Learning how to build a competition BBQ smoker is tricky and requires practice and building one might sound over tiring. However, the joy of winning a competition with your own creation will be unprecedented. If you’re an expert craftsman and can handle tasks like welding, drilling, and some advanced-level metalwork then you should have all the faith in yourself.
Doubtlessly, a BBQ smoker made with calculated accuracies and with inch-perfect precision can outdo some of the very best and expensive smokers available out there.
All you need is to have a plan ready on hand and all your attention on your project. An accidental oversight or misapprehension can result in a flawed design that will eventually mess up the whole appliance.
So, alertness and presence of mind are the key requirements of building your own smoker. For the rest of the part, read our guide on how to build a competition BBQ smoker and get started with your model right away.
How to build a competition BBQ smoker:
1. The blueprint
Get yourself started by making a blueprint of your BBQ smoker. Again, we can’t emphasize enough on how necessary it is to have pre-calculated measurements at your hand.
To start with, we’ll be going with an offset smoker for our competition. The reason behind selecting an offset design is its persistence in the competitions over the years. It has been the most dominating type when it comes to contests. Although there are so many advantages in owning one, the main advantage is that you can add in fuel without disturbing the smoking chamber’s temperature. Like, who would want the temperature to fluctuate while you’re competing for the best results?
We’ll be starting with a propane/gas tank as it is made up of durable steel that’s around ¼ inches thick and is quite easy to find (maybe you already have one lying in your backyard). All of your measurements will depend on this propane tank that you’ll use. Be it 25 gallon or 50, measure out the firebox (ideally, should be 1/3rd of your main chamber), the chimney’s size, the firebox’s air inlet opening and so on, accordingly. Check out this calculator that’ll help you with the measurements.
- Angle grinder
- Circular saw
- Steel Cutting Blade
- Propane/gas tank
- Angle iron
- Expanded metal
- Ceramic insulation
- Round and flat bar stocks
- Welding gloves
- Welding helmet or mask
How to build a competition BBQ smoker :
1. Smoking chamber
We are using propane tank for our smoking chamber. You’ll find manipulating this propane tank pretty self-explanatory when you cut out all the openings for its parts.
For the firebox, use a plate steel that’s the same thickness as the main chamber (the propane tank). Also include a ceramic insulator, around 1.5 inches thick, to keep the heat loss at the lowest and the smoker’s efficiency at the highest.
Use steel thick enough for your firebox, that can retain heat and won’t warp or wear out with time. Cut all the sides using a metal cutting circular saw or a cutting torch. Once you have all the sides cut, weld them together to form your firebox.
Next, weld all the sides with the insulation that you’ve opted for. Keep in mind to not completely seal the site that is going to be attached with the smoking chamber.
Now cut the door and the part that’ll lead to the smoking chamber.
Lastly, weld your firebox wit
h a final layer of lightweight steel to cover up all the layers, again leaving the site that is to be attached to the smoking chamber.
For the smokestack we’ll be using a simple steel pipe with a considerable length. The main purpose of the smokestack is to suck in fresh air for a continuous and efficient combustion while giving out the accumulated hot gases inside the chamber, a principle called the draft. The basic rule of the thumb is that the longer the pipe, the stronger will be the draft. So you should keep your smokestack around 6-10″ long. You can cut it off later if you feel it isn’t working for you with the given dampers, chambers, or inlets. Another thing we would recommend is to place your smokestack on the side of the chamber, opposite to the firebox obviously as we want the air to flow across the smoking chamber evenly without having any part of it under a smokestack.
For that purpose, we marked the area where we intended to have the smokestack i.e. the side. Proceed by cutring the notch in your pipe of the same height as the opening. To completely cover and make your smokestack leak proof, add pieces of steel of the same thickness as your smokestack. Cut it out all using a jigsaw or a cut off wheel on the grinder and weld it together. You’re now good to go!
Note: The draft also depends on the outer temperature. The hotter the surrounding temperature, the weaker will be the draft. The hot air inside the chamber tends to rise up due to its lower density than the cold air. If the outer temperature is hot too, the less temperature difference will make the smokestack less efficient and vice versa. So yeah, a smoker works the best in cold environments.
- Intake damper
In our competition BBQ smoker we have a vent/damper on our firebox that is all we’ll be needing to control the temperature. It will make or break your BBQ competition. You should try to master the dampers to become actually an expert. When you move the damper to a more closed position, the air flow will reduce due to which you can starve the fire and eventually reduce the temperature (undesirably low). When you move it to an open position, the air starts flowing in, oxygen levels rise, combustion increases, and eventually the temperature rises.
