It seems like many people are complaining about keeping an elevated temperature in their vertical smokers. I am no exception, so I decided to modify mine with an extra grate to vent the charcoal.
In most vertical charcoal smokers, there is a bowl (bin or basket) that holds the charcoal. It usually sits either on the ground or it is slightly elevated inside the barrel. The design of a bowl is meant to hold a decent amount of charcoal so that you can “set it and forget it”. The problem is that in most inexpensive vertical charcoal smokers, this design keeps the temperature of the smoker from getting high enough – and staying consistent. Before I made this modification, my workaround was to keep the charcoal rotating by turning it over with a stick. This helped, but I would always have to keep my eye on it closely before the temperature dipped down again.
I decided to purchase a steel grate. It’s basically your average cooling rack split into 4 pieces. I couldn’t find a small enough one to fit inside the charcoal bowl, so I took a larger one and cut it into quarters. I figured that it would at least give me a few attempts of maintaining a better temperature if I had more to work with. Also, it helped to cut down on the price. I think I paid under $6.00 for the entire grate.
The first thing I noticed after lighting the smoker with the new grate installed was how it got so hot so quickly. I actually was worried for a few minutes. I didn’t want to have to wait until the fire burned out before I removed the new grate. But, the temperature fell quickly down to it’s normal temperature of ~220F. The best way to explain how well it did, was to say that I didn’t have to touch the charcoal bin nearly as much as I did without the grate. It kept its temperature a lot more accurately than before and I was able to concentrate on other things.
After about 4 hours of smoking, I did notice that it was losing steam. Since it allowed more air to circulate, it was burning off the charcoal a little quicker. I think I would have had to put more charcoal on if I left my meat on any longer. After the bin cooled, I checked the grate … still nearly in perfect condition. I do believe it was a good modification and I plan on using my extra grates for future smoking.