If you’ve been following this blog, or Twitter, you may have noticed that I’m expanding beyond running a Big Green Egg family for the last 10 years. I finally invested in a full smoker trailer for competition cooking, catering and more but that new smoker still requires some modifications. When and if you decide to buy an offset, you might want to consider making these changes to ensure a more consistent temperature and smoking experience.
There are many types of offsets out there. From a Cheap Offset Smoker (COS) commonly found at a big box store, to the high-end models that could empty $15k or more from your Whiskey fund. Okay, I might have a problem if my whiskey fund is that big, but a guy can dream can’t he?
At any rate, the mods listed here should work for a variety of different offset smokers on the market. As always, you’re modifying your equipment at your own risk, as these are just my personal observations on how to improve airflow, temperature, and maintaining smoke. This article will cover temp gauges, sealing the smoke chamber, seasoning, and temp control.
Temperature Gauges (Thermometers)
The temp gauges provided by my smoker manufacturer were small (1 5/8″) and were not adjustable. Using a gauge that cannot be configured, could mean the temp is off by up to 20° F or more. Do you really want to risk cooking at a temp that is above or below the target temperature for the meat being prepared?
So, after some research and a lot of reviews, I picked up four of BBQ Factory’s 3″ adjustable temperature gauges that will monitor temps up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit. Given that even the grill box on the smoker won’t be heating up like a Big Green Egg preparing for a steak cookout at 750°, I had no concerns whether these gauges would work.
First, I needed to check the gauges and adjust them to where they were within 3-5° F of the actual temp. To do this, submerge the tip of the gauge in boiling water and adjust until the temp reads 212°F.
The 3″ gauge has a 3/4″ NPT, or National Pipe Thread. That means the hole for the gauge must be 3/4″ at minimum, plus you will need a 3/4″ pipe tap to thread the hole before using it. Since my hardware store didn’t carry a pipe tap for that size, I opted to cut the hole slightly bigger so that the gauges slide right in. If you attempt this method instead of threading it, a 7/8″ hole is more than big enough, but add a washer so the gauge will sit flush against the metal and not sink in.
After cutting the hole, grab some NSF certified hi-temp RTV sealant and coat both sides of the hole. This will stop any smoke from leaking through the holes during cooking. Place the gauge in the hole, and tighten it down using the supplied nut. Be careful to not over-tighten it, otherwise the adjustments you made earlier to the gauge will be off. That’s it, four new gauges installed and ready for use.
Installing Nomex Gaskets
Whether you are modifying a new offset smoker, or replacing a gasket on an existing one, it’s important to have gaskets around the smoke chamber doors to keep the temperature consistent and inside. Without a gasket, you’ll burn more wood trying to keep the temperature up, because the heat is busy escaping through the crack in the door!
Typically, there are two types of high-temp Nomex gaskets on the market. There is the self-adhesive kind and then one that requires the NSF hi-temp sealant to apply it. I opted for the sealant version, as the self-stick ones work great for a Big Green Egg, but in the dead of winter on cold steel, trying that style would have been a lost cause.
Simply create a small bead of sealant around the opening of the door and press the Nomex gasket into it. Follow the curves of the door, but do not cut the gasket. The more cuts you have, the more potential for leaks. Let the sealant rest for at least 24 hours before lighting the smoker.
Seal the Smoke Chamber
If you have unwanted smoke coming from parts of the chamber, seal them with the NSF hi-temp sealant. If you bought a reverse flow smoker, there will be a metal divider under the grill grates, which is designed to carry the smoke and heat from the firebox side to the other end, before crossing over the meat on the grates. If you’re smoke was spot welded on this plate and not sealed completely on the sides, consider applying the sealant along the edge so smoke isn’t leaking up from the sides, and will carry to the end of the chamber.
Seasoning the Smoker
If your grill or smoker is brand new, before you throw $50 worth of food on that new unit to make a big meal, you will need to first season it. Seasoning is the process of cleaning out all the chemicals that were used to make the smoker by burning it off. Plus, when you wipe down all the metal with cooking oil, you’ll create an outer protection layer that will help prevent rust.
Using a paper towel, take some vegetable or canola oil and wipe every part of the inside. For the grill grates, I recommend using cooking spray so it gets into all the nooks and crannies. Once its wiped down, fire up the smoker and get the smoke chamber around 300°F. Maintain the cook temp for at least two hours. This is the same process you use to treat a cast-iron pot or pan.
Besides the major recommendations listed above, there are some minor modifications you might also want to consider.
- Add NSF Food Machinery Grease to the grill grates so they slide on the railings easier. Most grease that is safe for food can support temperatures up to 400°F.
- Add a marine swivel jack to the front of the smoker trailer if the current trailer jack doesn’t have a wheel already. This will provide an easier method to moving your trailer into place without breaking your back.
- I also needed to drill out the hole on the latch for the firebox, as it was just a little too snug for my liking.