Brick smoker - Compete how to

Discussion in 'Brick Smokers' started by wes w, Aug 16, 2012.

  1. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Emack,  Thank you for the kind words.

    I'll get your information today.   I'll have to take the measurements.   I'll dig up some photos to help explain the air intake as well.   Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!
  2. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Good morning Emack. 

    When you get a chance if you could go into your profile and let people know what part of the world your from, it would be helpful to know when giving smoking advice.  Thanks

    I'll do my best to answer your questions.  As I've stated, I built this thing on the fly.  There are things I'd do differently if done again, but overall, it works very well.

    1.   The inside dimensions of the firebox are 22Dx201/2Wx221/2T.   The height is to the bottom of the first shelf where I have it baffled with steel plates

    This is the bottom shelf over the firebox.  I put a full  sized aluminum pan as a water pan.

    The outside finished dimensions are 391/2Dx54W.   This could be as big or small as you want.  Its how it worked out with the way I designed the footprint.

    2.   With a full load of pork I can get 14 butts in this smoker.  Of course by design, it cooks hotter on the bottom.  I do rotate when I foil.  I usually pull them out as they finish from the bottom up.  With the cold mass of a full load I don't feel I get the air moving around it all the way up to get it as hot as it could be.  With 3 butts to a rack I have about 2in. on each side for air to move.  If I built another one I would build it at least 8in. wider on the inside.  That would give me  4in. on each side for hotter air to move without being cooled by the cold mass.   It is plenty deep.  It works perfect to reach to the back and pull out butts or put them in.

    3.  Ok, that one is answered.  It can be as big as you want.   Keep in mind the bigger it is, the more weight is being put on your footer. 

    4.  Yes, the footer is 5x15x 13in.   This is a massive footer.   The ground under this build is soft and sandy.   The build sits inside the footer approx. 6in. all the way around to help with stability.  Also on this footing is a outdoor fireplace.   I'll note that I also did a double run of 1/2in. rebar in the footing when poured.  

    5.   This is my honest opinion.   I wouldn't short it of firebrick.   Firebrick are designed to hold heat and not break down over time.  Yes, in 30yr. used everyday at hot temps even firebrick will burn out.   For a smoker used once a week, it should last my lifetime and many years after that.   Block or very porous. They also absorb a lot of moisture from the air.   That's not good when trying to get a cold 13degree smoker up to temp.  Even once up to temp your firebox is  still going to be much hotter around the fire.   Block will over time will start to break down from the heat.   I'd rather spend 150 more dollars and be assured that I don't have to worry about  moisture issues every time I fire it up and  burnout 15yrs down the road from the block.  I also used the firebrick as shelves.  I cut the firebrick in half and laid them flat giving me a shelf every run up the smoker.  I will also add that anytime you have heat, you don't want any more steel then you have to have.  Steel expands when heated.  It will crack whatever is holding it!   Yes, by door frames are 3in. steel angle.   Yes they do expand, no, there is nothing anything can be done about it.  Its just the way it works.  Once it cools back down, it all goes back into place and you can't even tell its moved.  I guess what I'm saying is, you don't want to insert steal into the masonry for shelves.  It will crack and could work loose from the weight of what you are smoking.    My honest opinion, I wouldn't use block.  It will sweat year round when you heat it up.   I will say this out of honesty, my firebrick even sweat, but very little and its gone within 15min. of firing up the smoker.    I know there are other here who have had bad experiences with block smokers, hopefully they will chime in.

    6.  I don't think I posted the intake photo into the build.  The vent access runs all the way into the firebox.  I don't have a finished photo, but I layed the firebrick around the opening on the inside.  Once I got it all layed up past the  opening, I formed the inside and poured mortar around the opening  to give it a channel straight through.

    This is the opening in the block work for the vent.   I poured the bottom solid and formed the upper to a 6in. opening and poured it solid a few in. into the upper block.

    I hope I answered your questions.  Its hard for me to explain things the way I want to sometimes.    If you have any questions, or don't understand what I tried to write please let me know.  If you'd like to see the finished vent access on the inside, let me know.  I'd be glad to  take one and post it.   You could use any type of vent to let air in.  It doesn't even get warm that far away from the fire.  

    Masonry work just takes time.  Don't hurry yourself.   I've had people ask me how to lay brick and block.  The simple answer is.  You lay one over two.   Square and plume is your best friend.  :)

    The most important advice I can give is.  When you get your project done.  Let it cure!!!   It needs to cure for at least 45days to get the moisture out of the mortar.   Then, build a small paper fire the first time you fire it.  Wait a day or two and build a little bigger paper fire.  IOW,  warm it up slow, very slow before you build a big fire in it.   If it isn't cured properly, the mortar joints inside will crack!

