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Old 04-18-2019, 01:55 PM   #1
charcoalwilly
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Default Hybrid pellet + charcoal & chunks smoker project (long read w/ pics)

Be forewarned this is a lengthy post. Read on if you want to learn about a heretical conversion of LSG stickburner into a hybrid pellet + charcoal & wood chunks smoker. Included are (too many) details on the thought process in case some of you have similar notions. I can hear the Easy Bake Oven jokes already....

Stickburner Remorse
I spent a year researching which stickburner to buy. Thanks to the many helpful posts by other Brethren, I ended up choosing a LSG 24x36 horizontal offset. After enduring the 4 month waitlist, I finally started smoking on the LSG last year.

Long story short, I belatedly discovered that stickburning is not for me (should have known that from my forum handle name!). Having smoked and grilled for over 20 years, I figured that I would love tending to the live fire, but that was not the case. All of the variables drove me nuts and I found myself smoking less and less.

Quite a few Brethren have come to a similar conclusion after paying serious cash for a stickburner. The problem seems to be that many (including myself) did not have the opportunity to test drive a decent one before buying.

My buyer’s remorse is definitely not a reflection on the LSG - it is a well-designed, beautiful piece of craftsmanship and is certainly one of best offsets for your money.

Holy Conversion
I eventually decided to cut my losses and sell the LSG, but didn’t get the price I was looking for. Rather than eat a hefty discount on the resale price, I started thinking how I could make this beast work for my preferred style of smoking - lots of air flow driving a small, clean hot fire of charcoal & wood chunks (no smoldering!).

I started off trying to use a 12”x12x6” charcoal basket with maze bars in the LSG. Nice thin blue smoke with the LSG’s draft, but it took forever to heat the 850 lbs of 1/4 thick steel and the large air volume (about 16 cubic feet). The bigger problem was the basket setup could not generate sufficient heat without using an obscene amount of charcoal.

Then I started reading about the advantages of pellets as a consistent source of heat. Thanks to Brethren member Peter V, I learned that Gator makes a pellet smoker from 1/4 steel and that it works very well - superior heat retention from the heavy duty build coupled with a high quality door seal and plenty of draft.

Well, it turns out that SmokeDaddy sells a pellet hopper (same one Gator uses) for those looking to convert a traditional smoker into a pellet cooker. The link below shows the work of some of the brave souls who made the conversion.
https://smokedaddyinc.com/offset-type-past-builds/
https://smokedaddyinc.com/grill-drum-past-builds/

A pellet conversion was starting to look like a viable option....

The Unoriginal Idea
The sticking point for me on the pellet conversion was the common complaint (exaggerated?) about the lack of smoke flavor from pellets, resulting in an underwhelming taste profile. This led to a deep dive down the interweb rabbit hole in search of the elusive hybrid smoker - i.e., foolhardy efforts to combine two different types of fuel sources.

I eventually stumbled on this YouTube video about a hybrid pellet+stick conversion where the guy essentially divides the firebox in half - 1/2 pellet + 1/2 sticks. Could this be the answer?? (there are very few original ideas in life!). I started dreaming about the thermostat-like precision of a pellet smoker combined with flavor imparted by a small hot fire of burning mini-sticks.
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=twHyWAUBTy0

However, I definitely didn’t want to go back down path of babysitting a stick fire every 30-40 minutes even if the temp was largely regulated by the pellet controller. I opted instead to rely on a relatively small basket of charcoal and fully combusting 3”x3” wood chunks to add the flavor. Arranged snake style, the charcoal would hopefully burn long enough until I wrapped the meat (anywhere from 3-5 hours).
86FF320E-766C-4B4C-B3C1-8A36D7DA369F.jpg
E99A457D-B053-46D4-8CBC-AF5397B2EA32.jpg

Open Heart Surgery
You stickburning purists may want to shield your eyes for this gory part because it involves cutting a large hole into the belly of a firebox.

The first pellet hopper from SmokeDaddy arrived with a bent flange, but Dennis was great about sending a replacement straight away. Smokedaddy provides you with a paper template to sketch out the square cut on the smoker/victim.

Lacking the necessary firepower to cut through 1/4 steel, I found on guy on CL with torch to perform the operation. The hole for pellet auger arm was positioned on the side of firebox, closest to food chamber.

Once the hole is cut, you then have to drill 4 holes (3/16) to bolt the pellet hopper onto the smoker. I experienced bit of a problem aligning the template holes with holes in hopper and had to drill 1/2 oversized holes to make 3 of the 4 bolts fit. FYI, you will probably want to replace Smokedaddy’s zinc-coated hardware with stainless steel and buy some bigger washers.

