Sometimes it happens. You look at an old friend one day and realize that he’s just let himself go. If you see your friend on a regular basis, this change can be so subtle that you might not even notice it. But then one day, it becomes very obvious.
I had this realization early this spring when I went out to fire up my smoker for the first time. Time and weather had not treated my friend well. The smoker was obviously rusty all over, and the fire box (where ash and moisture do their most damage) was in a state of complete shambles.
Many people would have just shrugged and taken the opportunity to go out a buy a new smoker. I find myself loath to do that for several reasons. First, the smoker was a gift from the GF, something she gave me early in our relationship and in truth, I just don’t want to part with it. Next, while I like a lot of the new smokers available, few manufactures still sell a vertical style with a side fire box like mine; and I really, really love it because not only can I smoke in it but I can do direct grilling on coals and wood. And finally, I have to admit that my friend’s condition lay squarely on my shoulders. I hadn’t plunked down the measly dollars it would have required to buy a cover for it, and now that opportunity was lost. No, this was my fault, and I had to make it right – if possible.
Here’s what I had to start with:
The first step is to remove all the damage. This is the most important step, not only to remove as much rust damage as possible, but when finished you really know if you have anything worth saving. I recommend a beer and a box of tissues for this step. Then take a hose, or power washer, and go at it.
The fire box was a disaster, however I felt there WAS enough structure for me to build onto and repair it. The smoke box was relatively undamaged, just some cosmetic rust on the outside.
I want to state, that I don’t consider myself the most handy person in the world but if you give me something that needs repair, I can usually do a pretty good job. Admittedly, this is one of those times when I wish I knew how to weld – or still worked in one of my company’s production facilities were people who do know how to weld can easily be hired for a couple of cases of beer.
My first task was to build a box frame from the angle metal I bought that fit snuggle into the bottom of the fire box and then bolt it to the sides where ever I had solid metal. Then I used flat metal to build a bottom on which I could lay flat metal plates. This allows me to remove the plates occasionally to thoroughly clean the firebox. If it works as well I hope, I’ll eventually have custom stainless plates made that fit better. I then cut aluminum sheets to slide into the fire box on the sides. The fire box had a lip on the top to help lock the sheets into place.
I then cleaned any lite rust with Krud Kutter “The Must for Rust”, which I highly recommend. This stuff is great. I even soaked the chrome handles to clean them up. Just don’t soak them to long, or you’ll start to take off the chrome and pit the metal. And yes, I’m speaking from experience here. Finally, the cleaned smoker gets several coats of black paint (make sure you get the paint that’s rated for high heat), and the handles got a couple of coats of chrome.
So after all that, here’s the final result:
During the referb, I also to the opportunity to re-sure the door on the side of the fire box, and to clean and lub the air grate in it so that it easily slides open and closed again.
All said, this was a fun little project. The smoker is back to its functional glory. There’s still some work to do however, the ash tray and coal grate that came with the smoker were both beyond repair so I need to figure out a replacement option for them. But that’s another post.