    I hope this helps.  Let me know if you have any other questions.

  3. Wes, a very thorough reply as usual.  I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving Holiday!  Best wishes to your son as well.  I was in the corps too and hope he is safe and warm!

    1 - 3:  Dimensions: My interior dimensions were going to end up in the neighborhood of yours, but I'll widen them out by a block based on your advice.  

    4.  My footer is absurd too - The concrete is 18" deep w/ (3) 2' piers to make sure it doesn't heave/roll on me.  I'll have at least 2 tons on it when it's all said and done...  that'd be the worst place to take shortcuts.  Especially here where the deadpan clay can dry/crack/heave in the summer, and approved footers are supposed to be 30" deep to frost-proof.  I put it in using both fiber and steel (3/8" rebar).

    5. I'll also take your advice and not skimp on the fire-brick.  I have to honor the experience.  ;-)

    -It appears as though your firebrick extends the length of your walls, but the stepping up to the flu is not firebrick.  Did I miss something there?

    6. Please do get a pic of the finished vent access on the inside, I think that'd finalize my mental image.  

    7.  Is it safe to assume you used a mortor designed for fire-exposure?

    8.  Also, what do you use for your racks?  Are they custom fabricated?

    With winter getting here, I'll probably finish assembling all the materials I need and wait 'til spring to erect this monster.  Will be good to let the footer cure over the winter in case it decides to crack on me.  That's what concrete does after all.

    I'm just full of questions, I hope you don't mind.


  4. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Thanks for the kind words.  Hope you had a good Thanksgiving as well.   Our youngest son  is on his way back from the Philippians  as we speak.  He is deployed to Japan.  A group went down to help.  He got to know a crewman who  had access to a phone on ship.  He let him call home a couple days ago. Our middle son also served in the Marines.  We lost him in March.  He served in Afghan. He was 23.

    Thank you sir for your service to our great country!

    4.   Ha ha, that will do the job.  I'd rather have to much footer then not enough.  You can fix most anything, but if the footer cracks or gives way your pretty much screwed.  Wow, 30in. frost line.   To cold for me there.  :)   Ours here is 16in.  

    5.  Yes the firebrick do go all the way up.  The back wall its flat.  At the point I started stepping it in for the flue liner I used regular brick.  You will stucco them for smooth smoke flow.  Even in a fireplace that gets much hotter once out of the firebox its just common brick.  I'm not sure about the experience part.  I do have a working knowledge of masonry.   My brother  layed brick half his life.  Just going off his advice.

    6.  Here is a picture of the inside where the vent comes through.   I cut a board or you can use anything to support the opening when you lay your firebrick across it.  I'd leave it in until it is set up good.  Once dried and cured, masonry is self supporting. 

    Vent on the outside.

    Vent on the inside.  The opening is one full brick.  I left the grate in for an idea how I burn it.  I got the smallest  grate I could find.  I think its 16in.  I put a piece of stretch meal cut the same size as the top for the fire.  That way I can keep a very small fire without the ashes falling through and the fire going out.   I left the ashes in just to show how lazy I am after a 12hr. smoke.  :)    As you read in the build, I put a clean out through mine underneath.  You don't have to do that.  I had room so I did.  It saves time when you clean out the firebox, but as you can see in mine, the clean out is full.   I'll have to shovel the clean out out the next time I use it.

    7.  No.  I used regular type s mortar mixed 1 to 1.  1 part type s, 1 part sand.    I have no clue where to get fire clay.  It will be fine  as long as you keep your joints as small as possible.  I tried to keep mine about 1/4in. or less.   I used the same mix on my fireplace firebox.    If you think it needs fire clay, please use it.   I live in a remote part of the state,  it would have to have been ordered.  All the masons around here just use 1-1 type s.

    8.  My racks were custom made by my brother.   He has a fab shop and can make almost anything.  He also made my doors.   He built them with 3/4 angle iron and welded stretch metal into the frames.  Not sure of the size of the stretch metal, but its the size you would use to grill on. 

    I hope I have helped you.  Masonry isn't hard, it just take time.     I am by no means an expert on anything.   If you question something I've advised please ask a local mason for his input.   

    Sir, you can ask all the questions you like.  If I don't have an answer, I will tell you I don't know.   I will not advise something I wouldn't do for myself.

