Introduction: How to Make a Cardboard Smoker

Picture of How to Make a Cardboard Smoker

Feel like real BBQ? Don't have a smoker? Don't feel like spending more than 10 bucks or so? Like Alton Brown? Here's how to make a very serviceable smoker out of a cardboard box and some other things you might have laying around the house.

This rig worked remarkably well. The biggest problem was getting the temperature high enough. You want to cook BBQ at around 225 degrees F. If you can't get your smoker up that high, you can still use it to smoke, then finish whatever you're cooking in the oven.

Step 1: Get a Cardboard Box

Picture of Get a Cardboard Box

You need a box that's big. But not too big or you'll never be able to heat it up. My box is about 4 feet high, and two feed square. This is actually on the larger end of the size you want. Cut a hole in the bottom as shown, so that you can change the wood chips out during the cooking. Its a lot easier if you leave the bottom attached to use as a hinge.

Step 2: Add Dowels to Support the Racks

Picture of Add Dowels to Support the Racks

You'll need at least one rack in the box to hold the food you're cooking. Ideally, you should also add another rack so that you can have a drip pan. This will keep your food from dipping onto the pan with the wood chips, which could start a fire. This would be very bad, since cardboard is pretty flamable. I used wooden dowels stuck through the box.

Step 3: Add the Racks

Picture of Add the Racks

I used a cooling rack to hold the food, and a disposable baking rack for the drip pan.

Step 4: Add Your Heat Source

Picture of Add Your Heat Source

For a heat source I used a hotpot. I put an old cast iron skillet I had lying around on it and fill it with wood chips. I tried both dry and soaked chips, and both worked equally well. The soaked chips just took awhile longer to start smoking and brought the temperature of the smoker down.

Step 5: Monitor the Temperature

Picture of Monitor the Temperature

A probe style thermometer is very useful to monitor the temperature inside the smoker

Step 6: Start Smoking

Picture of Start Smoking

I smoked a pork shoulder. Google and you can find hundreds of recips for rubs and marinades.

Step 7: Close It Up and Let It Smoke

Picture of Close It Up and Let It Smoke

Close the box and let it smoke. Keeping the box closed will keep the temperature up, which is good since this whole thing is being heated by a hotpot. Ideally, you want the temperature to be around 225 degrees F. When you see the smoke stop, change out the wood chips. For me this was every hour and a half or so

Step 8: Remove Your Food

Picture of Remove Your Food

This is after a seven hour smoke. I would have smoked it longer, but I got started too late in the day to go the full 12 to 14 hours pork BBQ normally takes. I finished cooking it in the oven, until it hit an intenal temperature of 190 degrees F.


boombam (author)2007-11-24

why the hell is the meat blue??

omnistructable (author)boombam2017-04-20

I think it may be the light reflected on it that makes it look blue.

aesimpleton (author)boombam2010-07-04

Could be creosote, which builds up on smoked meat if you don't have good enough airflow. It makes the meat bitter and numbs the tongue, though it varies considerably and some people don't notice (likely due to the numbing effect).

PaulTozzi (author)boombam2008-04-07

Thats what I was wondering.

Kaiven (author)PaulTozzi2008-06-02

light plus angle?

omnistructable (author)2017-04-20

I like this! I like a mans with a plan. Although there is a small chance of catching fire, I'm sure if you have the brains to do this you will also know the dangers and watch it all time. Damp the card box every now and then will help. I have done this many times, cooking fish next to the lake.

lhau (author)2011-10-29

Ist so ein Räucherofen nicht gefährlich , der könnte sich doch entflammen oder nicht ????

Boose537 (author)lhau2017-01-07

Solange das Feuer nicht die Seiten der Box berührt. Auch das Fleisch sollte nicht auf die Box tropfen. Dann sollte es in Ordnung sein. Viel Glück! C;

Wen interessiert es, wenn dies fünf Jahre zu spät ist.

ehmbee (author)2007-12-08

There are a few things worth noting for anyone who wants to try this-first off, if you have lined with foil throughout your smoker, there is little fear of fire, IMHO-paper and cardboard ignites much hotter than the 220 degrees considered optimal for good smoking. Also a slow cook with low cooking temp is unlikely to result in grease splatter while cooking-we aren't deep frying here...the most likely spill would be as you are removing the bird or checking/mopping/spraying it to keep it moist. Also I have learned that newer hot plates are often wired to shut off in these homebuilt smoke chambers-something about a sensor or resistor that senses the ambient heat, mistaking it for a short in the plate element (?)-this can be bypassed, or you can search for an older hotplate at your local thrift or yard sales without such ridiculous failsafes, lol. Finally, your smoking should only have to be 10 hrs max-any more and you can bitter the meat. 8 hours with a finish in the oven (wrapped in foil) keeps it nice and moist up til the end-let her sit for about 20 minutes before you cut. Enjoy.

