Simple to Build with Delicious Results: DIY Cold Smoker

Doug Stephen – A hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research, he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.

Simple to Build with Delicious Results: DIY Cold Smoker

Cold smoking is an ancient way to preserve and flavor meats. Centuries ago, people were cold smoking in holes in the ground, and the process hasn’t changed all that much.

Essentially, the smoke should be cool, and the firebox almost completely sealed to force the smoke into the other chamber. Constructing a DIY cold smoker is a straightforward process, and you can use a combination of equipment, depending on how permanent or temporary you want the device.

delectable way to preserve meat and flavor it with cherry wood or walnut, building a DIY cold smoker can be done in a day.

What is Cold Smoking?

Cold smoking is an ingenious method of cooking food without using any heat and consists of two chambers: a firebox and a smoking chamber for holding the food and smoke.

You need to keep the temperatures between 65°F and 85°F, and the temp should never exceed 100°F. With this cooking method, microbes and bacteria aren’t killed as they would be with high heat cooking,so correct preparation is crucial for food safety.

Many meats, especially fish and pork, are brined before the cold smoking process begins to extend their shelf-life even longer. As essential as maintaining low heat and choosing the suitable wood to flavor the meat, you need to pair the brine with the wood flavor.

Cold smoking is an ancient method of food preservation. For hundreds of years, people could cold smoke food by building a fire in an underground chamber, attached it to another chamber in the earth. The earth’s ambient temperature keeps the smoke cool enough to cure the meat.

There are three ways to tell that your cold smoked meat is ready. The outside should have a lovely brown patina, the skin is leathery, and the insides velvety and firm, not squishy and raw. It is crucial to ensure the meat you’re smoking is thoroughly done to avoid unwanted illness or contamination

Equipment to Make a DIY Cold Smoker

You need two chambers for a cold smoker and a pipe to connect them if you don’t have a drum smoker. The firebox should be fire-resistant, but the smoking chamber can be less so if need be. One way to decrease the smoke’s temp is to have a sufficiently long attachment pipe of at least 4’.

People cold smoke meat in holes in the ground, terracotta pots, grocery carts, cabinets, or cardboard boxes. Some of these methods are better than others.

Here’s what you need to build your DIY cold smoker:

  • 55-gallon steel drum with lid for the smoking chamber
  • Firebox, like another drum, woodstove, or grill
  • 22.5” diameter grate
  • 4 x 1½” bolts with a ¼” diameter, including nuts and washers
  • 6” stovepipe, 4’ long
  • 2 x 6” diameter stovepipe elbows

For tools, you’ll need an electric drill ¼” step bit and a reciprocating saw that can cut metal. Also, wood dust or wood pellets smoke nicely, so pick up some to use once you’ve completed your smoker. Once you’ve amassed the tools and materials you need, you can get to work.

Steps of Building a DIY Cold Smoker


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You can accomplish a cold smoker’s construction in half a day, depending on how quickly you work. You can forgo some steps, like painting the drum, if you need to expedite the process. Here’s how you make your DIY cold smoker.

Step 1: Prep the drum

Make sure there’s no rust or paint on your 55-gallon drum; you can paint it at this point too, and the paint doesn’t need to be the high-temp variety as you will only be using low temperatures in the device.

Step 2: Create holes for the grate

About 7” downward from the drum’s lip, drill pairs of holes, 18” apart, on either side of the drum. Don’t make the holes too big that the bolts fall through, as they will support the grate. Insert the bolts through the holes and screw on the washers and nuts on the inner side, creating a firm foundation for setting the grill grate.

Step 3: Cut the stovepipe hole

Turn over the drum to look at the closed end. At the very center, draw a 6” diameter circle. First, use the drill to create a hole large enough for your reciprocating metal-cutting saw, and then cut the 6” hole.

If you can’t fit the stovepipe, grind down the edges of the hole until you can. (Repeat this process for the firebox if you are using a similarly shaped chamber.)

Step 4: Put in the vent holes

Measure 3” down from the lip of the drum and drill 18 holes all around the drum, so that smoke can gradually escape. Ensure that the lid is tight with a handle so you can easily remove it.

Step 5: Choose location for the smokebox

Place your cold smoker on an incline so the smoke travels up the stovepipe and into the smoke chamber. And to make sure that the smoke loses enough heat, put 4’ of space between your smokebox and the firebox.

Step 6: Choose a spot for the firebox

There are two different ways to rig your firebox: aboveground and underground. If you don’t want to have to bury your DIY cold smoker or don’t have the backyard space, you can rig your smoker on a quick frame made from some cinder blocks so that it rises one degree for every foot, for a total of 5° incline.

The firebox can be in another steel drum or even a small wood burning stove. The only requirement is that it has a cover to force the trapped smoke into the smoking chamber.

Step 7: Laying the stovepipe

Using the stovepipe elbows, connect the stove pipe to the smoking chamber, then to the pipe, which connects to the firebox. Once you’ve joined the two sections, place the cooking grate on the four bolts of the smoker, and you’re ready to cold smoke a variety of tempting treats.

Doug Stephen

Doug Stephen

Enjoy Cold Smoked Meat and Fish at Your Next Cookout

Cold smoking is one of the ancient ways to preserve food and is as effective and tasty as hot smoking. The essential elements are the same, but there should be very low temp smoke to cure and flavor the meat. An alternative to buying the best affordable smoker is to make your own. In a few simple steps and with the bare minimum of equipment and effort, you can be cold smoking your meats in no time.

Looking for more DIY projects you can learn and do at your home? Check these projects: