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

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

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

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

Step 4: 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

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

Step 6: 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

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

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.



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    54 Discussions


    Question 1 year ago on Step 4

    What setting do you have the hot spot at?


    Reply 1 year ago

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


    Reply 8 years ago on Step 8

    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).


    1 year ago

    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.


    7 years ago on Introduction

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

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    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.


    11 years ago on Step 1

    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.

    1 reply

    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies
    spark masterClayOgre

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    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 FClayOgre

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    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?


    12 years ago

    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?

    4 replies

    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?


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    Reply 12 years ago

    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.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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.