Why do we have to mod new smokers?

Discussion in 'Charcoal Smokers' started by mdlnb, Jul 18, 2015.

  1. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    I can't understand why these smoker manufacturers don't design their smokers already tuned for smoking.  Maybe I am missing something, but I have yet to see the point of producing smokers that you have to modify to do the job. I have just assembled my OK Joe Highland and made my modifications.  Now, I have to wait for the rain to pass by so that I can start it's first fire and clean and season it.  I won't know if my mods were done properly until I can check the temps on both ends of the smoker. After looking at the pricing and work required to fab tuning plates and convection plates, I decided to look around for something that could be used with the minimum amount of cutting or welding.  In Wally World, I found a porcelain covered, corrugated steel adjustable plate used in gas burners.  I also picked up an angled tin burner tunnel that is also used in gas burner grills.  I only had to drill three holes, none in the smoker to make some temporary mods. After I make some fine tuning adjustments, I can make it more permanent.  Once I try this option out, I will add photos.  I have no idea if this will work, but I am sure that it will force some of the heat past the opening of the fire box, toward the exhaust end. I added another thermo that I also picked up at Wally World so I should be able to get a general idea if I have spread the heat out evenly. While assembling the Highland, I used permatex copper in seams likely to leak. I purchased some Nomex lava rock tape for the doors. You have seen all this on other threads so it would just be repetitious to upload photos of the same thing.  I will send some photos of my plate mods IF they work.  Right now, I am waiting for a rain free day to stoke up the fire and get this thing going.  I have two racks of baby backs and two racks of spare ribs waiting. 

    I was scoping out some whole briskets at Wally World yesterday.  Last time I smoked a brisket, I was still in NC and I used a modified Charbroil set up.  The brisket came out perfect, no credit given to the smoker. It was so bad trying to get my temps right that I gave up on the fire box and just built my fire on one side of my smoker area. This time, I plan to do it right so I am taking my time to make the mods up front. 

    I had to up the size of my smoker here in Florida because when I used my small grill to smoke, I accumulated a small crowd. Apparently, it is hard to cover up the smell of smoked beef ribs and pork spare ribs.  Of course, I had to adjust the heat in my rub so that these seniors wouldn't end up in the ER. 

    Last time I smoked three racks of beef ribs, a rib roast and grilled some rib eyes, I had everything out on the dining room table except the steaks and when I brought the steaks in, all three racks of ribs were gone except one rib that they kindly left for me.  I noticed that no one seemed embarrassed about scarfing up what I thought would be the last to go item.  Turned out that the beef ribs were almost fall off the bone tender and had the perfect flavor.  Some folks did not care for medium rare so there was still some rib roast left for me.  Instead, they slaughtered the rib eye steaks.  The food went so fast that I was afraid to dig in, less I lose a hand or arm to the hungry horde.

    Sorry about the rambling, but my question still stands; why is it necessary to modify new smokers to do what they were supposedly designed to do in the first place?  If a grill has a side firebox, doesn't that make it a smoker?  Why charge someone $500+ for a smoker, and then charge them another ninety bucks for the plates and charcoal basket?  It's early, I just finished my second cup of coffee and it's raining, so I have to wait to fire my new smoker up.  That's my excuse for being grouchy. 
  2. smokin phil

    smokin phil Smoking Fanatic

    That's why I like my MES30. Works right every time, with no mods, right out out of the box. Just added a 12" AMNPTS for longer smoke generation. Other than that, I just plug it in, set it, throw my meat in and go.
  3. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    I'm doing a burn off right now, trying to get any paint and crude on the inside burn away.  Then I will clean it and spray flaxseed oil on the inside to season it. 

    Ok, while the thing heated up, I took a couple of notes:

    At 200* both Thermos showed the same, left and right.

    At 250* the left showed 250 and the right was about two degrees higher (not bad)

    At 350* the right was 7-9 degrees higher

    At 350* the grate temp measured with an oven gauge showed 300* in the middle location

    Then the piece of diverter flashing fell because I haven't attached it permanently yet and it skewed the right and left temps.

    Since it seemed to work so well, I think I will fasten the loose parts and do some more testing later. Apparently (and logically) the grate temp is quite a bit lower than the thermos located high on the door.  I expected that and will compensate for that when I start my smoking.

    I am going to attempt to add some photos of my mods

    Sorry about the trashy look on the bottom rack by the wheels.  I still had the cooking grates laying there when I took the photos. The first gauge photo is the left side and the second is the right side, taken at the same time.  The plates have slots in them, allowing heat and smoke to escape. The flashing at the FB opening is bent at a 90* angle instead of the normal 45* opening.  The it comes out from the opening and then down to the plates.  Another right angle piece of flashing is attached to the plates and comes up against the first piece of flashing, sealing/diverting the heat under the plates from the opening in the firebox. The first piece of flashing is currently wedged snugly over the bolts and under the cooking grate support. It fell when I jostled the firebox and is too hot to fix right now.  I will fix it permanently later.

