Introduction: DIY Smoker

Picture of DIY Smoker

Here's an instructable that will hopefully get some of you out there doing it. This is my first, so please be kind. Anyways, this instructable started when I was sitting in the couch watching the food network. The show was on barbeque smoking. I got the thinking, while I don't want to have the oversized 55 gallon smoker in my backyard, I wanted something that was appealing and can serve other functions. I looked into making a keg smoker, 5 gallon smoker, etc. But the one thing was that I had to get those and they actually didn't have the appeal. Then one day, my wife cleaned out our back patio. She emptied out pots that had dead plants. Well, it sat there for about a week. Though it was empty, it still looked okay to the eyes. So I thought, why not make something out of it and this is where the idea came from. I started looking around the internet for ideas. I found some, even instructables, but they didn't appeal to me so I'm creating one that's both easy to make and manage while it's being used. So here we go....

Step 1: Materials Needed

Picture of Materials Needed

Here are the tools and materials needed to get it going. Once you have the materials, it's about a 30-45 minute setup.


a drill with a bit (any size will do). This will be used to tap into the top to put the thermometer in. I used a masonry bit.

dremel with a cutter. This will be used to cut the rivet off the handle on the pan.

hammer and tap. To knock out the shaved rivet on the pan

screwdriver. To separate the coil of the burner from the base

needle nose plier. To remove plastic and just in case you need help separating the wires on the burner.


1. Clay pot (not glazed). I used what I had, which was a 15 in diameter clay pot. I've seen people use 18 in. Your choice, but remember, you have to look for a cover or top for it.

2. Top. I scoured around the area to find this. It didn't take me long to find it. I went to a nursery and found a base that would serve as the top. When you're doing this, make sure to take the pot with you so you can see if it fits or not. Cost: $5-12 (got mine for $5 because it had a chip and it was dirty)

3. I could not find a burner in any of the stores that I thought would have it. Even Walmart didn't have it, so I ordered a single buffet burner online at Cost: $10 plus shipping.

4.grill grate. This was easy. Home Depot. Cost: less than $10

5. (Updated) 2 stainless steel pan. This is to hold the wood chunks and water that will do all the smoking. Goodwill cost for both: $3.06

6. Wood chunks. This was again easy. Home Depot. Cost less than $6

7. Thermometer. Again, Home Depot. Cost: about $8

total cost (minus the pot and tools): about $44

Step 2: Taking Burner Apart

Picture of Taking Burner Apart

This was an easier step than I thought. To take it apart, use a phillips head screw driver and pliers and take the screw placed on the middle of the burner off. Use the plier to hold the bolt down while you take the screw off. Once it's off, notice the wires leading to the burner. Mine was connected with a female connector. Simply remove to separate the burner from the wires, keeping in mind which wire is connected to which part of the burner. You need to do this so that you can put the burner inside the pot and the rest of the burner outside.

Make sure to also remove the plastic that holds the cord in place. I simply twisted the bottom end with the plier until the piece broke. Don't worry, the cord is one piece and it won't hurt it.

Step 3: Install Coil Inside Pot

Picture of Install Coil Inside Pot

This is another easy step. Take the coil, place it on the bottom of the pot. Take the wires and put it through the bottom hole of the pot. Connect the wires to the right male ends.

The ends of the coil will be unbalanced when it sits on the bottom of the pot. Use some sort of wedge to balance the coil inside of the pot. Some people have used crushed beer cans. I used a small 1" square tubing.

Step 4: Cut the Handle Off Pan

Picture of Cut the Handle Off Pan

Take the dremel and cut off the rivets attaching the handle to the pan. Be careful with this one, the dremel may jerk one way or another. Repeat with the other pan.

Step 5: Thermometer Hole

Picture of Thermometer Hole

 Take the top cover and using a masonry drill bit, drill a hole big enough to fit the grill thermometer. I used a 3/16 drill bit, but whatever you have should be good just as long as it's big enough for the thermometer to fit in it.

Step 6: Putting It All Together

Picture of Putting It All Together

 Now, put everything together. Place the pan on top of the burner. Put wood chunks on the pan (big chunks last longer). Put the grill grate on. The contour/curvature of the pot will hold the grill grate in place. And finally, put the thermometer in the hole created on the top cover.

