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DIY miniature smoke house


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For a good long while, I've wanted to own a cold smoker. Cold smokers here are very expensive, though. Expensive and hard to get. I knew I'd have to make one but I just couldn't build up the motivation to draw up a plan and assemble it. Then, last week, occasional eGulleteer benthescientist mentioned he wanted to build one too. Ben drew up a simple plan. What we had in mind was a simple box. We envisioned using cake cooling racks or something similar as the shelves. Neither of us have much experience with or knowledge of working with timber so we wanted to keep things simple. 

 

A local timber yard was happy to cut some American oak (intended for sitting under floorboards or carpet, I believe) to size and supply them, along with the frame, at a good price.

 

The groves you see in the photos were already there. It's still a work in progress, but here's what we have so far.

 

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The beginnings of one of the panels. Each piece of timber is 14 cm x 50 cm. They are ~18 mm thick. The male and female groves on each end needed to be sawn off. The groves ensured a nice seal we wouldn't have been able to otherwise achieve.

 

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The smoke-generator was a challenge. We knew that for cold smoking, we had to keep the temperature as low as possible--as close to the ambient temperature as possible. We initially envisioned taking this can (don't worry, it was brand new before I hacked into it with a Dremel) and running a ducted heating pipe from it to the cooking chamber. We abandoned this plan, as you'll see later.

 

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Here is the first panel.

 

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Lining up the support pieces.

 

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Day two. Two sides assembled.

 

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Rear panel, the two sides and part of the base completed. The base and roof were somewhat tricky. We debated cutting the final slat down from 14cm but decided, in the end, to leave it.

 

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Fixing the last two support pieces.

 

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An early trial run: seeing how well chamber fills with smoke. We're using a low wattage soldering iron to generate just enough heat to cause mesquite sawdust to slowly smoulder. 

 

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The door sitting atop the smoker.

 

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The (mostly) finished smoker. Those horizontal bars are designed to hold up the cake racks.

 

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Installing the racks. This setup is a little flimsy. If you don't take care when putting food in there, the racks can drop down. We're going to work out some system of pins or supports to ensure the racks stay in position. The racks are just cheap ones we got from the supermarket.

 

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The smoking system we settled on. This box, which we purchased ready-made, has good airflow. We're working on a more permanent solution to keeping the box, which gets quite warm, raised off the base of the smoker. For tonight we just used a couple of oak off-cuts.

 

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Our first attempt at cold smoking. For ~1 hour and 20 minutes we smoked some cheddar, some unsalted butter, extra virgin olive oil, jalapenos, eggplant slices, a couple of pork chops and a couple of 'roo fillets. The 'roo fillets were very good and I was happy with the pork chops, too, altho' benthescientist thought the 'roo took the flavour on more. The oil and butter took on a lot of smoke flavour. The chilli took on little: I'd slice them in half next time. The cheddar was a little overdone: it was almost as if the mesquite and cheese didn't get along. The eggplant was nice, too. The 'roo and pork chops had been hit with the same spice mix (a mixture of salt, black pepper, cayenne and garlic powder) prior to smoking. The meat, along with the eggplant, was cooked over a gas grill.

 

We have a few future modifications in mind. The planned locking mechanism, a bolt of the sort you'd use on a gate, didn't work. We need to install some kind of latch. I also want to install a couple of hooks in the ceiling. Extra vents may be in order, too. The ambient temperature is 17-18C at the moment and only after a hour did the smoker hit about 25C. 

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Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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That's a nice-looking setup, Chris. Are you planning to put anything down to catch meat juices so they don't drip onto the floor?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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What you see there was done over two sessions: one that lasted from mid-afternoon into the evening and another that lasted damn near ten hours (although that included a couple of trips to the hardware store to buy some more screws, hooks and so on). 

 

The whole box rests on four bricks. We've discussed the idea of mounting the entire unit on some castor wheels (the kind with brakes on them) so re-purposing one of the bricks to raise the smoke box from the base of the unit might be something we do. That said, in the trial run the box didn't scorch even the scraps we used.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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DSC_0055_zps457fcc69.jpg

 

I cut one of the spare support pieces into 3 * 15 cm lengths. A simple tripod to hold up a pizza tray--an easily removable, easily cleaned drip-catching mechanism.

 

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The bolt that Ben and I had purchased didn't work. After some searching the aisles of the local hardware store we found these. There are two: one near the top of the door, one near the bottom. They keep the door tightly closed.

 

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Installing the first of the hooks. The hooks, which have a 6 kg capacity, are intended for hanging sausages or similar from the ceiling of the unit.

 

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Installing the castor wheels. Two of the castor wheels are fitted with brakes. Considering the weight of the unit, wheels are vastly superior to our original solution of keeping the unit raised--bricks.

 

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The drip tray in place.

 

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A crude but effective way of keeping the racks in place. Note, too, the hooks. 

 

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Smoking some more 'roo fillets and a capsicum.

 

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Handles.

 

Next we're planning on installing four vents: two near the base, two near the top. The vents will be adjustable, allowing us to slide them open and closed. I'm also going to install a weather station thermometer in there to allow us to keep track of temperature and humidity during long cooks.

