Instructables

Garbage Can Turkey Smoker

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How to build a reusable BBQ smoker from a garbage can and an electric hot plate, and then use that to smoke a whole turkey.
 
 
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Step 1: Build a grating support inside the garbage can

First, get a garbage can and a circular grill grating (usually sold as an accessory to a weber grill). Larger is generally better for both, but the only real requirement is that the can is larger in diameter than the circular grating you will use to put the turkey on, at a level low enough to fit the turkey.

Next, you need to build supports for the grating. Using a 3/8" drill bit, drill three holes approximately 8" below the top of the garbage can, equidistantly placed around the circumference of the can. Then slide three 3" x 3/8" bolts through those holes and secure with a corresponding washer and nut. This will be used to hold the grating up while allowing the grating to be easily removed.
bloman9 months ago
I wonder if you could make a smoker out of a wooden barrel. There are a few local wineries and distilleries here that use wooden barrels, I bet they occasionally sell their barrels...
KateinNH3 years ago
With old grills, from the classic round Weber to old gas grills available at just about every other yard sale or junk shop, or on Craigslist, I don't think there's any need to risk your health "making" a smoker out of something not intended for food preparation.

Not only that, but there really is nothing sustainable about going to the local HD and buying a brand new garbage can to make a homey-style smoker. The idea is kind of neat, but the fact is that these inventions came out of poverty, not because someone said, "Hey cool! Let's go buy a garbage can make a smoker!"

I've got two Weber grills and I didn't pay more than ten bucks for either one. One is a medium sized one and the other is a classic red extra-large one enough for a party. Any container can be converted into a smoker, but why not start with something made to withstand high heat and that has some ventilation holes and go from there?

Also, buying used is the most sustainable and real way to "keep it local" and keep more things out of the waste stream and back into service.
Folks, give him a break. He may or may not be actually using it. He may have a similar smoker made from the proper materials nearby. I do this all the time. I make something from cheap materials as a test then make the real thing out of the correct materials once the design is worked out.
Makedo3 years ago
I see some people know metallurgy which is a good thing.
Hog15 years ago
You might want to pick up an electric fry pan they cost about $20 and you can put it in so the thermostat is on the outside of the can ,and you can put your chips rite in the pan,much cleaner look
indyguy7 years ago
It looks like you stole this idea from the Food Network guy Alton Brown. He has had this idea for quite a awhile. He uses the hot plate and everything. I have to say though the trash can is a better idea; he uses a cardboard box! Nice instructable over all.
bigcat indyguy6 years ago
I've done this when I was in the Boy Scouts, 20 years ago, so did Alton originally steal this from them?? There are so many ways of cooking using everyday materials, some are bound to make their way onto television. You could even wrap food in aluminum foil, and place it on your hot car engine to cook food, which was featured in "Home Improvement" one time!! This is a good idea, one alternative is to use a long stick, mount the turkey on it that way, then flip the can over it. There's no need for a grate, or lid, as the ground acts as the lid.
Alton Brown is just the latest in a long line of people to use this, or a similar, idea. People have been using garbage cans, 50 gallon drums, old water heater tanks, propane tanks, and hot plates for years and years. The best I saw was 30+ years ago using a large and a small can, connected by a pipe, and the whole thing buried in a small hill.
jess indyguy7 years ago
Cardboard box smokers are really more appropriate for cold smoking (like fish or cheese) - and although when I built one I felt much indebted to Alton's instructions, I also found that a few modifications (like a second box for the woodchips, and a dryer hose to connect them) really helped. One of these days I'll write that instructable.
drEel (author)  indyguy7 years ago
For sure, there are many different approaches to building a smoker, and most of them mention Alton Brown (though I have never seen the show). I believe he's done two shows on the subject, one with a cardboard box and one with two unglazed terracotta planters. To be honest, the idea of using a trash can also comes from another website after extensive research, but we made a number of modifications in order to suit turkey smoking and to handle the situation where your grating doesn't exactly match your trash can. The professionals (in my book, this means South Texas) use a horizontal setup with the fire on one side and the meat on the other. Then, using a series of vents they can fine tune from the outside, they can precisely control temperature and adjust for changes in the wind and the heat of the fire. The next step in home smoker construction is to do something like that. That design also has the benefit of being able to monitor and change the smoke production conditions without directly affecting the meat, something our design has serious problems with.
dirtysteak6 years ago
Pictures (the add images wasn't working, so its just links for now):