spark master (author)ehmbee2014-03-05

Remember the Book FARENHEIT 451, that is the temp that paper bursts into flames

ClayOgre (author)2009-01-24

Hmm...they say you shouldn't bake turkeys in paper bags from the store, due to potential toxic fumes from the paper bag, glue, etc. I wonder how safe this is.

spark master (author)ClayOgre2014-03-05

My plants used wheat glue to make bags, and if NOT PRINTED ON should be fine, if made in USA, if made in China they might be made of used toilet paper, who knows.

M F (author)ClayOgre2009-03-28

I don't think you would have trouble cooking in grocery bags. I am sure the FDA. has rules on chemicals touching the food. But... I hear that many cardboard companies use pesticides in the cardboard. Have you noticed that you never EVER see roaches in boxes?

chefmaranuk (author)2006-10-05

I am an assistant scoutmaster and i also teach cooking merit badge. I have tried this cardboard box smoker at home with the electric burner. I was wondering, does any one believe i could do this on our next camping trip, but instead of the electric hotplate, use sternos (the liquid or gel can fuel from a party store) to get the same effect? I've read previous posts about a possible fire, however, do you think sternos get that hot. ALso do you think a sterno or canned fuel taste will be the outcome on top of the great smoke flavor?

spark master (author)chefmaranuk2014-03-05

I know this was 7 years ago...but alky spirits can leave a taste, esp. sterno which has jelling ingredients,(sodium acetate?) Did you ever try it?

strmrnnr (author)chefmaranuk2009-06-26

You may do better to teach them to make their own charcoal and char cloth the night before and use the charcoal in the smoker the next day. I think the sterno may ignite the wood gas from the chips. Then I think about the would gas getting into my food and think it may be better if it did burn. ???? A support with a pan holding homemade charcoal, and chips right on the embers would taste awesome. Might paint the outside black to let the sun bring the temp up also.

M F (author)chefmaranuk2009-03-28

Yes, a STERNO taste may occer, you are using a closed box to capture the smoke flavor: and sterno does have a taste and smell. I am currently experimenting with SOLAR COOKING. It works good.

Crash2108 (author)chefmaranuk2006-12-08

I don't think a sterno is a good idea. And it isn't very resourcful either. Make something like this only with a metal base (metal drum or trash can) and just make an ordinary fire on the bottom.

azaletel (author)2012-04-29

I made this yesterday, and it worked really well for the first 7 hours. Then it burst into flames and died in a horrible fiery cataclysm. Luckily the brisket survived, and was delicious. This definitely requires monitoring and attention.

spark master (author)azaletel2014-03-05

too bad there was no video and Taste 'a' Vision...I'm a drooling!

holymermaid (author)2013-10-31

Think Im gonna use coconut shell instead of wood since its quite hard to find substitute in my area

quatch (author)2012-04-27


I did this, but had a failure of my drip pan, putting all of the drippings into the hot iron pot. This was fine until I opened the top to get the meat out. As soon as oxygen got into the bottom of the box, instant greasefire in a cardboard box.

I Strongly suggest that you open the box by first opening the heat access hatch and removing the iron pot so that if it does flare, it does so safely away from flammables.

pdkrocul (author)2009-08-02

I'm having problems. Instead of a cardboard box, I inverted a metal garbage can. I have a 1100W burner (WalMart special). I can't get the wood (Hickory) to smoke. The wood is in a foil pie plate (for easy cleanup). My IR thermometer says the burner temp is about 500F. There is some scorching on the wood, but no smoke. Ideas?

pdkrocul (author)pdkrocul2009-08-02

oops, mesquite. I think my problem was the foil pie plates. I switched to a cast iron skillet. I'm getting some smoke.

quatch (author)pdkrocul2012-04-27

if you're using sticks or other long objects, you need to push it down every once in a while, as the bottoms ash then insulate the rest from the heat.

websten (author)2012-01-02

I also used two thermometers, but one in the box and one in the meat. I took a cheap oven-roast-thermometer and stuck it through the side of the box and o slightly more expensive digital thermometer like the one you are using, threading the sensor through the wall of the box inserting the needle into the meat.

rprough (author)2010-11-21

You really dont want to smoke the whole time you are cooking. Usually 4 hours of smoke is all you need on an average pork butt. Any more than that and you stand the chance of starting to impart the chance of getting a creosote type of taste in your meat. Especially if you use a stronger type of wood like mesquite for example. I usually use a mixture of oak and mesquite and use apple If I smoke any kind of bird. But the cardboard box smoker idea is awesome. I gotta try it.