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Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Very good workmanship! 

 

Have you considered a window on the door? So that you don't have to open the door to check?

 

What are you going to cold smoke? How many days you can cold smoke in your location?

 

You may want to provide room for an ice tray. There may be days when the weather is questionable for cold smoking.

 

dcarch

Edited by dcarch (log)
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We've discussed the possibility of installing a window and some kind of hatch through which we could reach in and agitate the smoke pan. These are some way down the road, however. We'll see how we go with vents but an ice tray may be necessary too.

Melbourne is rarely ever *that* cold. We'll need to plan ahead carefully for long cooks. At the moment I'm playing with short (1-3 hour) smokes before cooking, as you can see in the photos. Today I'm smoking a pound of cayennes and fatalis for my next hot sauce.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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It's not an electric smoker. Well, not in the sense of some off-the-shelf product. The smoker is comprised of a cheap, low wattage soldering iron (25W) and a 'smoking box' from the local hardware store. The smoking box is designed to be placed on the grill of a kettle barbecue (or any kind of grill, be it gas or coal-fueled, with a lid) and loaded with wood chips or smoke pellets. I drilled a hole in the side of the box with a 1 cm drill bit and poked the soldering iron inside. 

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Depending on how the wood chips are packed it seems to last for about a hour. At this point agitating the box starts it up again. Experimentation is in order: I want to see if keeping the box at an angle, titled towards the soldering iron side, improves things. I suspect installing two vents near the base of the unit will also increase the smoking time.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Great work, really enjoyed reading through that.

 

Just a suggestion for your door, although I know you're happy with your revised latches.  For about $10 on Ebay you can buy a pack of 8mm neodymium magnets.  They look a lot like small watch batteries but they are incredibly strong.  You can use an 8mm drill bit to make small holes at regular points in your door, and matching holes in the frame.  Stick the magnets - making sure you have them lined up so they attract - into the holes with a strong glue such as epoxy (araldyte).  If you get everything lined up so the magnets are flush with the surface of the timber the result looks pretty cool.  The magnets will hold the door shut tightly.  

I actually used this method for the sliding door in our bathroom.  With 10 8mm magnets - 5 pairs of 2 - the sliding door would actually close itself from about 15 - 20 cm open.  You can buy bigger magnets and stronger magnets but the price goes up quickly, and 8mm is an easy size to drill.  

 

Keep up the reports!

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Nice work.  Did you guys already see Tim Hayward's take, here ?

 

That's a nicely made video; however I would not use his method.

 

There are many food safety issues that are not covered in that video. For instance, you will be crazy to use saw dust from a lumber mill. Plenty of chemicals and preservatives in many woods. Also, salmon can be expensive, you want to be sure that you get predictable quality and end results every time.

 

I would not use a soldering iron to mess up $40 $50  worth of food.

 

dcarch

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I can picture a self -feeding set-up where the iron is inserted in the base of a cone-shaped fuel container that feeds fresh wood by gravity.

 

Here is an idea to be considered:

 

A remote night vision wireless video camera is inexpensive. It will work fine inside cold smoke temperature. You can see the smoke condition inside the smoke house, as well as a thermometer to make sure you are safe with the temperature. You can even add a thermostatic controlled heater inside if you want to cold smoke in freezing weather.

 

Who wants to keep going outside to check smoke and temperature? Many times cold smoking is done at night. Also you don't want to keep opening the door to the smoker.

 

dcarch

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fantastic work !

 

I assume the wood is untreated, and if soooo  will take up various flavors and get smokier and smokier.

 

the idea of generating the smoke outside the 'box' is a good one, as the 'pipe' will cool it.

 

Alton Brown did a fantastic show a long time ago called  'Scrap Iron Chef'  he use old lockers,l put the smoke generator in one locker, used 

 

clothes drier flexible metal duct to cool the smoke then that was connected to the locker w the food.

 

he used an inexpensive computer fan run on a battery to move the smoke to the food.

 

but I must say, the wood one looks a lot better !

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Is there a reason you used tongue and groove instead of plywood?

Aside from the convenience of the tongue and groove that Chris mentions, we were hesitant to use composite materials such as ply and MDF that *might* leach toxins from their resin into the smoked goods. We just didn't know, and so played it safe with a natural option.

The fact it was oak, too, had a nice affinity with the idea of a smoker.

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And there's that, yes. This also applied to doing what some people online do--modifying a cheap galvanized bin (some of these people even use these bins as hot smokers). 

 

Of course, with the tools we had hacking up a fuel can was hard enough. I don't think we'd have been able to hack holes in a metal bin.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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  • 8 months later...

Parked some short ribs in there for a couple hours with a view to cooking them sous vide later. Happened to walk by the smoker and smelt ... plastic. Melted plastic. Sure enough, the handle of the soldering iron--not in direct contact with the smoking box--had melted. Mmm ... hickory/toxic-smoked beef. Shame to throw the just-purchased meat away but I couldn't take the risk. I'll have to rethink the design of the smoker. This may be as simple as buying a new soldering iron and removing the plastic handle. Or finding another bran that doesn't have any plastic on it at all.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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