How to Build a Cold Smoker

Take your culinary know-how to a new level by creating an aboveground or buried firebox for a DIY cold smoker at home.

| March/April 2020

Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Cold smoking is easier to manage than hot smoking because you don’t have to worry about maintaining a consistent temperature; in fact, you don’t even want heat from the fire to enter the smoking chamber — hence the name “cold smoking.” Once you’ve established a strong burn and a nice, steady stream of smoke, the process requires little attention.

However, building a cold smoker is a little more complicated than building a hot smoker, because you need to create two chambers: one that holds the food and smoke, and a separate chamber that holds the fire that generates the smoke. The two chambers must be connected to each other so the smoke can travel from one to the other while losing the heat of the fire.

The following instructions result in a smoker that’s great for making cold-smoked bacon, fish, sausage, and smaller pieces of cured meat. It calls for using a 55-gallon drum, but any number of other objects will work, as long as they can safely hold a fire over a long period of time, are food-safe, and can be vented to exhaust the smoke. I’ve seen people use old garbage cans, kegs, large pots, terra cotta planters, cast-iron wood-burning stoves, and even a simple hole in the ground for a firebox. One creative and simple solution I’ve seen is connecting two grills together with piping — one grill serves as the firebox, and the other as the smoke chamber.

Tools and Materials for Cold Smoker

  •  Power drill with 1/4-inch step bit
  •  Reciprocating saw with metal-cutting blade
  •  Metal file or metal grinder
  •  55-gallon steel drum with lid
  •  Paint, optional
  •  1-1/2-inch-long, 1/4-inch-diameter, 20 TPI bolts with lock washers and nuts (4)
  •  Standard gate pull handle with appropriate hardware
  •  Fireproof vessel (woodstove, steel drum, etc.)
  •  4 feet of 6-inch-diameter stovepipe
  •  6-inch-diameter stovepipe elbows (2)
  •  22-1/2-inch-diameter grill grate
  1. Prepare your drum. Remove any old paint or rust inhibitors from the drum. Once prepped, you can repaint the drum if desired. High-temperature paint isn’t necessary, as your drum will never reach a high heat in cold smoking.
  2. Drill holes for the cooking grate. Measure 7 inches down from the top of the drum. With the 1/4-inch step bit, drill four holes equally spaced around the drum, about 18 inches apart. Make sure the holes aren’t large enough for the bolt heads to slip through. Install the bolts from the outside so they stick out into the barrel. Fasten the bolts with nuts and washers. This is where you’ll eventually place the cooking grate.
  3. Cut a hole for the stovepipe. Flip the drum over so the closed end faces up. In the center of the bottom, mark a 6-inch-diameter circle. Drill a hole within the 6-inch circle, large enough to allow your reciprocating saw blade through. Using the reciprocating saw, cut out the 6-inch circle. This is where you’ll feed the stovepipe in. Make sure you can easily slide the stovepipe into the newly cut hole. If not, file or grind the edges of the hole until you can.
  4. Drill holes for venting and the handle. Measure 3 inches in from the edge of the lid and drill eight equally spaced, 3/4-inch-diameter holes around the lid, about 6-1/2 inches apart. Then, drill holes fitted to your gate pull handle, and install the handle on the lid.
  5. Choose a spot for your smoker, preferably where the grade is on an incline. Decide where you’re going to install your cold-smoke drum. The stovepipe should rise slightly as it goes from the firebox to the smoking chamber. Having a pitch on the stovepipe ensures that the smoke is pulled from the firebox into the chamber. Mark on the ground where you’ll put the smoking chamber, firebox, and pipe. There should be at least 4 feet between the firebox and the smoking chamber.

Once you have your smoking chamber prepped, there are two different methods of installation to choose from. Below are the steps for both a buried installation and an aboveground installation.

The Buried Firebox

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