Empower (author)2010-07-17

It's probably just glazed and shiny and you are picking up reflections of a blue sky. Cameras capture all sorts of stuff that your brain would normally filter out.

Otacon (author)2010-01-17

If I were to use a sterno and just added the hotplate on top with vents on the side (so that the gas doesn't go into the smoker), would that work well enough to get things smokey?

ceanderson (author)2009-07-09

Awesome! Proof that it is the chef knowledge, not the equipment.

coolguy891 (author)2009-06-16

It looks pretty good, however, I would just like to add that you don't need to cook pork to 190 degrees. 160 degrees in heat is quite sufficient, by the time the meat sits for the 5 minutes before you cut it open it will have reached 165 which is exactly where you want it to be.

wkguy (author)2007-11-17

WOW! Your wife's hairy legs look really any more photo's? LOL! Actually, I recently made a "copy" of your cardboard turkey smoker, but I haven't yet tried it out, and all my neighbors are afraid I will burn them out of the neighborhood... LOL! Unfortunately, I'm a bit afraid that they might be right...: - ( I'll be fairly sure to get up all the yard leaves and cut the grass and see that nothing dry is anywhere near to this cooker... The inside of the cooker has been well slathered with heavy duty aluminum.... My bigest concern is that the turkey will splurge off grease from the cooking process that might drop into the heating element ( a hotplate ), and light up the cardboard... So, this isn't something that I would light up ( ummm, I'm using an electrical hotplate, so I guess this is the wrong term to use...), but the matter is, that you have to be careful when you use any heating appliance, and especially one made from cardboard that could potentially cause a fire, so be very, very careful and think about what you are doing...before you do it... As I write this, I am soaking my turkey in a brine solution ( I had it cut in half earlier today, with the legs removed, so it would fit into my homemade cardboard smoker... There are places on the web, easily found at Google, for doing this... If I don't burn my house down, I may be able to post more info on this interesting way to mistreat a turkey... : - ).

wkguy (author)wkguy2007-11-19

Thanks for the reply! I smoked ms. turkey earlier today and, fortunately, I didn't come anywhere near to burning my house or my neighbors houses down... I might add, however, that I got the dry leave up and out of the yard first, just in case... The biggest problem I had with this cardboard smoker has having enough heat in the cooker, as my hotpot was only 750 watts...I covered the box with towels and eventually decided to transfer the her, smoking and browned somewhat, to my indoor oven... I inserted an electronic probe thermometer into Ms Turkey to measure how hot she might be...for that matter, I thought this might be a good thing to have for sure worked for ms turkey q.... This thermometer sent a radio signal to let me know when it had reached the temp that I had entered.....a very nice thing to have when doing this sort of cooking... Ummm....when I transferred Ms Turkey to the oven, it was 147 degrees....and it took very little more time to bring her up to 165 degrees.... I had "brined" her breasts and legs for about 10 hours before cooking them and I had also rubbed them with the following ingredients that I found suggested on the internet after a Google search which was very helpful... 4 teaspoons paprika 2 teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons onion powder 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper 1 teaspoons cayenne I also rubbed olive oil all over her body before placing her in the smoker. I had her divided into two parts by Sureway Food Stores, where I purchased her, and I also had them remove her legs, and I have cooked them differently from her breasts...since they cook at a different rate...not to mention the fact that one is dark meat ( legs ) and one is white meat...( breasts ). I was very much concerned about being sure that the Turkey was fully cooked, I made the mistake of bringing this little lady up to 170 degrees. Next year, I will again smoke my turkey lady but I will drop my final turkey temps to no more than 165... Oh, and as concerns my concerns of fire, my heat source, a 750 watt hot plate, was covered with a pan that contained wood chips. Above it was a large pan that I used to catch any drips from ms turkey. My biggest concern while smoking my lady, was that their wasn't enough "wattage" to give her what she needed to fully get the job done... I may upgrade my smoker with an additional heat source so this won't be a problem in the future..... At any rate, I really enjoyed smoking my lady turkey and she seemed to enjoy it, as well : - ). At least, I didn't hear any complaints... My brother in law loves "baby back ribs", and I can't wait to loan him my little cardboard cooker so he can smoke some to perfection...yum....

