Once you become adept at grilling, a smoker is usually the next step up in outdoor cooking. Many BBQ and hardware stores sell inexpensive smokers. These smokers are functional, but leave a lot to be desired in terms of smoking performance. With a few simple modifications, though, you can have your cheap smoker delivering even tastier meats and veggies.
There are a few problems with all cheap smokers, no matter what style, that separate them from their more expensive counterparts. The number one problem is maintaining consistent high heat, but they may also lack in build quality. Measuring heat and rust protection are other areas that can be improved upon.
Reminder: remember to consider fire bans when using any BBQ or smoker. Even outside fire ban periods, don't operate them too close to your home or other large structures such as sheds.
Seal It Up
Out of the box, most of these smokers come in kits that you assemble. The spaces around vents and doors, however, as well as those for bolts and handles, can all lead to heat loss. Apply a high temperature silicon seal around these areas to create a better seal and add a gasket seal to the bottom of the smoker door to prevent leakage. The goal is get your smoker to perform as if it was cut from a single piece of steel or from one ceramic mould. (See the video above.)
Increase Airflow (For Bullet-Style Smokers)
An offset smoker box which holds your meat should be sealed as best as possible, but the bullet-style smokers require proper ventilation to maintain a consistent high heat. The small holes and vents that typically come with these smokers are usually inadequate to maintain a long-lasting burn.
Drill holes to open up additional ventilation at the top of your smoker and add more holes in the bottom for better airflow and to help clear ashes faster. (See this video for more.)
Upgrade Your Support Hardware
Cheap smokers are built with inexpensive parts, including legs and wheels. If your smoker is extra wobbly or on uneven ground, add extra support by welding or bolting on some additional metal bars. This video will show you how to drill into steel using a drill press as well as enlarging existing holes using a hammer drill. Use hex bolts with a flat and locking washer to secure the supports.
Replace broken plastic wheels or totally remove them and set your smoker on concrete blocks.
Replace The Thermometer
Many thermometers only show "warm/ideal/hot". Purchase and install an aftermarket thermometer that gives accurate temperature readings so you can better monitor your meat. Look for longer thermometer probes that extend deeper into the smoker. Search eBay for direct replacement thermometers that have upgraded readouts.
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