I really like cooking meat outside. And like most people, I already have a propane grill and a charcoal smoker. Plus a little Webber Smokey Joe. But something was missing... a low-maintenance, predictable electric smoker, small enough to efficiently make a meal for just two, but with enough capacity to handle larger jobs when needed.
I'd experimented with electric smoking before - a hot plate in the bottom of a big terra cotta pot, with a grill set in, and another pot inverted on top, exactly like this great instructable: https://www.instructables.com/id/Cheap-redneck-cera... Which meant I already had the hot plate.
Then we visited my sister in law, who had found a cute little electric box smoker from the 60's on eBay. It used a small cast-iron pan to hold the wood and protect the heating element from drips. And so this instructable is really a combination of the flower pot instructable, the 50 year old unit I met in Washington, and browsing other great instructables that used kegs but charcoal or wood, like this one: https://www.instructables.com/id/Beer-Keg-Smoker/ Huge credit to pskiot1 and vr6ators for their work, I never would have come up with this without them.
Step 1: Starting With the Keg
Thanks to this instructable https://www.instructables.com/id/Beer-Keg-Smoker/ I knew how to deal with a keg.
And thanks to all the comments in ^ I knew what to avoid in acquiring a keg.
Fortunately, I work in the recycling industry, so I know where to find things (sold by the pound!) like expired kegs which no longer meet inspection requirements. Super duper bonus was that I found one from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., one of my favorites.
Step 2: Cutting the Keg
Kegs have nice lines around them which are easy to follow. I wanted to make sure I had enough wall height in the lower portion to put my door for the wood pan, and one of the lines seemed about right.
Safety second! After planning and before cutting: mask, gloves, eyes & ears, and a hose. Sending the sparks from the cutting wheel directly at your own crotch is optional. As are jeans. But I wouldn't recommend one without the other.
Step 3: Legs
Ikea! I love Ikea. Especially since you can buy 3 table legs without the 4th or a table top.
Measure, mark, punch, drill, screws & nuts. All stainless hardware, because I don't want to add zinc to my smoke. (I know its debatable whether this is really a thing, but I avoid debates.)
Step 4: Slip Fitting and Making a Flange
I wanted the top of the smoker to fit down onto the lower part with a little overlap. If my measurement for where the hot plate & pan needed to be had put the cut line on a flat part of the keg, I probably would have bent a ring of mild steel around the inside of the lower half and screwed or riveted it in place. But fortunately, the cut ended up right below one of the contours in the keg wall, so I could just hammer the upper part out and slip it down onto the lower.
Step 5: Tabs to Hold the Top From Settling Too Low or Getting Crooked
The grills inside will be held up with 3 legs. And the legs will be bolted in, through the walls of the lower unit. I measured so that the upper bolt on each leg would be placed where I could also install little tabs on the outside of the lower part, so the upper didn't get lopsided. I made the tabs from mild steel angle iron, punched, drilled, ground smooth, sanded, and painted with high-temp barbecue paint.
Step 6: Electric Hot Plate
I already had a 750 watt Toastmaster electric burner from my previous experiments with the flower pot smoker. If you need one, Amazon Prime has them for about $22 US. One screw holds the entire thing together.
One of the disadvantages to the flower pot smoker was that the temperature control was buried deep inside the smoker. I decided to relocate the control pot off of the hot plate and to the outside of the keg. It all came apart easily. I then drilled the outside for the control knob and reapplied the label with spray adhesive. I drilled a hole in the bottom of the keg for a new power cord, and sized so that I could put a grommet in the hole before the cord so the metal wasn't touching the insulation. Next I fished the cord up through the plate, sent one wire over to the control and back, and wrapped everything going inside the hot plate with fiberglass. I then drilled out the plastic bottom of the hot plate for a long 1/4" bolt that would go through the drip pan, base, and keg to not only hold everything together again but also fix it to the inside of the keg.Photo
Step 7: Testing
I put a couple of chunks of dry hickory in the pan to test the electronics. There's no door or racks in the smoker yet, but I wanted to make sure it worked before going further because if I had to replace the wiring, controller, or hot plate, that other stuff would be in the way later.
It worked! 10 minutes on high and I got good smoke. When I opened it up, the wood was nicely charred.
Step 8: Pan Door
I wanted a hinged door that covered most of the hole for the pan. But also lets out the end of the handle and provides a little venting. If the smoke makes it all the way down there to vent, I know everything on the racks above is in full smoke. And also venting out means no oxygen can get in, so the wood won't flare up. And if the handle sticks out a bit, I can give it a shake to clear ash from time to time.
I made the door out of mild steel and hammered it into a curve to match the keg wall. Stainless hinge & hardware on the wide side, and a stainless toggle latch with stainless rivets to fix it closed. Insulated with RTV high-temp silicone and barbecue insulation.
Step 9: Grills and Supports
The grills will be held up by 3 legs made of mild steel square tubing. I cut & ground a notch midway for the lower grill and notched the top for the upper grill. Measured to make sure they wouldn't hit the roof of the keg. Test fit with clamps, before marking, drilling, and painting.
Step 10: Covering the Inside of the Controller and the Wiring
Smokers cause meat to give off quite a bit of moisture, which drips down the walls of the smoker. I didn't want that contacting the temperature controller or the wires, so I bent a metal cover and stuck it on with JB Weld (good for up to 700* F). I also insulated the wire connectors with JB. And then taped over the whole thing with high-temperature metal tape rated for flue venting, which will be plenty for this project.
Step 11: Testing!
Finally, the fun part!
I bought a smoker thermometer on Amazon (there are many - I just chose the highest rated one that was under $20 US) and put it in the top. It's threaded on the inside and comes with a mounting bolt & washer.
First real test was without meat. It worked well - 220* F after 20 minutes and 270* F after 40. At 40 minutes, I opened it up to put on some sausages (and turn it down to medium). Once exposed to oxygen, the wood caught on fire. I put it out, and dropped the cover back on and smoked the sausages for about an hour. They were perfect: moist inside, smoky, and a little crispy on the outside.
Next I put in some Tri Tip steaks, about 3 lb each. High for the first 20 minutes, then turned it down to medium. Total smoke time 3.5 hours and they were perfect as well.
The next day, I bought some fresh salmon. Same temps, 2 hours. Came out great! I'm really happy with the project and if you like it, or have questions, I'd love to hear from you. I'd appreciate a vote in the Meat Contest, if you think its worthy. Happy smoking!