Introduction: Build a Barbecue Smoker for $9

Picture of Build a Barbecue Smoker for $9

I've made a cardboard box smoker before, but I wanted something a little more sturdy, so I made one out of a mini grill and some air conditioning ducts. The total cost for this project was $9 since I got the duct for $3 and the riveter for $6 at the flea market, and I found the mini grill in a dumpster (it's amazing what people throw away in rich neighborhoods). The hot plate belongs to my roommate, but you can use a charcoal or wood fire instead.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

1. A piece of sheet steel about 4 foot by 2 foot. Thickness isn't too important, as long as you can bend it into a circle. You might want galvanized or painted steel to prevent rust. I got my sheet metal by tearing apart a duct.
2. Mini grill, or a full-size grill for a larger-capacity smoker.
3. Rivets or screws to hold everything together.
4. Electric hot plate.

You will also need these tools:
1. Power drill.
2. Riveter or rivet gun.

Step 2: Build Process

Picture of Build Process

1. Find the circumference of your grill to make sure the metal is big enough to make a full circle, then add a few inches for the overlap of the joint. Mine came out to about 4 feet.
2. Cut out the metal in the right size.
3. Bend the metal around a pole or other round object to make it into a cylinder.
4. Make sure that the cylinder will fit inside the grill, and that the grate will fit inside the cylinder, then tape the cylinder together.
5. Drill holes through the metal where the two sides of the cylinder come together and rivet these holes together to make a complete cylinder.
6. Add screws or rivets to hold the grate up inside the cylinder.
7. Add a coat of paint if you like.

Step 3: Fire It Up!

Picture of Fire It Up!

My favorite type of meat to smoke is pork ribs, but you can smoke all kinds of meat. My next project is to make elk jerky.

Add a sauce or dry rub of your choice to the meat (good recipes can be found here:,1977,FOOD_9936_11125,00.html and here: )

Place the electric hot plate in the bottom of the mini grill and turn it up all the way. Put a pie plate or other pan full of wet wood chips or sawdust onto the burner, then put the cylinder and the lid on top.

Put the meat on the grill and let it cook for a long time (I would cook it for at least 8 hours). Check on it every 30 to 60 minutes and add more wood chips as needed. You can adjust the vents on the bottom and lid of the grill to allow air in or smoke out.

When the meat is fully cooked, take it out and enjoy!


moris_zen (author)2012-07-17

I have a barrel from Anodize aluminium - is that OK to use?

MikeT215 (author)moris_zen2017-05-11

Sure, if you don't mind early onset alzheimers ...

MeatEater14568 (author)2016-05-09

I am also a sheet metal worker and I totally agree with AbraxialF, You would never use galvanized tin in an environment that would pump zinc gas into your food. the reason why all the roman emperors were nuts like Caligula, and Nero, was by drinking wine made in lead coated copper pots..

Find a piece of light guage black Iron pipe, or have a sheet metal shop make you one, build your smoker and heat it up to 500 degrees for at least an hour, then paint the inside and outside with pitt bull barb-b-que paint, then heat it up again, then you can use it.

Better to use type 316 Stainless steel, type 304 won't do the trick, it is not food safe.

type 316 is very expensive because of the high nickel content, and because it is hard on the machinery used in cutting it.

A piece of 24 inch round pipe would use over half of a ten foot sheet of 24 guage type 316 so plan on buying the whole sheet, plus labor

One sheet of 316 type b stainless steel 48 inches x 120 inches would cost about $440.50

AbraxialF (author)2015-12-22

i am a sheet metal worker by trade.

Absolutely do bit use galvanized or coated metal.

Get uncoated steel, remove the oil and other contaminants from the factory, generally by heating and/or scrubbing with a solvent and then heating to remove solvent, then use high heat special purpose barbecue paint like Pitt Bull paint, if you want to prevent corrosion.

DayP (author)2014-11-17

Yep, I just checked Craigslist. I'm in the Bay Area (SF/Oak) and found 3 available $0 FREE!!