    Just a note:   You do not have to put a upper damper in.  Not sure what I was thinking when I had my brother build it.  Your flue will be wide open when smoking just like on a small smoker.  I do close it to the point no smoke is coming out the doors but never more.  At best it slows the smoke down a little. 

    Hope you've had a good week-end.

    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  5. tc fish bum

    tc fish bum Meat Mopper

    holly wow, its nice to see a tip to the clasics. they will dig that thing up 3000 years from now and still be able to use it!! great job. now you got me wanting one. lol
  6. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Thank you  tc.  If it will last 40 more years it will have served me well.    Its not hard to build, just takes time and planning.   Hope your having a good day

  7. samuel trachet

    samuel trachet Fire Starter

    Wes W.-

                                       You are obviously a master craftsman. This smoker build is the nicest I have ever saw. You are very talented and kind to share this build with everyone. I can only dream of one day trying this. Awesome job!!     ![​IMG]
  8. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Just a country boy who  likes to cook.   Thank you for the kind words sir. 
  9. casperitis

    casperitis Fire Starter

    Absolutely gorgeous...very impressive and thank you for sharing
  10. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Thank you Casp.  
  11. steveparr477

    steveparr477 Newbie

    Hi there Wes,

    A fan from England here!

    I am planning on building something this spring, and had a couple of questions if that is ok?  Smoking is not that popular over here, so some questions may be stupid! 

    I have previously made 2 drum smokers with a reasonable amount of success, but am after something more permanent, that wont be as affected by the British weather!

    So, to begin with.  Why do you have the fireplace beside the smoker?  Is this purely for fuel for the smoker?  If so, do you use any charcoal?  Do you just let the wood burn down until it is glowing coal, the shovel it into the smoker?

    Next, I don't think I will need as much cooking space as yourself, perhaps just the one door up top rather than the 2.  I was thinking that rather than build up the chimney all the way with brick, I would end the smoker at a reasonably manageable height (not done much brick laying).  Then I have some 6 inch circular metal ducting at work, which I thought I would use to take the chimney up.  I am assuming that the smoker is so high to take the smoke away from the immediate area, or am I wrong?

    I am hoping to use yours as a kind of basis for which to build my own, as I think yours is just great.

    Any advice you could give me would be most appreciated!


  12. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Welcome to the forum Steve.

    There are no such thing as a dumb question.   You don't know if you don't ask.

    The fireplace was built just for looks.  We enjoy it in the fall and spring.   A lot of times I'll build a fire in it when smoking very earlier in the mornings in the winter.  Like 4am early.   I did try to fuel the smoker with the fireplace ashes but it just couldn't keep up.   Its hard to keep a fireplace fire going when you keep taking the ashes out of it too.   Even in the summer we'll build a fire in it and roast hot dogs.  One must stay young at heart.  :)

    I do use charcoal.  I start the smoker with a chimney of charcoal and add wood.   The charcoal is quicker then building a fire and gets everything up to temp quicker.  In the winter with temps around 15-20F it can take up to an hour or more to get the smoker up to temp.  Once there just feed wood according to temp.   The cold mass of meat going in will bring the temp back down quick.   There is a learning curve to a brick smoker.   Toward the end of a smoke  when the meat is hot and close to being done, I will add about 5 charcoal at a time to keep the fire from going out and a small stick of wood at a time.  

    The height is what it worked out to be.  Once over the cooking chamber I stepped it down as quickly as I could.  It does take the smoke away, but the down side is you don't get to smell the goodness coming out of it.   I think everyone in the neighborhood can smell it but me.  :)  

    The biggest thing about masonry is let it cure when done.   Let it dry for at least 30-45 days.  Then only build a small paper fire.   Build a very small fire for a couple days.   The first time you build a big fire bring it up to temp very slow.    I can't stress it enough, if its not cured and you build a big fire, it will crack the mortar.   No big deal, but it doesn't look good.  

    If you have any other question just ask.   I do my best to check the forum regularly. 

    Thank you for the kind words.   This smoker has served me very well.   There isn't a lot on the internet about them.   

    Last edited: Feb 14, 2014
  13. steveparr477

    steveparr477 Newbie

    Hi Wes,

    Thank you for the quick reply.
    I think I will keep it at a manageable height for me, and make a concrete 'lid' with a steel chimney with vent in.
    Only a single cooking chamber door for me. :)
    Will also try to keep it quite angular (read - simple). :)
    One quick question...
    Is there any particular size ratio you used between the vent and chimney size?
    Also with your baffle plates, I assume you just insert /remove them as needed by (gloved) hand?

