So a couple weeks ago my friend Mike helped me build my first Mini WSM (aptly named “Lil Gator”). A Mini WSM is a converted Weber Smokey Joe to a miniature Weber Smokey Mountain (“WSM”). There a few a reasons why I wanted to build one. 1) They’re ultra portable so it will be easy to pack up and take on beach trips, camping trips or tailgating parties. 2) They are SUPER fuel efficient b/c of their small size, so you can easily make it through an entire butt or picnic cook with 1/2 a bag of charcoal. 3) They are fairly cheap to make, especially if you can find the Smokey Joe on sale somewhere (total cost is roughly $80 – $90 depending on the cost of your Smokey Joe and your parts). 4) I want to be cool like all the other guys that have one
I’ve provided a ton of pics below that will walk you through the entire process, but before we get to the steps, I wanted to point out a couple things. 1) Not all 32 qt pots fit well for this project. Feel free to do a little research online to see which pot other people are using, but the two pots that seem to fit the best are either the IMUSA 32-qt tamale/seafood steamer or the Vasconia 32-qt steamer. 2) For this project, you definitely want to use the Smokey Joe Gold versus the Smokey Joe Silver. Here’s why: the Silver has a bottom damper which can EASILY get clogged, so a lot of guys drill holes in a small, stainless steel bowl (like a pet food bowl or something similar) then mount it over the bottom damper to protect it from all the inevitable ash build up. The better alternative is to go with the Gold model that has a damper on each side and does not have one on the bottom. It saves a lot of headache and makes it easier to dial in your temp since you have a damper on each side of the smoker. 3) Spend a few extra dollars and get all stainless steel hardware. You’ll be cooking in this bad boy a lot so you don’t want to go low budget and save a couple dollars and have junk hardware securing your grates, heat diffuser and pit thermometer. OK, now for the pics. I’ve put a brief description above each one to let you know what’s going on in each pic. Feel free to hit me up in the Comments section if you have any questions. I also have a couple videos at the very bottom of this post. One shows an overview of the Mini and the other is a video of me cooking baby back ribs and beef back ribs on it for the first time.
Weber Smokey Joe Gold
1 Tel-Tru BQ300 Barbecue Thermometer, 3″ black dial with 2 .5″ stem (there are different colors and also a 4″ stem model, but for this project, get one with the 2.5″ stem)
1 32 qt IMUSA tamale/seafood steamer
1 can of black high heat black auto enamel paint
1 can of orange auto enamel paint (this is option…you can just put on 2-3 coats of the black high heat paint…)
12″ terracotta base
1/4″, 3″ long stainless steel bolts (3)
1/4″, 3/4″ long stainless steel bolts (3)
1/4″, stainless steel lock washers (8)
1/4″, stainless steel nuts (11)
1/4″, stainless steel lock nut (4)
1/4″, 5″-6″ carriage bolt (doesn’t matter if stainless or not, just find the longest you can up to 6″ for the handle)
Please note: One of the steps I failed to take a picture of below is when we drilled all of the holes for the heat diffuser, the rack and the pit thermometer. Do this before you paint so you don’t mess up your paint job.
Here is everything set out just before we got started. There’s really not a whole lot to this.
Installing a 1/4″ x 5″ carriage bolt. That’s a small piece of a broom handle on the end that we cut. This provides a quick and east solution for adjusting the top damper without having to put a glove on.
Drilling the holes. We used a 1/4″ bit, but if you have a 1/2″ bit, or better yet, a step bit, you can drill bigger holes so you won’t have to drill as many as we did.
Still drilling. I’ve seen some guys that use ultra precision when drilling the holes out. We just eyeballed it and drilled them all over the place. I mean really, all I care about is air flow, not looks. No one’s ever gonna see the bottom anyways…so who cares right?
