I was inspired by Dave Naffziger’s blog post. He successfully built an electric smoker which gave me the idea for a coal burning version.
My design omits the electric cooking element, and instead uses a smaller 12 inch flower pot placed upright at the bottom of the large pot. This is to emulate the firebox that comes standard in Kamado style cookers like the BGE (Big Green Egg)
The smaller pot is a base for the charcoals to rest above and creates an elevated air space similar to chimney fire starter tins that are commonly used for coal grilling. Right above the small pot rests a steel grilling wok. I picked one up at Orchard Supply Hardware for $10. It is a grill-friendly wok with holes in it, made fo wok cooking over an open fire. This is where I place the hot coals.
Right above the wok sits a small 14 inch Weber charcoal grill. It rests firmly on the wok and fits perfectly about six to eight inches from the bottom of the large pot. I placed disposable aluminum drip tray. Water goes into the tray and it doubles as a catcher for falling grease. In my original design I wanted to place a pizza stone over the grate. In the photos you’ll see a terra cotta flower pot dish. After several test smokes, the plate cracked into two pieces, so I decided it was not necessary since the aluminum water tray was sufficient to deflect direct heat from the coals. The price of a pizza stone was also pretty high – about $29 on Amazon and I wanted to build something as cheap as possible without buying extra accessories. Subsequent testing proved it was not necessary.
New Features or Design Improvements. I’ve listed a few ideas based on my learnings from version 1:
1. Handles and Bearings
A method for turning or lifting the lid to its side without lifting it completely off would be a welcome feature. I noticed there are two rolling bearings behind the lid for large Weber grills. This enables the lid to roll over the lip of the grill where it rests on the side. I think this could be done using a couple of screws with a metal or plastic collar to help it roll down. During the course of an 18-hour low-and-slow brisket smoking session I opened the lid about 5 times (4 of which were to replenish and stoke more coals). My back started to hurt after repeatedly doing this, so I’d rate this feature pretty high
2. Adjustable Vents
The only temperature control I had was how much volume of coal to put in the firebox. A sliding vent door over an enlarged hole could easily work although it isn’t as convenient as a side vent. I’m afraid of cutting the flower pot as it would either crack or weaken the structure with repeated heating and cooling (not to mention possibly shattering if cold water splashed on it while it was hot). Filing the hole to enlarge it seems to be the easiest way, and gives me an option to convert the grill back into a flower pot when I move on
3. Side door to access firebox.
A feature like this would let me add coals and stoke the flame without removing the lid. Heat loss occurs when the lid is opened and it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for the heat to build up to optimum temperatures. Repeated opening dries the meat and reduces efficiency of the oven, increasing the need to add more coals. The only way to add a side door would be to cut into the flower pot. As stated above, I don’t think this is feasible, but that’s just my opinion since I’ve never tested it. I don’t want to try it out on a $50 flower pot just to find out.
4. Chimney or Adjustable Top Vent
Most smokers and Kamados like the BGE and Weber grills have an adjustable vent or a chimney to control exhaust flow. I would enlarge the top hole and add a piece of metal to act as a vent blade. This would allow for fine tuning of exhaust (used in conjunction with the bottom vent). It’s mainly for better control as opposed to two fixed holes and a piece of cardboard on top.
5. Fixed Temperature Gauge
This is an easy feature. I currently rely on my trusty digital temperature probe which is extremely accurate and works well. A fixed gauge affixed to the lid would remove one extra thing to do when I’m cooking.
6. Serving Table (a la BGE)
I use my gas grill to put things down. This is useful when I’m adding coals and I need a place to put the top grill. It’s also nice to have a place to hang my accessories (oven mitts, tongs, fork and coal poker). During preparation a table comes in handy for plates, utensils, and sauces.