    Going to lay my concrete base as soon as the weather improves a bit.

    Looking at making an Argentine grill next to it now. Have to fabricate that as well, as can't buy a kit here.

    Cheers again!
  14. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Good morning Steve,

    The smoking chamber can be as big as you want it.  It really doesn't matter.    The flue size needs to be equal to or larger then the vent intake to produce good air flow.  My flue is about twice as big as it needs to be, but better to big then two small. 

    Yes, the baffle plates are just laying on the first shelf.   I rarely move them once I figured out where they needed to be.  For me, I have about a half in. open on the sides and back.  The front seems to get hotter so I have no opening in the plates at the front.     Also,  for me,  Where the fire grate is makes a difference in how it heats.  I do my best to keep it dead center.  If it gets pushed back even an inch, it will heat the back up more.   All of that doesn't matter to much unless your smoking something like wings that can burn or dry out quickly.

    I love my smoker.  Its fun to tinker with.  The challenge of the smoke.   I hope this helps,  Feel free to ask any questions you like.  
  15. revjoe

    revjoe Newbie


    I noticed later on in this thread you appear to have a full length chamber beneath the fire place that extends over towards the smoker side but on top of your concrete base. Is this just part of the ventilation for the smoker side fire pit?  I could not tell if this tied into the fire pit. Also did you sloop the firepit slightly for cleaning?  Edited:  I re-read the thread I see this is part of the cleanout channel, I originally thought you just had not finished lay block in that one pic. So next question is how do you clean that bad boy out?

    I trying to decide on a design and I kind of like yours.  It looks like your fireplace side doubles as grill as well. I was thinking of adding in a gas grill setup either in the middle section or at the end and some sort of work/prep surface.  I don't think I will well do a chimney on the grill side but thinking of incorporating one of those lift racks, not sure I think they might be part of the argentine setups. Or adding a steel cover to the grill. 

    O your fix for temp control between the fire pit and the smoking chamber, the baffle would you do anything different?  I thought about some sort of mechanical slat system kind of like the ones used in the central heat/air room outlets.  Edited.

    Here in NM I deal with lots of winds that either change direction or get into a funky swirl in the backyard.  So I think the Stacked smokehouse set up is best for me then I don't have to worry about wind direction, but considering adding a vent to all sides.  You mentioned you would do your vents covers different. How?  Edited.

    Edited:  Did you use v shaped angel iron under the racks to reduce the flare-ups? Thought I read something from you on that but it may have been in a smokehouse book I was reading.  What's your solution for handling drippings? Just trying to figure out how to best install v shaped angle iron if I go that route and run them into a collection channel.  My other thought was to add hangers to them and hang them from the racks at a decline.  Looking for ideas on the collection container too.   

    I think my biggest issue will be getting doors and racks, but we have numerous iron working shops around here.
    Last edited: Mar 2, 2014
  16. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Welcome to the forum Joe

    Well, there is no way to clean it out all the way through.  I use a flat shovel and clean out from under each firebox.  Unless I get lazy and just clean out the firebox because the clean out if full  :)     My original idea was to put a pizza oven in the middle.  That's why I ran the channel all the way through.  After building the fireplace and smoker, I realized I didn't have enough room.  I still haven't given up on the oven idea, just waiting on the funding to come available. 

    Your right.  When I built the fireplace I offset the corners for a grill.   I still don't have the racks made, but we still use it as a grill.  

    The baffles seem to work pretty well.  I personally don't know what I would do differently with them.    I set my water pan in the middle.  I only have about 1/2 in. on the sides and back for heat and smoke to come through.  Most temp is regulated by closing the intake vents.  They don't seal, but they work very well. 

    The vent covers are actually vented fireplace clean outs.   You can't get a 100% seal when closed.   Its really not that big a deal to me.   If the smoker gets to hot I simply open a door until it cools down a bit.   They are far enough away from the firebox that they really don't even get warm.  A person could even make something out of wood or have something fabricated  that would give a good seal.  Edit:   The two vents that I have are plenty of air to keep the fire going.

    The baffles are just 1/4in flat metal I had cut in strips.   I use a full size aluminum pan as my water pan. It covers the big hole in the middle.   It catches everything that drips.   Over a long smoke you'll have to add water to it.   Over a 12 hr smoke,  I'll go through about 3 gal. of water.  If I''m smoking on top it drips all the way down.   I never mix meats when I smoke.  If I do chicken, its all chicken.   