DayP (author)2014-11-17

How about go on Craigslist and search for a used smoker for $20 and not risk poison or developing cancer? Probably even one for FREE out there if you are patient in your search.

Backtothebush (author)2014-08-05

DO NOT MAKE THIS!!! Galvanized piping is poisonous. The sheet metal is galvanized with a coating of zinc. Heat releases the zinc in a gaseous form which will penetrate the food you are smoking. BAD BAD BAD IDEA!!!

You MUST remove the galvanization from the sheet metal, or use stainless steel.

Bravo 2 0 (author)2011-05-13

I don't have the expertise to comment, but while looking up other smokers, I found this on the Popular Mechanics website:
"We had a local sheetmetal shop cut the pieces to size and then roll the drum sections for us, which cost about $200. You can use just about anything made of steel--as long as it's not galvanized. If you can find one, try a food-grade steel barrel."

Read more: Build Your Own Backyard Smoker - Popular Mechanics
Here is the link:

chadeau (author)Bravo 2 02012-07-17

Disect a 20gal steel drum (salvaged for $0.00). Apply paint stripper to sheet material according to directions,including cleaning procedure.Rinse after stripper process with cheap store-brand charcoal starter.Allow to dry,then assemble smoker...

xintus (author)2011-06-24

Dudea, I AIN'T going to wait 8 hours for my BBQ...

chadeau (author)xintus2012-07-17

Then,it is not 'barbacoa' you want.You want grilled food.

i0scan (author)2008-03-17

This is extremely hazardous! The galvanized metal is extremely dangerous when it is heated to these temperatures and is a carcinogen! I highly recommend you do not use this until you do some research and use another metal!

discontinuuity (author)i0scan2008-03-17

The smoker only gets up to about 200 or 250 degrees F, so I don't think this is much of a problem. If it is really a problem, how would you remove the zinc?

tharb (author)discontinuuity2011-07-04

Do Not use the zinc. You don't know how they applied the galvanized metal. Also Most places i know used Aluminum for their venting now. The problem is that you won't get poisioned right away it will build up in time in your food.

I make bird cages and have to deal with this all the time. Your best bet is just get aluminum Or steel drum. Just make sure to oil the inside of your smoker well too.

omnistructable (author)tharb2012-07-17

Ye the air you breath will also eventually kill you.. lol Where we live in Africa the air is so polluted that the sink can not do me more harm.. lol

Ttalos (author)discontinuuity2011-08-16

Hey Guys,
First off let me say that I like this idea and think with a slight change to materials it could be awesome. Perhaps someone can offer a cheap alternative to the galvanized stuff.

I'm a chemist and deposit zinc oxide on surfaces at many different temperatures (25C to 300C). As the comments above state, galvanized metals should NOT be used in food applications. Zinc oxide will contaminate food, even at the temperatures for this application, particularly given the long times involved smoking. It is not necessary to reach the melting or boiling point of a substance in order for it to have a vapor pressure. This is why water will evaporate out of a cup left on the table. Just to make sure I'm not crazy, I checked the MSDS for zinc oxide and have a few numbers/facts for you.

The OSHA limit for exposure (8 hour work day) is 0.9 BILLIONTHS of a pound/cubic foot of air. (9.36E-7 lbs/ft^3)
The chronic toxicity exposure is 0.1 THOUSANDTHS of a pound per day. (1.1E-4 lbs/day)

I know people have commented below about things such as heating ducts etc. I will admit that I am unfamiliar with the details of an HVAC system. However, if galvanized duct is used between the heater and the chimney then any possible contaminates will be vented outside. Also given what I know of environmental rules and those who make them it doesn't mean it's a good idea just because they have approved it.