Yep, still drilling. Be sure to clean up all the little metal shards when you’re done b/c if you have young kids like I do they can be quite a hazard if just left lying around…
Update 12/4/12 – A lot of guys end up cutting the bottom out of the pot (leaving only a 3/4″ – 1″ lip around the edge) to allow for better airflow. I’ve had a lot of people contact me telling me they have issues consistently keeping the temp up so they end up just cutting the bottom out. I’ve had a few cooks were this was an issue, but I’ve learned to just take the middle and top sections off for a sec and stir the coals around to allow the ash that’s choking the fire out to fall down below the charcoal grate. As long as you do this and keep the lid on as much as possible, you shouldn’t have a problem keeping it nice and hot. I’ve chosen not to cut the bottom out of mine yet b/c on really hot days it can get too hot if you don’t watch the vents closely and that’s not ideal.
OK, I live in Gator Nation and bleed orange and blue. Was I going to make a Mini WSM without a Florida logo of some sorts? Of course not. All I did was print out the Florida Gators “F”, carefully cut the F out, then taped the template down with cheap ol’ masking tape. The trick here is to make sure you have at least 2-3 layers of tape over your logo. You want a thick layer so it’s easy to cut out with a razor blade and also so when you paint over it there’s no way the paint will bleed through.
Cutting the “F” out with a razor blade.
This is what the “F” looked like when we were done. Hopefully you get the idea by now…
Now we’re taping the lip of the tamale pot. We’ll be attaching plastic grocery bags to the tape to protect the inside of the pot during the painting process.
All you really need to do is tear off some long pieces of your masking tape and attach it to the outside, bottom edge of the lip.
Adjust the tape so it’s sticking up and slightly angled in towards the inside of the pot. If you look closely, you can also see where we taped the handles. This is totally up to you, but I wanted to the handles to remain a nice shiny silver color to match well with the silver “F” on the final product…
Take some plastic grocery bags and attached them to the tape.
Spraying the first coat of the high heat black auto paint. The trick here is to spray from about 1′-1 1/2′ away so it goes on nice and even. If you get to close and too much paint hits the pot in one area there’s a chance the paint will run and you do NOT want that happen. Just spray it on nice and light from a good distance and it will go on perfectly.
Here’s the first coat drying. It should go without saying, but pick and nice and warm/hot day (no rain…) to paint. On this day it was like 90° so the various coats of paint were drying in only 10 min or so.
After 2 or 3 coats of the high heat paint (I think I did 3…), it was time for orange auto enamel paint. Here’s is a shot of the first coat drying.
This is right after we removed the tape over the “F” and were in the process of removing the tape from the lip and the handles.
To mount the grill rack, we used stainless steel 1/4″ x 3/4″ hex bolts, stainless steel hex nuts, stainless steel lock washers and stainless steel lock (acorn) nuts. The lock nut goes on the outside then washer and hex nut are on the inside. You can see in the pic how the grill rack will sit on the head of the nuts. (This pic shows 1 1/2″ bolts we tried first, but they were too long and made it impossible to fit the bottom grate past them, so I switched them out a couple weeks later for 3/4″ ones instead…)
For the terracotta pan (that will be used as a heat diffuser) rack, we used 1/4″ x 3″ hex bolts, stainless steel hex nuts, stainless steel lock washers.
Update 12/4/12 – At this point, now that I’ve been cooking on my Mini for about 7 months, there are couple tweaks to this original build I would suggest. First, don’t use a terracotta pan. They’re too heavy and started to cause the hex bolts to sag on mine, warping the sides of the pot. I’m not the only one b/c several people have told me the same thing. I switched over to a lightweight pizza pan and it really hasn’t been an issue since. All I do is just cover the pizza pan in aluminum foil to catch the drippings. One of my blog readers that built a Mini mentioned that he ended up running some all thread across the bottom and through the pot to allow for additional support of heat diffuser/deflector (check that out here).
Here is the rack from the Smokey Joe setting nicely on the 1 1/2″ bolts.
And here’s the finished Mini WSM with the 3″ black dial Tel-Tru BQ300 thermometer that was installed a few weeks after I built this.
Here’s a video of me slow smoking ribs on “Lil Gator” for the first time.