I'd like to build a smoker and have been looking at all the various designs out there and the reasons A is better than B is better than C is better than A... Then a buddy of mine brought some smoked brisket into work a few weeks ago and started talking about his smoker. I can't remember the brand, but is uses pellets and has an auger to automatically feed it - and it's electric! Now, I'm not against great smoked food that somebody has babysat for the past several hours. But if I'm cooking it, sometimes, I'd like to be able to just come back later and have smoked meat. So, now I'm looking into electric smokers and there doesn't seem to be much more to them than a wood burner, except that they have the potential to be thermostatically controlled, so you can walk away for awhile.
So, finally, my question... Has anybody here built an electric smoker? Are there any special considerations to take into account vs. a wood or charcoal smoker? Or could one of the other designs I've seen be used with the firebox replaced by a heating element and some way to heat the wood chips or pellets or whatever?
Then again, since there's no firebox (seems to be where everybody says their design is better than everybody else's) is it worth building one, when I can buy a cheapy off ebay for not a lot? Well, I can probably answer that myself. But it's never stopped me before on other stuff.
I have an electric smoker I built from an old freezer. I gutted the freezer and put aluminum angle for shelf brackets. Then I have SS grids that I can put in there for making jerky or take them out and put aluminum angle across as sausage sticks. I also cut a hole in the door and made a hinged door with a sliding damper that doubles as a way to add more wood chips without opening the whole door. There is also a smoke stack with damper on the roof. The damper is important because you need high airflow for jerky but low airflow for sausage and ham. I don't think the electric smoker would work so well for smoke cooking (high temps)since I have a hard time getting it to over 200F. Perhaps a smaller freezer would get to higher temps, but you would have to do something about the plastic parts to make sure they don't melt. Everything I put in there is truly smoked where it has been treated with sodium nitrate and I don't typically heat the smoker over 165 degrees. I use a Johnson Control A419 controller to set the temperature. Just punch in the temp and plug in two electric hotplates into it. The controller cuts out when it reaches the temp setting. To make smoke I put wood chips or saw dust in a metal pan directly on the burners and it smolders for hours. If you want some pictures I can get some this weekend. I live in town and the smoker is out at my parents house since they live in the country and have more room.
With my smoker t I have made 50lbs of summer sausage at once and that only took up a single layer so I could probably cook 100lbs if I had so much. With the 8 or so SS mesh racks I can make about 15 lbs (wet weight) of jerky at a time. I have also made a few hams and tried bacon once. If you are interested in sausage making there is a an excellent book by Rytek Kutas titled Great Sausage Making and Meat Curing Recipes.
Let me start by saying I don,t prepare food I just like building things, but my son is into grilling, deep frying, sausage making, and smoking.
I have built several smokers. The first was propane fired which I decided was difficult to control the flame and temp in windy outdoor conditions. I then went to electric for ease of control and cost effective. For smoke I use a smoke generater, which is a short piece of pipe with some screen just off the bottom and a small aquarinm air pump.
Recycled SS under counter frig with single hot plate.
Those are nice smokers and are similar to what I built. Mine is out of a newer freezer, so one problem is that the door has plastic in it and it has started to melt at the bottom where the electric elements are. I need to replace that, but I have not found an affordable piece of sheet metal. A friend of mine gave me a big role of SS that was used to skin a Diesel fuel tank, but I am not sure how to cut the thing. I tried some aviation sheers and no way it won't cut with that.
I thought about cutting it with a circular saw, but one of my other projects is to build an apple press using a shop press as the base and I want to use the SS box at the bottom of the press for collecting the juice. I have been thinking about trying to find some cheap metal like those sheets of galvanized flashing at home depot to replace the plastic. Do you think galvanized metal would be a problem if it is just on the door and has no food contact?
Trip, one of the things that I wasn't sure about, but you seem to have guided me to, is the smoke generator. From the description on that ebay page, it looks like the smoke generator is just a pipe with some sort of mesh to hold the wood chips and a way to contain the ash and a hole (with pipe attached) to direct the smoke into the smoker. Then force feed air to keep the wood chips smouldering. Does that sound about right?
I was considering just buying one of the cheap ones like the WSM, but after reading about not being able to keep it up to temp in the winter, I am thinking maybe I will go ahead and build one and insulate it. I'm not sure how that will work out cost-wise, but I can't imagine it'd be as much as buying one. There just doesn't look to be that much to them.
There are always electric ovens on CL for free. That has the thermostat already built in. Not as glamorous, but maybe it would work well. Then I could always pull the guts or maybe just build a nicer cabinet for it.
For cutting SS sheet I often use a straight edge and a 4 1/4" grinder with cut off wheel.
Yes the smoke generator is pretty much as you described. The air pump is small, the 5 to 8 dollar models. I used some scrap 2" black pipe for the one I built. I have found it to be way to big, 8 inchs long would be enough. It works best with about a 1/2 cup of pellets.
So if you get an old freezer it is already insulated. If you can find the really old ones that are all metal inside it would be better You can see mine is well used. The bones in my smoker are for the dogs. We butchered a cow so I put the bones in a brine (so they don't rot) and smoked them. They are like $5 each at the pet store so I figured it was better than burying them.
Also you don't need an external smoke generator unless you are trying to cold smoke (like cheese and some styles of fish). I simply put a pan of wood chips directly on the electric burner. At most I use two pans of chips more than that and stuff is too smokey.
The damper in the door and smoke stack are important for controling humidity/heat. Also the small door lets me add chips without opening the whole thing up:
The angle inside is aluminum and the freezer was so large I couldn't find shelves to fit, so I have to use supports across it. A smaller size would probably be more efficient since it would heat up faster. On the other hand I made 50lbs of summer sausage and it only took up one layer at the top.