my painted version

Bottom

Grates in the "smoker" position

Your smoker looks excellent! The door is a great addition. How did you cut through the garbage can material? It looks pretty sturdy.
srteach6 years ago
Mounting or placing the can on a flat metal plate (or with the edges turned up) in an inverted position would simplify the replacement of the chips. Build a rack for the turkey that fits under the inverted can. Make a handle for the top (inverted bottom), place the thermometer in the top (inverted bottom). Lifting the can will allow easier one person access, keep heat and smoke (don't have to remove the entire can body). Smoke flow can be increased with a 1/2 inch or smaller hole in the top (inverted bottom) of the can, and an even smaller hole by the chip plate/burner. A damper on the lower hole can be used to control heat loss. @radarguy... smoking ribs is the same process. Soaking the chips and brining is essential. You can add liquid smoke during brining, though I don't. Brining formula are available on the internet. You can brine quicker with a vacuum machine (3hrs vs. 9hrs).
SecondSun6 years ago
sweet.
laernmoer6 years ago
I'm curious about the brine soak - do you refrigerate it while soaking? you don't mention that. If not, is it because the salt will help prevent bacteria growth? It seems slightly unhealthy to me.
If it is cool outside (less than 50 F) you can leave the turkey in the brine with some sort of cover, out doors. YES it's safer to refrigerate the whole thing, but I saw something similar on Foodnetwork.com from Good Eats that explained the whole thing.
radarguy6 years ago
A very nice job! I enjoyed each and every step. I am looking forward to trying this. I think I would figure a removable window along side the chips tray so that I could pull out the tray to change the chips. It may take running the all-thread all the way across the can. Next can you tell us how to smoke ribs? Yummm!!!
juandela7 years ago
nice instructable..... i have a couple of questions: 1) where do you find a hot plate for $10? 2) is there a wattage that is ideal? 3) do you worry about the plastic chassis of the hot plate getting to hot or melting? how about the cord? i had thought about feeding the cord through a small amount of pipe which would exit through the whole in the side of the can. not sure if we're talking about enough heat to even worry. i lucked out and found a char-broil non-electric smoker on ebay for 17 bucks. i drove a half an hour to pick it up and now am contemplating adding the hot plate to make it electric. i'm a couple steps ahead because the side access door is already there as are all the racks, mounts and water/wood pan. i think i've seen the website that you based your instructable on but the beauty of what you've done here is that there's an open forum with which questions like these can be addressed. well done.
drEel (author)  juandela7 years ago
1. We got ours at a local Orchard Supply Hardware store. 2. Never really worried about that, I doubt you will have a problem with any hotplate. 3. We certainly didn't have any problem with the hotplate or cord, though in our case the cord is almost completely outside the smoker. I think you'll be fine. Consider that the target ambient temperature is only 230F or so. In our case, with a bunch of rocks grouped around the hotplate, it was almost certainly very hot right at the hotplate (hotter than it would be in your situation most likeley), and we had no problem with an all day smoke (two, actually). With a prebuilt smoker that has side access you're in great shape. The biggest problem we had was losing smoke and temperature when reloading the chips, an issue that a side door would address nicely. Good luck!
spinach_dip7 years ago
Wow, pretty cool.

The one thing that bothers me (as a welder) is that all the metal hardware used here except for the grill rack itself is zinc plated. I'm constantly on the lookout for zinc fume fever, but this may be OK here because you are not using actual fire, nor allowing the food to contact the sides.

