Cold Weather Smoking - Need ideas?

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by navidog, Jan 5, 2015.

  1. navidog

    navidog Newbie


    Brand new to smoking.  I have been reading about modifications to the "Big Chief" front loader smoker.  I have a 2003 model brand new.  

    It is pretty cold here, around 20 degrees in the area I want to smoke.  Which is in the garage by a window to release the smoke.  I would try outside but it is much more cold out there.  

    So I am curious, I have learned mixed input about the insulation blanket.  I will be trying that.  However, my question is, I have heard people adding a higher wattage element to their smoker.  Mine is 400 wattage.  I am looking at adding a different element to my smoker.  Would this help to keep my temperature more stable?  If so, what wattage element should I seek out? Is there certain brands that only work with certain smokers?  Or is this even needed if I decided to build a insulation box with the blanket?  

    Any help would be appreciated.  I would love input about adding different element.  
  2. Hi and welcome to the site. 

    IMHO.... as I had one of the Big Chief (top loader) smokers many years ago. They just are not a very good smoker for using in cold weather as they are not very well insulated and the (small) heating element is pre set to only achieve around 165 degrees in good weather. It's usable, but will work best for smoking in the early stage of a cook then finishing the meat in an oven. 

    If you are a good do it your self-er, I'm sure you could put a bigger heating element in it, but then you would also need some kind on thermostat to control the cooking temps and I'm not so sure the unit is designed to handle higher temps. May melt down the wiring. IDK?

    I built a plywood enclosure for mine one time. It helped a little but still had marginal results with it.

    For the cost and time involved in changing the element, controls and materal to build an enclosure  you could

     get a MES 30 which is a much ,much better product. You can find them on sale for around $130 or less.

    Not trying to bag on your smoker. Just giving you my 2 cents for what it's worth.  Good luck with what ever you decide.
  3. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    First off I'd ask what are you wanting to smoke? The chief smokers are great for things like fish, jerky and sausage. Not so good for things like brisket, pork butts, poultry, etc.

    That being said I smoked a ton of fish and jerky in the ones that I owned. There are lots of things you can do to help the heat stay inside. Welding blankets work good. Like Dirtworldmike, I built a plywood box and a box out of foil faced rigid insulation. If you go either of those route leave a good inch or two gap all around. Also leave a good 1" opening top and bottom full length on one side for draft.

    If you're looking to smoke large cuts as I mentioned above start looking for a different smoker and keep the chief for the small stuff.
  4. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    Welcome to SMF.   Regarding your big chief, dirtsailor2003 said it perfectly.  I have two old big chief's with 1100 watt elements and thermostat controllers.  Both are dedicated for Salmon smoking.  I have a Masterbuilt propane unit for everything else.  If you want to stay as a one smoker dude, I'd get a blanket or build a box for cold weather smoking.  The manufacturers of Big chief, sell a thermo blanket.


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