Smoking is a prehistoric practice, and we have records of it in ancient sources of food and cooking. At its most basic, smoking meat just means hanging salted meat over a slow, smoky fire.
Smokehouses haven’t changed much in thousands of years, but today there many different sizes and styles of smokers available commercially and lots of DIY smoker options for building your own smoker at home.
If you already know what type of smoker you’re looking to build, check out these quick links:
There are two main meat smoking techniques: a hot smoke and a cold smoke. They yield very different products and require different smoker setups, with different food safety concerns. A hot smoke cooks the meat, while a cold smoke leaves the meat raw but smoke flavored.
Hot smoking has been most commonly practiced throughout history, as it has a lower risk of food-borne illness. The fire-producing smoke is in the same chamber with the meat, and the whole unit is heated enough to cook the meat, whether that is a whole smokehouse, like the 17th-century one pictured, or just a barbeque grill.
Smoking is a low and slow method of cooking, and the cooking environment should be between 180 degrees and 250 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer to be sure the meat is fully cooked, as it often takes longer than expected. The longer the smoke, the stronger the flavor.
Cold smoking has a different set of concerns. Since the meat, or more often fish, is meant to remain raw, there is no opportunity for harmful microbes to be killed in the cooking process. The meat needs to be kept below 41 degrees, the temperature at which most harmful bacteria cease to grow. It is possible to cold smoke any kind of meat, but for food safety, all meat except fresh fish should be cooked before eating.
The tricky part is exposing the meat to smoke without raising the temperature of the meat. With modern technology, this is usually accomplished with the simple use of a refrigerated unit of some kind, as simple as a mini fridge, with the smoke piped into it.
Historically, one trick used for cold smoking fish was to build a fire in an underground chamber and pipe the smoke through the ground, which would gradually cool the smoke, into a separate underground chamber containing the meat. The low ambient temperature of the earth would keep both the meat and the smoke cool.
Another big risk when using a meat smoker of any kind, homemade or commercial, is carbon monoxide poisoning. Always set up smokers outdoors or in well-ventilated outbuildings. If you are smoking in a garage, always leave the doors open and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide alarm. Safety should be the first thing you consider before you start smoking, regardless of whether it’s hot or cold.
Hot DIY Smoker Plans
There is quite a variety of hot smoker plans to choose from, everything from small, backyard-sized drums to large, tow-behind-the-car smokers. Choose one that will serve your purposes without being too large or too small.
55-Gallon Drum Smoker
You’ll see a wide variety of DIY smoker plans similar to this one, as the 55-gallon drum does a good job of holding enough big trays of meat to make the whole smoking process worth it.
Not only that, but a 55-gallon drum can hold years of wear and tear. These instructions in particular are very detailed and easy to follow, with clear directions and images to reference. This is not your average ugly drum smoker! It’s quite elegant, actually!
Upcycled Planter Smoker
If you’re a gardener, chances are you have a clay pot or two hanging around. With this DIY plan, you can turn one of them into a homemade smoker! This plan is ideal for someone who is new to smoking or just wanted to smoke a few sausages at a family barbecue.
YouTube commenters mentioned the potential toxicity of the paint on the flower planters, so just be aware of what your pots are treated with before you use them.
Upcycled Pallet Smoker
Of course, we had to include a smoker made out of pallets! These instructions build a smoker that is fairly large, but it could be adapted to be smaller if need be. At the end of the instructions is a 15-minute video that you can follow step by step. Just think, that big pile of old pallets could become your next culinary adventure! And as a note, make sure that the pallets or repurposed wood you choose are not treated.
Grill Turned DIY Smoker
If you’d rather just repurpose your current charcoal grill into a smoker, give this DIY smoker a shot. This option is a good choice for people who might not have a huge budget for a new smoker but do have a grill they could convert.
File Cabinet Smoker
Old filing cabinets can be a total eyesore, but they’re less ugly when tasty, smoked meats come out of them! This YouTube video gives a great overview of this project, with step-by-step instructions and a handy shopping list for all the parts you need.
For a more permanent DIY smoker build, check out this option that utilizes bricks for a sturdier design. The author notes that he is not a builder by trade, but just a handy person who wanted to utilize their skills to build rather than buy. These plans would work well with upcycled concrete blocks, too.
Called the “little blue egg” by the builder, this ceramic smoker is cheaper than its big green egg cousin, and you’ll feel a lot more accomplished building it yourself.
Now if you’re ready to take your smoked food on the road, this is the DIY smoker plan for you. Whether you’re going to a family barbeque or catering an event, this trailer smoker will make plenty of BBQ for everyone.
Cold DIY Smoker Plans
The main difference between cold smokers and hot smokers is that you need to make sure that the meat’s temperature doesn’t get too hot. Look for lots of ventilation when choosing your smoker. If you want to make smoked cheese or fish at home, cold smoking is a good way to go.
Upcycled Cold Smoker
While the instructions aren’t the most straightforward, this cold smoker build gives you an idea of what kinds of materials you can upcycle to build a smoker at home.
Basic Cold Smoker
With a 4-hour build time and difficulty rated “easy,” this might be a good DIY smoker to try out! The directions are clear and easy to follow, with pictures included to make sure you’re on the right path!
Cold Smoker Smokehouse
This smokebox was designed to sit on top of a block pit that this homesteader already had. It has enough room to fit two pigs!
Tall Cold Smoker For Squaw Candy
Not only are the directions straightforward and easy to follow, but you’re also provided with tips for smoking and storing fish for squaw candy. This DIY smoker is definitely the tallest on the list.
Upcycled Mini-Fridge Cold Smoker
Turn that college dorm mini-fridge into something awesome with this DIY smoker plan! The only caveat is you need some outdoor space to run the ventilation system.
Cold-Smoker Generator Plans
Rather than building an entire smoker dedicated to cold smoking, another option is to build a generator or smoke gun to cold smoke your meat in an existing grill or smoker. Rather than turning the grill or smoker on, it just acts as a chamber to capture the smoke. This is a good option if you are just getting started with cold smoking and want to test it out before building an entire smokehouse dedicated to purely cold smoking.
Miss Betsy’s Cold Smoke Generator
Made out of an old coffee can and an aquarium pump, this cold smoke generator can be built in five steps. If you want to enjoy cold-smoked salmon without buying an expensive rig, this homemade smoker is for you.
Upcycled Cocktail Shaker Cold-Smoker
You know you never use that cocktail shaker that came in a gift basket for your housewarming party years ago. Put it to good use and make some tasty cold smoked meat! This DIY plan includes lots of helpful images to make sure you’re on the right track, and it can be created in 2 hours for only $25.
Indoor Smoker Plans
It is possible to achieve that smokey flavor without the outdoors! With a bit of creativity and some simple cookware items you probably already have at home, you can smoke all the meat your heart desires!
For an easy, indoor smoker option when you don’t want to go out in the nasty weather, check out this DIY from Cook’s Illustrated.
Indoor Cold Smoker
With the use of aluminum foil, wood chips, and ice, you too can cold smoke indoors. If you want a tender, smoky piece of chicken without the hassle of a whole smoker, this DIY hack is for you.
Do you like to smoke meats at home for your family and friends? What are your tips or favorite recipes for smoking the most perfect clean cuts of chicken, beef, pork, or fish? Did you build your own DIY smoker? Let us know in the comments below!