Build your own?

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by christhompson, Jul 15, 2008.

  1. christhompson

    christhompson Fire Starter

    I don't see a forum specifically for DIY smokers, but since what I want to do is largely electric, this seemed like a good place.

    I'm a long time lurker here, even before I joined so I could view attachment images :)

    I'm the kind of guy who tends to go in big on new ventures, and I tend to build what I want, instead of buying something and modifying it. My wife says I enjoy the building more than the using, which may be a fair assessment.

    I want to hot smoke (I'm desperate to try a fattie), I want to cold smoke. And I'm fairly certain I want to do it all in my basement, which means proper venting (Don't worry, I'm fully aware of the ramifications of smoking indoors, it won't happen without precautions.)

    It occurs to me that separating heat and smoke generation makes the most sense.

    What I have in mind isn't something I've seen anyone do, so I was hoping to get some input from the masters.

    My idea is to take a large metal cabinet. Something like this:
    • Strip the shelves out.
    • Wrap the outside in heat shielding, that tar/foil type stuff
    • Wrap that in Rockwool, then wrap the whole thing in something to keep it neat.
    • Rig the inside for stainless grate shelves, and the ability to swap in rods and hooks for sausage hanging.
    • Vent the top of the case into a round heatsafe duct that can be vented outside.
    So next, build a small external box with an electric element heating a tray of wood chips.
    • Vent that box out the top
    • Run that duct through a mechanism to cool the smoke, for cold smoking. My thought here is either long looping runs of duct, or, to get crazy, put it through several fan-cooled automobile intercoolers (new and clean, of course) which, oddly enough, are designed to drop the temperature of an air charge moving through at a fairly good speed.
    • Run that vent into the bottom of the main chamber.
    Then, for the heat in the main box, Some sort of heating element in the base. Perhaps rig a high temperature capable convection fan to keep the air inside the big box evenly heated/smoked

    If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a gigantic nerd, so all of this would be monitored by several temperature probes for both meat temp and air/smoke temp, and all computer controlled. There's really no limit to how many temp probes you can monitor, and things like heating coil and convection fan could be controlled by computer, by relay.

    Is it massive overkill to do something like this when you can do the same with a cheap metal tub and some charcoal? Well, sure. But it'll be fun trying :)

    My concerns right now would be:
    • Sealing the gaps around the doors sufficiently
    • The paint on the inside of the cabinet going all toxic at heat
    • The box itself being able to maintain 220+
    For the first two I was thinking stove door "weatherstripping" and lining the inside of the cabinet with sheet stainless. The last... I guess I just need to build it and see.

    So what am I missing? I've got smoke, I've got heat, I've got the potential for cold smoke (don't even get me started on the use of a window air conditioner unit to create truly COLD smoke :) With the right preparation of the area of my basement I would use, there could be proper ventilation for true indoor smoking (barring that, it's the garage.)

    Am I crazy for wanting something that could smoke about 20 brisket at a time?
  2. chrome

    chrome Smoke Blower

    Well you can rule out the automotive intercoolers. They would get gummed up way too fast, and then would be useless for anything else. I would use loops of dryer duct possibly with a fan. Then if they get too crappy your out a few dollars.
    No matter now you go about venting it, you are still going to get a lot of smoke inside your house by opening the cooking area when maintaining whatever you are smoking.
    The cabinet idea is great. I've been looking to build a vertical smoker (but using charcoal/wood) and thinking about converting a cabinet.

    So why don't you insulate it and put it outside? I know that makes it a bit rougher to use when the weather doesn't cooperate, but I'd rather that then a bunch of smoke in my house. No matter how good it smells. :)


    Edit: I re-read your post a few times. I'm a huge nerd too, and think that computer control of fans would be great. What would be even better is to have temp sensors at various levels and be able to see those temps on the computer as you cook.
  3. christhompson

    christhompson Fire Starter

    I thought of that. Would they clog closed during a several hour smoke? I have no idea how fast the residue collects. I wonder if the intercoolers could be flushed after each smoke. Of course, maybe I'm just overthinking this aspect. When Alton Brown smoked up some bacon on Good Eats, he just used several looping coils of duct and that got it cold enough.

    Again, I agree. I had a few thoughts here. If I wanted to open the cabinet, I could have a "blast gate" to close off the incoming smoke, and a switch controlled vent fan to vent out the smoke before I opened it. This would, unfortunately, vent in cooler air as well. Made me think of using some sort of "pizza stone" style heat sink inside to hold heat.

    I live in Cincinnati. We're far enough north to have cold winters (I've been here when it was -35F Real temp, -60F Wind chill), and far enough south to have hot summers (I've been here at 107F, and worse 98F with 90% humidity). Weather around here is either too hot, or too cold, most of the year, to sit around for six hours tending a smoke. The garage would be a bit better, though my garage door isn't insulated.

    Admit it though. If you could work out the "how", and could smoke indoors without fumigating the house and setting off all the smoke alarms, wouldn't you?

    I can easily see how to write software to read the inputs of 20-30 temp sensors or more. It would be trivial to write something that would trip power relays on fans and heating elements.

    Want to get crazy? I THINK you can get particle sensors that could sit in the smoke ducting and report when the smoke was getting thin, and alert you to replenish the wood chips. Edit: Not to mention perhaps measuring the density of the smoke and adjusting the smoke chamber heating element. :)

    How about hi temp silicone tubing and brass nozzles that could finely mist flavorful liquids on your smoking meat, computer controlled pumping, without you ever having to open the door :)

    And the geek shall inherit the earth.
  4. chrome

    chrome Smoke Blower

    You could use a hood and squirrel cage fan. Only turn it on when you are going to open the smoker.

