Friday, February 26, 2010

How to turn a Weber Smokey Joe (table top grill) into a mini-smoker

I have to give my wife credit. She’s getting used to my randomness. She was at work when I called, “Hi. Do you think Terracotta will explode if it gets hot?’ (Later, I realized how random that must have seemed since I hadn't spoken to her all day.)

“I don’t know…Maybe” she replied casually…as if it was the type of question a person would normally use to start a phone conversation.

Anyways, here’s the rest of the story…

A Smokey Joe is a very small Weber grill that sits on a table top.
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This one cost $35 but don’t let the price fool you. It’s a great grill that will literally last a lifetime with reasonable care. That’s why I have two of them…so they can grow old together. ;)

Up until now, I’ve only used this as a grill for direct grilling (like steaks and burgers)…never for indirect smoking (like ribs or pulled pork). The reason is because smoking requires indirect heat and there simply isn’t enough room in this tiny kettle to pile coals on one side and place the meat on the opposite side.

All that changed this week when I was in home depot and saw this veggie pan on clearance for $5.50 in the grill section.

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I was inspired….

The first thing I did was I removed the handle with a Dremel. Now is probably a good time for me to point out that this project requires almost no technical skill…so don’t let the fact that I used a Dremel scare you off. I have no skills whatsoever. In fact, this Dremel is the only tool I brought into this marriage and frankly, I’m not even sure how I ended up with it.

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Bought 4 sets of “legs” made up of a bolt, 2 nuts (hee) and 2 washers.

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Attached them to the pan…

By the way, these are adjustable simply by adjusting the nuts (hee again).

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Thank goodness there were already holes in the pan and I didn't have to drill any. (Seriously…I've got no skills.)

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I lit about 15 charcoal briquettes and laid them on the charcoal grate with about 15 unlit briquettes and large handful of water-soaked hickory chips. For the record, this is hardly any charcoal for a 5 hour smoking session. On a bigger kettle, I could easily use 4 x’s this much charcoal.

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The pan sits in the grill bowl with the bolt “legs” resting against the sides—not the bottom—of the grill bowl. (Imagine a freaked out cat trying to avoid the bathtub.) This (the legs configuration…not the cat) is important because it provides more room for charcoal underneath and makes it easier to set this pan in place (and remove.)

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Terracotta saucer…wouldn’t it be funny if that had absolutely no relevance to the rest of the post and was just like a random picture I posted? I mean, you already know from my phone conversation with my wife that this isn't the case, but I still think it would have been funny had I thrown in a random picture of something completely unrelated.

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Kinda like this. ;)

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Anyways, the purpose of the saucer is my grease catcher/heat deflector. In order to facilitate clean up, I foiled it with heavy-duty foil on both sides. First the bottom.

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Then another sheet over the top and nested in the pan that is suspended over the coals
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Then I put the cooking grate over that.
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I decided to break this baby in with spare ribs.

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Because I was running a little late, I cheated a little and foiled the ribs after about an hour of smoking them. The stayed in the foil for about 2 hours (this little trick makes them cook faster and makes them more tender.)

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This is what they looked like when they came out of the foil…they were fork tender at this point and I had a hard time getting them back on the grill without them falling apart.

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The temperature control was excellent in spite of the wind. Wind is a bbq-ers WORST enemy. I keep the temperature of my bbq pit down by carefully chocking off the air flow to the fire. Wind has its own ideas. I’d much rather grill in the rain or snow than on a windy day and today was one of the windiest days we’ve had in a long time. This grill did great, however, and the temperature consistency FAR exceeded my expectations.

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Dinner.

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My “helper”

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All in all, I’m tremendously impressed. This modification only cost me about $14 ($5.50 for veggie pan, $4.50 for terracotta saucer, and $4 bucks in hardware) which is considerably less than the $300 I spent on my primary grill. The temperature control and consistency was MUCH better than I expected. Also this grill seems to recover faster when you take the lid off (causing the heat to escape). It also seems to respond faster to vent adjustments than my bigger kettle. Mostly, I can’t believe I smoked a rack of spare ribs for over 5 hours on 30 charcoal briquettes. I built this because I thought it would be fun, but (unless I just got lucky today) I could easily see this being my goto smoker for smaller cooks. I’m pretty sure I could fit almost anything (but a full size brisket) on this thing…just not multiples.

13 comments:

Sharla said...

I think it's awesome that we're both home 'managers', but I'm female, so I'm obsessed with baking the perfect loaf of bread. And you're male, so you're obsessed with grilling the perfect rack of ribs. It theraputic when we've got all our balls in the air, to focus on something controlable. ;)

Justin Wallraven said...

That's so true, Sharla. It’s totally therapeutic.

However, I think next time I pick something "to control”, it won’t be fire. ;) Perhaps a nice rock collection.

Amy said...

Hi Justin,
I'm a female Little Joe fan & I love my grill. I do some smoking myself but without your hardware. You are dead on with your suggestion that the lil Joe's temperature will adjust qwikly... like no other! i also use soaked hickory twigs or chips. The thing i find most useful, is that with careful control of the vents, you can smoke your meat, ever so slowly, without the hardware you propose. the temperature can be maintained @ around 240-265F & if you stifle the coals enough, you can keep any flame away from ur meat long enough to promote a serious, pink, smoke ring in your meats. I am, however, very interested in your ingenious lil invention & I WILL BE TRYING IT OUT!! I expect nothing less than greatness from your method & I am sure it will add to our grilling experience ten-fold!! Thanks for being funny, cute & ingenious! Your Fan, thelovelyamy :)

Cameron said...

I'm a first time griller and i just gotta thank you i was looking for a way i could turn my lil weber smokey into a rib smoker and u did now i'm going to try

Cameron said...

I'm a first time griller and i just gotta thank you i was looking for a way i could turn my lil weber smokey into a rib smoker and u did now i'm going to try

Cameron said...

Did you have to add more Coles? to keep the fire hot.

Justin Wallraven said...

Not on this cook. It's really efficient.

Elizabeth Thill said...

Awesome post! I have been thinking about doing the same thing. Do you remember the size of the pan and saucer? Thanks!

Elizabeth Thill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Justin Wallraven said...

I don't remember the size actually but that style wok seems to come in that one size.

Captain Tiki said...

That's a great idea. I really like stuff like this where a second use is found for something. Thanks for sharing.

Bob Genesee said...

Your thermometer reads 254F. Isn't that high for smoking? I thought it was ideally to be about 210F. Great writeup. I'll give it a try.

Justin Wallraven said...

Nah, 250 is fine. I actually cook most of my food between 275-300 and the best brisket I ever cooked was done at 350.

Try it different ways and see what you like the best and go with it.

Thanks for the comment.