M F (author)wkguy2009-03-28

Your thermometer sent a radio signal to you? tell me more. what kind was it?

angs9 (author)wkguy2007-11-18

Your concern is certainly valid. Just make sure that the second tray you install has a pan large enough on it to catch all the turkey drippings. (You'll want those for gravy anyway). That should keep any turkey fat off the cardboard. Good luck! Even if you don't completely cook the bird in the smoker, you can still finish it off in the oven and it will still taste smoked.

karmineky (author)2008-08-11

What is the wattage of the hot plate that you used? I've got a 750 W hotplate but I'm concerned this won't be enough power to get a 2' x 2' x 4' box up to 225 degrees. Does anyone have any ideas?

Buckeye guy (author)2008-06-12

When I was Scoutmaster several (many) years ago, I showed the Scouts how to bake using a cardboard box. The heat source was charcoal. After completely lining the interior of the box with foil, we ran coathanger wire thru the box for a rack. The charcoal was lit, then placed in a cut-down coffee can. The can must be elevated from the bottom of the box by using balled-up foil, pebbles, etc. Heat control was accomplished by varying the number of briquettes used and by the amount the "door" flap was open. As an experiment, we inserted the probe from a pyrometer into the oven and closed the flap almost all the way, leaving it open just enough to admit air for combustion. With four briquettes, we maintained a temperature of over 700° F for more than an hour.

regis1 (author)2007-11-26

could you use plywood instead or would the glue in it be harmful?

angs9 (author)regis12007-11-26

I think that would depend on the type of glue you used. But if I were worried about it and using plywood I'd avoid glue and use screws/nails

regis1 (author)angs92007-11-26

no i meant the glue in the plywood

angs9 (author)2007-11-24

Its not, its a dark, smoky brown.

alexsk8ca (author)2006-07-19

I love Alton Brown

NinjaKitten (author)alexsk8ca2007-05-14

Ditto. I <3 Alton also

Leche de Pollo (author)2006-12-26

Love this idea! This Thanksgiving I cooked a whole turkey this way using natural charcoal instead of the chips with great results. I brined the turkey with 1 cup of salt and 1/2 cup sugar per each gallon of water. Approx a 3% salt solution by weight. Nice work!

redletter (author)2006-09-07

I had a store-bought steel smoker. The temp was a problem with it as well. I got a big old towel and draped it over the top as insulation, and it worked great. (If you do this, forget about using the towel for anything other than this purpose in the future.) If you want to stay in the spirit of this project, you could add a second box to surround the first, creating a double-walled deal.

MJ64 (author)2006-07-20

Paper catches fire at 457 degrees F. We used to use charcoal in a abking pan in a aluminum foil wrapped "Box Oven" to cook brownies in while camping. I suppose you could line the bottom of the "Smoker" with foil. I was trying to think of a way to use less $$ on energy costs. 12 hours with a hotplate sounds like murder on $$ (elctricity costs!)

angs9 (author)MJ642006-07-20

I would just cut the bottom off the box and let the pan sit on concrete or the ground. The electricity cost isn't much. According to, Using a 1000 Watt hot plate for 12 hours would cost $1.21. I'm pretty sure that's less than you'd pay for the charcoal. It would solve the heat problem though, although managing heat with charcoal can be a tricky process. The hot plate you just set and let it go

MJ64 (author)angs92006-07-21

Yes, you are correct about the temp. Charcoal useful though if no access to electricity, again the camping theme! Thanks for a great instructable!

MJ64 (author)2006-07-19

Could you use another disposible baking pan with charcoal Instead of the hotplate? Use another set of dowels to hold a grate and pan of woodchips on top of the charcoal pan. Just keep adding briquettes to keep temp up.

angs9 (author)MJ642006-07-19

You certainly could, but I'd put them in something a little more solid, like a bigger cast iron pan. Also, I'd think twice before I put live coals in a cardboard container. I didn't want to have to worry about catching fire, so I just used the hotplate. Smoking takes way to long to do it in something I'd worry about bursting into flames

About This Instructable




More by angs9:How to Make a Cardboard Smoker
Add instructable to: