Building a smoker can be both very rewarding and a great way to save a few bucks. Besides building an amazing machine to smoke meat and cook amazing foods, the real reason why many people DIY smokers is because it’s a great way of getting everything you want the way you want it and how you want it.
This article will teach you how to make a smoker, or, in simpler words, how to DIY your own smoker. Smokers are not the most expensive BBQ cooking apparatus, but some models can be highly prized for what they are: a metal box with a grate.
If you have the proper tools and skills, you can actually build one at home and, in some cases, even save a few bucks or simply build what you want.
I will go over unique ideas and plans. I will also share step-by-step instructions, different methods, and what the smoker needs to achieve to smoke great food.
Let’s explain what a smoker is
Many of you know what a smoker is, but we frequently get asked what a smoker really is. The reason why is because grill vendors and brands often use the terms “grill” and “smoker” to describe the same product.
Brands like Traeger will use the term “smoker” to describe some of their pellet grills, and by that they mean that some grills can also cook low and slow or hold low steady temperatures for long periods, making them great for smoking.
But a true BBQ smoker might not be able to grill. simply because it might not get to high enough temperatures to grill food. For instance, an offset smoker might not be able to get to temperatures of 400–500 degrees to grill or sear a steak.
Another example are vertical smokers. These smokers are purpose-built to smoke meat and normally operate in a temperature range of 180 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes even less.
A smoker, simply put, is a type of grid that is meant to maximize the amount of smoke that can be infused into food by cooking at low temperatures for long periods of time.
What makes a smoker work well and effective
What makes a smoker effective and work well is, number one, the ability to cook at low temperatures, followed by the ability to retain that temperature well, and lastly, a fuel type that can generate good, clean smoke to infuse flavor into the meat.
Heat retention is one of the most important factors and what makes a smoker good or, well, useless.
If you look at the top-performing smokers, one standout feature they have is a double-insulated chamber. This is to retain heat even in cold weather. So consider insulation and heat retention when designing your DIY smoker.
There are a few components that a smoker must have in order to not only be considered a smoker but also operate as one. If you want good-tasting smoked meat, the following components must be part of your DIY smoker design:
The first is a good, sealed cooking chamber. The cooking chamber is where the food will be placed, and it is good for it to be as sealed as possible to retain heat and, second, to retain smoke.
As the smoke and heat rise, it will find ways to escape, so it is important to have a well-sealed chamber to avoid temperature fluctuations but also to retain as much smoke as possible.
Second, a cooking grate. A good grill grate must be made of a good material; these are typically made out of stainless steel or cast iron. The grate will transfer heat to the food and hold it in place away from the fire.
Lasly, another important component of a smoker is the firebox. In an offset smoker the firebox sits outside the main cabinet, usually on the side of the smoker hence and name “offset smoker”
This is a good set-up because these offset smokers cook using indirect heat from the firebox, and only heat and smoke cook the food. Normally, wood and charcoal are fed to the firebox along with a healthy amount of fresh air flow to create a nice, healthy fire.
There are different types of smokers, each with their own pros and cons, but what makes the smokers different in many ways is the type of fuel they use, their shape, and their size.
For example, pellet smokers will burn wood pellets. These can be found in a vertical or horizontal format. Then there are charcoal smokers, which use charcoal. These are more commonly found in a vertical shape. Offset smokers are very popular; these are horizontal with an outside fire box and normally burn wood.
And lastly, we have electric smoke smokers.
Read more: Types of Smokers
Decide what type of smoker you will build
Before you put on your DIY hat and start grabbing your cutting tools and starting to chop the neighbor’s trash can, you need to decide what kind of smoker you want to try to emulate. Are you leaning more towards being a vertical smoker, or are you leaning more towards being a horizontal smoker?
Make these decisions ahead of time to see what type of design you will go with. Because horizontal smokers are gray from feeding large amounts of food, and wild article smokers can fit a lot of smoke and a lot of food, everything is stacked horizontally, and they take up live space on your back.
This also should be considered if you are planning on using wood charcoal. If so, this will influence the type of charcoal basket or trade you will need to design and keep in mind during your build.
How to Make a Smoker
I have seen my fair share of, let’s say, creative ways of making things, and let me tell you, none of them work or should even be mentioned. I have seen everything from file cabinets to hazards. Making your own smoker Canby we’re goois can be done, but anything that resembles a box and is made out of metal should not be turned into a smoker. Below are three proven and effective homemade ways of making a smoker.
