The Making of a Homemade Smoker
Cold-smoked bacon. My mouth waters just thinking about it. When I first came across the term “cold smoked,” I thought it was a misprint. I read more about cold smoking and realized that this was part of a food preservation and flavoring technique that’s been around for a very long time. Most of the old-time smokehouses that used to be part of homesteads across the country were actually designed to cold smoke the meats hung in them to cure. That got me to thinking about a homemade smoker.
My wife and I live in a small rural community, really a bedroom community of the nearby city, on a typical house lot. We don’t have the room or the need for a smokehouse, but we did want to explore this technique for making bacon. This led to the typical Internet search for more information, and that eventually led to numerous websites and videos describing and demonstrating the process. Several videos showed homemade cold-smoke generators, with a few connected to an old refrigerator or upright freezer used for the smoking chamber. We didn’t want an old appliance taking up space in our backyard, and I didn’t want to take the time to build a wood-smoking chamber before we made our own bacon. The thought occurred to me one day to connect a cold-smoke generator to our barbecue grill and put it to double use. So, that’s what I did.
The cold-smoke generator is really nothing more than a device that contains smoldering wood chips and a means to convey that smoke into the smoking chamber. I built mine by first assembling common plumbing parts available at any hardware store. If you’re lucky, your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore will have these parts. I used 3/4-inch black iron fittings for everything except the hose connection. I followed video instructions I found online, with a few modifications and adaptions to use parts I had on hand. There are dozens of ways to rig brass plumbing fittings to make something easy, cheap and workable. An inexpensive aquarium air pump provides the airflow.
To connect the smoke generator to the grill, I first located a spot on the lower half of the grill in a place that wouldn’t interfere with any other parts of the grill. Next, I drilled a 1-1/4-inch hole with an inexpensive stepped drill bit and centered a 3/4-inch pipe flange on the hole and attached to the grill. This provides a spot to thread the smoke generator to the grill.
I found that I could attach the generator and thread it in tight enough to hold the smoke canister at an angle and eliminate the interior baffle mentioned earlier.
We’ve used this for two cold-smoking seasons now, with few issues. It helps to occasionally and lightly tap the side of the canister to shake ash out of the air intake holes. I’ve filled the canister half full with wood chips and have gotten five to six hours of smoking time. I use small chips purchased at our local hardware store, but I’ve also tried dried chips from a wood shredder, and they work fine as well.
We’ve since built a plywood smoking box for smoking, so the grill doesn’t get used for cold smoking. We still use the smoke generator with the grill to add some additional smoke. It works great for this, and we’ve found that it’s easier to regulate the grill temperature since we’re not adding chunks of wood to the coals.
A word of caution about cold smoking. We always use sodium nitrite (pink salt) in our cure for anything that will be cold smoked. And remember that any cured, cold-smoked meat (bacon, Canadian bacon, etc.) needs to be cooked before serving. There are USDA guidelines for this, but we just use common sense.
Check out more thrifty projects: Stories of DIY Projects Made With Recycled Building Materials.