How to Convert a Charcoal Smoker

Written by marc chase
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How to Convert a Charcoal Smoker
A converted Char-Griller, with installed side firebox.--photo by Marc Chase

Charcoal grilling is the purist's method of preparing barbecue with a flavour unmatched by gas. Learning to convert your charcoal grill into a smoker can take your grilling game up a level and open up new flavour possibilities. Most kettle-style (Weber) grills and barrel-style (Char-Griller) grills are tailor made for smoking conversion.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Smokenator-Hovergrill Kit (between £32 and £42)
  • Natural lump charcoal or briquettes
  • Wood chips or chunks for smoking
  • Electric charcoal starter
  • Texas-style side firebox (between £26 and £32)
  • Charcoal, wood chips and starter from list above

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    Kettle-Style Conversion

  1. 1

    Place the Smokenator (a half-moon-shaped metal smoking chamber) into the lower kettle so that it rests on top of the charcoal grate and with the rounded side against the kettle-side wall.

    Make sure the water pan is in place as the Smokenator provides a water-driven smoking system.

  2. 2

    Place a layer of charcoal in the bottom of the Smokenator chamber, keeping about 12 lumps or briquettes aside, and fill the water pan at the top of the Smokenator about three-quarters full with water.

  3. 3

    Huddle the remaining lumps or briquettes on top of the electric starter in the main grill body and allow them to ignite for about eight minutes. Then, wearing protective hot mits, use a small metal gardening trowel to scoop the hot coals into the hole at the top of the Smokenator. Allow the lit coals to ignite the other coals inside the smoking chamber for several minutes.

  4. 4

    Feed the wood chips or chunks through the hole, stirring the coal/wood combination with the provided metal skewer. Wood chunks and charcoal can be added through the top hole throughout the cooking process.

    Place the desired meat on a dripping pan next to the Smokenator or on the provided elevated grill racks and slow smoke at about 200 degrees. Consult a grilling cookbook for slow smoking times for various meats.

    Barrel-Style Conversion

  1. 1

    Determine if the grill already has a Texas-style side firebox. If it does, no need to go further.

    How to Convert a Charcoal Smoker
    A converted Char-Griller, with installed side firebox.--photo by Marc Chase
  2. 2

    Most Char-Griller brand grills have perforated panels on the side of the grilling chamber. Punch this out using a large hammer and flathead screwdriver along the perforated lines. Also punch out any perforated screw holes near the opening created in this procedure.

  3. 3

    Attach the firebox over the grill chamber opening with all provided screws, braces and other hardware, following the manual that came with the accessory.

  4. 4

    Season the firebox before using by coating the inside with cooking spray or shortening and then starting a charcoal fire inside. Allow the cooking spray to burn off for at least an hour before using it for smoking. This puts a protective coating inside the firebox and eliminates any chemical residue from the factory.

  5. 5

    Maintain a small charcoal fire inside the firebox and place the desired meat in the centre of the grates inside the main grilling chamber. Wood chips and chunks (preferably soaked in water for at least an hour) can be added about every 40 minutes to the charcoal fire to produce smoke seasoning for the meat.

    Cook at about 93.3 degrees Cor designated times depending on the meat.

Tips and warnings

  • Wet wood chips and chunks produce more smoke, so soak them ahead of time.
  • Control cooking chamber temperatures by adjusting the vents and/or smoke stacks depending on wind speed.
  • Always wear protective gloves when opening fireboxes or smoking chambers and while adding wood or charcoal or removing meat from the grill.

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