Saturday, January 19, 2013

Building a Smoker

 "Building" is perhaps misleading.  The challenge of creating a homemade smoker isn't a matter of construction, but rather of materials.  The idea for the project came from Alton Brown and the execution was helped by several different blogs and websites.  Essentially the challenge is to come up with some combination of parts that is both cheap and effective.  It took me about a month but I managed to meet both requirements.  Right now my smoker is manually controlled, and the list reflects those parts, but I'm playing with the idea of adding a PID and making the temperature auto-controlled.

The essential idea is to use terra-cotta as the insulator, but trying to find large terra-cotta for cheap is not easy.  I built my smoker in the Winter when the selection is much smaller but the price tends to be lower. I found a 20" pot (huge!) from Home Depot for $10.  It was on massive markdown for some reason (not the individual pot, all of that kind) and when I saw it, I knew I had to buy it and start building my smoker.

Then the question became what to get to go on the top?  Alton Brown used a terra-cotta bowl of the same diameter but I couldn't find one.  At least not for under around $150 which would defeat the whole point.  I toyed with different ideas of what to do; at one point I had the idea to use a trash can lid filled with dirt but I couldn't figure out what to use to seal the bottom.  I thought about just buying another 20" pot and inverting it but it was simply far too heavy.

Finally, a very helpful Home Depot associate found one last concrete paver they had in stock that was 20" square.  It had a chip on it so he sold it to me for 50 cents: perfect!  I drilled a hole through it so I could put a thermometer in that I could read.  I got a charcoal grate (cheaper than an official one) some u-bolts to pick up the grate with, a hot plate I could take apart and a pan to put the wood on.  I had a thermometer to use already so I didn't price that, but here's my list (hyperlinks when possible):

Item Quantity Price

U-Bolt 2  $       3.98
Masonry Paver 1  $       0.50
Bricks 3  $       1.47
Ext Cord 15 ft  $       2.69
Terra Cotta Pot 20 in  $    10.03
Pot Feet 3  $       2.79
Charcoal Grate 1  $    10.99
Hot Plate 750W  $    12.16
 $    44.61

Under $50!  I used the bricks and pot feet to elevate the pot above the ground which both leaves room for the hot plate (which I disassembled so I could put the heating element inside the pot but leave the plastic controls down on the bottom) and so that you can get air-flow through the drain hole at the bottom.

I got 16 pounds of boston butts from Sam's club (which is two of them) and 5 pounds of smoker wood chunks from Home Depot for under $20 and under $7 respectively.  Which made for two full smokes in total.  I found soaking the wood for a few hours prior led to hotter, longer smokes from those chunks.

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