A while back I decided to purchase a small charcoal grill for use at my tailgates. I had a full size Weber kettle at home, but it’s size just made it impractical for hauling around in our vehicles. Anyone who has been in the market for a small grill before can attest to the wide range of options in the marketplace today. The good news is that these days you’re not limited to what the local hardware store has, you can shop at any store or seller via the internet. Because of this there is no need to settle on something.
After doing a fair amount of research I decided to go with a Weber Smokey Joe Gold. Being an owner of 2 Webers already I knew that they made a solid product, and quite frankly I didn’t think I was going to find a better grill for $35 bucks. I posted a brief review of the product on Amazon, which you can find HERE, listing my reasoning for choosing the Gold model over the slightly less expensive Silver. In a nutshell I felt like the Gold was more suited to travel, and thus tailgating, vs. the Silver. While I was doing my research I came across a very intriguing little modification that other Smokey Joe owners were doing to increase the capabilities of their little grill.
Now that term modification may be a misleading considering that there are no permanent changes that need to be made. Through the addition of several additional components one is able to transform the small 14 inch grill into a decently sized smoker. Weber enthusiasts are probably familiar with the bullet shaped Smokey Mountain smokers that they offer. And while I don’t have first hand experience with the Smokey Mountain I do know that they are solid pieces of equipment. So what someone figured out was that if they added some sort of middle chamber, in this case a large pot, to the top of their grill they could, in essence, make the Smokey Joe into a “Mini” Smokey Mountain. After giving this a try for myself I knew that I had to share my “Mini WSM” experience with you all. Read on for a parts list and instructions on how to build your own.
Here’s how it’s done:
- 1 – Weber Smokey Joe Charcoal Grill (Silver or Gold will work, but I used a Gold)
- 1 – 32-Quart Aluminum Steamer (Size does matter here as you need a tight fit. The most common choices are the Vasconia or the Imusa. Word of warning if you go with the Imusa, depending on which country it was made in, it may not fit. The wise thing to do would be to take your grill with you and shop locally for this, especially if you go with the Imusa.)
- 1 – Weber 7441 Replacement Charcoal Grates (This is the one used in the 18.5″ kettle)
- 1 – 8 inch unglazed terracotta saucer
- 3 – Stainless Steel 1/4″ x 3/4″ bolts (Can be any head, I used hex head)
- 3 – Stainless Steel 1/4″ Lock Washers
- 3 – Stainless Steel 1/4″ Hex Nuts
- 3 – Stainless Steel 1/4″ Lock Nuts
- 1 – Replacement Grill Thermometer (Look for shorter probe so it doesn’t get in the way. Make sure you calibrate with known temperatures before you start assembling.)
- Tape Measure
- Jigsaw with Fine Metal Blade (24 tpi)
- 1/4″ drill bit
- 1/2″ drill bit (does not need to be 1/2″, only used for drilling pilot hole for jigsaw)
- Wrenches for bolts
- 210 grit Sandpaper or Fine File (used for smoothing sharp edges)
- Weber 7431 Cooking Grate (Allows you to have more racks for smoking)
- High Temp Spray Paint
- Masking Tape
- Before you do anything make sure your pot fits correctly into the base of the grill. Remove the cooking grate and insert pot. If it feels like a good fit you should be ready to proceed, it should not be sloppy. If not you will want to delay until you get a good pot. (Pic 1)
- Remove the steamer insert and lid from the pot. Flip the pot over and mark a 11″-12″ circle on the bottom. I found a cake carrier and traced the outside. Just make sure you don’t make the hole too small, and don’t cut so far as to remove the entire bottom.
- Using a drill bit large enough for the jig saw to fit through drill a hole in the bottom that just barely touches your marking. As you can see in picture 2 I had to do 2 holes because I was a dummy on the first.
- Cut out the hole in the bottom. Go slow making sure not to cut too much out.
- Carefully smooth edges of hole. I wore a leather glove while doing this. Just do enough to get rid of any sharp spots. You can see what this looks like in picture 3.
- Measure a spot 4 inches down from the lip of the pot. This will be location for bolt.
- Measure roughly 14.5″ around the pot in either direction and mark for hole. These will be the locations for the other bolts. Just make sure they’re 4 inches down from the top. (I used a piece of tape marked at 14.5″to help measure)
- Measuring roughly 5.5″ from the lip drill a hole roughly equidistant between the handles. The idea is to mount the thermometer sort of in the middle of the put. Mark your spot.
- Drill 1/4″ holes on your marks. Let the drill do the work. It won’t take long. (I used a punch to help get the drill centered) Clean up any rough edges that the drilling may have caused. (Shouldn’t be much)
- Thread a nut onto each bolt followed by a lock washer. Insert this into the holes, the 3 that are 4″ from the top, so that the head of the bolt is on the inside of the pot. Thread a lock nut onto the outside of the bolt and tighten. To see this look at picture 4.
- Unscrew the nut from the calibrated thermometer and push probe into the remaining hole. Screw the nut back on and tighten.
- Push the charcoal grate down into the bottom. I found that it took a little coaxing but I was able to push it past the ridge for the steamer plate. It should rest on the bottom lip of the pot.
- Place the terracotta saucer on the grate at the bottom. This will act as a heat diffuser and make sure your food isn’t just grilling. (Picture 6)
- Place cooking grate from Smokey Joe into pot, and let it rest on the bolts. (Pic 5)
- Place the whole unit on top of the grill base, and place lid on top.
- Drink a beer and admire your work. (Beer is optional, but enjoyable. Just don’t start with this step considering you have to operate power tools.)
Paint – If you’d like to paint your new smoker you can do so now. Tape off the lip of the pot,the handles, and the thermometer as kind of shown in picture 7. Cover the openings so no paint gets inside. You can get creative here if you’d like. I went with a simple black semi gloss, but if you have some skill you could easily mask off a design and/or paint other colors. Just use good spray painting mechanics here and you should end up with a quality paint job.
Optional – If you’d like to add an additional cooking grate(s) you can do so pretty easily. If you’re just adding one you can let it rest on the steamer ridge. If you want more you can add additional hardware like we did for the top rack, but I would aim to keep it at no more than 3 cooking grates total.
And since you didn’t ask for it, here are a few words of advice based on what was learned while doing this:
- Find a set of plans and stick with them. What you see here should get you to where you need to go, but there are other designs out there. I made the mistake of mashing a few sets of plans together and ended up with more pieces than I needed.
- Before you throw lots of money in food on this thing make sure you can get a temp and hold it. My first run I had a pretty steady temp of about 250 degrees, but you may find yours to be a little finicky at first. This should be a very efficient design due to its size so don’t go overboard on fuel and it should work just fine. I just lit maybe 15-20 coals in a chimney starter and dumped them onto a small pile of unlit coals. This, combined with good vent operation, should keep the fire burning slowly for a long time.
After a “seasoning” burn of about 2 hours I decided to make some “Atomic Buffalo Turds.” As you can see in picture 9. I was able to get 24 of the little suckers onto one rack, and you can do the math if you have more racks available. I just finished this over the weekend so I haven’t had much time to make anything else, but I’ve read where people have cooked pork butts, ribs, brisket, chicken, and just about anything else you’d like to cook. Are you going to be able to feed a huge group of people with this? Probably not, but if you are in those situations you’ve probably already come up with a solution for that. That whole right tool for the job definitely applies in this case.
So there you have a pretty easy way to make a $35 grill into a functional smoker for about $100 bucks and an afternoon of your time. Plus since you’re not doing anything permanent to the grill you can always take a rack out of the smoker put it back in the grill and cook that way too. If you decide to build one and have questions please let us see if we can help. As always we enjoy seeing what our readers have come up with so if you build one of these with really cool paint job send us the pictures and we’ll see about posting them on the site.