome things for you:
1.) For starters, they will prevent the bottom of your stove from getting so hot that it will cause your deck to burst into flame, which is generally considered undesirable. The bricks will hold the fire high enough up that the base of the stove will actually stay below the 200oF range even when the firebox itself is well over 600oF. (My thermometer couldn't measure higher than that.)
2.) The bricks will retain heat, making it much easier to regulate your temperatures when adding wood or coals, and preventing drastic fluctuations in the upper barrel. You will also find that you have incredible control over the temperature now, able to adjust your air vents to get control down to a SINGLE DEGREE on your smoker! Try doing THAT with anything other than a propane smoker!
3.) The bricks will allow you to control the smoke flow, optimizing the amount of smoke contact that the food has.
4.) By preventing the fire from burning directly on the fire barrel's metal surface, and preventing the "seasonings" (drippings from the food) to pool up on the bottom surface of the smoke barrel, the barrels will take a much longer time to rust, significantly increasing the life of the smoker. Theoretically, if you keep an eye on the smoker and keep a can of stove paint handy, this thing should last a lifetime.
I can't stress enough, don't skip the bricks. You'll regret it.
Step 5: Materials - the Rest
Eye protection is another must-have. As you cut up the barrels (remember, no welding here) there will be fine metal debris flying around that you definitely do not want to get embedded in your cornea.
Finally, you need to be wearing something that's barbeque related to build a smoker... This was the best I had, unfortunately. :(
Now on to your shopping list:
For starters, make sure every metal you buy from bolts to nuts to washers to hinges is stainless steel. As your grill heats up, you do not want to vaporize the zinc or lead from galvanized metals and marinate your meat with it. You may have heard some alarmists arguing that "stainless steel releases chromium and nickel when heated!" but you can rest assured that the studies simply don't support that argument. Additionally, even if there was the chance of contact particulates, nothing will be in direct contact with the stainless steel, so you needn't worry. On the other hand, lead doesn't even vaporize until 3,180 oF, so while you may be able to argue that you'd probably be safe enough using galvanized, this brings me to my next point: Stainless steel doesn't rust.
You'll find throughout my build, almost everything (other than the barrels themselves) is aluminum or stainless where possible. This should (theoretically) significantly increase the life of the smoker.
The only thing I'd really want to stress about the materials is the paint that's used for the stove. Before and after the initial burn, you'll paint your stove to prevent rust. Make sure to keep an eye on the temperature that your paint can withstand. Anything less than 1200 oF is not sufficient.
So basically your parts list breaks down like this:
28 - Fire Bricks
4 - Square Aluminum Tubes (96" long, 1" square) (Image 3)
1 - Flat Aluminum Bar (to make the handles)
4 - Stainless Steel hinges for the doors
1 - Tiny hinge for the damper
2 - Thermometers. (Optional if you're going to do the digital thing I show later.)
2 - Tubes of pure silicone caulking (rated to 500 degrees minimum.)
2 - Tubes of high-temp stove sealant (rated to 800 degrees minimum.)
3 - Cans of 1200 degree stove paint.
1 - Large duct cap (to use as a damper)
1 - Chimney pipe (I used 5" duct pipe)
1 - Elbow for chimney (I used... Don't know exactly what it's called. Look at the picture.)
8 - 1 1/4" long bolts (stainless steel) for attaching barrels to frame.
4 - 2 1/4" long bolts (stainless steel) for attaching frames to each other.
38 - 1" or shorter bolts (stainless steel) hinges, handles, etc.
50 - Stainless steel nuts (one for each bolt)
100 - Stainless steel washers (two for each bolt, except the damper hinges and bolts on the wooden handles, but the extras will be spacers under the hinges on the doors).
9' - Lightweight chain. Holds the chimney in place, as well as operates the damper.
1 - Tube of JB Weld. Somehow I always find a use for this stuff.
2 - Grids to put the food on, and to make the fire basket out of.
You'll also want two metal C-Clamps, but I won't include them in the shopping list, because it's not like you can't use them while you're not smoking. :)
You'll also need something to connect the flue. I just used a scrap piece of aluminum flashing. If you opt to use ducting, make sure you get the stuff for stoves, and not the zinc and galvanized stuff. The guy at Home Depot told me he was nearly hospitalized making a smoker with galvanized stuff.
Step 6: Tools
Now, one might think that it should go without saying that the tools you're going to be using should be rated to sand, drill, cut, and grind metals... But for some of us, it apparently does not go without saying.
If you're trying to cut corners, and you've got a lot of wood working equipment like me, then it may be tempting to try and use a wood drill bit to chew through the "thin" barrel, or a wood jigsaw blade to cut through it, coz hey, how bad could it be?
Take it from me, you'll still end up having to go back to the store and pick up some metal bits, except now you'll have a melted wood drill bit you have to throw away. Guess there's a reason for the saying, "The right tool for the job" and whatnot...
As for how to cut the barrels, I've tried using both the jigsaw, and the angle grinder, and I haven't decided which I prefer. The jigsaw gives a "cleaner" cut, but it's not as straight, and seems to take much longer. Plus I broke a bit every time I tried to use it. The angle grinder seemed to cut faster, but the edge of the cut was sloppier, if straighter. So this is really going to come down to preference.
Since you'll later have to use the angle grinder anyway, if you're running out to buy something just for the purpose of this build, you'll want to go with the grinder.
The hole saw is optional, but makes for a much "prettier" opening to your grill. It's strictly an aesthetic thing though, so if you don't already have a hole saw rated for metal then you don't have to bother unless you're as anal retentive as I am.
Step 7: Draw the Doors
For starters, use shims to make sure your barrel is level. (Image 1) This will help you make sure you draw a door that's straight.