Anyway, here's an case of do-it-youself zinc fume fever, although an extreme one. Keep in mind that exposure is clumative.

http://www.anvilfire.com/iForge/tutor/safety3/index.htm
Good instructable, but I had the same fears. I think a "BRAND NEW" (not used) metal 50 gallon drum would work best.
The person who's made my past barrel smokers has also used former corn syrup barrels. Great, if you can find 'em - the first smoke is AWESOME.
KayakJack jess7 years ago
Jess, Your corn syrup barrel comment reminds me of a semi-related joke. A small town in Indiana couldn't afford a real fire engine, so they converted an old fuel delivery truck. The first two fires were real Doozies! While the size and shape of a garbage can is handy, its makeup is unnecessarily dangerous. Personally, I'd rather build a tall box out of plywood, drill holes through the side, and run wooden dowels through for racks, make air inlet and exhaust holes, and use an electric frying pan. Air flow can be adjusted by sliding a chuck of plywood back and forth over the exhaust hole in the box top. To each his own, ehh?
"brand new" is still zinc plated
drEel (author)  spinach_dip7 years ago
Yeah, that possibility occurred to us, but the melting point of zinc is around 790F and we're shooting for an ambient temperature of 230F (which is even hard to reach itself). It will, of course, be significantly hotter at the electric hotplate, but the possibility of the production of zinc fume production seems pretty remote. Still, in general you want to avoid inhaling the wood chip smoke and for the vast majority of the time that the smoker is running you should keep a safe distance (but always someone watching it). Certainly if you are going to do any cutting or welding of the can (say, for adding a door which is the first modification we would propose), you should be very careful. The muriatic acid idea has wings...
Solution to the zinc coating inside. Start a small oak or other hardwood fire inside the can and let it burn the zinc off. If you do this a couple of times wiping it out it works well. You then coat the inside of the can with a light coating of vegetable oil and run it a while as a smoker w/o the woodchips just heat to "bake" in the oil so the inside does not rust. The other option is after burning it hold it over a fire and smoke the inside of the barrel for rust proofing. I know campers who bake turkeys using the same can as an oven and this is the way they avoid zinc poisoning and make sure the can is free of any other chemical contamination.
Water boils at 212F -- but it takes much less than that for water vapor to form ;)

Other than zinc, hexavalent chromium is sometimes used as an anti corrosion coating (another thing you don't want to eat :P). Not to mention, if there's a weld seam, you risk other potential nasties from that. You're best bet is to cook the crap out of the can before using it the first time to remove any coating ;) The general consensus is that you'll probably be okay - but who wants collateral damage from their holiday meal? Technically, fish from the Everglades is okay (except for high mercury levels o.0)


We used to do something similar when I was a little kid in boy scouts :P It's a whole lot of fun - probably because of the novelty factor :P
Someone on that page suggests soaking the metal in muriatic acid (paint department, at the hardware store) overnight (to remove the zinc) and then then rinsing with water. Once that was done prehaps you could coat it with BBQ grill paint?
Drackar7 years ago
Mmm. What composite metals is that trash can made out of? And do I see the shine of zink? enjoy your unsafe exsposures!
silliou7 years ago
This is just an idea, but with a small amount of wielding you could actually make the chip tray removable without having to pull the whole thing apart. if you cut a rectangle out of the side just above your heating element, wield in a slider (similar to a drawer), wield the chip pan to the rectangle you removed, add a handle and slide in and out.....
Good call on not stuffing the turkey, in fact, for anyone who tries this, NEVER stuff the turkey. Stuffing cooked for 5+ hours in a smoker would qualify as hazardous waste. Did you truss the bird? I think It'd benefit the final presentation
drEel (author)  Tool Using Animal7 years ago
I've added a note explaining our trussing decisions on the second picture in step 6. Essentially, we opted to truss the legs but not the wings in order to maximize surface area, while still easily fitting on the grating (and not touching the sides of the can). It's not clear that this was a good idea, but bird presentation was the least of our concerns this time around.
wyrm7 years ago
Very nice instructable! Let's see if I can remember this in about 11 months so that I can set up to try it myself.
turkey tek7 years ago
sweet! hey, is that two twobyfours?