After quite a bit of planning and watching marketplace, I finally acquired a Char-Griller 980 gravity-fed charcoal smoker. For a smoker that normally sells for upwards of $700 ($799 at Lowes, usually),$300 was a great deal for one that had not been used more than a couple times!

Now, a good friend has had EXCELLENT results with this unit (same model) with some minor modifications. My taste buds can attest to the brisket that came off Robert’s 980.

Lava-Lock Gasket

First off – Gasket to keep the smoke and heat IN. A roll of gasket is about 20 bucks on Amazon or at smoker supply stores. Placing a “bead” of gasket around the edge of the barrel opening is all that’s necessary. It’s up to the user if the gasket should be on the lid or the chamber.

A similar bead of gasket can be put around the top of the charcoal hopper to help keep heat in – the idea is to make the airflow push heat into the barrel, not to let it escape through the top of the hopper

Hopper heat reflector

All of the mods are simple. This one is simply a layer of heavy duty foil (folded over at least once) to keep the top of the hopper from getting coated in ash or other gunk and bubbling up. Once charcoal is loaded, just lay the foil over before sealing the hopper.

For those who are more visual, here’s a video I stumbled on one morning on YouTube. His starter is a bit overkill but it looks fun.

Fan Screen

This is stainless steel screen – lots of options, but it’s fairly heavy screen. Cut it to size for the heat chamber / ash collector box wall – to cover the fan inlet. This serves several purposes, but primarily to keep ash and chunks of hot charcoal from getting pulled into the fan and melting the fan blades. It will also keep the fan shroud flap from catching fire from the same ashes and charcoal falling on the flap.

Heat Tunnel plug

The end of the heat tunnel has a hole in it, along with the holes on the sides for allowing the smoke and heat into the barrel. The issue with the hole in the end is that it potentially reduces resistance to the heat, allowing more heat out the end of the tunnel and vents out of the barrel, rather than flowing across the meat in the box. This is a common problem with offset box smokers, as well – many have devised ways of forcing the air across the box and back before venting – while also equalizing heat across the cooking surfaces.

One note: the foil ball on the side (bottom of the image) is incorrect. just the one on the small slot in the end farthest from the hopper / hot air inlet.

Next: Electrical mods

Coming soon – power from a solar battery pack, and bypassing the door sensors…