How to Build a Smokehouse Out of Cement Blocks
By Matt Gilara
I’ve always wanted to build a backyard smokehouse – primarily for smoking sausage, but also for smoking bacon, ham, cheese, poultry and venison. My goal was to construct a smokehouse with a lot more room than the smaller ones you can buy from big-box stores.
After spending some time talking to local farmers and collecting ideas on the construction process, and reading about different designs, I rolled up my sleeves and set about building a cement block smokehouse.
- Chalk line
- Level (2-foot or 4-foot)
- Tape measure
- Corner plastic line blocks
- Wheelbarrow/mortar board
- Hammer/nail gun
- Circular saw
- Speed square
- 200 – 6-by-8-by-16-inch cement blocks
- 1 ton sand
- 1 ton gravel
- 5 bags (94 pounds each) Portland cement
- Hydrated lime
- 8 – 6-foot 2-by-6s
- 5 – 10-foot 2-by-6s
- 10 – 10-foot 1-inch-by-whatever-width (for nailers to hold the metal roofing)
- 4 – 10-foot 1-by-10s
- 6 – 10-foot 1-by-4s
- 2 – 10-foot 1-by-8s
- 2 – 8-foot 1-by-10s
- 2 hinges
- 1 handle
- 6 sheets metal roofing (3-feet-by-55-inches)
- 9-foot metal ridge cap
- Metal screws, Tapcons and nails
- 8 – 1/2-inch L bolts with washers and nuts
Following are the general steps I performed to make an 80-inch-by-96-inch cement block smokehouse on my property.
Step 1: Prepare ground for the footer
The area I selected for the smokehouse was filled with roots and rocks. I dug the footer by hand, and mixed my own footer cement. Make sure your footer is a little longer and wider than the finished area you require. (This will give you room to square up the bottom row of cement blocks.) I mixed 3 shovels gravel, 2 shovels sand and 1 shovel Portland cement in a wheelbarrow – just add enough water to get the consistency you desire – which made for easy pouring in tight areas. The footer was approximately 16 inches wide and 6 to 8 inches deep. The bottom of the footer was sitting about 24 inches below grade.
Step 2: Square up the first layer of cement blocks
After the footer was set up, I used a chalk line, tape measure and square to determine where the bottom layer of blocks should be laid. The bottom layer should have an outside dimension of 80 inches wide by 96 inches long. On top of the footer, measure the length of each wall. Get the rough layout as close as possible with some sort of mark for each of the four corners (before any blocks are laid). Measure from one corner to the other corner (diagonally opposite of each other), and record that measurement. Then repeat this on the other set of opposite corners. These two measurements should be the same. When those measurements are the same, you can chalk a line on top of the footer to show you where to lay your first layer of block.
Step 3: Layer cement blocks
Apply a layer of mortar cement on the footer for the first layer of block. I mixed my mortar cement by using 2 parts sand, 1 part Portland cement and 1/2 part hydrated lime. Add just enough water to get the mortar to the consistency of mashed potatoes.
If the mortar starts to set up before you apply it to the cement block, you can mix a very small part of water to get it back to the consistency you need. Run the blocks along the chalk line that you snapped in Step 2. Apply mortar to the horizontal joints, and lay the first layer. After getting the first layer square and cemented in place, I continued to lay blocks a few layers at a time. I would have the corners built up a few layers higher than the rest of the blocks so I could run a mason line (corner plastic line blocks) from corner to corner and make sure I was staying straight, level and square.
I used a 2-foot level to check each block after I placed it. Alternate block placement so that vertical joints are never directly on top of each other.
Step 4: Build form and pour header
Instead of building a wooden header, I thought a cement header would look better and be stronger. I built a form out of some wood I had around the farm. The form was built to the same height and width as the blocks I was using. I added a few pieces of rebar horizontally in the form after I mixed the cement. I used the same mix I used for the footer: 3 shovels gravel, 2 shovels sand, and 1 shovel Portland cement. I also added a few pieces of rebar vertically that would go down through the top row of cement blocks. I core poured the cement blocks on the top row where the header would sit, and placed the vertical rebar down through the core poured cells. My neighbor’s front-end loader was used to lift the header.
Step 5: Build roof structure
After the header was installed, and the remainder of the top row of blocks, it was time to build the roof. I core poured the four corners about a block or so deep. I pushed crushed newspaper down inside the cores I was pouring to hold the cement from going the entire way down through the blocks. After the blocks were poured, I installed some 1/2-inch L bolts that will be used to hold down the top plate. The top plate was rough-cut 2-by-6s cut to the length of the walls and drilled where the L bolts were. The top plate was slid over the L bolts and held in place with nuts. The rafters were cut out of rough-cut 2-by-6s at a 7/12 pitch. A speed square was used to calculate the 7/12 pitch. Once the rafters were cut, they were nailed to a ridge board that was supported by two short 2-by-6s (one in front and one in back) and nailed to the top plate. Then I nailed 1-by-whatever-width boards (five per side at varying widths) to the rafters so there was something for the metal roofing to be screwed to.
Step 6: Finish roof
After the main roof structure was built, I added six sheets of metal roofing with roofing screws. The boards that the roofing was screwed to had a 1-foot overhang. This worked perfectly for three sheets (at 3 feet in width) of metal roofing per side. After the metal roofing was installed, I added the metal ridge cap. Then I cut 1-by-10s to finish off the gable ends (I wanted to use rough-cut siding boards so my smokehouse would resemble my barn). I trimmed off the facia with 1-by-4s to give it a nice finished look. The eves were blocked off with 2-by-6s (just leftover cutoffs) to seal off between the trusses.
I cut the 2-by-6s to the width between the trusses, and nailed them on the top plate. This will help keep the smoke in the smokehouse and keep critters out.
Step 7: Build and add the door
The door for the smokehouse was built out of two rough-cut 1-by-8s and two 1-by-10s (to give me 36 inches in width). The trim around the cement blocks, to which the hinges will be screwed, was held in place with Tapcons. Once the trim was in place, the door was installed.
Since building the smokehouse during the summer of 2014, we have smoked sausage and bacon from pigs we raise, and have had success smoking a variety of cheeses. In the future we would like to try smoking chicken and venison. We have also been asked by neighbors and friends about using our smokehouse. I have thought about having a community smokehouse day(s) for people to bring whatever items they want smoked and do it all at the same time.
Check our GRIT store for meat grinders and sausage stuffers.
Matt lives on a farm (Five G Farm) in northwest Pennsylvania with his wife and three children. He grew up farming and always had a passion for working the land, raising animals, gardening and more. Besides their large garden and raising hogs, the Gilaras raise pumpkins, corn and soybeans on their farm and on neighboring land they lease.
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