Build a smokehouse: step-by-step instructions with photos
This smokehouse holds more meat and is less expensive than store-bought smokers. It was designed by Cameron Faustman of the University of Connecticut Department of Animal Science, and Alton Blodgett of the Connecticut State Department of Agriculture, and only costs a few hundred dollars to build.*
Step 1: Cut the sides of the smokehouse
Faustman and Blodgett recommend tongue-in-groove pine because it is easy to work with and cost effective. Where needed, the tongue on the outside edge of walls can be removed with a utility knife. Do NOT use pressure-treated lumber, since smoke that comes in contact it will contact your food.
Fit and clamp together 5 boards, with the edge groove facing front and the tongue (removed) facing the back. Measure the front height to be 6', and the back 5'9". Snap a chalk line between measurements to make an angled top line. Cut with a circular saw. Repeat in mirror image for the other side.
Step 2: Frame the top and bottom of the side pieces
Using a table saw, rip 2"x8"x8' boards to create 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" framing pieces. Cut one to 25 3/4" in length and fasten along the inside bottom edge using galvanized deck screws. Cut another framing piece to fit the sloping top, with angles cut to make the front and back facing pieces flush. Repeat in mirror image for the other side.
Step 3: Frame the back of the side pieces
Fasten an additional 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" framing piece along the back edge of each side panel, between the top and bottom framing pieces. This is where the back wall will be attached. Repeat in mirror image on the other side. Now you should have two identical side pieces that are a mirror image of each other.
Step 4: Construct the back and fit to sides
Construct the back wall panel just as you did the side panels, but with all 5 boards cut to 5'9" in length. Fasten 21 1/4" framing lumber to the top and bottom of the inside back wall. Stand the sides and back together on a flat surface. The back should fit within the framing pieces of the side walls.
Step 5: Square it up
Measure to make sure the front portion of the smokehouse is square. Fasten 2"x4" cross braces to the front of the two side panels. Notch brace ends to accommodate the ends of the top and bottom framing pieces of the side panels.
Step 6: Finish the front
Rip 1"x6" pieces of pine board to be 3 1/8" wide for dressing the 2"x4" cross braces on the top and bottom. Position these pieces flush with the top and bottom brace edges, leaving about 1/2" of the top and bottom cross braces exposed, to serve as a door stop.
Step 7: Install shelf supports
Cut 8 shelf supports from the 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" board to length, and fasten four to the inside walls of each side panel, at the exact same heights. Check to be sure they are level. Here, the top of the first support was placed 18" above the floor, and the remaining supports were located with their top edges 14" above the support below.
Step 8: Build your door
Construct the smokehouse door from the remaining 5 pieces of pine, and cut to length so the door will fit snugly between the top and bottom pine pieces on the front. Fasten the door together using 1" thick boards in a "Z" formation, leaving room along the edges for the door to close completely. Fasten the door to the smokehouse using two 4" strap hinges.
Step 9: Add the roof and shelves
You can use a variety of materials for the smokehouse roof. Here, a piece of sheet steel was fastened to the top edges with screws, leaving a gap about the thickness of a popsicle stick between the sides and roof for venting. Do not use galvanized metal. For these shelves, the builders used expanded steel reinforced with angle pieces around the perimeter. Be sure to clean steel pieces before placing food on them.
Step 10: Consider the draft
In order for your smokehouse to work properly, air must be able to draft in from the bottom and exit the top. Controlling this determines the heat build-up and degree of smoke in the house. Faustman and Blodgett placed their smokehouse on a small stone foundation that provided space for air to draft in the bottom. They drilled a couple of 2" diameter holes near the top of each side and just under the roof.
If the base of your smokehouse is tight to the foundation or sits on a gravel pad, drill two 2"-diameter holes near the base of each side. To further control draft, you can install galvanized steel electric junction box covers to cover the holes and act as dampers, adjusting accordingly. Screen ventilation holes in the inside to keep pests from entering the smokehouse. If desired, drill small holes into the sides to accommodate stem thermometers.
Step 11: Fuel your smokehouse
Faustman and Blodgett purchased a single-burner liquid propane system. This type of heat source, they believe, makes it easier to regulate temperature than external stove-like systems. The propane tank is set outside the house, with the burner inside. They placed an old cast-iron pan on the burner, and filled it with hardwood chips and sawdust to produce smoke. They recommend apple, hickory, or alder wood.
Pro smoking tips
Faustman and Blodgett offer these smoke-cooking tips:
- Start at 120 degrees F. and slowly increase the temperature over several hours. Keep the internal temperature of the smokehouse at or under 180 degrees F.
- If you are smoke-drying meat to create jerky or dried salmon, use a slower, more gradual heating method.
- The door can be opened slightly, if needed, to control the temperature.
- Remember the wooden smokehouse will burn if ignited, so supervise your smokehouse while in use.
- The wooden door may warp a bit during use, "burping" open and allowing heat and smoke to escape. If needed, use a hasp located halfway down the door's length to secure the door.
- Meats with a bit of fat smoke-cook better than lean cuts. Marinate meats before cooking, or inject meat cuts with diluted brine using a large needle.
- Treat cooking surfaces with a vegetable oil spray before placing meat on them. Do not spray near an open flame.
- Keep an eye on wood chips or sawdust throughout the smoking process, and replenish as needed.
Faustman and Blodgett say their favorite meat to smoke is trout and salmon. For 12 pounds of fillets, they prepare a brine consisting of 1 liter of inexpensive vodka, 12 oz. lemon juice, 4 lbs. brown sugar, and 5 cups of salt. Spread over the flesh side of the fillets. If layering in a pan, place flesh sides together. Place brined fillets in the refrigerator for 1 1/2 to 2 days. Briefly wash the fillets in cold water to remove surface salt and sugar, and smoke for 5 or more hours (depending on desired level of smokiness). Start with the smokehouse at 120 degrees F., and work up slowly to 180 degrees F. to finish the process.
For more information on this smokehouse design, and for schematic line drawings of the smokehouse pieces, click here.
* From the editor: Please note the original instructions for the smokehouse were published by the University of Connecticut in 2006, so current pricing may vary. Faustman and Blodgett say an article published in Fish Alaska magazine provided the general blueprint for many of the construction ideas outlined here (see “Smokehouse 101” by A.E. Poynor, Fish Alaska, July 2004, vol. 5, issue 5, pp 30-35).