I had a buddy ask me about fixing up his smoker. It is the classic discussion of fixing what you have vs. buying a new one. He decided to have me fix it, so read more to check out how we upgraded his Char Broil Smoker!
The racks in his smoker were sagging badly and he was tired of scooping ashes out with an old dustpan (the classic smoker cleanout solution, and how I still clean mine out). So after some discussion we developed a plan of attack to upgrade his Char Broil smoker to not only save him some money, but extend the life of his smoker for many years to come.
First up, I had to go get some materials. The main part of this build will be with 3/4″ hole 9 gauge expanded steel.
The 3/4″ hole 9# expanded metal is pretty much a standard BBQ grate material. I got it from a local metal supply store. In discussions with them, this is the thickest material that you can get with a small hole size and flat. The next size up goes to 1 1/2″ holes but doesn’t necessarily come thicker or flattened unless you can find a store that has it. When ordering you will also have the choice of standard or flattened. I used flattened on most of this project, but did opt for standard in the smoker box in hopes that it would last a little bit longer. Flattened is good for grilling surfaces because they are flat and can be scraped with a spatula.
Don’t want to buy a whole sheet or have no way to haul it? You can also buy pieces of expanded steel in various sizes from Amazon.
I put the steel up on top of two 4″x4″ boards so I can mark and cut the grates
Another objective of the smoker upgrade was to make the front shelf deeper. He said there wasn’t enough room to put trays or pans on the shelf. Our new plan is to take the front shelf from ~8″ to ~12″ deep.
Welder magnets work great to hold steel pieces together until you get a chance to weld them together. They are cheap, come in many sizes, and are very handy to have around the shop.
Next task up was to reinforce the smoker grates so they last a long time. I am using 1/2″ by 1/2″ solid square stock as a frame for each grate. These things should last longer than the smoker body itself.
FABRICATION TIP: I learned when marking pieces to cut. Mark a small X on the piece that you will not be using. Maybe it is just me, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I grabbed the wrong piece after cutting and wondered why it was too short/long. Once I started putting an X on the part I didn’t need it doesn’t happen anymore.
Now we can skip forward to pictures of the smoker grates done. I must have been in the zone because I totally forgot to take in progress pictures. Not much to see though, it is just a grate reinforced on all 4 sides underneath with 1/2″ by 1/2″ solid square bar stock.
Next up is an upgrade to the grilling coal area of the smoker. I had never seen it before, but this smoker came with a second coal grate up top for grilling. This rack was also thin and badly warped from heat.
While upgrading this upper grill briquette holder, my buddy wanted some way to empty out the ashes without having to scoop them out with an old dust pan. His idea actually worked out pretty well which was to put a rounded ash catcher under the grate so he could just pull out the whole rack and empty it. Don’t worry if it doesn’t make sense yet, I took lots of pics:
FABRICATION TIP: When you need to measure an oddly shaped object, it can be done by using another flexible object like TIG filler rod or string. String works great to measure the outside of objects by wrapping the string around the object then taking the string off and measuring it’s length with a tape measure. For this project, I used a piece of Tig filler rod and bent it to the contour of the inside of the smoker. I could then mark the wire or cut it to length then flatten it out and measure it with a tape measure.
The reinforcement bars I ended up putting on top of the grate because it saved me a lot of time in not having to notch out the ash catcher.
If you haven’t heard of them before, the Pony brand of pipe clamps are AWESOME. You can buy the clamps themselves for pretty cheap then buy whatever length of black pipe that you want them to be and assemble them together. Need a 5′ long clamp? no biggie, just buy a longer piece of pipe.
Our final objectives on this upgrade are to make a new smoker charcoal grate and some kind of ash removal method. We had discussed an ash tray similar to the grilling apparatus above, but it would have been harder to do because the smoker part has a smaller door where the whole tray wouldn’t have been able to come out.
When he sends me pictures of the final product painted black, I will be sure to update this post.
As promised, pictures of it finished and in use:
I hope this post has inspired you to consider using your talents to rebuild what you have instead of just going and buying new stuff all the time. Not only will it improve your DIY skills, it can also save you money.
You don’t need to use all the the topics discussed above, just pick out what you need, figure out what works, and get to it! Good luck.