Then, again using your level, draw your first line that's straight up and down (Image 2). Notice where I've got the "bung" of the barrel (the opening in the top). You need to pay close attention to this: You don't want the "bung" on the side you put your chimney, or it will get in the way. Every barrel also has a seam in it. You also want to make sure that when you go to cut the lid, that the lid itself does not fall across the barrel's seam. So choose the location for your lid carefully.
I'd decided for my smoker I wanted to have a very large opening so I drew the second line a good ways up from the first (Image 3).
Finally, turning the barrel back on its side, it's time to mark the "short" edges of the door. I wanted to come in 4 inches from the edge of the barrel, so used a square to measure it out, drawing some dotted lines (as can just barely be made out in Image 4).
Last but not least, since I wanted the aesthetic of rounded corners, I marked where I would cut with the hole saw. As I was using a 2" hole saw, I put a small "X" on the inside that's 1" from the sides of the door.
Step 8: Cut the Doors.
With everything marked up, it's time to take a deep breath, and start cutting. I always get nervous on the first cut. There's no turning back from here...
First, predrill a small hole to mark where you're going to use a hole saw. The hole saw will dance all over the place if you don't. And I won't have to remind you to use earplugs at this point, because the sound alone will be reminder enough. (Image 1) Don't mind the additional "X"'s that are on the barrel. I was explaining something to Sandy and was drawing on the barrel.
The next step is simply to drill the holes with the hole saw. Obviously, if you opt to skip the aesthetics, you don't have to do this. (Images 2 and 3)
Finally, with your rounded corners cut out, simply use your choice of jigsaw or angle grinder to cut the door out. Don't worry about chewing up the "inside" piece of barrel, as you won't be using much of it. (Image 4)
Now just rinse and repeat for your lower barrel (the fire box) door. Note that this door is much smaller, and shorter. I went just outside the "ribs" of the barrel for the width, and about 3 inches shorter than the upper door for the height. (Image 5)
Now's a good time for your first measurement to see how things are stacking up! (Image 6) Here I can get a general idea of how high the barrel should be, and at what angle the doors should be placed.
Step 9: Building the Frame
And now for the frame... Unfortunately, our camera decided not to play nice during this phase of the build, and I had to send Penny out to pick up some more batteries. As a result, there aren't any pictures of how we got to this stage.
Hopefully I can just explain it...
First, the bottom railing (the one that the bottom barrel sits on). All of my railings are made out of aluminum for both weight and the fact that it doesn't rust, but I don't know enough about heat tolerances to know if this was a smart choice. It did seem frighteningly easy to drill through, and cut, but we'll see...
So first measure the diameter of your barrel. Officially, a 55 gallon drum is just under 24" in diameter. You want to add an inch on each side for the upright bars (the legs) to attach to - for a total of 26" - and cut two "bottom" railings to that length. This is going to be the main support that the bottom barrel will sit on.
Find the exact center of the "bottom" of the barrel where it will rest on the railing. The center of the railing should be at the 13" mark, so drill a hole through both railings. Then sit the barrel on the railings and get it in the "right" position to find out where the holes should be for the barrel. Drill the two holes in the appropriate location in the bottom of the "fire" barrel.
I'll try to explain how I located the two spots to drill the holes in the bottom of the barrel:
1.) First, set the bottom barrel upright and level it off like I did to draw the door. Draw a line down about where the "bottom" of the barrel should be.
2.) Drill a hole about 3" from either end along that line
This should get you close enough for government work. Now simply attach the bottom railings to the bottom barrel with a couple of bolts, washers, and nuts. (Use washers everywhere. They give you more support from the bolt, and make for a cleaner seal.)
Now for the legs:
When I bought the square aluminum tubing, it came in 8' lengths. So I simply cut them in half for the legs. Then, from the "good" end (where I cut them was pretty sloppy) I measured 10" down and drilled a hole through the center of each of them.
Now, with the railings attached to the barrel, I picked the whole barrel up and propped it, upside down, on top another barrel (which was sitting upright.) Measuring from corner-to-corner of the railings, I made sure that the railings were square (if the distance from one corner to its diagonal corner is the same on both sides, the railings are square) and got out the legs.
I used my level to make sure the legs were straight up and down, and just pushed them flush against the barrel, and lined up the holes (already drilled in the legs) with the railings. Putting the drill through that hole, I marked where the holes would need to be for to attach the legs to the railing, then put the legs down, and drilled the holes.
Finally, after bolting the legs to the railings, I just eyeballed where the barrel and the legs met, and drilled the holes through the legs AND barrel and added the bolts to attach the legs directly to the front and back of the barrel.
I know it sounds complicated, but hopefully you can figure it out just from the picture. (Image 1)
With the basic frame in place, it was time to place the upper barrel on. (Images 2 & 3). After making sure the upper barrel was lined up correctly, I drilled the holes that would ultimately attach it to the frame, but I did not attach the bolts yet. Instead, I drew the square that would become the flue connecting the two barrels, and then drilled a hole in each corner of the square. (Image 4) This marks where the upper barrel's hole will be cut out.
You don't have to be horribly exacting here. Just eyeball it. If I were to go back and do it again, I would probably make the flue slightly larger than this. Maybe just an inch or two. I feel like it's a bit too restrictive at this size, and I may be needing to use a tad more wood than I would like.
Step 10: Cut the Flue
Remove the upper barrel completely and cut the hole for the flue. (Image 1)
Place the barrel back on top of the rig, and - making sure everything is lined up (put bolts in place, but don't put on washers or nuts - action shot at Image 2) trace where the flue hole should be on the bottom barrel. (Image 3)
Now, remove the top barrel again, and you'll have easy access to cut the hole for the flue in the bottom barrel. (Image 4)
Put the top barrel back in place, and bolt everything together. You should now have a hole that you'll be able to connect the two barrels together through. (Image 5)
Step 11: Air Vents
Before we finish attaching the flue, we need to lay our barrel on its side. (Sure, I suppose this could've been done at any time prior, but I don't feel like reordering the whole instructable...) Remember, reference your drawing often to make sure you're making all cuts and holes in the right spots. The air vents should go on the right-hand side of the bottom barrel.
