Modifying the Typical Backyard Off-set Style Smoker

July 7, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Hondo SmokerBought my Hondo over ten years ago and really struggled to get good ‘cue. I researched and researched and bought book after book but still struggled. I was ready to spend big bucks to purchase a fancy rig – or even get one custom made – I Was that frustrated.

But before I did, I used my research to make the following modifications, and my problems disappeared. Then I tried a fire-building technique in addition to the modifications and was finally able to maintain an absolutely steady 220 degrees for 6 to 10 hours with ease. I was thrilled!

Nearly all the “backyard” offset smokers (typically those that sell for under $750) need these modifications. The only exception that I am aware of is the new model Bar-B-Chef

sold by Barbeques Galore.

These modifications are inexpensive and easy yet they work wonders. Try them and see if they don’t work for you, too.

 First the Modifications

 Stuff to Get        

Go to your local home improvement or building supply store and get the following:

1. One roll of aluminum flashing for the chimney.

2. One piece of unpainted, non-galvanized 22 to 16 gauge light steel for the baffle.

3. Pipe plug or metal cap to fill the thermometer hole.

4. If you don’t have one, you will need either a 3/4″ drill bit or a 3/4″ hole cutter.


Lower the Position of the Temperature Gauge!

This is critical. You want to measure the cooking temperature at the grill level, not at the top of the cooking chamber. Heat rises, and the temperature reading with the temperature gauge in its original position will give you a reading up to 80 degrees higher than the temp at which you are actually cooking. 1. Remove the existing temperature gauge. The hole is 3/4″ in diameter. Fill the hole with a pipe plug or a metal cap.

2. With an electric drill and 3/4″ drill bit or 3/4″ hole cutter, drill or cut a new hole a little to the side of the handle (if your firebox is mounted on the left side – if your firebox is mounted on the right side, you want to put the new hole to the left of the handle) and remount the temperature gauge in the new hole.

Note: Another option is to purchase a digital, remote temperature gauge. This eliminates the need for drilling a new hole. Get a small block of hardwood and drill a hole all the way through. Insert the probe of the remote temperature gauge through the hole so that 1″ to 1½ “ of the end of the probe is exposed. You can then place the probe anywhere in the cooking chamber and obtain a very accurate reading.

Improve the Chimney, by lowering it Toward the Cooking Grate

This modification will improve heat retention, helps to even out heat distribution and promotes proper heat conduction over the meat.

1. Unroll the aluminum flashing and cut a piece off about a foot to a foot and half in length.

2. Roll the cut piece of flashing into a cylinder about ½” less in diameter than the chimney.

3. Stick the cylinder up inside the chimney from the bottom leaving enough of the flashing exposed so the chimney is about an inch or so above the cooking grate.

4. Let the flashing unroll and it will unroll to the diameter of the chimney.

Insert a Steel Baffle between the Firebox and the Cooking Chamber

This modification serves two purposes. First, it directs heat downward below the grill for much improved heat circulation, which together with the chimney modification dramatically evens out the temperature in the cooking chamber. Second, it acts as a heat shield between the firebox and the meat to eliminate radiant heat so that you are cooking by heat convection only. This prevents the meat from burning before it is done.

1. Cut a piece of the steel wide enough to cover the opening between the fire box and the cooking chamber at its widest point (side-to-side). Make this piece of steel 12″ to 16″ in length (better to be slightly long than slightly short).

2. Line the piece of steel up with the upper bolts that hold the firebox to the cooking chamber and mark the spots. Drill holes to line up with the existing bolts.

3. At a height just below the cooking grate, bend the piece of steel into an “L” shape, but the angle should be less than 90 degrees. You want the end which extends into the les meilleurs casino en ligne cooking top casino en ligne chamber to angle slightly downward toward the bottom of the cooking chamber.You want at least 6″ of the steel baffle extending into the cooking chamber (more is better than less).

4. Mount the piece of steel using the existing bolts and nuts, making sure the bottom half

of the “L” extends into the cooking chamber below the cooking grate.

Building a Fire in a Offset Style Smoker

For the longest, steadiest burn times I recommend you get the best quality hardwood lump charcoal you can find. Briquettes will work, however they produce so much ash that the fire chokes itself out within about 4 hours. High quality hardwood lump charcoal produces very little ash. If you don’t use a charcoal basket, you need to find a way to keep the charcoal away from the air intake. Here is a good way

Fill the firebox with charcoal all the way to the lip of the opening between the firebox and the cooking chamber then hollow out every so slightly — about an inch or so — just enough to make the pile slightly concave — a small area in the middle by pushing the charcoal up around the sides a little.

Fill a Weber chimney with charcoal and light it. When it is going real good (all coals glowing)

then pour it all on top of the charcoal in the firebox, keeping it centered as much as possible. Close the lids but leave all the vents (air intake and chimney) wide open. When the temp reaches 275 – 300 degrees, begin closing the air intake. Close the air intake half way then check the temp in 15 minutes. If it is too high, close the vent half way again and check in 15 minutes. If still too high, close the air intake all the way. Check again in 15 minutes.If the temp is still too high and ALL VISIBLE SMOKE DISAPPEARS, begin closing the chimney – you guessed it — half way. Check again in 15 minutes, etc. At some point the temp will stabilize — check the vents and remember where they were as that will be your starting point next time. The fire will slowly burn down through the pile of charcoal providing a nice, long, steady burn. For a review of the lump charcoals available in your area go to:

This site reviews most all available hardwood lump charcoals. The higher the quality charcoal, the longer your burn time. 

It takes some time to learn the individual quirks of your smoker, but if you work with the technique and use the highest quality lump charcoal you will easily get 6-8-10 hours of steady 210-220 degrees. This really does work — I have heard back from hundreds of people who have followed these instructions and all report results just like mine.

I don’t recommend that you use wood as your primary fuel. The backyard sized off-sets have a cooking chamber that is just too small and it is very easy to over-smoke the meat making it taste very bitter and, well, gross. I have been trying for years to figure out why this is and I believe (and others tend to agree) that it is because in order to get the wood to the proper temp to burn off the foul-tasting impurities you will not be able to maintain the low temp required for proper barbequing (remember, low and slow) — the cooking chamber just gets way to hot.

A good brand of lump charcoal will give you a mildly pleasant smoke flavor but if you want it a little stronger, put a few wood chunks around the perimeter of the firebox and let them smolder or wrap them in heavy duty foil and poke a bunch of holes in the top and lay them on top of the charcoal). If you do this, it is a good idea to gently lay a piece of heavy duty foil over the meat (don’t “tent” it and don’t wrap the meat – just gently lay the foil on top of the meat) to prevent creosote from depositing on the meat surface. You only need to do this once or twice during the cooking process — remember, it is very easy to over-smoke in these smaller cookers. I seldom use the wood chunks and I have been told by many people that my ‘que is the best they’ve ever had.Like I said, a good quality lump charcoal should be all you need to turn out “the best ‘que they’ve ever had.”


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