For those who have seen some of my recent sausage & snack sticks posts you know I had been using a 1,100 watt counter top heating element in the bottom of my 18.5" WSM for low temp smokes. That little element would go up to 185 degrees so it was great for smoking at lower temps and then finishing snack sticks and such. I had not modified the counter top heating element and it did still have the thermal limiter installed (I think I paid about $10 at Walmart). I used a AMAZN pellet tray for the smoke source.
My goal is to have something that give me the option of a lower temp smoke that is also stable and controllable (more so than a small pile of charcoals). Electric seems to fit that bill nicely and it also does not add moisture to the air like an LP conversion would (although LP would fit the control-ability requirement). I wanted something that was not a permanent modification to the WSM and would not affect it's use as designed during charcoal smokes.
I bought a Brinkmann element thinking I could use it with a PID to make a damn nice unit for the WSM. It fits, but the way the wire exits the metal plate under the element, it was an issue with my charcoal grate. It would not simply sit on the grate or the fire ring. Also I would have to cut a new opening for the cord to exit as the plug was wider than any of the vent holes. So I kept this in the back of my mind thinking a better solution was out there. But the Brinkmann was doable with modifications (and I had to build a controller unless I wanted full heat all the time).
Then one day was I was browsing replacement heating elements and saw a "universal" replacement element from River Country that was sold on Amazon. I'm not sure if Amazon is a forum sponsor (should be as they sell Jeff's book), but to play it safe, you can search "universal replacement element for bbq smoker" and look at the $39.50 model sold by River Country through Amazon (qualifies for amazon free shipping also).
This unit had a removable controller and the element had flanges on both sides for bolting into a smoker. It looks like a clone of the Old Smokey elements and controllers. Only difference was the Old Smokey ones sold for around $70 a set and this one was $39.50 and shipped for free via amazon, so half the price and free shipping sounded like a deal.
There was a photo showing the element measurements on the amazon page. I measured my 18.5" WSM door opening, and it should fit diagonally with about 1/4" to spare on each side. Ok, I'm a little ahead of my self on that point. When I bought my WSM in 2005, the original door had a hairline stamping crack on the raised section under the knob. Smoke leaked out this crack. Weber sent me a replacement, however by the time I received it a week or so later, I had used the smoker a couple of times and the smoke had filled in the hairline crack. Also I'm a lot less anal about smoke leaks not than I was when I was a newbie. So I had a brand new WSM door in storage. My thought was I could bolt this element to the extra door and simply change out the door to switch from charcoal to electric and still have some degree of temp control without the added cost of building a PID controller. Sounded like a winner!
So fast forward a few weeks. Element is here, I dug the "new" door out of storage (that involved a complete cleaning out of the garage - in retrospect it would have been easier to buy a new door for $20, but it's done).
So here is the electric WSM mod...... Or the e-WSM mod as I'm now calling it.
Heating element & controller (element is said to be a 1,300 watt unit).
Closeup of control unit - not "precise" in it's markings but it should due for the task intended.
Mark the WSM door for cutting. I used the flange as a template.
Element installed in the door. I used a Dremel tool with a flat cutting wheel to cut the opening. Then drilled two holes for the 8x32 bolts.
I used stainless hardware to attache the flanges
Installed on the WSM. Just swap out the door, turning the element diagonal through the opening. Turn upright and close the door when clear.
For now the legs on the far end of the element are sitting on an extra charcoal grate on top of the fire ring. I do have some flat stock I bought to make a U-bracket to extend them to rest on the bottom fire grate. I left it like this for this test and may leave it this way. Reasoning is the legs now are at about the same height as the bottom of the main body, but if use extensions to rest the legs on the charcoal grate instead of the grate on top of the fire ring, they will be too long and prohibit my taking the main body off the WSM during a smoke. Occasionally I've had wet pellets and had to relight a tray (hey, it happens). So I have to ponder this a while before extending the legs.
Element is well centered in the 18.5" WSM body. Also I have the old style shallow water bowl for my WSM. I can foil it as a drip pan and it is sitting about 3 or 4" above the element. Plenty of clearance. Not sure if the newer style pan would have this much clearance if someone were to modify one of the current model WSM's.
Clean look for the mod, and it can be reversed by putting back in the other door for charcoal smokes. Ok, ok.... the new door and design looks "clean", the smoker body, not so much. What can I say, I use it a lot and it stays on a covered porch year round.
This is after 30 minutes of warm up with all vents open on highest setting.
Should work great for snack stick and sausage. I did also try it at lower dial settings. It held 125 and 155 with no problems and should hold anything in between. I have not taken this thermometer out and tested calibration in years, but I do remember it reads about 20* lower than both my BBQ Guru and Maverick probe at the food grate. So I would think the 235* on the dial unit is more like 255* at the grate. This should work great for what I want!!!
Yeah, I know.... that nice shiny door means I really need to clean the rest of the smoker (outside at least).
One final comment. My smoker is a 2005 model 18.5" WSM. I do not know if this would work with the current production models. Also the element would be way to large for the 14.5" WSM and probably undersized for the volume of air in a 22.5" WSM. The element would also be off center in a 22.5" WSM. But if you have a 18.5" WSM and also have their new sauuage/fish hanger, this is a great mod for sausage and snack stick making.
This is why I wanted to do this mod. You get the dial-ability of low temp smoking with the ease of electric. These are some "road kill grill" hot links I made last month using the Walmart heating element. It proved the concept would work in my WSM.
Personally, I think Weber should make this as an accessory. They already make the smoking rack for the WSM and the door. Just punch a rectangular hole and two screw holes and mount an element and there you go. It is going to expand the uses of my WSM greatly.