Now there's no accurate way for me to tell you how to cut these holes. It's all going to depend on how well your bottom fire box is sealed, how well the flu is sealed, the size of the flu, and the size of your chimney, both diameter and height. There's just too many variables here to take into account. So the only way to get your air vents right is trial and error.
Start by drawing a grid on your barrel. (Image 1)
At every other intersection on the grid, drill a small hole, and then offset the row below it. I started with 1/4" holes until I had the grill dialed in. (Image 2)
When you first use the smoker - for the first burn even - you will almost definitely find yourself having to enlarge the holes, but start small, and then drill the holes larger as you need to. (You can actually do this WHILE you're smoking if you're careful.) I ultimately ended up with 3/4" holes, but my bottom chamber was well sealed.
Finally, hammer a piece of scrap barrel flat with a rubber mallet, and then cut it into a shape that will fully cover the vent holes while giving you some room on the end to bolt it to the barrel (be sure to use those washers!) By bending a tab on one end of the scrap piece, you can make a simple handle for adjusting the air flow through the vents. (Image 3) Now I'll tell you from experience that that fancy little tab will get hotter than the bowels of hell itself, so unless you're into masochism or really hate the concept of fingerprints, you'll still want to use a stick or something to adjust it.
Step 12: Finish the Flue
As user fairysaddle says:
They are absolutely right. If I had it all to do over again, I would have taken considerably more time to remove the paint from the smoker from the bottom of the smoke barrel, and the top of the fire box, as well as the fire box door at this phase of the build.
Is there any reason not to do the first burn before applying the stove paint? I think I would prefer to just burn the old paint off first, if it wouldn't cause other problems. I am also thinking it might be worth it to strip the paint in the area between the barrels, then stove paint just only area prior to assembly.
It's labor intensive to sand that paint off down to the metal, but once the smoker is constructed, it's a royal pain to try and sand it down after the fact. If you have a propane torch (which I didn't), I would use that to bubble the paint off to make things much easier. If you opt to do this at this phase of the build, you'll not have to do more sanding and painting later down the line, and I believe it will significantly increase the life of your smoker. There are some spots that I just can't reach without disassembling the smoker now, which means having to completely clean, tear apart the flue, and rebuild it. If you have the time, I would strongly recommend doing the paint job now.
The actual metal that connects the two barrels for the flue can be left to your imagination. Again, sticking with the theme of "stainless or aluminum" (but mostly just because I had it laying around) I used a piece of aluminum flashing.
Just cut a strip that's about 2 inches thick, and bend it into shape to fit into the flue. (Image 1)
!!!NOTE!!! The flashing that was in this image was not nearly thick enough. When I went to attach it to the flue, I wasn't able to bend its edges over for a tight seal, and the seal on your flue (I came to find out) is VERY important.
Snip the corners of the flashing so you can bend it over at a 90o angle and glue everything into place with ample amounts of high temperature stove pipe sealant. (Image 2)
Sealing your flue thoroughly is probably the single most important step in this entire instructable. (Okay, I may be a tad over dramatic here, as I suppose cutting holes in the barrel ranks up there somewhere...) But without a solid seal between the flue and the smoking chamber, the bulk of your heat and smoke will leak out, particularly when using the damper. Make sure to use plenty of sealant and make the seal as airtight as you possibly can. Don't be afraid to go overboard with the sealant.
Once the flashing is put into place, and the corners bent and sealed, use some clamps and wood shims to hold everything tightly in place. (Again, Image 2) Leave it to cure for at least 48 hours, but longer is better. I would recommend keeping the clamps in place until just before you're ready for your first burn. Keep in mind that the flue will take the bulk of the heat from your fire box, so 500 degree silicone isn't going to cut it. You need 800 degree or better caulking that's specifically rated for stoves or the seal will break down over time. If I could've found better than 800 degree, I would've used it.
Step 13: Create the Lids
While we're waiting for the flue to cure, let's move on to the lids.
The lids should be pretty straightforward by now. I want them about an inch wider on all sides than the opening, so I simply place the piece that was cut out down as a template on my "scrap" barrel. (Image 1) You can see I got over excited and started to cut before my wife was able to snap a picture.
Just make sure the "ribs" of the barrel matches up to the ribs of the "template" and measure an inch out on all sides, then draw the lines straight as before, and get to cutting.
Once you have your lids cut out, pretty much anyone can attach a hinge. Place the lids on top of the smoker where they belong, and trace a line around them where the hinges will go. Add a couple of washers between the hinges and the smoker to "lift" the hinge up and compensate for the thickness of the lid, then simply attach the hinge making sure the joint is lined up with the line you drew. Put the door in place, drill the holes where necessary, and then attach the hinges to the door. (Image 2)
If done right, when the door closes, it will fit nicely over the "ribs" to give you a semi-decent seal. (Image 3) We'll later make this seal better, but for now, this will suffice.
Now just do the same thing for the lower door, but put the hinges on the bottom. (Image 4)
Step 14: The Chimney
To find the proper positioning of the hole for your chimney (or smoke-stack if you prefer) you'll need to first do a little assembly.