    Note:  I haven't installed the nomex tape on the doors to seal them yet.  As it is, so far I have noticed no escaping smoke via the door openings.  After I clean the inside, I will wire brush the door edges and afix the tape.
    daveomak likes this.
  4. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    Ok, so I cleaned the smoker out and sprayed it liberally with flax seed oil.  Kind of expensive in comparison with other oils, but I read it on here somewhere so it must be the way to go.  I understand that it isn't supposed to give the "sticky" surface that vegetable oils create.  I wouldn't know but it sounds logical.  Anyway, right now it's seasoning and a big storm is coming.  Great....  But, I did notice one thing interesting.  I have an oven thermometer in the middle of the cooking grate.  The outside, left and right thermometers on the door are both at 250* give or take a couple of degrees.  I checked the oven thermometer in the middle of the rack and it says 250 degrees. Another point is that my temps are below what they were on the last burn.  I was able to achieve the 350 degree range then, but now it seems to have leveled off at 250 degrees.  Actually, I try not to smoke at any higher temp than 250 so I am not too worried.

    I did drill and screw the flashing so that it wouldn't come loose this time.  So far, I am very satisfied with my mods.  As far as the charcoal basket is concerned, I picked up a wire basket that will hold about two chimneys of charcoal and measures about 12"x12"x about 3.5 -4".   I put the burn grate in sideways, raising it and then I put a wire bird feeder suet basket in to raise the charcoal up and still allow air flow under the charcoal.  I just happened to be walking by the bird feeder stuff in Wally World after browsing the grill area and noticed the little cage.  Funny thing about that.  It was coated with what I thought to be paint, but it was green plastic and when I did my initial burn I had a puddle of green liquid in the bottom of my FB.  I easily wiped it out with a rag on the end of a metal rod, while it was still burning. It wiped out as easy as water. 

    Well, my temps are down to 200* now and it's real dark and thundering.  I guess it is a rush to the finish to see if it finishes burning the charcoal out before the rain cools it off. 
  5. moloch16

    moloch16 Newbie

    The reason is simple - they want to sell to your average Joe Blow homeowner who doesn't know anything about smoking and is mainly looking at $$$ of the smoker.  Any additions to make the smoker worthy adds costs in material and labor.  Joe Blow walks into wal-mart and sees a $100 and $200 smoker, they look pretty much the same.  Why would he spend the extra $100?  He doesn't know what to look for.

    I like buying cheap and then making mods, makes the hobby even more fun to mess around and tweak things.  I know some people rather just unbox the thing and have it running perfect.  You can do that but it cost extra.
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
  6. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Well, all I can say is..... With the mods you made, you OBVIOUSLY understand the theory behind "How to get even temps across the cooking surface" when the manufacturer doesn't.....
    That being said, looking at the smoker, the manufacturer did a pretty good job getting stuff sealed up to reduce the undesirable air leakage...

    I think you will enjoy the package as a whole..... good job..... Thumbs Up...Thumbs Up....Thumbs Up
  7. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    Thanks for the replies.

    I did another burn in for the seasoning yesterday.......before the rain started again.  The idea of using flaxseed oil, that I picked up on here was really a good idea.  Now, I have an even and smooth/shiny surface inside the smoker.  I am anxious to smoke something, but am low on charcoal and wood.  Actually, I am looking at the dining room chairs....hmmm, didn't she say they needed to be replaced?  I have four racks of ribs in the freezer, waiting to be smoked.  But, I think I might do a butt first.  I haven't done a butt in a very long time and the thought of pulled pork is starting to make my stomach sound like it agrees. 

    I have been using the minion technique for my fire and seem to get temps of 250 degrees for a couple of hours before the need to add charcoal. Both gauges as well as the oven rack on the grate all concur and I think I have hit on the best mods for that particular smoker.  They stay within 3-10 degrees so I think that I am safe to start with the current adjustments.  I doubt I could get it any closer with this model smoker. 