That’s what’s the most daring part is, keeping the damper just rightly open. Initially, you’ll need to open the damper and then the most demanding part will be balancing the temperature when it reaches the max. You wouldn’t want to adjust the vent impulsively and in haste. So keep practicing!
- Exhaust damper
Now this exhaust damper is the answer to how to make a competition BBQ smoker that will lead you to success. After all, controlling temperature is everything!
This damper is placed above the chimney or smokestack to adjust the flow of gases, heat, and smoke outwards. We haven’t used any damper on our smokestack. The reason being that you’ll need to keep them opened anyways. That’s what works the best. However, your call is totally what we want here. Just join one if you have the gut feeling about it, if you think it would be helpful for you in adjusting the temperature then go ahead.
5. Cooking grates:
For cooking grates, you can directly weld in some expanded metal in your cooking chamber to have permanent chambers. Otherwise, you can also go for removable grates by welding some iron that’d support your removable grates. Be very cautious while welding those supports, any miscalculation can result in really unsatisfactory results. Wouldn’t a little inclined grate look cringeworthy? Yikes.
Next, cut the correctly measured grates from the expanded metal and give it a nice frame finish. Let everything cool off completely before placing in its place to avoid any warping.
Cut, cut, cut:
Now that you’ve your blueprint ready with all the measurements done and good, start cutting out your tank. Please make sure to do it really really carefully. If you have any doubts, you can have a professional cut it for you.
If you decide to cut it yourself, make sure to check any propane residues before doing so. In order to do that fill your propane tank with soap water and look out for any bubbling. Make sure everything’s clear.
Now measure precisely where your doors are going to be. Don’t just rely too much on the seams as they aren’t always perfectly aligned. So, do you own measurements with the help of measuring tape and a correction pen.
Now you can start cutting the doors. Place the propane tank at a desirable height, so you can do your work with comfort. We used the Dewalt angle grinder, which worked really well for us.
Again, whether to cut out the doors completely or not, is totally up to you. You could just cut them all the way and later join them with the hinges or you can simply leave some of the part intact, join with the hinges so that you don’t lose precision, and then cut the remainder.
For hinges, you can get some ready-to-use from the market or you can make your own hinges by bending round bar stocks.
Measuring the circumference from the sideways will help you while making door measurements.
Next, add in the handles on the door. Make sure whatever handles you use, they’re easy enough to use when you make that 90° rotation of your hand while opening up the doors all the way.
Sealing your BBQ smoker:
If you feel you need a little extra sealing so that smoke escapes from no where, you can use any of the methods to seal. Simply seal the doors by welding some steel around the doors on the inside so the doors close fit and snugly. Apart from that, you can use a gasket along with sime wax paper. For that, you’ll need to apply the adhesive and the gasket to the inside of the doors. Next, apply wax paper over it using a silicone adhesive. Shut the doors to check if they fit without any
spaces. You can remove the wax paper later and cut the silicone to get it into the required shape. Make sure to use all the things that you use are high-heat resistant.
To give your smoker a sleek look, you can paint it with some high heat resistant paint yourself or can get it painted professionally. You can also include a thermometer that you’ll be needing for the temperature control.
Other things you’ll likely want to add are for the cleaning purpose. Including an ash clean tray and a grease drain will prove really handy while cleaning.
We’d also advocate adding a water pan to add in some moisture inside your smoker.
How to build a competition BBQ smoker:
Before you start using the beauty that you just made, you shouldn’t forget to season it. Seasoning will make sure all the extra debris is burnt and all the chemicals are completely released.
Just toss in some charcoal in the firebox and get it going hot and good. Let it burn like that for a good amount of time. After a few hours oil the cooking grates and all the interior of the smoking chamber nicely. Let it burn for a few hours more.
You would also probably want to put some meat (chicken, bacon strips, pork fat or any other) that you don’t plan to eat. The reason for doing so is to generate lots of grease. You’d want to repeat this process twice before you actually start cooking.
Now that you know how to build a competition BBQ smoker and you’re now all ready to build it, make sure to arrange a trailer too. Again, think of all the things thoroughly and get yourself a trailer. You can make your own (tons of tutorials out there) or you can simply buy one and get going.
Either way, we wish you the best of luck in your expedition.
By the way, if reading all of this makes you feel lazy, you can have a look at some of the very best smokers available here, that have proved wondrous in competitions especially the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker, that’s been a champ all this time.