New Take on the Terra Cotta Smoker

This is based on the Alton Brown (Good Eats is my favorite cooking show!) Terra Cotta smoker featured in the Good East episode "Q". I have found several sites featuring variations on this simple smoker. So I thought I would share my high-tech approach. Unfortunately, I don't have the steps it took to make the final product, only the finished components.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: The History

I have actually made a terra cotta smoker before. It was just like the one Alton Brown made on his show. It worked well enough, but it was difficult to control at first. I only used this one a few times before it found its way to the attic. Fast forward a few years and I found myself wanting to get it back out. I wanted to make it easier to control though. I googled "terra cotta smokers" and found several great sites. Most were the same design as Alton Brown's original. I remember seeing one that stood apart though; it had an external control. That was it. Just the thing to make temperature control easier!

Step 2: Gatget Guy Modifys the Old Terra Cotta Smoker

First, a little about me. I am a machine designer and gadget guy. I design assembly equipment for an automotive supplier. This is where I had a stroke of genius with my smoker.

It came working on new project at work. Hot plate welders. Basically you take a piece of metal, heat it to a certain temperature, bring 2 pieces of plastic into contact with it, remove the plastic and press them together. Sounds simple enough. The hard part is controlling the heat. So we have temperature control units.

Then it hit me, why not use a temperature controller with my smoker. So that's exactly what I did.

Step 3: The Guts of the Smoker

I hacked apart my hot plate and removed the heating element. I was worried about having the heating element laying directly on the bottom of the pot, so I just add 3 crushed pop cans to serve as spacers. I added a quick-disconnect cable so I could easily take the electronics inside when finished smoking. This cable runs back to the control box. I put a hole in the lid to accommodate a temperature sensor that also runs back to the control box.


Ah yes the control box. Its what sets it apart from the others I have found.

Inside the box are the following:
temperature controller
power relay
power switch
power outlet
temperature sensor plug

Being a machine designer, I was able to scrounge up some old parts at work (the electrical enclosure, temperature sensor w/ armor cable, various cables and connectors). The controller I found on eBay for $50. They normally sell for about $200. The other stuff I found at my local hardware store.

Once assembled this makes controlling my smoker extremely simple. Turn it on! It retains the last programmed temperature setting. If I did want to change the temperature, all I have to do is push the up/down arrows. Talk about easy.

On this controller, the red display is the current temperature and the green is the target temperature. Once the controller reaches the desired temp, it will switch on and off to maintain a constant temperature.

Step 5: The Final Result

I have used this smoker a few times to great success. My co-workers really enjoyed the pulled pork and smoked chicken I have made with it.

Step 6: The Parts List

The assembly:

2 terra cotta pots, one was slightly smaller than the other
hot plate, only used the top heating element
smoker box, stainless steel vented box for smoking in gas grills
replacement round grill grate
throw away foil pie pan, used as a drip pan
metal coat hangers, used to hold the drip pan and to make grate removal handles
temperature sensor
temperature controller

Step 7: Whats Next?

I have thought about making a roll around cart for my smoker, so it would almost look like a grill. I thought it would be nice to raise it up a little to make it easier to work with. It took me a few months to complete this project, mostly because I was too busy to stay focused on it. Maybe I will have more time to do this cart. Who knows... I hope this helps anyone interested in making a unique diy smoker. Enjoy!

Some great sites that inspired me on this project:

Be the First to Share


    • Furniture Contest

      Furniture Contest
    • Reuse Contest

      Reuse Contest
    • Hot Glue Speed Challenge

      Hot Glue Speed Challenge

    9 Discussions


    Great job on the diagram, if you could, which relay contact did you use for controlling the heating element? Alarm 1, Alarm 2, or the control relay? You did refference that the realy was normaly closed until it hit the set point, so in theory, that leaves either the control relay, or the alam contact that is normaly closed...could you please clearify?

    Secondly, what type of wire did you yse to connect the thermocouple "socket" to the temperature controller? Did you use "scrap" wire or was it the same wire type that is used for the thermocouple?

    Thank you for your time.

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    You are correct, I used the output control relay. When wiring the thermocouple socket to the control unit, I used actual thermocouple wire. I am not sure, but I think its different from regular copper wire (possibly a lower resistance wire).


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is awesome. I modified my smoker to use a dimmer switch so that the hot plate used a varying amount of power to stay at a steady temperature instead of either being full blast on or not. Is there anyway you could include a more detailed parts list? I don't have much electronics stuff just laying around home here. Details like the temp sensor, the relay, switches, boxes that kind of stuff would be very helpful. Thanks!

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Temperature Sensor (3871K55) -
    Thermocouple connectors (3869K25) -
    Hi-amp power relay (7664K16) -

    Thermocouple jack (SJ-K-R) -
    Temperature Controller (CNI1633) -

    I bought the outlet, outlet covers, and heater plug at my local hardware store.
    You can use any box available as your control box. Mine was scrap at work, so it was free to me, otherwise it runs about $120 from Hoffman -,186&itemIDs=2934,5667&catalog_item=5667

    The power switch is optional, you can just unplug it when finished! However, you can find several types from -

    For those who don't want to go through the hassle of ordering and assembling all of the components, McMaster-Carr has a small single unit available (3313k21) - Simply plug your hot plate in and put the probe in the top.

    Hope this info helps! Thanks for checking out my instructable


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for your help with this, it definitely showed me the right pieces to use and will help me search for less expensive items on eBay. Just finding all the parts is half the fun! Also now I know which websites to look at for this stuff.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    man i love this. however im not very electronically inclied. is there any info you can give on building the temperature control

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I don’t think you need to be excessively electronically inclined, just organized. I’m by no means an electronics expert. The best thing to do is sketch out the electronics on a pad of paper. Simple boxes and lines to represent the temp. controller, relays, power switch, heater element, and the wires running between them. Once you get the sketch done, that makes everything much easier. There are a few sites I used to order parts or just find information about components. sells and has great info on temp. controllers and accessories. If you find one with the specs you need, check out eBay to see if you can find something similar and a lot cheaper. Those controllers are not cheap! If I get a chance I’ll try to update this with a picture of the inside of the control box. Thanks for checking out my smoker. Hope I helped out!