Introduction: Yet Another Terra Cotta Smoker

About: Mechanical Engineer, driven by learning. I usually have a few very different projects going, with the goal of learning new skills. My overall goal is to become proficient in a plethora of skills, rather than t…

I know this has been done many times, but I figured I would document mine as well.

I've been wanting to make one of these since I saw the Good Eats episode that introduced it. My friend recently had a birthday, and he is a meat fanatic, so I figured this would be the perfect time to build one!

If you haven't seen one of these before, it's a cheap, home made version of a ceramic meat smoker, such as the Big Green egg. The terra cotta acts as a terrific insulator, allowing you to hold high temperatures for several hours for some delicious flavor!

This is my first Instructable. I know there is definitely room for improvement, and I definitely stumbled through it, but I was satisfied with the end result.

Step 1: Grill!

I am putting this step first so you don't make the same mistake that I made.

you are going to need somewhere to hold your meat inside your smoker. In our case, we'll be using a BBQ grill. If you or someone you know has an old, rusted BBQ, re-use! Otherwise, the hardware store has replacement grills.

I could only find 3 different grill sizes. I put this step first so that you can choose what size of grill you want before you proceed. While you're in the BBQ isle, also pick up a replacement grill thermometer (not a meat thermometer). More on that later!

I made the mistake of starting with the pots without measuring the diameter of my grill first. I just eyeballed the pots and thought that my grill would fit. Close, but not quite.

So think before picking your grill. Big grill means more surface area for cooking, but also probably means you are going to need big pots to hold it. Maybe not the best solution if you have limited space to work with.

Step 2: Terra Cotta Pots

You'll need two unglazed Terra Cotta pots.I picked up a couple of MYNTA pots on sale at Ikea. $10/ea. Ideally, instead of a deep pot for the top I would have gotten a shallow pot, but I couldn't find a suitable one, so I worked with what I could find. Obviously, if you get two different pots, make sure the diameter at the rim is the same.

Something to look for, a little lip on the inside of the pot in order to hang the grill later. Close to the rim is good for convenience. Mine is closer to the bottom of the pot, but again it was the best I could find at the time.

Also important to have, drain holes! Most pots will have these, but not always, so keep an eye out.

Make sure that your grill will fit inside your bottom pot. Ideally, you would look for a pot with a lip sized such that the grill will fit on top. Otherwise, try and find a pot where the ID at the rim is just slightly bigger than your grill. My pot was just a little too small for my first grill, so I had to get a different grill size.

Step 3: Hot Plate!

To heat the unit, you're going to want to get an electric hot plate. Again, I just happened to find one on sale. Make sure it is the proper size to fit into the bottom of your pot. Kitchen supply stores are always a good bet. The one I picked up happened to have a temperature adjustment, which will be nice to have for this project.

The hot plate is going to go into the bottom of the first pot., and the plug will obviously go out of the bottom of the pot. I had to drill out some material to make the hole a bit bigger in order to fit the plug through the bottom. Terra Cotta is very hard material, so it wasn't easy to do (I used a dremel with a grinding wheel).

Step 4: Finish It Up!

Invert the upper pot so that it sits nicely on the lower pot. In the drain hole you will put your grill thermometer. When I did this project I wasn't sure what kind of temperatures I was going to be dealing with, so I made the mistake of using a meat thermometer instead. As you can see in the pictures, when I tested the unit the temperature quickly went outside of the range of the meat thermometer. Silly me. You're going to be dealing with temperatures between approx 200 and 260, so plan accordingly. Having a meat thermometer is not a bad idea, though, since the internal temperature of the actual meat is more important anyways.

You're pretty much done and ready to go! Check out the Good Eats episode that introduced it Good Eats video for tips on using the smoker.

I thought it looked pretty plain, so I made a pirate stencil and spray painted the outside to make it look a bit more interesting. Also, my friend appreciates pirate themes.

There's definitely room for improvement. For example, If I had more time I would have relocated the temperature control so it was outside of the unit. Also, a probe thermometer would be great to have in addition to the grill thermometer, so you can monitor the internal temperature without opening the unit.

Happy smoking!

Step 5: Using Your Smoker

There is a wealth of information out there on the topic of smoking. Again, I would highly recommend watching the Good Eats episode I referenced in the other steps.

Here is a description from the USDA site:

"Where there's smoke, there's well-flavored meat and poultry. Using a smoker is one method of imparting natural smoke flavor to large cuts of meat, whole poultry, and turkey breasts. This slow cooking technique keeps them tender, too.

Smoking is slowly cooking food indirectly in the presence of a fire. "

I would suggest checking out the USDA site. It has a lot of good information on smoking your meat safely.

As far as choosing a good wood for smoking, there are a lot of options out there, and each will give you a different flavor. Hickory and mesquite are probably the most popular. Experiment and see what works for you. Here is a description of the majority of woods used, to give you an idea of what you might like to try.

OK, let's get down to business!
Prop up the bottom pot on a couple of bricks or wood blocks. This is essential for air flow. Take a heavy duty pie tin (one that is intended for cooking!) and fill it with wood chips. Turn on your hot plate. Put your meat on the grill and "close the lid". Put the thermometer in the top and keep an eye on the temperature.

Smoking time and temperature is going to depends on how much and what kind of meat your are using. This chart recommends smoking time, smoking temperature, and final internal temperatures for a lot of different meats. If necessary, adjust the temperature level of your hot plate until the temperature on your thermometer settles in the proper range.

You'll have to change out the wood chips every couple of hours. Be careful removing the lid; use pot holders or something! I also recommend a heavy duty tongs for picking up the grill. If you're getting close to the recommended smoking time, now is a good time to check the internal temperature of the meat, since this is the real indicator of when your meat is done.