How to Build a Small Smoker


Building a small smoker can help make the most of the summer barbecue season. A small smoker is typically easy to store and even tuck into a car to take to a friend's party. Once all materials are assembled, most DIYers can put together a smoker and use it on the same afternoon.

Things You'll Need

  • Aluminum trash can or Cooler
  • Tin snips
  • Hammer
  • Nail
  • Electric hot plate
  • Extension cord
  • Wood chips
  • Cake pan
  • Grill rack
  • Choose a base for the smoker, such as a portable cooler or an aluminum trash can. These materials are easy to obtain, easy to store when not using and work well for small smokers.

  • Punch a hole in the bottom of a trash can with tin snips or a hammer and nail. Make the hole large enough to feed the outlet plug of a cord through. If you're using a cooler, you can snake the cord through the top.

  • Place an electric hot plate in the bottom of your smoker. Snake the cord through the top of the cooler or fit it through the hole you made in the trash can. Plug in the end of the cord to an extension cord, but don't plug in the extension cord.

  • Fill a circular cake pan with soaked wood chips. Place the pan onto the hot plate. When heated on the hot plate, the wood chips create smoke, which cooks the food.

  • Place a grill rack inside the smoker so it rests above the hot plate and pan of wood chips.

  • Plug in the extension cord and turn on the hot plate. Place the food to be smoked over the grill rack and close the cooler lid, or fit the lid on the trash can.

Tips & Warnings

  • Soak wood chips for at least one hour prior to using them. You may soak them in water or in another liquid for flavor.
  • Measure the dimensions of your trash can, cooler or other vessel, then purchase a grill rack to fit inside the smoker vessel.
  • Check on your smoker after three hours to determine if you should add more wood chips. If the wood chips are nearly all ash, add more soaked wood chips.

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  • Photo Credit old metal garbage trash can image by Kathy Burns from
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