How to Make an Offset Smoker

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A well constructed offset smoker can make smoked foods for years. An offset smoker is typically a barrel shaped cooker with a separate firebox, where the fire is built. This indirect heat cooks foods at a low temperature for an extended period of time. Barbecue enthusiasts refer to this as the "low and slow" method of cooking. The process loosens up the fat and the tendons in the toughest meats, turning them tender and juicy. There are many materials used to build an offset smoker, including stainless steel barrels, garbage cans and bricks. Smokers also can be built underground.

Things You'll Need

  • Tank of an old hot water heater or
  • 50 gallon food grade stainless steel drum
  • Smaller container for a firebox
  • Foundation cinder blocks
  • Heavy steel duct as long as the barrel
  • Welder
  • Soldering iron
  • Hinges
  • 3 inch chimney pipe
  • Dremel cutting tool
  • Goggles
  • Set the drum or water heater horizontally onto a cinder block foundation and rotate until the water heater's access panel is up. The foundation should be tall enough so you don't have to bend over for extended periods to work on the project. The foundation can be three to five cinder blocks high, as long as it reaches your waist. If you are using a drum, you won't see an access panel and you can start cutting anywhere.

  • Measure about three inches from the left and right sides of the container and mark those spots. Extend the mark and draw a horizontal door in the side of the container. The door should be roughly a third of the unit's circumference. Put on your goggles before you cut.

  • Cut the door with a Dremel cutting tool slowly to make sure the cut is straight. Set this door aside for later. The opening will be the top of the smoker.

  • Cut a square opening at the bottom of the left side of the container. If you are using a hot water heater, cut another hole into the access panel that will be used later for the chimney.

  • Attach the smaller steel box, which could be a firebox from a smaller smoker or a new unit. Make sure the firebox's opening faces the hole at the end of the tank. Use at least two 3/4 inch bolts and nuts to hold the firebox in place. If you don't have a firebox, you can use a smaller, stainless-steel barrel, such as an old beer keg shell. You will need to cut a door into the keg shell to load the fuel into the smoker.

  • Bend a 6 inch section of the steel duct at a 45 degree angle up and insert the bent end into the smoker, so it's close to the firebox. This duct should be a flat piece of 1/2 inch pliable steel, not a duct or pipe used for an air conditioner. This piece will direct the smoke underneath the food, heat the steel to help maintain a consistent cooking temperature and allow the smoke to roll over the food and out to the chimney. The duct should fit snugly into the barrel and allow about three inches of clearance beneath it for the smoke. If it's necessary, cut the straight end so the duct piece is about six inches shorter than the cooking area.

  • Measure up 5 inches from the top of the duct plating and begin drilling holes into the rear of the container. The holes should be about 5 to 6 inches apart and should fit just under the first cut you made for the top door. Insert a bolt and nut with a washer into each of these holes.

  • Place a clean piece of expansion metal on these bolts. This is your cooking area.

  • Weld two hinges on the door and the door frame. Bolt a handle on the door with 3/4 inch bolts and nuts with washers.

  • Cut a 3 inch diameter hole on the left side of the top of the smoker. If there isn't room to add a 3 inch hole next to the door, you will have to cut this hole into the door. Insert the chimney pipe snugly into the hole. Use a heat-resistant sealant to make sure there are no cracks around the edge of the chimney. If you are using a hot water heater, cut a pipe to fit over the access panel.

  • Fill the firebox with charcoal and light it. When the coals are white hot, place a few chunks of wood on top and inspect the smoker for leaks.

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