    But I also like your idea of automatic misters. I like to spritz with apple juice, so you just set up a timer.

    Also, I wouldn't use chips for a computer controlled smoke, I would use pellets. More of a uniform shape, less likely to get clogged.

    Theoretically you could put your meat in, insert temp probe, and never have to open it until it was done.

    Neat idea...
  5. fireguy

    fireguy Smoking Fanatic

    I feel like I gotta say... you are asking for trouble man...Not to mention... if you duct the smoke out of your house... at some point or several points either neighbors or passer bys will call 911 and report a structure fire... just from seeing the smoke... heck we get calls all the time from dryer vents in the winter.. folks mean well but it might become a hassle for you and the local fd. Not trying to crush your dreams.. just beware... Good luck!! and let us know how it goes.
  6. chrome

    chrome Smoke Blower

    Yeah, this whole idea isn't very practical.
    But interesting to think about.

    I grew up in a house that my Grandpa built. One of the really neat things about the kitchen was that in had a full sized built in stainless grill that ran off natural gas. It had a hood over it that you used when you were cooking.

    Bad thing about it was cleanup was a huge chore. It ended up not getting used very often, but was nice in the winter when we couldn't grill outside.
  7. bustedluckbarbq

    bustedluckbarbq Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    On your temp controls... get with GEEK... he has the set up already....
  8. christhompson

    christhompson Fire Starter

    I hear you. I'm aware of how badly it could go. My cousin owns a restaurant and I've seen what it takes to get a kitchen vent up to commercial code. I'm fairly certain that the thing is going to end up in the garage.

    I've got this part of my basement, though, that's never going to be good for anything finished (Which, we haven't even finished the rest of the basement yet. I'd love to turn it into a work area for me, whether that's making sausage, building guitars, or working on a part to my 73 MGB (of which there are many).

    The area above it is laundry room and the back of the garage. It's in a corner, so two walls of the area are exterior and into a part of the back and side yards that's largely unused. Basically, if I were going to vent something, I couldn't ask for a better spot. None of this is in the budget right now, so it's just planning for later.

    That's valid, but with the way the house is situated, only one other house is visible, and they could be "educated". We're on good terms.

    This is a valid concern, though it's going to be a concern whether it's in the basement or the garage. None of this plan is practical. Do I really NEED a smoker that can hold 20 briskets? Mmmmmm.... Brisket.

    I'll keep that in mind. I'll be using references from a lot of sources. This sort of temperature control setup is already used by many homebrewers for maintaining the temperature of their mash, or even by aquarium owners for temperature control. I like to work by looking at everything and trying to cherry pick the good bits out of everywhere.
  9. chrome

    chrome Smoke Blower

    Mmmmm 20 briskets... :)
    Time to buy a deep freeze too. Or maybe build a small closet sized "walk in" in the same room as the smoker?
  10. blaken

    blaken Fire Starter

    I think venting the smoke before you open the door is going to be your only option. Instead of a "blast door" to close of the smoke you will probably have to put in a Y vent to route the smoke directly to the main exhaust so the smoke doesn't build up and leak out of your smoke box. To clear the smoke chamber I would get a high speed comair rotron fan like this one I picked one of these up at a wholesaler a few years back for $12 even though they normally sell for $80 so look around. There are also DC models. Have this high speed exhaust feed into the main exhaust so smoke isn't constantly hitting the fan. Then run a clean air intake into the bottom of the smoker to feed in fresh air.

    You could put in a bunch of brick to try to hold the heat while the doors are open.

    If you don't want to have the shelf unit custom made I would take the one you buy somewhere to have it sand blasted. Then repaint it with grill paint. Who knows what kind of paint they use. With my luck it would contain led.

    You might also want to reconsider the size. The smaller it is the less heat you will need to replace and the less smoke you will have to exhaust. It is going to take a whole lot of energy to cook a couple racks of ribs. That cabinet you linked to is massive. You will have to generate 39^3 feet of smoke to fill that thing. Something more like this would be a bit more efficient. Or if you could find one a wide body GOSM might be just the thing.

    The absolute first thing you need to do is make sure you have carbon monoxide detectors installed throughout your house.
  11. tn_bbq

    tn_bbq Smoking Fanatic

    Here's an idea I ran across somewhere on the internet. I'd probably have added some more insulation, but that's just me.

    Lots of folks use 55 gallon drums to make smokers.

    I've often wondered what it would be like to take an old oven and turn it into a smoker.

    I admire the homemade smokers that folks build. Really takes the BBQ hobby to a different level.

    Whatever you decide, keep us posted.
  12. jpalmer

    jpalmer Newbie

    might be an old topic, but i thought it was interesting -

    You know lots of people have wood stoves and fireplaces in thier house with no troubles really. Why dont you find a piece of equipment like that, which is sealed well, and has a large stack venting vertically outdoors?

    A big difference between a fireplace and a smoker is that the stove has a small door down low, the smoker opens up tall and wide for better access. that upper lip from the door to the top of stove keeps that smoke in, so if you could manage only using the bottom half of your "smoker" you wouldnt have alot of smoke escaping.

    If you think about it, most BBq's and smokers operate like a wood stove. you have a stack for smoke, a intake vent or grille down low, a door, and a heat and smoke source down low.

    And no one would report a fire if they saw smoke coming from a smoke stack near your roof.

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