Start by cutting out some "support ribs" from the scrap pieces of doors you have left hanging around. These will both support the firebrick as well as provide a channel for the smoke and heat to pass through to even out both. Just cut the "ribs" off of the scrap you have from cutting out the upper door, and you should find that you have the perfect "support ribs". (Image 1)
Next, place a couple of bricks in place and add the actual grill you'll be using. I used a cheap Home Depot grill piece figuring I would have to replace it quite often. I also had to trim it down with some heavy duty wire snips to fit it into the barrel. (Image 2)
Finally, place a ruler in your smoker so that it's flush with the top of the barrel, then slide your choice of chimney elbow into place, and measure where the top is located. I chose to go with the 5" elbow connector for a duct. Despite its galvanized coating, I knew that the temperature would never get hot enough at the chimney to vaporize the galvanization, and even in a miracle situation where it did, the extreme updraft that would result would pull any of those vapors out of the chimney and away from the food.
Your choice of chimney is up to you. Remember that a larger chimney will cause more updraft, causing your coals to burn hotter, while a smaller chimney produces less updraft causing them to burn colder. I found that a 5" chimney with a damper (discussed later) was the perfect balance for me. (Image 3)
Now go to the outside of your barrel, and taking that same measurement (for me about 7 1/2") mark where the top of the chimney elbow should be. (Image 4)
Place your elbow in place, and trace around it, then cut out that hole. (Images 5 and 6)
Now let's reassemble the entire upper smoke chamber to make sure everything fits. First, place the firebricks on the rib supports, 14 bricks total for me. (Image 7) I also have the chimney elbow in place here. Very important: Note that I have my ribs and my bricks flush up against the left side of the smoke chamber. This will leave about a 3 inch gap between the bricks and the wall on the right side of the smoke chamber (look at Image 1 again). This is where the smoke will be channeled to come through, and will help even out the smoke distribution so it doesn't just head straight out the chimney.
And finally, put the grill in place. (Image 8)
Last but not least, drill the appropriate sized hole on either side of the barrel and install your thermometers. I just bought some cheap $9 jobs, intending to actually use a remote digital thermometer for much more accurate temperature control, but they do make some good, high-dollar thermometers that you can buy. These can be placed anywhere you feel comfortable, just keeping in mind that you'll want more than one so you can get an idea of what the temperatures inside look like. The temperatures will be higher on the right-hand side of the grill (where there will be a gap in the bricks and support ribs) than on the left (where the chimney is). So you'll have to split the difference to determine approximately what the temperature is in the middle. (Image 9)
Finally, at the very top of your chimney, you'll want to add a damper. The damper will double as both a lid to keep the rain out, and a way to control the outgoing airflow during those times where you just can't throttle the temperature enough by cutting off the oxygen supply. (Image 10) I don't have some better pictures just yet, but hopefully you can get an idea from this one image. I added a very very large duct cap (8" duct cap on my 5" duct pipe) to the top of the pipe, attaching it with a hinge. I had to trim out a bit of the cap to allow it to open, and attached a chain (not visible) to the back end of the duct cap with some JB Weld. With a small bolt on the base of the chimney, I'm able to pull on the chain to open the damper and hook it on the bolt to keep it open. Releasing the chain will allow the weight (seen here) to pull the damper closed.
Step 15: Initial Setup
It's time to marvel at your handiwork!
Go ahead and finish the assembly of the smoker up to this point. Make sure that it's sitting on a surface that you're willing to spray paint.
Add the 14 bricks as a liner to your bottom firebox. This will prevent the fire chamber from getting too hot right at the base (in fact, while the fire box is over 600oF the bottom of the steel barrel is around 200oF). This will prevent oxidation, rusting, and will also keep your temperatures far more stable. Note that the bricks are not blocking the holes for the air vents. (Image 1)
With most of the pieces assembled (Image 2) now is the time to make any adjustments necessary. Are your doors crooked? Do the hinges need to be reseated? Is your chimney placed right? Do the stones and grill fit correctly?
Sandy and Penny dressed up for the occasion. (Images 3, 4, and 5)
Finally, using another piece of "grill" metal (I'm sure there's an official name for this stuff) I cut four slices into the sides, and folded it up to make a very crude basket for holding the coals even higher off of the brick. This will allow for airflow UNDER the coals, giving me even further control of the temperatures. (Image 6)
Step 16: Create Door Seals and Paint
VERY IMPORTANT STEP!!!! REMOVE BOTH THERMOMETERS NOW! I REPEAT, REMOVE BOTH THERMOMETERS BEFORE CONTINUING!
Now it's time to get out your angle grinder, or some heavy grit sand paper and go to town. Anywhere you find rust, sand it. Anywhere you find sharp edges, sand it.
If you'd mistakenly drilled any holes where they didn't belong, now's the time to seal them with your high-temp silicone sealant.
Finally, on both doors, use the sandpaper or an angle grinder around the edges where your seal will be. Roughing up the edges will help the high-temp silicone to adhere. (Image 1)
I can't begin to describe just how important this seal is. Despite the fact that the temperature differences will cause the barrel to warp while it's in use, and you'll never be able to get a perfect seal, getting as close to perfect as you possibly can is an absolute necessity. Without a good seal on the firebox, you'll never get decent oxygen flow control, which equates to temperature control. Without a good seal on the top, you'll never be able to get the temperature up to the proper levels at all, much less control them, and you'll end up burning through a bag of charcoal an hour trying to. These seals are an absolute necessity.
And they're a pain in the ass.
Once you've roughed up the place you'll put your silicone bead, wipe it down real quick with a little denatured alcohol. This will remove any residual oils and help the silicone adhere. Now on the part of the door that you don't want the silicone to stick to (the barrel, not the lid) it's time to lube it up. (Image 2) Take some Vaseline (petroleum jelly) and rub a liberal amount all around the door on the barrel on both the top and bottom. Make sure you put more than enough, several inches out from the corner of the doors to keep the silicone from adhering to the barrels. You only want the silicone to adhere to the lids. (Images 3 and 4)
Now on the lid, take your caulking gun and the high temperature silicone sealant and start running a good, thick bead all around the edge of the doors. This will absolutely destroy your forearm and make you feel like you can never hold a beer again. It's hard as hell to pump this crap out. It feels like it's thicker than clay, but then proceeds to drip as soon as it comes out. I had to switch hands four times to get a bead around the entire door and by the time I was done I'd had two aneurysms and a stroke. (Images 5 and 6)
Finally close the lids gently, and make sure through a visual inspection that the silicone has sealed all the way around both doors. You don't want to have to use much pressure to close the doors, they should just be able to close with a little gravity and make the seals themselves. If they don't quite seal, you can press on them lightly until they touch the Vaseline, then release them. The silicone should stretch and keep the seal. With my bottom door, the one for the fire box, it kept wanting to fall open so I did have to prop a small stick against it to keep it closed.