The thermostat is great you just set it the the temp you want. The thermometer probe is very useful since you can get an internal temperature reading without opening the door and cooling everything off/getting smokey/drying out the stuff inside.
If you go the hot plate route go with the coil type element since the cast iron ones are flaking metal off. Also I bypassed the heat control since the that is what the thermostat is for and the element makes much more heat that it did with the rheostat. I know it looks a little dirty inside, but the only thing food touches are the shelves and sausage sticks and those we take out and wash.
I got this for free, but I haven't decided if it is more work to fix this one up or replace the melted plastic on my current smoker:
Thanks for all this info. I like the idea of an old freezer except for the excessive size. Most of the smaller freezers I've seen are made of plastic, so I don't think that would be real good either. I did buy a small electric smoker from Lowes on Sunday, just because I'm impatient and the price was a lot lower than the ones I've been ogling online. I can't really see smoking very much at one time in it, though, which is fine for daily use, but I definitely want to build one about twice as big.
I sure don't see where all the expense is in these things, though. There just isn't much there. At best, there is an insulated metal box with a heat source and a place to let some wood chips smoulder. So, I am going to start planning for a bigger one, probably based on a stove. I like that idea. The refrigerator/freezer is nice, but a stove is already meant for heat and has metal racks already fitted. I don't think the temp will be an issue if I'm using an external thermostat. Anyway, I like these ideas, too. If I can make it portable, that be great. It'd be kinda funny to see a stove being pulled along behind a truck going down the road.
Keep the pics coming if you wish. Like all things, the more ideas the better.
Congrats on the new smoker. I am sure you will have fun with it. I started with a little chief I got used of craigslist for $20. Once I made some jerky in that and tasted the difference between real smoke and stuff I made in the dehydrators, there was no going back. The kind of smoker you make totally depends on what your going to cook. The sort I built is really for cured meats. I think it would be hard to make the oven idea work well because I don't know where you would install dampers. Typically you have the dampers wide open to dry the sausages a little before you begin the smoke. Once the surface is dry you close them down to keep from drying out and start the smoke.
If we cook big pieces of beef or pork we do deep pit BBQ. We have a big concrete pipe in the ground that we burn a fire in then drop the meat in all seasoned up and wrapped with foil then wet burlap. The whole is covered with a steel plate and then buried. It cooks over night and is ready whenever you feel like digging it up. Somehow a little of the smoke penetrates in, but the meat stays moist and tender. If you got room to make such a pit, it is tasty stuff.
If you decide to make a larger smoker gas or electric, you can find parts at www.sausagemaker.com. They sell everything to make your own smoker though they are kind of expensive. Those stainless racks (20 3/4" X 18" with 3/8" holes) I have cost $25 when I first built my smoker and I kept buying more and more so I could up the jerky production, the last one I bought was $40. I have 8 of them now so you can see how the cost could add up pretty fast, but no where near the $1600 they want for a complete smoker.
Oh, I remember the BBQs we used to have at my aunt and uncle's. He'd bury a pig and then we'd all help digging it out. Well, some of us anyway. That was good stuff! I've never made sausage or jerky before, but after having some beef jerky today that a friend made in his smoker, I think I need to. I think this'll be nice for most stuff, and the bigger smoker will be more of a toy. At least that's how I envision it. I'd like to at least smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving. My brother bought one from a guy when he lived in Texas and it was the best turkey I've ever eaten. Fitting a decent-sized turkey in this smoker would be a pretty tight fit. I was going to go home tonight after work and fire it up and get the seasoning out of the way, but as it's going to be near midnight now before I get done running the tests I'm running, I suppose it'll have to wait until tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, or...
Mine's propane, not electric.
I used gas so I could take it camping.
Last outing I did 8 trout, 2 catfish, 4 wild turkey ******s, and venison we had brought, all at the same time.
We had people coming from all over the campground wondering what the smell was from.
Next day, they brought their catch and asked if I could smoke it for them.
The burner is from a canabalized single burner camp stove, and the racks are from a caulking display I got from work.
The initial smoke test, (last pic), was taken after only 5 minutes.
Rlarkin what kind of temperature are you cooking the turkeys at? I tried to make a couple of smoked turkeys in my electric smoker that I brined but they ended up being doggie treats. I think they would probably turn out better at high temps. A woman at my work bought a house and there was an offset smoker for wood or charcoal and they didn't want, so they gave it to me. Any pointers? I think I might start with chickens.
Gas smokers are good because the process of burning the gas mixes the air well so you get good circulation. The main advantage to electric is the simplicity of installing a thermostat which is useful when making sausage where you are smoking at low temperatures. For example summer sausage Triptester showed was probably smoked as follows:
Smoke at 130F for 5 hrs. You can then raise smoker temp and cook at 165F to internal temp of 152F. This usually takes over night.
Early on I tried to make summer sausage in one of those those Brinkman Bullet smokers and it was a pain to keep the temperature constant. If you go too hot the fat all melts out and ends up surrounding the sausage just under the casing and once it cools you have dried out sausage coverd in grease, not so appetizing.
Rlarkin what kind of temperature are you cooking the turkeys at?
OK, my wife is district manager for a fast food chain, and has put RULES on my smoking.
I will usually do the majority of smoking in the 130 to 140 range, using digital thermometer.
Fish for about 3 hours, meats for 5 to 6.
Now here are HER rules, and she makes me SHOW her the reading before I can remove them. (She loves me).
Hoofed meats 145, and poultry, 165, MINIMUM, no buts.
Now, after a 5 hour smoke time at 140, it usually only takes about a half hour with the heat turned up to get to the temp she requires, and I have never had it dry out.
When I did my last batch of wild turkey, I poked the ******s with a toothpick, and dropped them in a zip-lock filled with Yashida's roasted garlic marinade.