3. The smoking chamber
There are designs all over the internet and in various self-sufficiency books for creating your own smoker. I’ve seen designs based on converting an old oil drum, a filing cabinet, or building one out of brick. Our house is full of old odds and sods that might be usable. It has a defunct outdoor toilet which would probably do a great job. But we decided to go a bit smaller this time, and use an old metal kitchen cabinet that we had sitting out in our garage.
The basic requirement is something big enough to hold your burner and your food, air-tight enough that all the smoke doesn’t blow away, and capable of being fitted with ventilation holes and shelves or hooks or whatever you are going to use to support the food. It’s pretty common to divide the smoker into two parts, one where the burning happens and one where the smoking happens, either separated by a divider or perhaps even in two separate units connected by a tube that carries the smoke.
You might be wondering if another requirement is that the chamber not be flammable. Well, no. The burning tray (see part 1) definitely should meet that requirement, but as the fuel is only smouldering there isn’t any flame or sparks that could start a fire. You can buy cold smokers over the internet that are actually made from cardboard. So this is not a particularly important criterion (though probably a nice to have just for peace of mind).
In our case I wanted to keep it simple. We had two halves of a kitchen wall cupboard. The plan was to sit the burner in the bottom, and put the food on the shelves above, though as explained later, in practice I ended up standing it on its back, with one door facing towards the sky, and fitting a shelf in the new orientation. But, same principle.
The back of the cupboard was open (because the designer assumed it would be up against a wall) and one side of each unit also open (because the designer assumed they would be sat side-by-side). I put the cupboard units back to back, eliminating the problem of the open back, and then screwed a piece of hardboard to the open sides to make a completely contained unit.
I used decorator’s caulk to seal the gaps between the two units, to ensure that minimal smoke escaped from the unit (except via the ventilation holes at the top). I later read that a lot of smokers aren’t exactly air-tight and will have smoke leaking out a bit. So maybe that wasn’t necessary. But I can only imagine that it increases the tendency of the smoke to go where you want it, i.e. into the smoking chamber and then out the top, rather than just spreading out in all directions.
With that, the basic shell of the smoker was ready. In the next post I’ll talk about ventilation, where to put the food, spreading the smoke, thermometers, and a few other little things that make life easier.