Now leave the smoker alone for 48 hours. Even after two days, no matter what your silicone says on the label, it will not have set completely. Do not attempt to open the smoker to check the seals! It's time to start painting, but you do NOT want to disturb the seals at this point, either.
After 48 hours (and only after 48 hours) you can start prepping the smoker for its first paint job. Using ample amounts of denatured alcohol (or methylated spirits), make sure you're wearing gloves and begin washing the entire smoker with it.
While the silicone will have sealed enough to let you wash off the Vaseline that you can reach, do not be tempted to try and open it under any circumstances. Silicone requires air to cure (more specifically, the water in the air), and the Vaseline will have created a seal that prevents the center from curing rapidly. You will need to leave the seals for at least a week, preferably two, before opening them. This will give them time to cure more "deeply" but you'll find even then that the center will not be fully cured when you do finally open them. Opening them too early will result in "thin" and weak seals.
So again, use the denatured alcohol, and apply liberally to the top of the smoker. Using an old T-Shirt or wash cloth you don't mind destroying, work your way down cleaning off any debris, stickers, grease, Vaseline, or metal powder (from the sanding) you come across. Clean it very, very well or your first painting will be in vain.
The denatured alcohol will dry quickly. Let the smoker sit for an hour, then come back and hit the entire thing with some 1200 degree stove paint. Apply the paint in very, very thin coats, and work your way around the smoker slowly. If you attempt to paint the entire thing with one coat, it will simply bubble and fall off. Multiple very thin coatings is the appropriate way to paint it, allowing it to almost completely dry between coats.
When you're finished, the entire smoker should be a beautiful flat black color, and start looking pretty sharp! For now... A lot of this hard work will be for naught after the first burn.
Step 17: Finish the Smoker
After letting the seals cure for a week or two, it's time to add the finishing touches.
To start, open it up and remove all the wonderfulness you've put inside. Remove the bricks, grids, support ribs, and the chimney.
You might be wondering at this point why you bothered putting all this stuff into the smoker at all if you were just going to remove it anyway, right? The weight of the bricks, and even the grid and chimney will ever-so-slightly bend the barrel. By having it fully assembled when creating your seals, you improve the quality of those seals just a little bit more.
Any residual silicone that is still uncured can be smoothed down with your finger, and leave the smoker open overnight to allow that to cure as well. Once it's cured, pull out the denatured alcohol again and give the spots you couldn't reach around the lid a good wiping down to remove any residual Vaseline. Give the inside a few coats of the 1200 degree stove paint to reduce any chance of rusting from the inside, and let that dry.
Finally, using some strips of aluminum, bend them into the necessary bracket shapes to create handles. To further reduce the heat that the handles will get, split a couple pieces of 1" thick wood, and bolt those to both sides of the handle, then bolt the handle to the doors. When creating the handles, make sure they're placed far enough "inside" on the door so the bolts won't hit the inner part of the barrel when they close. (Image 1) Put your thermometers back into place, and bolt them on.
With everything complete, it's time to admire your work, and get ready for your first burn! (Image 2)
Step 18: The First Burn
So remember all that wonderful painting you did in an earlier step? We're about to wreck about half of it.
Go ahead and fire your smoker up, putting about 8-10 lbs. of charcoal into the fire box. Leave the air vents wide open, and let it burn as hot as it wants. When the fire starts to cool off, start stacking some hardwood logs on there, and keep it going hot! You really want to stress the smoker as much as you can in this first burn. (Don't even think about putting food in it.)
This is going to do a number of things for you.
For starters, you'll quickly see any holes you've missed, as smoke will be pouring out of them. Take note of where they are (snapping some pictures helps) but don't worry too much if you see smoke coming out of the upper smoke chamber. We'll fix that later. You'll also just be able to see in Image 2 where I've bolted a piece of aluminum just above the lower fire door to keep the door closed. This is also a fingerprint remover, so I'd recommend using a heat pad or gloves when you need to open or close it (see video at the end of the instructable).
Next, it will allow you to adjust the size of your air vent holes. If the upper chamber isn't getting to at least 350oF then your fire box probably doesn't have enough air getting to it. Make your vent holes larger until the upper chamber can get pretty hot.
The heat will also cure the paint. The paint will smoke and fume while this is going on, so don't worry, it's supposed to do that. The 1200 degree paint will not fully cure until you've run it through some high temperatures, so don't be afraid to really heat it up.
Finally, the heat will actually remove the paint on the barrel wherever the heat will be the hottest. (Images 1 and 2) You can see from the images where the raw metal of the barrel has been exposed. The original paint on the barrels bubbled away (taking the 1200 degree stove paint with it) and left the barrel bared, but only where the barrel gets the hottest. This is a heck of a lot less work than trying to sand down the entire barrel and remove all of the paint before doing the first paint job, and very easy to fix.
This said, that exposed carbon steel will rust faster than you can sneeze. Right after finishing my first burn, the weather took a turn for the worse, and I wasn't able to immediately paint it. Even though I covered the smoker with a smoker cover as soon as it had cooled off (keep in mind that hot embers can go for days if you're not careful - no joke I had an impromptu bonfire started from a 2 day old ember from this thing) so it didn't actually get rained on, you can see how the humidity in the air was enough to immediately start the barrel rusting. Fortunately this is just surface rust, and a bit of sanding took it right off.
