The meat came out delicious, smoky, and falling off the bone; but keeping the temperature low and steady, and keeping the wood smoking was a constant chore. So I decided then I need to get my hands on a smoker, the only problem being that the budget isn't exactly brimming with play money. So I started watching Cragislist and Freecycle. At the same time I started doing some further research and after initially thinking that I really wanted one of those cool looking big offset smokers I came to the conclusion that in my price-range those were not the way to go. (This guy was really helpful in convincing me of this and also just helping me get my bearings on what I was looking for.) So I started looking for a vertical water smoker (i.e. a smoker that has the fire directly below the meat with a pan of liquid above it to moderate the temperature and keep the meat moist.
Eventually I found what you see below for a steal. It's a nearly brand new Char-Broil H2O smoker (though missing the decal). This is a budget smoker, big time. But not to worry, I had already planned to modify whatever I found. Many thanks to ~day_trippr for steering me in the right direction with his detailed modification plans from his Brinkmann Gourmet project. Due to a lack of skill, patience, and tools, my finished product isn't nearly as pretty or professional looking as his, but his ideas and experience were invaluable.
The next step was a little trickier, and one that I was a little more hesitant about. Nevertheless I couldn't see having no exhaust control, so I forged on. After several failed attempts, and probably my first use of a compass since 7th grade geometry, I fabricated an exhaust damper out of a $.65 aluminum shingle, with three 1" holes in it. It was originally supposed to have three tabs, but I cut one off in the process : ). I then used that to mark the holes on the lid, and using the same 1" hole saw bored the exhaust holes themselves. From there it was just a matter of drilling my center hole, working the aluminum into a slight dome shape to fit the curvature of the lid, and attaching it with a stainless steel bolt. I will say that after the initial design, molding the piece to fit that curvature was the most difficult part. It's still not perfect, but it fits fairly snug when the exhaust is fully closed and it's not going to be often that I'm going to need a completely tight exhaust seal, other than if I'm just trying to shut the fire down after a smoke. Plus, I can always take it off and work it a little more to try to get a better seat on the lid.
After getting it home I set to work cleaning up the parts I needed and prepping my modifications. The first order of business was to take the legs off of my original unit so that it could be seated on the new pan. That was easy enough.
The bottom pan on the deluxe model comes from the factory with three 2" holes in the bottom, but again, no way to regulate the air flow. So I took my trusty aluminum shingles and cut out three tab type dampers, molded them to fit the curvature of the bottom pan, drilled my holes and attached them with over-sized washers on the inside to avoid pulling out of the soft, slightly rusted metal. Then I bent the ends over and voila!, dampers. I made a small mark with a sharpie to indicate, fully closed, but at some point, I'll probably go over that with white paint and make a few more for half and full open.
Next, I put three small bolts through the sides of the inner fire pan about 1 1/2 - 2" inches from the bottom to stabilize an 11" grate that I picked up from Ace the other day (~$10). This will keep the coals off of the bottom of the pan and allow the ash to fall through so that the fire doesn't smother itself as it burns down. Then I took my largest metal bit, a 3/8" and drilled 9 holes around the sides of the pan, just above the level of the grate, and 5 in the bottom to allow air flow around the base of the coals and wood. I may need to add more, but I figured I'd start with this and see how I do keeping my temps where I want them. You can always drill more holes.
Finally, because the deluxe model is literally made from the same parts, just with a few extras I was able to move the tabs that hold the grates and water pan in place around, and add the bolts from the older smoker that allow you to lock the body onto the base pan at the botom. This gave me my locking bolts, tabs for the water pan, and two grates for smoking meat. I may at some point add another set of bolts to allow for three racks of meat and/or greater flexibility in the height level at which I place different meats, but for now I think this will work.
The second modification that I'm not sure is necessary, but I may do just for grins, is to remove the side handles from the leftover smoker and add them to the base pan. This would allow you to easily pick up and move the base pan even while it was hot. I'm not sure how necessary that would be, but it might be nice to have the option.