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How To Build A Barbecue Smoker From Wood

Article by Paul Yates

When most people think about a barbecue smoker they probably visualise a horizontal big metal cylinder with a smoke box attached to the side and a chimney on top. There’s nothing wrong with this visualisation other than it’s not the only way to construct a smoker and it’s certainly not the most traditional method.

Typically a traditional smoker would have been made (if you’ll pardon the pun) from wood although it would not bare any resemblance to what I’ve described above. The difference materials result from the different uses of the equipment which are quite diverse.

Traditional smoking for preservation which was extensive in Europe would have been for cold smoking, in other words passing smoke over food at a very low temperature. The American smoker however has evolved from completely different origins, that of water ovens in China and this dictates that the process is completely different – a much hotter and more humid cooking environment.

I’ve been thinking of building a smoker for a number of year and it’s occurred to me that it might be possible to cross the two original designs and come up with something better. Something that will hot smoke but still have all the tradition of wood. I like the idea of wood, there’s just something about the look of wood and also the combination of wood and the smell of smoke.

I do also have a couple of downers on metal:

The first is that unless the structure is fully insulated, metal is not a good thermal insulator and so a lot of heat will be lost to the atmosphere. In fact during cold weather it could be really difficult to get enough heat into the vessel. Similarly, on a hot Summer day with the sun beating down, how Am I going to keep the unit in the “low and slow” temperature range that I want?

The second issue and probably the most important for me is that I’m not an expert welder and I don’t have any metalworking tools to hand. This means that if I were to make something out of metal I’d be forever running back and forth to my local blacksmith, not to mention the cost implications.

So is it possible to build a smoker from wood? Well the answer has to be yes and no. It’s certainly possible to make the outer casing from wood but because of the need to reach temperatures as high as 250°F it’s unlikely that this would be sustainable without the effects of charring. If one were building something lager that it maybe possible to keep the heat source away from the wood but if the unit were that big, it would then be difficult to get up to temperature.

Sure enough I made a prototype and after a few hours there were distinct signs of charring to the internal walls.

To that end I decided to make an inner skin using a calcium silicate fire protection board and this worked perfectly. Admittedly it presented some challenges with the design to ensure that all areas were fully encased but I succeeded with a few well thought out innovations. In summary, it is possible to make a smoker look like it’s made of wood, but to be certain that it’s going to last the distance, it does need to be clad internally with a fireproof board.

About the Author

Paul Yates has built many meat smokers and writes gas grill reviews. He has drawn plans for building homemade meat smokers

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