So after your first burn, find out where all that paint has come off, and sand the heck out of it. You'll end up needing to wrap some sandpaper around a thin stick to reach between the barrels, but sand everything super well, removing any place that the paint had bubbled down to the metal. Finally give it another few coats in those spots with your 1200 degree stove paint. Make sure all embers are completely out and clean all ashes out before painting a second time. The stove paint is incredibly flammable!
Finally, last but not least, the next day give it a second burn, but not necessarily as hot. A simple 8 pounds of charcoal allowed to burn out will cure your new paint job.
Your new double-barrel smoker is finally complete! And without a welding torch in sight!
Step 19: Additional Modifications
*** PICTURES TO FOLLOW ***
Here are a few modifications I made from my original design as I got to finding my way around the smoker.
1.) A chain for controlling the damper. A chain was attached to the back end of the damper using JB Weld and a screw, and an additional bolt added to the base of the chimney to attach the chain to. (This was my wife's idea, though I don't tell people that in public.) This gave me easy control of the damper without having to remove the chimney each time I wanted to open or close it. A weight in the front of the damper holds it closed.
2.) A chain to hold the chimney in place. Another bolt inserted through the top of the smoker allows me to anchor the chimney in place for those particularly windy days. I found that if the wind was strong enough, it could actually blow the chimney clean off. Note that I do not bolt the chimney in place so I can turn it so the back of the damper faces the wind, and I can remove it when I'm ready to cover up the smoker.
3.) A latch to hold the firebox closed. This latch is simply a hunk of aluminum bar bolted just above the firebox lid. The firebox didn't want to keep itself closed due to this pesky gravity thing, so I made a quick make-shift latch to hold it in place. The astute observer will notice that in my original design I had intended to hold the lids closed with magnets. Have you ever heard of something called the "Curie Temperature?" Neither had I until I attempted this. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 600-800oF the rare-earth magnets I was using actually lost their magnetism. This results in much burnination to any who are standing near firebox doors that suddenly fly open throwing scalding magnets into their shoes, take it from me... So yeah, totally abandoned the magnet idea.
4.) Supports for the grill inside the smoker. It quickly became apparent that smoking anything heavier than a small sparrow would cause the cheap grill inside the smoker to collapse. Cutting a couple pieces of left over aluminum bar, they fit nicely into the ribs of the barrel to add plenty of support to the grill. Now I can put a suckling pig in here!
5.) A bar clamped into place on the smoker lid. Between the support bars, the weight of the meat being smoked, and the heat differences of the barrel, I quickly discovered that the seal on the upper lid wasn't quite enough to keep a steady temperature. A couple of C-Clamps and a scrap piece of aluminum bar fixed that problem quite nicely!
6.) Insert a wireless digital thermometer. If you're anything like me, getting up and checking the temperature every few minutes really cuts down on your beer drinking time. So I found it was easiest to drill a hole exactly the same diameter as my wireless digital thermometer probe. I inserted this through the top/middle back of the smoke chamber, and this gives me a remote view of what the temperature is doing! Now I can kick back, have a drink, and wait until the temperature has fluctuated enough (a few degrees) to bother swearing, getting up and adjusting the oxygen vent.
Step 20: Let's Get Smoking!
What good is a double-barrel smoker if you don't know how to use it?
This video will take you through the basic steps of using your double-barrel smoker. Keep in mind that you'll have to "learn" your specific smoker, but the basic steps are the same.
*** VIDEO COMING
THIS WEEKEND EVENTUALLY ***
*** UPDATE! Video is still pending. I had some difficulty with my old copy of Adobe Premiere (apparently it doesn't like Windows 7) so will have to purchase a new video editing package. Hopefully will have the video done by the following weekend.***
Since it seems to be taking an act of God to get my video software to install on my computer, I'll give you some text instructions on how to use the smoker until such time as I can get the video functional.
1.) Dry your meat.
I see a lot of people just yanking their meat out of the package... k, that's probably a poor choice of phrase, but don't just open the meat and begin to rub it with the dry rub. No matter what the meat is, dry it before you start to flavor it. The reason will become more obvious in the next step.
2.) Use a fat in your dry rub.
When smoking, you can always use a little more oil to keep it from drying out. You can use any fat substitute: Olive Oil, butter (though I wouldn't recommend using butter due to its smoke point being near 250oF, and the fact that temperature spikes over 250oF are possible. If you prefer the flavor of butter, might I recommend you give some ghee a shot?) I personally prefer to use lard, or bacon grease. Simply add your salt (lots of salt) and dry rub to your fat additive, and rub that all over the meat. This will help on a number of levels. For starters, it will bind the oils from your rub (which is where your flavor comes from) into the fats of the skin and marbling of the meat much better than the dry rub alone, and the additional fat will prevent the meat from drying out.
3.) Everything cooks at the same temperature.
Ideally you want everything to cook between 220-225oF. The less yo-yo'ing you get of the temperature, the better quality the result will be. But don't listen to the people who try to make smoking sound difficult. We've been doing it since the dawn of time, for Flying Spaghetti Monster's sakes. If a neanderthal can manage it with a couple of rocks and a three day old carcass, I'm pretty sure we can pull it off with power tools. If the temperature drops to 215 for half an hour, or spikes up to 245 for 15 minutes, it is not going to rip a hole in the space-time continuum that a demon will step through for the sole purpose of dropping a duce directly on your meat. Nearly every smoking website and forum I've read pretends like this is rocket science and it's the end of the world if the temperature fluctuates. It's not, don't worry about it. Just try to keep it in the 220'ish range and you're fine.
4.) Everything cooks at different times.
