In the beginning…

Before I start posting about food, I thought I’d put down the history of my smoker. My only outdoor cooking was done with my gas grill, but after Christmas ’10 that changed. My mother-in-law Jackie bought Carrie and I a smoker for Christmas and I had told her the one thing I knew about smokers was that I wanted charcoal-powered over gas. Kind of the same way bowhunters consider rifles “cheating” I thought: If I’m going to go to the effort to smoke food, I’d rather do it the right way over the easy way.

I unpacked and assembled the Brinkmann smoker, following all of the break-in instructions and set to cooking. I quickly discovered problems getting it up to the proper temperature and like with any other problem, I hit the interwebs. It turns out the Brinkmann is well known for having this heat issue, and many people fixed it by either drilling holes in the charcoal pan or replacing it with a basket. I went the basket route, and it worked, but it was still VERY difficult to maintain proper temps. The food usually turned out pretty good, but it was a lot of work. After doing a lot of reading on websites like thesmokering.com and bbq-brethren.com I realized I needed to upgrade to something make of thicker steel.

I found a smoker I liked, but it turns out it was no longer being make. New Braunfels was a Texas-based company that make a vertical-oriented smoker called the Bandera. New Braunfels was bought by Char-Broil and all of the manufacturing was moved to China. Needless to say, the Char-Broil version of the Bandera was made of much thinner metal, and as a result, more difficult to use. The US-made Bandera turned into a sort of collector’s item and usually sells for $700+ used.

I was about to settle for the very popular Weber Smokey Mountain model smoker when a random peek at Craigslist resulted in “Smoker/Grill – $125.” I clicked on the listing and was shocked to see a rusted out Bandera. The New Braunfels logo on the door was immediately recognizable. I made a few emails, borrowed a truck and later had a smoker in the garage in need of some TLC.

The Bandera as I received it
Full of rust in the cook chamber
Rust in the firebox
Converted to gas, which will be removed.

I spent the next two weeks taking the smoker completely apart, ordering a few replacement parts from Char-Broil, stripping the parts with a wire wheel and angle grinder, and repainting everything with high-heat Rustoleum. I read about several modifications to make and ordered firebricks (the kind that line fireplaces…not much demand for them here on the Emerald Coast) to line the cook and fire areas to help with maintaining proper heat.

Relocated to the patio, freshly painted

Since the smoker would be positioned next to the house on one side, and next to a fence on another, I realized the 4″ chimney wouldn’t get the required amount of draw, so I put together a 3 foot chimney out of aluminum and steel parts from several different departments in Lowe’s. The stack can be removed so the factory-made cover will still fit.

Insert compensation joke here.

I replaced the simple wood shelf with folding shelf brackets and a cutting board.

Folds up when not in use.

To prevent the shelves from tipping over when loaded, I JB-welded aluminum channels to the shelf lips.

I was going to do every other one, then later decided to do them all.

Using a masonry cutting disc on an angle grinder, I cut the fire bricks to the proper size to line the cook chamber and firebox bases.

Fire bricks in the Bandera cook chamber
and in the fire box, which covers the hole made for the gas conversion.

I then cut & bent a sheet of expanded steel to create a basket for the charcoal and wood.

No welding or bolts needed.

I wrapped the lip of the cook chamber with wax paper and filled the edge of the door with high-heat silicone caulk. This created an almost airtight seal. Unfortunately the wax paper didn’t peel off quite like planned, but it works great.

Prep for the silicone caulking.
The silicone all trimmed up.

I replaced the rusty water pan with a stainless steel mixing bowl and wedged an aluminum cookie sheet in the base to make cleanup a bit easier. I cut and bent a piece of sheet aluminum to fit over the firebox opening to create a baffle, directing the heat under the water pan rather than straight up the side of the cook chamber.

No it's not falling over. I just held the camera crooked.

The last thing I needed to do was to replace the broken plastic casters on one end of the smoker. I should have done this first (since it required pulling out all of the firebricks to lay it on its side) but the casters I wanted took a week to arrive.

3" solid polyolefin wheels

All done and ready for seasoning.

Just needs food.

Unfortunately I didn’t take the time to photograph the seasoning process, or even the first few cooks, but the smoker holds temperature great and holds a ton of food. Obviously more on that to come.