Thank you for reading all this. It's just my two cents so feel free to ignore me.


stoobers (author)discontinuuity2009-02-12

Fill it w/ wood and light a match. When it gets hot, the zinc burns. It has to get super hot, though.

i0scan (author)discontinuuity2008-03-17

I am not sure. See, the problem is price... stainless steel is really pricey but if you get steel sheeting like the stuff you already have, you can paint it with high temp grill paint and that should do the trick. Perhaps you could just use the paint on what you have?!

ehmbee (author)i0scan2008-06-02

My question would be, how toxic is painting the inside? granted it can be done, brake caliper paint is good for about 900 degrees or better and some enamels will be good to 1400 I think...the cheap option is to line this with aluminum foil, no? or rivet on lots of soda cans! I also agree, however, that at true smoking temps (under 300 degrees) this is probably not an issue. Good trick, I used the vents from a Weber grill like this to upgrade my water smoker (Free from a friend)after converting it to propane, a very easy mod as well-I use lava rocks warmed by the LP and drop my wood chunks/chips on the rocks...mmmm smoky meat!

whilburn (author)2012-04-13

Just a brief bit of research yielded:
Lowes sells 10' x 20" aluminum flashing. Its thin material and you can use a standard paper hole puncher to punch for rivets.

Circumference = Pi x Diameter
Ex. 14" Grill top diameter requires about 44" of the rolled up flashing. You can get two smokestacks, 38 or so inches tall.

You can use a yard stick as a guide and a cheap razor knife to cut it. Its lightweight, but can very easily be reinforced. If you want, and at the cost of a little material, you can reinforce it to hold a tank.

If you "bend" it, you can clamp it between two pieces of wood..... again, a little research on a redneck bending brake...

I have a son who is allergice to milk, soy, peanuts, and eggs. I make him biscuits, pancakes, cobblers and all kinds of things that he would otherwise not get to experience in life if it was left to commercialization products only. Plus i love to go camping. Through instructables, ive made aclohol coke can burners, Joule thief and fuji camera lights, solar battery as well as peltier devices that, when placed over a cup of boiling water, will keep some leds running for a long time with the simple burning of a tea light candle. I have a weber, table top grill not unlike the one in your instructable. I keep all my cooking supplies inside.

An additional idea or two.
Make a spit:
Rivet a couple of washers, opposite from each other near the top of your smoker. Then devise a "spit". Second hand stores sell oscillating fans for 3 or 4 dollars. The small electric motor generally has a 5 or 6 rpm rating. Use a counter weight to offset the amount of torque required to turn your spit, and it would expand your options. Most come with a capacitor, and through experimentation or research you will have a really cool conversation piece :)

Make it collapsible:
It may not interest you, but by thinking out of the box, other people doing other things might would benefit if you were able to "undo" the stack, then re-roll them back up.

Make it shorter by half and you have the ability to "roast" things at a temperature above 250 deg F. I use open pit cooking to cook briskets, butts and shoulders, but as Charlie Daniels would say, "boy lemme tell you what!", if you take a big ole ribeye thats been covered with your favorite concoction, get you a stoking fire and that smoke stack will trap the heat around that steak and the top will be open. There is a differnce between cooking on the grill top and cooking with the meat an inch or two below the surface. I dont like cooking steaks "covered". I like my meat to be marbelized and not the same temp all the way through.

I-Build (author)2011-07-10

This is a creative use of materials, but it's very dangerous. A lot of people don't understand that vapors can be produced even when a substance isn't boiling, either by sublimation or simple evaporation. Zinc is toxic in small quantities and it is not safe to cook food in an atmosphere that include gaseous zinc.

spark master (author)2010-10-04

I do not believe this gets hot enough to vaporise or melt anything. If that were an issue them most homes with central heat would be filled with dead/dying people. Galvanized steel duct is used from you heating system to the chimney. It gets way way hotter then this. I could be wrong but that would have lead already to many deaths. Also one would assume (bad to do) that one should be outside, hint hint, so you will not get a dose of that much of the bad stuff, if it were there.

we need a metallurgist or bronze/brass foundry person to write in. I have never heard of lead being present in zinco plated metal, which is gal steel.

stoobers (author)spark master2011-05-07

Wow. This is why I love reading instructables. Someone out there always has a point of view that cuts out all the BS and allows us to get to the facts.

Thank you for your comment regarding galvanized steel duct in heating systems.

tellner (author)2008-07-27

Galvanized metal + Heat = Vaporized Zinc
This can be very, very bad to breathe.

stoobers (author)tellner2009-02-12

zinc doesn't melt until 900 degrees F or so, so it shouldn't be an issue. And it has to be hotter to boil the metal and get metal fumes. When it does, its pretty. Kind of a yellow haze... The zinc metal will get on the food if you slap the meat up against the metal. Or boil in a zinc plated container (like a tamale steamer). Oh yeah, tamale steamers... they are galvanized (zinc) steel. It is marked on them "don't boil food in this container". But steaming food in them at 200 degrees is ok. So smoking at 200 degrees should be good too.

stoobers (author)stoobers2011-05-07

dragondeathlord says trace amounts of zinc oxide may get in the food.

So what if zinc oxide gets in the food? Sun block often contains zinc oxide. I get sunblock in my eyes, nose, mouth, etc when I go swimming. I have never had any issues with zinc poisoning.

I probably would not sprinkle zinc oxide on food as a seasoning, or use zinc oxide in high temp cooking, or use zinc oxide to store pickles.

I do not need to hurl myself at irrational and non-factual fears, such as grouping a galvanized smoker with "miscarriages" in order to get our point across. You don't believe making a food smoker out of galvanized steel is a good idea. I think using galvanized steel is an acceptable risk. We can have our different opinions, and I like to base my opinion on fact, not fear. You may feel otherwise.

dragondeathlord (author)stoobers2011-05-07

zinc doesn't melt until 900,True but it oxidizes Just fine.

So some trace are going to get in the food.

But at these temperatures it should be fine in theory.

But here the reality if you wife or daughter loses a child due to a miscarriage your going to wonder.

I personally would soot myself if it was my step-daughter as there be no way to know one way or the other.

Bottom line Zinc is not used in cooking EVER!!!

Dgunz56 (author)stoobers2009-08-06

thats exactly right, and if u dont want ur meat to touch the outer shell, put a little layer of tin foil around it

ClayOgre (author)tellner2009-01-25

I also wonder about the zinc vapor getting on the food...

vincent7520 (author)2011-01-17

Great thing : electricity is great here as it heats the wood chips or saw dust… making the whole thing a true smoker instead of a no charcoal BBQ (ie. an electric grill with a cover) as we can see on other posts ! …
The great benefit being that you can control the temperature to produce heat necessary to have smoke and no flames (which is more difficult with more 'primitive" smokers that use charcoal … 
Great !…
Thank you !…

unaffiliatedperson (author)2010-09-04

i plan on using this soon i have a smokey joe. and i been wantint to use it to make some pastrami.

Lokisgodhi (author)2010-08-23

Using sheet aluminum would circumvent the problem of zinc with galvanized steel.

meddler (author)2009-08-11

If you heated it up until the zinc boils, say you did it outside, after it boils off, would it then be safe? A friend of mine say yes, but I'm not sure.

jqaman (author)2009-05-02

I would think galvanized metal would not be good for smokers. That might be why you never see them commercially available. Does MIT screen these instructables and make sure they are safe - at least for little children? "It s not well known that galvanizing is a combination of zinc and LEAD applied to steel to increase corrosion resistance. We all know how toxic lead is specially to our little ones. Zinc in low doses is ok and found naturally in many foods but excess amounts are toxic. Zinc poisoning usually occurs from eating off zinc plates with acidic foods or the use of zinc containers for drinks(remember the old dairy containers) and is very hard to diagnose as its symptoms are similar to food poisoning. Inhaling zinc oxide fumes results in neurological damage and is called metal fume fever or zinc shakes. Zinc and lead dissolve in water, fruit juice, and acid(vinegar,worcestershire sauce). Since many of us use mops and sprays containing these in a heated cooking chamber this increases solubility of zinc/lead and may touch or drip on food. Toxicity to adults is low but not to children. Since both zinc and lead are heavy metals that are cumulative, they digest slowly. Galvanized metal is designed to be used in HVAC(heating, venting, air cond)roofing, construction, etc. So next time you modify use steel, stainless, or aluminum and many people do not advocate aluminum. "