C8353D5B-C117-46D2-A07B-B7F3824DC708.jpg

Flavortown Basket
Next came the charcoal basket for the other half of firebox (side closest to air intake for plenty of oxygen). I found guy on eBay who makes custom-sized laser cut baskets that have excellent air flow and are hefty (3/16 thick). My particular basket has narrow shape at 18” long x 7” wide x 6” tall. In theory, the charcoal would slowly burn right to left (fuse method), igniting the wood chunks on top in succession.

I then added several firewall dividers to basket to prevent each burning wood chunk from spreading the fire too quickly to rest of fuse and later bolted on some legs with scrap to create airflow clearance underneath basket.

CBBBFE2A-04F1-42E8-90E9-D7A530EE5221.jpg

Moment of Truth
I made several test runs and discovered couple of things:
* After starting with intake and exhaust wide open, I discovered that ideal setup seems to be intake 1/2 open with exhaust 2/3 open
* I initially wanted to avoid using tuning plates due to usual radiant heat issue. Problem was that pellet temp probe seemed to be sensitive to constant cycling of pellet blower fan (unlike most pellet smokers, there is no grease drip pan/deflector on top of pellet burn pot for this set-up because there is no food directly over top the burn pot). I finally surrendered and inserted the tuning plates, which seemed to knock down the mini-gusts of air coming from blower and evened out temps (as they are designed to do). Temp settled down with negligible fluctuation of +-5 degrees.
* When filled 3/4, the charcoal basket only lasted for about 3 hours (excluding the warmup) - a bit short of 4-5 hour “wrapping point” that I was targeting for larger cuts of meat. The good news is that 3 hours ended up being plenty of time for flavor and smoke ring to develop.
* Firewalls in basket were a total bust. The wood chunks were catching fire too early in the charcoal fuse. I should have known better based on the current maze bar designs, which use a use double-walled buffer. Oh well.
* On a positive note, concentrating the charcoal in a narrow basket maintined a hot coal bed that immediately ignited the wood chunks. Both charcoal and wood chunks were fully combusting (see pic) and smelled incredible! (I have become huge fan of Fruita wood chunks, especially their post oak, cherry & peach) https://fruitawoodchunks.com

AC83B08D-7082-4C33-AF50-CD9D65295F5D.jpg

So How Does She Cook?
Enough fluff!

2F3B07D6-4A6D-47C2-8D70-5E3694E65755.jpg
1D5323DF-FC7A-4053-8A31-A11A6CF7E9BB.jpg

Conclusions
This is not the Holy Grail of smokers, but it suits my smoking style. The offset hybrid falls somewhere between a stickburner and a pellet smoker, both in terms of ease of use and taste profile. The setup seems to strike a good balance.

Here is my pro/con list. I have tried to keep list objective as possible, but take it with grain of salt since there is probably some confirmation bias (this tends to happen after you cut gaping hole into a firebox!).

Cons
* Additional expense of buying a Smoke Daddy-style, bolt-on pellet smoker mechanism (although still considerably cheaper than buying a quality standalone pellet smoker)
* Offset hybrid is less efficient than most pellet smokers since heat source is located in firebox rather than in food chamber, meaning you have to burn more pellets to ramp up to target temp
* Bit more hassle than regular pellet smoker since you need to prep, light and clean up the charcoal & chunks (adds about 5 minutes)
* Taste profile not as deep as stickburner since you’re only burning 6-7 chunks of wood instead of larger splits (although smoke flavor is definitely still there)
* Cook times are slightly longer than stickburner (maybe because there is less draft w/ partially closed intake and exhaust?)
* There are more moving parts to malfunction or to wear down on pellet mechanism (hello electronics!)
* Can no longer brag about the soul-satisfying, purity of stickburning

Pros
* Convenience of pellet smoker’s precise temperature control (no more babysitting the fire!). I find myself focusing less on temp and more on trimming the meat more throughly and making tasty rubs, sauces, sides, etc.
* Less temp swings (+/- 5 degrees) versus stickburner (25-50 degrees). Pellet controller automatically cuts back on the pellets when you are generating heat from the burning charcoal & chunks
* More even temperatures all around versus stickburner (from side-to-side, front-to-back and top-to-bottom)
* Gentler heat source compared to burning splits (very subjective, but meat seems moister to me)
* Burning charcoal & wood chunks in addition to pellets seems to create more intense flavor than pellets alone (again, just this guy’s opinion)
* Offset firebox coupled with well-designed draft across the cooking chamber gives you ability to fully combust charcoal & wood chunks without jacking up temp (no smoldering!).
* Plenty of airflow results in bark that’s close to stickburner
* Superior heat retention of 1/4 steel (less pellets are needed once all of that steel is heated up)
* Built like a tank versus tin can feeling of some of the cheaper pellet grills
* Less smoke choking the neighbors, which is normally a good thing

