Sunday I tested my smoker for the first time. This is how it looks at the moment.
Ok… It’s not the most beautiful thing in the world but I do believe with a lick of paint it will scrub up quite nice. But who really cares what it looks like?!
I thought that it might be finished but… unfortunately I discovered it was not. I have, however, learned some lessons and by next week it will be ready.
This was the first time I have had an entire day on the weekend to really knuckle down and get some work done on the smoker. Here’s what happened.
First of all I had to finish taking the bottoms out of the top two drawers. This turned out to be more difficult that it should have been. I just didn’t have the tools I needed. I did buy a jigsaw because without it, the work would have been impossible. In these gaps I have placed (temporarily) what are essentially oven shelves and cooling racks. I made sure they can withstand heat when I bought them. Although they aren’t as pretty as the expanded steel I hope to use in the future they should do the job nicely for the time being.
As you can sort of see from that image… I have also installed a thermometer. Although this isn’t probably the best thermometer in the world it should, hopefully, give me a good idea what’s going on inside the smoker.
I have also fitted new handles. The old ones were plastic and obviously that won’t do.
I was lucky that every other part of this filing cabinet was made from metal. If you do make your own smoker using a filing cabinet – look out for plastic bits, they will need replacing.
Next I needed to fit the vent. I created a hole in the top of the smoker and screwed the vent down. I bought it in B&Q if your interested. Not sure that it was ever meant to be attached to something like this but it seems to do the trick. There is a little gap on the edge but I have since found out that this vent will probably never need to be closed anyway…. so I’m not too worried.
The fire basket has been an issue. It’s difficult and expensive to build one. I have been searching for something that can be recycled and given a new life as a fire basket and the best thing I could find at the moment was a rusty old barbecue grilling surface. I cut each end and bent them down to make legs and it seems to work ok. It’s not perfect… It needs to be bigger and the gaps mean coals are falling through too easily. I will need to change this soon.
There were a few other hiccups along the way. The bolts that came with the handles were far too long. I had to hunt high and low for some spares that fitted. I broke one blade for the jigsaw and I’m pretty sure the drill bit I used wasn’t meant for metal. I’m not normally one for DIY but I am determined to get this smoker built.
At this point, I thought I was ready to fire it up and see how it works.
I did already have a charcoal chimney but since I had a £5 clubcard voucher for Tesco and this one only cost £6… I bought another. It works perfectly fine. Perhaps it is a little smaller than the other one.
I poured as much lumpwood charcoal as I could into the chimney and fired it up.
Once the coals were hot enough I carefully placed them onto the fire basket and started another chimney of coal. Two chimneys of coal and the smoker reached 150c maximum. I’m not certain that it even reached that.
After a small discussion with some extremely helpful members of the barbecuing community I have identified a few issues with my smoker to be address as soon as possible.
First of all and probably most importantly – I have no vent letting air into the fire box. There are a few holes in the bottom of the cabinet and I hoped that this would be enough to get it going. I was wrong. I am going to have to install a vent on the bottom drawer to let more oxygen in and fuel the fire. This will also help when I need to control the temperature a little. Fitting the vent shouldn’t be too much work so I hope to get this resolved pretty quickly.
It was also mentioned to me that a cabinet of this size is likely to need more fuel in order to bring it up to temperature. It is not insulated so more of the heat escapes and so it takes more fuel to maintain the temperature needed to cook. I accept that. I am however dreading the how much I am going to be spending on charcoal over the next few weeks. My preferred choice of lumpwood charcoal is not cheap. I am considering finding some way to insulate the cabinet but I’m fairly clueless about this and so i don’t really know where to start.
The next problem I had was the fact the second drawer up was left intact. The heat had real trouble reaching the top two drawers.
Based on what I have read about smoking and smokers, the heat must be indirect in order to slow cook and smoke what your cooking. Because the fire is directly beneath the food in this smoker, I thought that leaving that drawer intact would be an easy way to solve that problem. Although in principal this is correct, barely any of the heat could get passed that drawer. Whilst the drawer was there the temperature struggled to reach 120c. After consulting the experts of the barbecuing community, I have discovered that it may not be necessary to block that heat at all. I moved the drawers around a little and sure enough the heat inside the cabinet started to rise and eventually reaching around 150c. Because the filing cabinet is so tall, it would already be cooking indirectly. If, however, I wish to cook on some of the lower levels it might be worthwhile having something there to diffuse the heat. I do intend to cook on the lower shelves and so I intend to turn that drawer into a sort of heat deflector. Perhaps drilling holes that allow more of heat out.
So… I don’t think it has been a total disaster. The smoker does sort of work. With a few minor adjustments it will be working beautifully. I would like to thank everybody who has provided me with much needed advice. I would be helpless otherwise!
Hopefully the next post, in around a weeks time, will feature a fully functional smoker!
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Written by Tomos Newland-Jones @MrNewland66