Step 7: Turning It On

Picture of Turning It On

Make sure before turning it on that it's in an open area. The last thing you want is a smoked filled garage or overhang. Also, keep in mind, this thing will be hot and on for at least an hour or two, so place in an area that it won't be bothered or mishandled.

Put the cover/top on and turn on the burner. Put on medium heat and work from there to get the right temperature. From my research, I found that around 200 degrees is the ideal temp for smoking. You may need to play around with it, so the way it's made, you don't have to worry about opening the cover and adjusting it, all you need to do is adjust from the outside. That's the cool and easy factor in this instructable!!

Step 8: Reflections

Picture of Reflections

 From doing this and immediately putting some ribs on the grill, I noticed a few things to work on.

1. If you're going to grill more than a couple of hours, make sure that you have some sort of way to lift the grate to put more wood chunks in the pan. The amount of wood chunks I put was plenty for the ribs I made. But for future smoke, I plan on putting handles on the grate so I can remove it as I need to.

2. Make sure that you have a glove on when you're handling the smoker for any reason. That thing can get hot!!

3. I'm going to have this as a permanent smoker, so I'll be looking for something to secure the base of the burner to the pot using the same screw hole I removed to separate the coil from the base so when I lift the pot up, the base comes with it.

Overall, it was good way of spending a few hours and enjoying the ribs (it took me longer to do this instructables than actually putting the thing together). 

What I enjoy the most is that my wife hasn't commented about it being an eyesore in the backyard. It actually looks decent sitting next to my grill. If it wasn't for the burner base, it would pass for a decorative item.

Hope everyone enjoyed it and hopefully it will spark some of you to try it. Thank you for reading and hopefully learning something from this instructable.

Step 9: Update

Picture of Update

 Here are a few things I updated since the initial build:

1. Got a larger stainless steel pan for the wood and took off the teflon based pan I originally used

2. Got a water pan (again not teflon based), removed the handle and riveted the holes back in so it can hold meaningful amount of water

3. Placed a wire rack to hold the water pan

4. Vented the top to get more air out. After the second time I smoked, I got some bitter tasting meat and I searched for the reason why and it was because there wasn't enough ventilation going through it.

After it was all said and done, I think I've made some great progress. I want to thank everyone for their kind remarks and suggestions. It was really a fun build and I can't wait to smoke more.


TerryJo (author)2017-11-26

Is there an issue with possible lead contamination in the pots being transferred to the food being cooked. In my area most large terra-cota pottery are imported from Mexico or China. Is there a way to know the potery is lead free?

sum4all (author)TerryJo2017-11-27

As I recall, as long as it is not glazed, there isn't lead in the pots. You can google for more recently made terracotta, but I did this about 7 years ago and at that time the only thing I had to lookout for was if it was glazed or not.

JaluP (author)2017-05-29

should i light the wood chunk first before put it to the burner pan? thanks

sum4all (author)JaluP2017-06-18

The idea is to have the burner get hot enough to be able to get the wood to smoke. You shouldn't need to light the wood

ArkeyA (author)2017-06-18

I made a cardboard box smoker, worked out the first time but the second time it caught on fire. Should invest in something more heavy... but im too poor to buy basic supplies even if it only costs like 20 bucks.

Jefferson CaetanoP (author)2017-01-03


MichaelM1048 (author)2016-11-06

I,m just reading this...I see the comments are pretty old, but here goes. Idea, what If you mounted the top "flat base" at the bottom, then put the flower pot upside down. ? pointed in up small base..... anyway just a thought reading you post...... :)

SigneK (author)2015-12-20

Instead of a water pan, can you set a clean soup can or an opened can of beer in the center of wood chunks? Set the pot directly on the burner. Pots are fired at 2000 degrees. Wouldn't this be much easier? You can use a turkey Baster to refill water pan. Those hard , clear silicone ones won't melt

sum4all (author)SigneK2015-12-21

Never tried it, but I think it would work. But setting it directly on the burner may boil it too quickly. You'll just have to refill it often if you choose to do it that way. Good luck

Sturge75 made it! (author)2014-12-31

Thank you for a great Instructable. I made this for my father in law. I am waiting to give it to him in the next few hours. I added the handles in the cover to make it easier to access and I had to drill a couple holes in the bottom of the pot because of the hot plate I got. The wires wouldn't reach through the center hole. I may have to convince my wife but hopefully I can make one for myself this year.

sharpstick (author)2014-01-07

I used a different method. I used a cheap($4 at Harbor Freight) 30 watt soldering iron poked into a disposable aluminum bread pan. I cut a pallet in half, screwed it back together with wood scraps and stretched window screen through the slats for five shelves and stapled the ends. Covered with a large cardboard box("Barbie's volkswagen" I found out by the road the day after christmas.). Tied the box front with rope and covered with a beach towel. A small flap cut in the top allowed ventilation. Worked great and I had room to smoke up to about ten lbs of cheese at once. It usually doesn't get too hot, but once the whole pan turned into a bed of glowing coals and the cheese on the bottom shelves sweated and sagged a bit(75 F ambient). If I use this in the summer, I'll add a dryer duct.

Colima (author)2012-03-21

Great instructable! I understand that not all clay is food-grade quality. Did you have any concerns on that regard? Thank you.

sum4all (author)Colima2012-03-22

In my research prior to making this, I found that clay that is without glaze is the type to use. Do not get the ones that have a shine to them. Those are the glazed ones.

cookin fool (author)2012-01-27

awesome instructible, let me say that whether or not you soak your chips it isn't a bad idea to use a water pan because it will help keep the meat moist. You could actually flavor the water with apple juice or whatever you like. Thanks I love the idea of taking the hot plate apart, I am so glad I read this because I am making a smoker out of a commercial food warmer and this will help tremendously.

PacificNWBuckeye (author)2011-08-06

I've been thinking about getting a smoker. Thanks to this I think I'm going to make one. Thanks for the great write-up, it appears direct and simple to follow.

Crackersouth (author)2011-05-20

Great idea, very well written.

sum4all (author)Crackersouth2011-06-12


Coranu (author)2010-04-08

 Yeah, I'd definitely avoid getting the wood you plan on using to smoke food from a general lumber store. There's all sorts of chemicals in it and on it, which when burned, will transfer directly into your food. There IS a reason why they sell wood chips specifically FOR smoking food, apart from capitalist greed and flavor.

blondie7456 (author)Coranu2011-05-24

Yes, Home Depot sells wood chips made specifically for smoking.....same place in the store where you find the charcoal.

SinAmos (author)blondie74562011-06-11

The 99 cent store sells wood chips. 1 dollar!

mcaliber.50 (author)SinAmos2011-06-12

i get mine for free! all you need is a bit os elbow grease. headlight fluid helps too.

sum4all (author)Coranu2010-04-08

 the wood I got was labeled for smoking. It's in the barbecue section in Home Depot. 

thoying1 (author)2011-06-11

I love this show from the Food Network, (which I deduce is where you found your original inspiration from). Nice instructable.

spylock (author)2010-03-19

Whats holding the base and the coil onto the pot,it all dont set lose does it?

sum4all (author)spylock2010-03-20

 As you can see from the third picture, I've got something that holds the coil from touching the base of the pot. As far as the pot and and the coil sitting lose, I've since put a wire that runs through the middle of the coil (where it originally attached to the base of the burner) to the hole of the pot and to the bottom of the base of the burner. But I've gone a while with it sitting lose, just being careful when I move it.

spylock (author)sum4all2010-03-20

Oh,o.k.,I finished the one I made for my brother yesterday,I  cut a strip of copper 1 3/4  inches wide and  long enough to make a circle that fit up under the lip of the coil reflector,I sweated it together.I used a brass rod that I had to thread a little more than what it had on it,and used that,a lock and flat washer and nut on the bottom of the base and a nut and flat washer on top where the coil is,I did have to drill the hole a tad bigger,but its all together and looks nice if I do say so myself, plus my brother was happy with it.Thank you for the info and pitchers as well as the idea,as yours was the first instructable that I saw on this prodject.

sum4all (author)spylock2010-03-21

 cool!! Yeah, I saw several ideas out there, but none as easy as this, IMHO. My goal with this instructable was to find parts that were easy to find and gather. Hope you enjoy many days of smoking!!

spylock (author)sum4all2010-03-21

Thanks,Ill let my brother do the smoking,and Ill do the eating.