1. Using Cinder Blocks
The cinder block method is a hell of a way of making your own smoker; in fact, I grew up on an island where many people couldn’t afford to buy a fancy smoker, and cinder blocks were the kitchen of the neighborhood. I grew up seeing my family cook whole hogs using cinder block smokers, and I remember sitting behind them and thinking that I might turn into a hog all day long. Although a little different, the concert is much the same. You are going to use cinder blocks to build a chamber, or firebox, and smoke stack.
2. Using a Steel drum
This is perhaps my favorite way of building a smoker. This is because a steel drum is easily accessible; it’s already shaved to the perfect shape to create a smoker and is extremely easy, if not the easiest method, to build a smoker. The problem with using a drum or building a drum smoker is that he does require a different set of tools that you will need to cut into metal, which means that you will need either some strong cutting pliers or, in some cases, even welding equipment.
You can use a 10, 30, or 50-gallon steel drum, which you can order online, or recycle one as long as it is cleaned.
To build the smoker, simply build a charcoal basket out of stainless steel or use a cast iron box. You can pretty much use anything else as long as it can withstand the extreme heat the charcoal will generate and allows proper air flow.
Depending on the size of the drum you use, you can find many “off the shelf” grill grate options or you can go to a welding shop and have someone make you one. All you have to do is measure the diameter of the drum, and you are ready to go.
Next, you will need to cut a hole in the lid to build a smoke stack. The stack needs to be wide enough to aid in air flow. Three to four inches in diameter should be appropriate for these size drums. You can install a cap to control air flow, although you will see that most offset smokers in competition don’t have one.
These are the basic materials needed to build a drum smoker, also called an “ugly drum smoker.”
These things work well because the cylindrical shape creates an amazing hot air convection effect to cook meat evenly. Heck, I have seen people make these ugly smokers out of garbage cans.
There are companies selling these “ugly smokers,” and one popular brand is Pit Barrel.
3. Using Large Plant pots
This is what I like to call a “home brew kamado.” Kamado grills are the most versatile cookers in the grilling world. These things can grill, bake, and smoke foods. Here is the deal: most kamado grills are made out of ceramic, about an inch thing, and guess what large plant pots are made of? Yep, ceramic.
Making a DIY meat smoker out of ceramic pots is simple. It’s pretty, but it is simple. First, grab two pots. It’s likely you have someone who has two laying around. Order the smoker heat gasket and apply it to the top lips of the pot.
Now you will need to do two things for this smoker to work, and if you get them right, you just made a Kamado for likely 75 percent of the cost of the cheapest model out there.
First, with charcoal, you need to work on airflow. You need to build a smoke stack and an air inlet for the charcoal. You can very carefully drill these holes with a concrete-concrete drill bit.
The last step is to build a charcoal basket. I like to use baskets that are already built, which you can find easily at your local Ace Hardware or Lowes. But if you feel creative, you can build your own.
Making the smoker work
Ok, so we just talked about how to build a smoker, but now let’s talk about how to make it work. There are a few things that the smoker needs to do well for it to work.
First, you need a good, or at least decent, “seal.” If you build a smoker that leaks hot air and smoke all over the place, it will not work very well.
Use gaskets where needed, and make sure you cover and fill gaps as needed.
Second, you need good air flow. Good airflow will make a good fire! Make sure you build a good inlet and smoke stack. The diameters of these two pieces should match.
Build a good charcoal or wood basket. The basket should have enough holes to let enough air in so that the coals or wood can catch fire and get enough oxygen to burn cleanly.
An Ugly drum smoker
Ugly smokers, or drum smokers, are one of the most popular DIY smokers. For years, people have been making these smokers, and they do work. You can actually buy these smokers for cheap and save yourself some work. Our guide to drum smoking lists some of the top models, including drum smoker kits, that you can buy at great prices.
Meat Smoker Care
Just like any other grill or smoker, you need to maintain your creation. Prepare to spend some hours cleaning grate surfaces, seasoning, and performing overall maintenance. Get some good cleaning tools and spend some time taking care of your smoker. Whether you spend a thousand bucks or a few hundred dollars, every smoker needs maintenance to extend its lifespan.
If you want to make the time and learn how to build your own smokers, I have also mentioned that there are smoker plans and kits available on the market. You can buy these kits and smabale them at home. Sure, it’s not the same as building your own, but it’s very close.
Here are some tips to make your build successful: First, make sure you have a good set of tools handy; you will need them. Second, take your time. Like any DIY project expect some setbacks and having to make some adjustments. The first step is to think about the type of smoker you want to build
Smoking meats is a great pastime, and I call it a passion. Here, I shared how to make and build your own smoking machine, but if you don’t feel like you have to know how to build these machines, there are many options on the market that will help you get closer to your dream smoking machine.
But if you feel like you can handle a few tools and want to build something unique, Enjoy the ride.