As a general rule, fish takes about an hour, chicken around 6 hours, ribs around 7-8 hours (depends on how much you want them to fall off the bone), and beef takes roughly the same amount of time it takes to have a family. I did a brisket for 10 hours once, and it wasn't nearly enough. It was delicious, don't get me wrong, but definitely not the fall-apartness it should have had. I've read they should go 18 hours, and I believe it. Beef ribs are equally as painful. Keep them in about 12 hours to get them to really break down. Pretty much everything else (pork picnics, boston butts, etc.) will fall into the 10-11 hour range.
5.) The USDA is not your friend! The internal temperature is important!
The whole idea of the slow cooking is to break down the proteins that hold the meat together without hozing up the integrity of the meat flavor. In fact, it's the exact same idea as cooking "en sous vide" and this is precisely where people make the biggest mistake. The federally recommended temperature for chicken to be cooked is 165oF, so there's a significant temptation to slap a thermometer in the chicken and wait for it to get to 165oF and call it a day. These numbers were mandated for the layman. Basically, to make sure some dolt that would normally ask if you'd "like fries with that" could keep it straight. Bacteria doesn't live and thrive at 164 degrees, then suddenly implode at 165. The fact is once you get over 105 degrees, the bacteria starts weaken. (This is why our bodies actually give us a fever when we get an infection). By 135 degrees, they start to die, and by 145 degrees, they'll die rapidly, nearly sterilizing the chicken within 10 minutes. If you actually wait for the interior of your chicken to hit 165, you'll dry it out because it will have to stay on for two more hours than it should. Once it hits 145, just let it sit for about 20 minutes at that temperature, and then remove it. Let it set for a bit (it will retain that internal temperature a bit longer) and you're ready to eat, and it's perfectly safe. This is basically only the rule for poultry, since your other meats you want to get up to the 180-185 degree mark. At that level, they'll start falling apart.
6.) Use a charcoal chimney.
When you first start your smoker, invest in a simple charcoal chimney to get it started. Anything you burn in your smoker will influence the flavor of the food, even when the sellers of the petroleum based charcoal lighting fluid insist it won't. You don't need it, and for what you'll spend on a few bottles of lighter fluid, you can get a simple charcoal chimney. They work perfectly, every time, even in high wind. Something I can't say about lighter fluid. Additionally, there's the following point:
Do not use charcoal briquettes.
Briquettes are manufactured in a bunch of different proprietary ways. They have binding agents, lighter fluid-like additives, and in the "green" scenarios, are made out of scrap lumber that could have any number of additives. Additionally, you don't know what type of wood they're made from, or what flavor they'll impart. (I would hope that the chemicals they put off are at least regulated, but I'm not holding my breath.) Additionally, with this smoker you'll be using regular, real hardwood, so that means you need very little charcoal, so go ahead and splurge for the real, hardwood charcoal that actually comes in chunks that look like wood.
8.) Use real logs to smoke.
The ideal log is a year old log that you can split and still see the tell-tale markings that you can use to identify the wood. For instance oak has those little "dotted lines" (for lack of a better description) that you should be able to see to identify it. Always use hardwoods, as soft woods tend to have a lot of sap, and produce a lot of creosote. For the same reason, don't use freshly cut green logs. I've also gone the other direction, and used logs that were too dry to the point that when you split them, they didn't really look like oak anymore. The food was certainly still edible, but there was a bit of soot on them. The wood chips, even soaked in water, will simply burst into flames in a smoker that's this big and gets this hot. The little chunks of wood you can get in the bags are almost as bad, burning so fast it's hard to regulate the temperature. But a year old log (or well aged log) will burn low, and slow, with a beautiful, steady blue-white smoke. I prefer oak, hickory, and mesquite, but at the moment I'm left with very old oak. While not ideal, it certainly hasn't stopped me from using it. I've seen those cast-iron chip holders designed for turning a charcoal grill into a smoker, and haven't had the chance to use one yet. My suspicion is that for a smoker of this size, the sheer volume of chips you'd have to stuff into that little box wouldn't be realistic.
EDIT: So here we are about a year later, and I have to say I've done a complete 180 on this particular point. (I'll do a proper edit eventually.) Kingsford makes some excellent charcoal that I've found is just all around easier to regulate both the temperature and the smoke with. By wrapping some wood chips in heavy duty aluminum foil, and placing them near enough the charcoal that they'll turn to charcoal themselves without melting the foil, you'll get your hardwood smoked flavor and it will be far, far easier to get that perfect smoke every time.
My inexperience shined through at this point in the 'ible, and while I tried to remain what I thought was a smoking "purist" I found that the end result was unpredictable at best. After actually having to throw away an entire batch of ribs/chicken/picnics that were ruined by an unruly wood fire batch, I finally succumbed to the manufactured stability of charcoal. My new favorite method is something called the "minion" method where I fill the basket with Kingsford Mesquite charcoal briquettes, and some set my foil wrapped chips near it, then dump a chimney full of lit coals on top. I wait until the early "harsh" smoke subsides, and the internal temperature gets into the 200 range before putting the meat on.
9.) Don't OVER smoke.
Just because you don't see smoke coming out, don't be alarmed. You don't want smoke absolutely pouring out of a smoker like this. Your smoke should be a light, steady white to blueish stream. It shouldn't look like a steam engine heading up a mountain, but more like a chimney in a cabin in the woods. (The video will help a lot here.) If the smoke is greenish, thick, and dark, you need to open everything up and let it burn itself off quickly. That smoke will produce creosote that'll coat your food. Take the hit on the temperature spike, and try to burn off the wood quickly, then get the temperature back under control using the oxygen vent.
10.) Only use the damper when absolutely necessary.