KryptoTSD (author)2010-03-18

What about the grease that is sure to accumulate?

sum4all (author)KryptoTSD2010-03-18

 You can either let it fall back into the wood or the water pan can catch it. If you let it fall into the wood, it won't ignite into a fire because there's not enough oxygen going through it. It will only ignite if you take the cover off too long and enough oxygen gets in there to light it up.

KryptoTSD (author)sum4all2010-03-18

Okay...  Now I've got some more info to go on...
Now I just have to make my head up on which one I want to build...

sum4all (author)KryptoTSD2010-03-19

good luck!!

KryptoTSD (author)sum4all2010-03-19


IndigoBlueMan (author)2010-03-01

I made one of these last night and am now currently smoking a salmon filet. I was just wondering what setting you set your hotplate to. I had it at medium, but it surpassed the 220degree mark on the thermometer.

Also I forgot to add that I bought my pots at Walmart and only got the 12inch ones since that's the biggest they had. Still works pretty well, and I bought one of those table-top charcoal grill they had for six dollars and I'm using the grate on top of the pot. Works pretty well.

sum4all (author)IndigoBlueMan2010-03-01

I usually start with the hot plate at medium. If the temp got too hot, I adjusted the hot plate so that I stay around the 220 degree mark. I've had it at some point that the hot plate was at low and the temp remained close to 220.

Yeah, this plan called for something bigger, but if you found the parts in a smaller variety, by all means do that. That's good that you were able to find smaller parts. Good luck!!

IndigoBlueMan (author)sum4all2010-03-01

It actually turned out well. I wasn't able to find the pans, so I ended up using a metal mixing bowl and just soaking the wood chips. Had to change them three times like that, but the salmon turned out excellent.

sum4all (author)IndigoBlueMan2010-03-02

cool!! Yeah, whatever makes it work. So now you have a smoker that doesn't look like an eyesore!!

deathpod (author)2010-02-23

this is such a great idea I cant wait to try this! i have limited space for smoking at home and this is perfect!

the rural independent (author)2010-01-21

Great instructable!

As a thought...Many smokers use moisture.  I prefer the moisture to a dry smoke.  Experimenting with fruit juices, beers, etc, is fun to boot. 

I think one could place a water pan above the coals in your design by either placing it on legs that would straddle the wood chip pan or by drilling some holes (four?) through the sides of the pot and inserting some bolts to rest the grill on.  I think I am going to try one of these and add the water pan.  One pain in the neck is adding more liquid if needed.  I'm going to scheme up a "fill tube" as a permanent part of the pan that will stick up through the grill grate where I can just insert a small funnel when needed and fill without removing the grill.

Thanks for sharing this great idea.

mount the water pan to the inside of the pot. Drill a hole 1/2 inch above. Use a small animal water bottle nozzle (its metal, no melting) through hole and fill pan from outside. Use bolt with wingnut to make removal of water pan easy.

I had some time today, so this is what I came up with. Is this something that you're talking about? The only issue I see is that you'd have to work around the pan when putting more wood chunks/chips. But otherwise, I think it would work. I will try it the next time I do some smoking... thanks for the idea.

That is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to.  It may be so close to the heat source that all the fluid will boil off pretty rapidly so I'd fill it very full.

You're right about the re-stocking of the wood.  That's why the store bought smokers have an access door to make that chore easier.

The only way I can think of to make the re-stock practical in a terra cotta smoker would be to somehow cut the bottom totally off of the pot so that you could lift the whole thing off of the wood chip pan and then place it back over it.  Possibly/Probably darn near impossible to get a true and straight cut without having it crumble away.

Another thought.... on the water pan, drill three holes and place a chain on it, like on a hanging plant.  When you needed to get to the wood chips, you could snag the chain with a hook (cause it is hot) and lift it out that way.

You did a great job rigging up that pan holder - be sure to let us know how it works out.

Thanks for taking the time to share with us!

You have definitely taken this one more step than I need to. I agree with everything you said about the water pan, but the whole idea of cutting the terra cotta is a little more than I'm willing to do. I made this so that in the future, if my wife wants the pot back or I get tired of using the smoker (probably unlikely), it can be easily turned back to what it was originally made for. I did this instructable so that someone can easily do what I did and not really be in the garage or backyard cutting intricate holes. Someone suggested something similar to yours and my wife read it and she said what I thought she would say "that will ruin a perfectly good pot for plants". Don't get me wrong, it's all a great idea and if you get it working I'd be interested in seeing it. But I think other than making a housing on the bottom to keep the electrical stuff from the weather, I'm done with this project.

thanks again for the comment and suggestions. 

kikkoman7347 (author)sum4all2010-01-28

I think this is a FANTASTIC idea and instructable.

I gave thought to the water pan/wood-refilling problem.

The chain idea mentioned above could be simplified. 

Since you are going to lift the lid, thus losing smoke, and have to lift the grill, with food, and then possibly the water pan prior (if present) to refill the wood chips.  Attach the grill and water pan together via a chain.

Soldiers' dog tag chains are cheap, durable and standardized.  The heat shouldn't be an issue as they are designed to melt at higher heat.  They aren't coated with any chemicals (that I know of).  They all have attachable/dettachable connector links and come with a smaller chain for an extra connector link.

I am not a welder, but I believe that these could be soldered in place with minimum effort/trouble.

The only problem I see if refilling the water, unless you are like me and an excellent bartender and patient, is the distance (chain length) between the grill and water pan so that neither become unbalanced when off-setting on the ground. Again, dog tag chains are very cheap.

sum4all (author)kikkoman73472010-01-28

thanks for the suggestion. I'm planning on smoking this weekend and using the rig I made. If it doesn't work, I may try yours. The only concern I have is when having to re-fill the wood and having the water pan attached to the grill in chains as you suggested. I'm thinking the water would splash around and possibly splash on my leg as I'm handling it. The way it's on there right now, it's steady and will not have to move when I have to put more chunks/chips. The less moving parts, the better. thanks

Let me clarify the chain idea.

First just visualize a plant hanger with three "hangers" spread around the perimeter of the water pan.

Join all three together at their ends with an "S" hook.  Do not fasten the "S" hook to the grill.

Just let the chain lay inside somewhere or if you can hook it somewhere up towards the top where it can be easily accessed do that.  Maybe even a small drilled hole with a bolt through the side of the pot.  You could hook it over the lid of the pot even.  Yes, this will let some heat and smoke escape, but in my experience, most smokers you buy seemed to be built in a manner that actually lets this happen.  Too much smoke is a bad thing.

Remove the grill, then grab the "S" hook with something that will protect you from getting burned and lift the water pan out of the way.

Sorry for not clarifying this better before.

thanks for the clarification

 I'd be interested in how that works out. Yeah, I remembered when my dad played around with his smoker, he did use some sort of a water pan. Let me know how it turns out and I may try it. thanks

websherpa (author)2010-01-28

[I was going to also mention that "smoking" a teflon pan at the heat required to get wood to smoke is DEFINITELY not a good idea and this should be changed immediately before someone gases themselves.]

Howeve rit's a great instructable and the idea of using a clay pot was interestingly compelling.

About 30 years ago I took a hot plate and did almost exactly the same project for my dad (because we couldn't afford a "Little Chief" smoker) but using a garbage can with hole in the bottom that I attached to the hot plate.  Thereby eliminating the need to disassemble the hot plate.  A little door for the pan at the bottom means you can use smaller chips and "refill" it when needed.  I used cookie cooling racks (easy to cut) cut into circles of different diameter so that they fit down in multiple layers inside the garbage can.  And one stronger one from a grill for "heavier" food.

Well I can say that this diy smoker is still in use by my dad to this day, every year he brings it out to make "Indian Candy" which is smoke cured salmon bits - it's become a bit of a tradition.

Thanks for reminding me of this!

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