stoobers (author)jqaman2009-08-06

From my experiences, liquid zinc has no smell. It will "stick" right on to steel. The galvanizes the steel. No need for lead. Lead pours right off of steel. Doesn't stick at all! For lead to stick to steel, I have read you have to plate the steel with arsenic or some other pasty type of metal. What's the other one called? The one alloyed into tire weights? Someone add a response here. I hear "fuming zinc" is bad, but it isn't a long term bad. It just gives severe headaches until you drink a bunch of milk or eat a bunch of raw eggs. WAY safer than lead, but it melts MUCH MUCH hotter. Of course, if your a sissy, everything is bad for you...

gmyers2112 (author)2009-08-06

I'm not so much worried about the zinc as I am the lead. The melting and vapor points of leads are considerably lower than those of zinc and, if I recall correctly, galvanizing is a combo of zinc and lead. Anybody with info on the lead aspect of this, feel free to correct me.

hybridracers (author)2009-03-05

did I miss something? How did you get the grate to sit so high up?

Dgunz56 (author)hybridracers2009-08-06

he mad holes with the Rivet gun, and stuck screw or something in toe hold it up =D
wen i try this imma think about adding a little door on the bottom of the steel to easily add more wood or coals

SinAmos (author)2009-07-05

Awesome man.

killerjackalope (author)2008-04-11

I gots ta get me a wee riveter, hardware store? also how tight is the seal along the riveted place, does much smoke come out, it's not for a smoker but the smoke is a good test...

It doesn't make a very good seal, but I didn't need it to be perfectly airtight. If you wanted it to be airtight, get some aluminum duct tape like the kind used on furnace chimneys.

Wouldn't hack the heat, maybe a nice high heat 'weld' compound or epoxy type substance, in fact screw them, I have exhaust jointing paste and gun gum, more exhaust stuff, the paste is rated to temps of 1000C, I wonder if it's food safe...

I wouldn't use the stuff around my food until it had cured completely, then been through the smoke and heat a few times. And I probably wouldn't use it then. If, for whatever reason, you require a more airtight seal, perhaps you could bend the edges of the metal back so they interlock, then rivet it together. Use lots of rivets. But since it's a smoker, you probably don't need that tight a seal.

Exactly. When it's smoking you can see some leaks, but most of them are at the top and bottom where the duct meets the grill, so I would worry about those joints more.

Yeah mines not anything to do with food, well I did superheat my cold coffee with it once... nothing like jet coffee to start the day...

stoobers (author)killerjackalope2009-02-12

stove pipes are "folded" along the seam, so the ends hook themselves together tightly. When in doubt, pack the outside with stove pipe sealant (sort of a black sandy paste that dries hard on the outside of stove pipes).

the9n (author)2009-06-17

That looks pretty good, my parents say that I cant use a liquid smoker for my oven to make beef jerkey so I guess I could use this, is it safe though?

discontinuuity (author)the9n2009-06-17

If you use an electric hot plate it stays pretty safe, since the wood chips are really only smoldering. Of course, I did have a grease fire in it once, but then I learned to put a pan below the meat to catch drips. If you build a wood or charcoal fire in it, then there's more chance of a fire. Either way you want to keep an eye on it and keep a fire extinguisher handy whenever you're cooking. Also, keep anything flammable away from the smoker so that if there is a fire you will just ruin some meat rather than burn down your house. I'm not sure what you mean by a liquid smoker, but you can make jerky in an oven set on low (see other instructables). All it really needs to do is dry out the meat; I only used the smoker because I like the smoke flavor.

paddlesport (author)2009-05-03

Zinc melts at approx. 900 F and vaporizes at approx. 1200 F.. These temps are not likely to occur in a smoker that does not get above 450 F in the most extreme situations.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-03-17

That meat looks really good. :P

(Nice job)

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