Considerations
If you are tempted to create similar hybrid setup from an offset smoker, couple of things to consider:
* Ideally, offset would have a firebox wall that is flat instead of curved for easier and tighter mounting of Smoke Daddy pellet hopper (SmokeDaddy does sell curved one for UDS)
* If you want option to occasionally switch back to pure stickburning, you may want to weld a flange to the firebox and then connect the SmokeDaddy to that flange. You could then quickly disconnect the pellet hopper from the smoker without having to stick your giant head into the firebox to unscrew the bolts from the inside
* Decent-sized firebox is essential to fitting both the pellet arm and the charcoal-chunks basket
* Hybrid fuel source will not turn poorly built smoker into a good one so you still need decent seal to prevent leakage and well-designed draft. It would also help to have thick steel walls for better heat retention
* Vertical offset would probably work well for hybrid setup
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Old 04-18-2019, 02:38 PM   #2
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I like the thought process, and being a pellet-guy that has cooked with charcoal and some stick burners I can see the vision. Well done.
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Old 04-18-2019, 02:54 PM   #3
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Man, what a journey! As a pellethead myself, I get it! Nicely done :)
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:03 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasonjax View Post
I like the thought process, and being a pellet-guy that has cooked with charcoal and some stick burners I can see the vision. Well done.
Quote:
Originally Posted by rwalters View Post
Man, what a journey! As a pellethead myself, I get it! Nicely done :)
Thanks both. I have definitely grown to appreciate pellets more.
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:07 PM   #5
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Wait till Smitty see this
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:13 PM   #6
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Wow. While I will not do such a thing, that was a great read, very informative. That was a large effort to simply document, thanks a bunch for that!
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Old 04-18-2019, 03:42 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Big George's BBQ View Post
Wait till Smitty see this
That got me laughing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bschoen View Post
Wow. While I will not do such a thing, that was a great read, very informative. That was a large effort to simply document, thanks a bunch for that!
I figured a roadmap might help someone do it much more quickly than me . Just a token of gratitude for all that I have learned from this forum over the years!
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Old 04-18-2019, 05:19 PM   #8
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http://bbq-brethren.com/forum/showthread.php?t=178270
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I think you came up with a good solution for your problem for your preferences. That’s why I tell people to get an Old Country Pecos and try it out and see if you like stick burning and then step up to a nice one. Pecos is not a cheapo charbroil, Chargriller COS -it’s a decent mid grade pit at a good price.

For a Hybrid Pooper - an Assassin Pellet Grill would be a good choice if you have Not already bought a nice stick burner and decided it’s not for you. Or the New Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro vertical pellet pooper. I think you could find an easy way to burn charcoal n chunks in either one of those along with the pellets.
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:09 PM   #9
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nice Idea. Thanks for a good read.
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Old 04-18-2019, 06:55 PM   #10
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Damn that's a great journey. Must have been a big hit you were gonna take on the sale.

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Old 04-18-2019, 07:03 PM   #11
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Hell of a write up! And by the food you put out it obviously works.
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Old 04-18-2019, 07:08 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmittyJonz View Post
I think you came up with a good solution for your problem for your preferences. That’s why I tell people to get an Old Country Pecos and try it out and see if you like stick burning and then step up to a nice one. Pecos is not a cheapo charbroil, Chargriller COS -it’s a decent mid grade pit at a good price.

For a Hybrid Pooper - an Assassin Pellet Grill would be a good choice if you have Not already bought a nice stick burner and decided it’s not for you. Or the New Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro vertical pellet pooper. I think you could find an easy way to burn charcoal n chunks in either one of those along with the pellets.
I recall reading your post at one point although I think its something you just have to experience for yourself before you know whether its for you.

Pecos would have been good trial pit. The challenge is that all of the PRON pics of Shirley and LSG on this forum are hard for people to resist
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Old 04-18-2019, 07:15 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tom b View Post
nice Idea. Thanks for a good read.
Quote:
Originally Posted by angryelfFan View Post
Hell of a write up! And by the food you put out it obviously works.
Appreciate it both!

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Damn that's a great journey. Must have been a big hit you were gonna take on the sale.
The shipping costs are the killer on these 800lbs smokers. Once I realized that that I would have to eat the shipping costs plus the resale haircut, I figured I had better make the best of the situation.
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Old 04-18-2019, 07:19 PM   #14
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Very good write up. I really like the charcoal/wood basket set up. I have read where people buy a second door to put the pellet feeder in, and just switch them out. I like your idea and arrangement better.
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Old 04-18-2019, 11:11 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Smoking Cajun View Post
Very good write up. I really like the charcoal/wood basket set up. I have read where people buy a second door to put the pellet feeder in, and just switch them out. I like your idea and arrangement better.
Thanks Smoking Cajun. The pellets and charcoal-chunks seem to complement one other by running at the same time.
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