    I appreciate the information that I obtained on this forum. 
  8. valleypoboy

    valleypoboy Smoke Blower

    Great looking heat diffuser. Are those made of stainless or regular steel? If they are regular steel give them good seasoning the same way you would a cast iron pan and they should last forever.
    I think moloch16 pretty much nailed it. Many looking at different smokers will compare cheap good and great then decide how much they want to spend and buy what's in their budget. If OK can cut out all these mods we make and shave $100 or $200 off the price tag they will sell more for that lower price.
    If they were smart they would sell a kit or multiple kits to make all these mods. I know others make/sell diffusers, charcoal baskets, etc. But OK could make them and sell them as needed. Some of us are willing and able DIYers, others have physical limitations or time constraints and are willing to spend the $ to have a drop in fix.
  9. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    Those corrugated plates are porcelain coated steel with slits in them.  I found them in a package in the grill section of Wally World. It's a heat plate that instead using it as an expandable, end to end I overlapped them to the width of my smoker to use them as a convection/diverter for the smoke and heat coming from the firebox.  They only cost about twenty bucks and seemed like they would do the job since I wouldn't have to drill any holes in them to allow the smoke and heat to filter out evenly.  The flashing was just a couple pieces of tunnel accessory also found on the rack that is used over gas burners. I used that to divert the heat from the firebox under the convection plate. Instead of using a 45 degree angle, I am using a 90 degree angle which allows more heat and smoke to escape the FB before being forced under the convection plate. If any of that makes any sense.  I just wanted to see if I could save a few bucks instead of paying a hundred bucks for something from Horizon, or whatever.  I'm retired so I have to watch my expenditures. 

    I still haven't been able to get my Pork butt on the smoker yet.  Rainy season here and I haven't stocked up on Charcoal yet.  Ran my supply down doing some practice burns and seasoning my smoker.  Can't wait though. I try to pick up Kingsford when they have the two bag sale. 

    Last edited: Jul 22, 2015
  10. sawinredneck

    sawinredneck Meat Mopper

    It does kinda suck that they can't even get some of the basics right to start with! I'm not average "Joe Blow", I have serious physical handicaps and have to make my money count. I do have time, skills and tools though! I initially bought a Brinkmann smoke' pit, after being unable to get grate temps above 180 I looked into mods. But it didn't take ale much figuring to decide it just wasn't worth it. Why put all the time and money into a shell that was going to just rust away? I took it back and got the Trailmaster instead, a lot more steel to start with.
    Looking around at other units, $500 and up, you see they are designed better, chimney at grate level, defusor plates from the firebox to cooking chamber, heavier steel etc. but I agree, these aren't hard things for the manufactures to do from the start! Change the die when the hood gets stamped and move the stack down five inches, charge another $20 and weld in a diffuser plate, simple things to do!
    I was showing my wife some of the better smokers and explaining why I needed to modify mine like that. First she said "I don't understand the point of buying something you have to modify to get to work!" To which I replied, because this is how much you'll let me spend, not this much! Then she asked "Why can't they just make some changes on the cheaper ones to make them better to start with, it doesn't look like it would be that hard to do?" Exactly!
  11. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    Sounds like your wife has some good common sense.  Before I found this forum, I was pretty much winging it.  My CharBroil up in NC looked real good.  It was a gift from the kids for father's day and I added the fire box, which was optional, later.  I couldn't get the temps up with the fire box.  The smoker leaked so much I would have thought that the house was on fire.  I thought I was smart so I put a piece of flex hose down to the grate level.  Little change if any.  I went out and found a piece of tin AC/heating plenum long enough to go the length of the bottom of my smoker and then flanged the end to fit into the fire box and from there, I drilled different sized holes in the duct.  I had the right idea but my execution was rough.  I still didn't get the heat I wanted, but I did learn how to even out what little heat I was getting.  I ran oven rope around the doors and threw an insulation blanket on over the smoker.  I ended up giving up on the fire box and just put my coals in the smoker on one end.  I  still got me some good cooks out of it until I moved down here to Florida and left it behind for my kids.  They use it.  But, I think that I have a better understanding now, how this thing works with the off set smokers.  I am pretty sure that just about anything that can sustain a burn in it, can also be a smoker.  I've been using a grill since I've been here, but it just doesn't allow me enough room to provide meat for everyone that my wife invites over at one time. So, I purchased the OK Joe's Horizon.  I am hoping for great smokes from it.  IF THE RAIN WILL GIVE ME A CHANCE.
  12. mdlnb

    mdlnb Newbie

    Well,  the rain finally had a day off and gave me a good smoking day.  I cooked three racks of baby backs.  The temps stayed pretty much around 225 to 250.  I got almost two hours of steady heat with one chimney of lit coals and one not lit put in before the lit.  I added apple wood chunks.  That said, I noticed a little smoke leaking around the doors, but not enough to make a difference. I am going to monitor my cooks and put the Nomax tape on the doors if I feel I am losing too much through leaky doors.  I have the Nomax so it's just a matter of cleaning the doors and applying the self stick tape.  I don't think it is necessary yet.  I seemed to have a good even cook across the grates.  So far, I am very pleased with the purchase of my OK Joe's Highland smoker.  Did I tell you that I received thirty bucks back from Walmart when they did a roll back of the price two weeks after I purchased it?  Yep, they reduced the price down to a little over $250. 

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