    I don't think I would want grease dripping into the fire.   If it were to flare up and catch  in the  cook chamber there would be no way to put it out.  It would have to burn out.   

    I hope I've answered your questions.   I scrape the racks after each smoke and burn them with a weed burner before every smoke.  
  17. steveparr477

    steveparr477 Newbie

    Hi Wes,

    Just finished cleaning 400 odd bricks, and my hands need a break!

    Another quick question.
    Let me know when I get annoying!

    Is there any reason you chose 2 vents as opposed to one? I am thinking of one (2 brick big) vent in the back. In theory, I guess this is a similar size to your two (1 brick big) vents.

    Also you mentioned that your door are 21x21,but this is wider than what your cooking chamber is. But, as far as I can see the bricks come to the edge of the door. I am sure I am being stupid with that question.

    I blame my baby not sleeping whenever I am being stupid at the moment!

    Cheers again!


    Edit :
    Having trouble finding a local source of fire bricks, but can find vermiculite board. Wondered if you had ever seen anyone using this to line the inside. I could just cut it to size and stick it inside I guess, If it works....
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2014
  18. wes w

    wes w Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Sir, you could never annoy me.   I love seeing people being creative.  I might even learn something.   I'm always open for new ideas

    Well,  I like balance with things.   Vents on both sides to me just looks right.   There is no reason at all if you want to put in only one.  You need to remember though, every time you need to tweak it you'll have to walk all the way around back.  No, not a long trip, but it could get tiring.   Its really up to you.  You could even put it in the door, but for me I didn't want to mess up my brothers work.   He did tell me if I wasn't getting enough air he would put a vent in it for me.   I have more then enough air with the two vents.  Although the door are zero clearance they do seep  a little air too.   Your not building a super big fire so you really don't need a lot of air.  If you have a two brick vent,  I think you will be fine. 

    Edit:   Once I get my smoker up to temp I close one vent and the other ends up being just barely cracked.

    The firebox door is 21X21.   The smoker doors are a little bit smaller.   The inside walls go straight up all the way around.   The firebrick that I used for the shelves are even with the opening on the doors.  I have to put the shelves in angled and lay them down to make them work.

    Edit:   I need to remind everyone to keep in mind the layout of your shelves to your door.  I have a crossbar between the two doors.  You see that shelf right under the crossbar?   Yeah, its a tight fit to get pork butts or anything else into that shelf, and, you will get grease on your arms reaching into the back.   Oversight on my part.  If I'm smoking for the family, I usually use the top two shelves.  

    I've heard of that board but have never seen or used it.   As bad as I hate to say it, Lowes or home depot should have firebrick.    They may be half brick, meaning they will be half as thick.   For no more heat than you will be creating, that would work, but I personally like the idea of full bricks.    There should be a masonary supply somewhere in your area.   Bricks, mortar, sand, rock, flagstone dealer.

    I hope I've helped you in some way.   Feel free to ask any questions you may have.    Once you get started or when you get finished,  you need to post your build on the board for everyone to see and learn from.   I'm excited for you.   Not sure my back could stand another build but I'm thinking my last masonry project will be a brick pizza oven to go with what I have.   It will be all brick, no kit.   Pretty much just a matter of funding to get started.  

    Hope you have a great evening!
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2014
  19. steveparr477

    steveparr477 Newbie

    HHi Wes

    Thanks again.

    We don't have those shops over here, and the diy/hardware stores near me don't stock them. They can order them in, but it makes it a little more expensive.
    I have actually just found some on ebay of all places.
    One set (molar supra) says a upper temperature of 1000 degrees Celsius, and the other is about 1500. I am thinking that either of these should suffice. How hot does yours go if you let it?
    Edit: Got my head in a spin with those data sheets. Do I want the fire bricks to heat up, and radiate heat back, I guess this means longer to reach temperature (high thermal conductivity I think) Or not absorb much heat, and (presumably) heat up quicker (low thermal conductivity).

    Going to pick up another 1000 bricks tomorrow, again off ebay. Someone took down their chimney stack, and If I take away the bricks and rubble, I can get them free.
    Seemed like a good idea last week, but I am thinking my back might not agree tomorrow night!

    Thanks for the assistance again. As soon as I start I will start my own thread here, and post the progress.

    Last edited: Mar 7, 2014
  20. mchar69

    mchar69 Smoke Blower

    Amazing Thread, Wes!  JEALOUS!

    Steve Parr - I see you're in DK.  Call Bjarne at

    Jagt & Fiskeri in Sonderborg and ask - he was a mason for many years.

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