First post here. I've found a lot of good information here and this place seems pretty happenin'. Anyways, hello!
Quick summary: My smoker was complete weak sauce. I bought a $10 hot plate from walgreens, removed the old 250 watt smoker element, and from the hot plate I took out the much larger element and the variable controller, drilled some holes, plugged some things in and now I have an insane 1000 watt variable controlled man-machine.
Awhile back, I had an experience where I saw instructions online on how to make a smoker from clay / terracotta pots. I never had a smoker before - but it seemed easy. As soon as I saw the instructions, I developed an insatiable manly appetite for smoked food. Patience went out the window and I was determined to smoke some dead animal and stuff my face with hickory infused flesh THAT day. So instead of building something, I got on the mecca of local online classifieds listings here in Utah, - KSL.com - and I found a cheap entry-level smoker called the Little Chief for $40 (but since then I've seen some go for $20). I brought it home, and smoked some fish. It was love! It was great! And it satisfied the beast within - but only to a certain point.
After smoking a few things, I realized that something really was missing. The problem with the Little Chief is that, if you're lucky, your temperatures inside will get to maybe 165 degrees. This is sort of useless if you want to smoke anything serious, like a whole chicken (from what I read, the internal temperature should be 220) . For me it was frustrating, and because I'm on a serious student budget I couldn't justify buying another smoker. Somehow today, I remembered how the clay pot smokers were able to achieve very high temperatures with cheap hot plates from Walgreens.
So I set off, got the 1000 watt $10 hot plate from Walgreens - super simple to take apart. Then I went to the Little Chief and removed that weakling 250 watt element. After that, I removed the element and the temperature control from the plastic housing on the hot plate, took the element over to the smoker and realized I'd need to drill an extra hole on the bottom of the smoker due to where the plug-ins on the new element would go if I wanted it centered. So I drilled a hole, adjusted the element to be in the right position, and used a self tapping screw to secure that bottom plate to the bottom of the smoker. I plugged in some things, and boom. This is what I have:
In the picture above, the old element is on the left. The new one is secured. Keep in mind, the element 'guard' or 'bowl', is underneath those tabs that would keep the chip pan in place and the element itself is just above them. What I should have done is worked on the placement a bit better, but this will do the trick perfectly fine.
By far this is my favorite thing. My little chief now has a crazy-awesome temperature controller.
Sorry this picture is blurry. You can see what I did on the underside. Everything fits nicely in that 1.5 inch clearance.
More details will come! I literally just finished this and I find it so awesome I just had to share it with everyone.
How'd it do? A moment ago I gave it a quick run to see what I was dealing with. The chip pan slid on very nicely, I set it on HIGH and walked away for literally 2 minutes - I came back and my smoker was absolutely billowing with mesquite smoke! So, I probably won't need to set it that high again! It was crazy. I'm going to get a good thermometer tomorrow to let you know what temperatures are possible.
Let me know if any of you have any questions.