The oxygen vent should be your primary method of temperature control. If you find yourself like me, and you slacked off in the making of the flue, and your seals on your fire box are breaking down from too much heat (still working on that one) so your firebox continues to get far too much air even when the air vent is completely closed, only then should you use your damper to bring down the temperature. Using the damper will "stall" the smoke in the smoke chamber, and stalled smoke will begin to settle on your meat creating soot. Flowing smoke is ideal. While it may seem like closing the damper would "trap" the heat and should bring the temperature up, it's actually quite the opposite. The chimney itself heats up causing an updraft (the taller the chimney, the stronger the updraft) that sucks air completely through the whole smoker. So the air will be sucked in through the air vents, heat the fire, collect the smoke, and drag it through the smoker, over the meat, and up the chimney. Using the damper kills this updraft and everything begins to cool down. Again, only use the damper if you've already sealed up the firebox, and the temperature is still rising.
11.) Don't be afraid to finish in the oven.
If you're like me, you want to be a purist and take the meat directly out of the smoker and stuff it into your maw, but if you get to be in a hurry, and the stuff just isn't quite where it needs to be, you can take it out of the smoker and finish it in the oven at the appropriate temperature (around 300 for most stuff). While this will seize up the meat on the outside (not entirely a bad thing) you can more quickly get the internal temperature up to that ideal 180 degrees this way. It's been argued that after the first 6 hours, the meat stops absorbing smoke flavor anyway. I don't know if it's true, but I finished a pork this way before, and it turned out great.
12.) Water isn't necessary, but doesn't hurt.
If you have a good place to stick a pan of water in the smoke chamber, go ahead and do it if it floats your boat. Just make sure it doesn't sit beneath the meat and catch the drippings (unless you're specifically trying to make a smoked gravy). The drippings should be allowed to drip and cake onto the bricks below, seasoning the smoker more and more the more you use it. (Don't clean it!) Water will help reduce the chances of your meat drying out (which I've yet to have happen) and in theory, it should make it easier to maintain temperature (which I've not really noticed the difference, I think the firebricks do that just fine). I tried the first few roasts with a pan of water, and very literally noticed no difference in the end result between that and the subsequent smokes without water. However, this said, I will use half a can of water with fresh herbs shoved up the chicken's personal space when making chicken. I have always done my chicken this way, so don't know how much of an impact it has on moisture. (Definitely has an impact on flavor, though!)
13.) Allow the smoker to heat up rapidly when you're done.
If you're done smoking, open up the vents completely. If there's no fuel in it, it doesn't hurt to throw a log on. The idea is to heat up the upper chamber to the 275ish range or higher. This makes sure that any of the drippings that fell onto the bricks will cook in to improve the seasoning, and will dry out, getting a good coating from the smoke in the process. If you've dripped a ridiculous amount of BBQ sauce into the thing, go ahead and scrape that bit out. Moisture in the upper chamber will encourage mold growth, and unless you're specifically looking for innoculation when you use the smoker, it's safest to bring it up to temperature when you're done. Now, realistically, the inside of a smoker is an incredibly hostile environment for molds and bacteria, I mean, that's why they smoked food in the first place. But still, better to be safe than sorry, and it'll help your smoker to season to boot.
People have mentioned that the fat may fill the bottom of the chamber until it leaks into the fire pit, or that it may go rancid. By purposely super heating the grill when done, I've not found this to be a problem at all. Thus far, the fat has all cooked away to a crisp "shell" on the bricks with none running into the firebox or building up to go rancid. I'll update you if this changes after the smoker has been put away for the winter.
So following on 6 and 7, get your charcoal started in the charcoal chimney by creating a "doughnut" shape out of newspaper, sticking that in the bottom, dumping coals in the top, and lighting the paper. It's pretty straightforward, but there's plenty of videos on YouTube if you need clarification.
Once the charcoals have started to turn white in the top of the chimney (about 10-20 minutes) you're ready to get started. Dump the hot coals in the charcoal basket made for the firebox. Give them a shake to evenly spread them out, and pour some more charcoal on top, to just about fill the basket. The air vents should be full-open at this point. *NOTE: Read previous edit on how this has changed.
Close everything up until your upper chamber comes up to temperature. Use a spare piece of aluminum bar and the C-Clamps to clamp the upper lid closed (might not hurt to do the same for the firebox. Gonna try that this weekend). Let it get to about 235-240 since we'll be releasing most of the heat when we add the meat, and you want the bricks to be able to get it back to temperature quickly.
You should be at temperature right about the time the charcoals slow down their smoking. Since the charcoal smoke will also impact the flavor of the meat, this is why we only use hardwood charcoal. Now, add your meat to the smoker, close everything up, and use C-Clamps to seal it all back up. Open the firebox, and give the coals a shake to make sure they're evenly spread. When smoking, you want a large, cold ember bed, not a small, hot ember bed. This will give you the best temperature and smoke control. Add two small split logs (if you had about a 6" round log, and split it into quarters, two of those should be sufficient).
Now keep an eye on the temperature, and using the air vent (close to cool, open to heat) control the temperature down to the 220-225 range, and keep it there for the next three hours. Use the damper only if it's uncooperative.
Now it's time to have a beer or 12.
After 3 hours (or sooner if you find you can't keep the temperature up to 220), it's time to throw a couple more logs on the fire. You'll notice it takes a bit effort to dial in the temperature each time you add more wood, but you'll get the hang of it eventually.
Keep this pattern up until the food has come to temperature (use a digital thermometer), has taken the right amount of time (the time is very forgiving), or you're too drunk (then call it a failed experiment and go to bed).
Special thanks to the three girls in my life. To Penny and Sandy for their help with the instructable, and to my wife who not only supports my crazy projects that take months to complete when I've promised they'd be done over the weekend, helped me with the build, and even continuously made laps in and out, up and down a flight of stairs, to take pictures for me as I was trying to put it all together. I love you babe!