Offset Smoker Refurbishment
The other week, I mentioned in a Canadian online barbecue forum that I was interested in acquiring an offset smoker even though they’re almost impossible to come by in my neck of the woods (unlike our American cousins, my Canadian brethren seem to be relatively slow to turn onto real barbecue). Within a day I had a gentleman who lives very close to me offering to sell me a used offset for the low, low price of $20. And, since the seller has a pick-up truck and a job very near my house, I managed to get free delivery, too.
My wife & I figured it was a great entry level price and, if nothing else, could serve as an acid test to see if I had any aptitude for offset smoking to justify a more expensive unit.
The seller warned me to expect rust inside & outside of the unit but guaranteed that none of it had eaten through the metal, and he was true to his word. So here’s what I ended up using to get rid of the rust and get everything up to speed and ready for cooking:
- An electric drill with a wire brush attachment.
Luckily I already had the drill, so all I needed was the brush attachment. An outdoor extension cord will also come in handy if your drill isn’t cordless (mine isn’t).
- Dust mask and eye protection.
Safety first, Shawn.
- A shop brush.
This will kick up a lot of detritus.
- Heat resistant, rust-resistant black BBQ spray paint.
I eventually needed 4 bottles of this stuff.
- Some relatively natural cooking oil.
I chose to use some home-made lard, but only because I have more than I can possibly use before it’s going to go bad.
Step 1: Break the cooker into as many pieces as you can
For me, this included two handles (firebox and smoke chamber lids), the firebox, the firebox vent, ash drawer, and the main smoke chamber. And don’t forget food & charcoal grates.
Step 2: Eradicate the rust
Put on your dust mask & eye protection. I actually upgraded my dust mask to a double layer particulates respirator and highly recommend you do so as well. The last thing you want to do is inhale rust dust.
Put the wire brush attachment on the drill & work through every piece of the smoker until all the loose rust is blasted off. Go inside and out and make sure you get it all.
Step 3: Clean it up
Use your shop brush to clean up the newly rust-free pieces. Otherwise, the paint may not adhere properly.
Step 4: Get painting
Keep that mask on (yet another thing you don’t want to inhale). Give everything a good once over, let it dry completely, then give it all a second coat and let that dry. In the immortal words of Tom Petty, the wait is the hardest part. Don’t paint the grates. Please tell me you didn’t paint the grates.
Step 5: Reassemble
Put the whole thing back together. Hopefully you kept track of any and all small parts and have managed to get them all back in their proper places.
Step 6: Oil it up
This where my lard came in handy. What you want to do is get a thin layer of oil on any surface that could potentially come into contact with food. For me, this included all grates and the interiors of the firebox & smoke chambers – including the lids.
Step 7: Fire it up
Things are going to off-gas when first exposed to heat, especially the paint. Sure, the label says it’s just an innocuous odour that poses no health risk, but I’m not taking any chances.
So, build a clean burning charcoal fire in you firebox, and once all the thick white smoke has dissipated close the whole system up and let the fire run its natural course. If you’re of the thermometer-obsessed persuasion, you might also like to take this opportunity to see how hot your beast likes to run and what adjustments you might need to make to get it into the sweet spot.
A little trick I threw in along the way was fashioning a gasket out of aluminum foil to seal any potential leaks as the heat and smoke pass from the firebox to the cooking chamber. The important things to remember out this is that while being much less expensive than a proper welding job it is also subject to wear and tear, and it is ultimately flammable with the application of enough heat. So, always have a garden hose ready to use as a fire extinguisher (you should be doing this anyway) and change the foil for every session.
The bottom line
When I put together all my bills, I spent $20 on the unit and roughly $50 on tools and equipment (wire-brush drill attachment, shop brush, 4 cans of spray paint, and a 3-pack of particulates respirators, as well as the pork trimmings I used to render my lard). So, for about $70 and a few hours of manual labour in the middle of a heat wave I got a new-to-me offset smoker that functions quite nicely. I’m not too sure how well it’ll stand up to the Canadian winter, but we’ll see just how much we can get out of it in the meantime.