Simple as it gets - convert kingsford (webber) charcoal kettle grill into bbq smoker

Article By Shorty

My first attempt at smoking meat, and knowing very little about the subject, I didn't want to spend a bunch of time building something or buy an expensive smoker that might not get used that much.

I started looking on and there was slim pickings for smokers. Headed down to home depot and looked at what they had. Smokers were a couple hundred bucks, a lot more than I wanted to spend. Then just down the isle, up on the shelf, was a complete charcoal bbq kettle grill for $40. Looking at the grill, it had all the components of a smoker: cooking grid, air vents, and it was fully enclosed chamber. The only thing missing was a way to keep the coals in an area so they weren't under the meat. Hmmm..... then I thought, hey, I could just pile the coals on one side, and the meat on on the other.

I also bought a thermometer for $5 which bolts onto the lid, so I can see what temperature I am running at.

I tried it by just piling the coals on one side, and it worked OK. But the coals would sort of slide down, and I couldn't put that many coals one one side. With a limited amount of space in there, I came up with a simple solution. I found a small wire basket at a thrift shop (it was a key rack & mail holder) and used it as my fire box to contain the charcoal. It held just enough charcoal to do chicken quarters, but to do a big hunk of meat, I needed to reload it - which invoved taking the cooking grid out and setting it aside, while I added more charcoal.

So I cut a hole in the cooking grid, then welded a bar across to hold the loose tines, and now can add in charcoal as needed by just dumping in from the top.

Looking at everyone else on the internet, they use a chimney to start their charcoal. I made one by cutting the bottom out of a paint can and it worked OK, but I wanted something easier to do. I saw one redneck using a propane weed torch to start his coals, so figured I could down size that and use my propane torch.

It works great! I just fire up the torch, hold it on a charcoal brick for about 30 seconds, then put the lid on and wait a half hour. That is enough to get it started and after about 45 minutes, I am up to cooking temperature.

Next thing I added was a bracket to hold a digital thermometer. I found that I was letting meat cook too long, and the temp of the meat would get too high and it would dry out. So I took a piece of angle iron that has holes in it, and cut it so it would be held by the lid bolt. Just right size, and I can stick my digital thermometer to it.

I am careful to run the wire from the meat around the front, so it doesn't droop into the coals which I am sure would burn the wire off.

And the best part of all, I have it setup on my back porch, so I can look out the back window and see my temperatures. Most of the stuff I cook takes 4 to 8 hours, so I can just walk up to the window, peer out and see what the status is.

The lid thermometer is a bit too small for me to read the numbers from the kitchen, so I mounted it so when the needle is pointing straight up and down, I know it is running at the correct temp.

Lessons learned after using it for a year
The good stuff:
- For simple cheap quick get started smoking today, this is great!
- The removable catch pan makes cleaning out the ash very easy
- It uses a very small amount of charcoal, I can do a 4 hour smoke at 245 (doing chicken quarters) with only 1.6 lbs of lump charcoal. At $0.35 per lb, that is only 56 cents worth of charcoal I am burning up.

the shortfalls:
- The cooking grid is only 17", with the extra loss of space from the firebox on the side, I can only do 5 chicken quarters inside it.
- Because the exhaust vent is in the lid, it has hot and cold spots, so I have to rotate the meat inside to get even cooking. I guess not really that much of a problem, really need to do this anyway.
- The stand is rather wobbly
- The mechanical thermometer failed, so needed to replace with digital one for the air temp
- The intake vent gets a lot of grease dripping on it, and can be stiff to adjust
- I wish the intake vent was on the top so I wouldn't have to bend over to adjust it