The Lake Shack Smoker
BBQ at the lake shack used to be a nuisance. We’d have to go down to my in-laws house and use their barrel smoker if we wanted to cook. Although I had a Weber kettle, I didn’t have it modded for smoking.
Once I got my BBQ trailer, I managed to take it down to the lake once or twice, and that was fine. But sometimes I’m pulling a flatbed with supplies or motorized toys, or jet skis, or whatever, and that means no BBQ trailer.
There was an old propane tank on site that I considered having made into a smoker (my older brother Terry is an amazing welder and could have built it for me), but impatience got the best of me.
Instead, I decided to build a permanent (but easily moved) smoker out of cinder blocks.
Version One – Fire!
Let’s just say although my heart was in the right place, the engineer in me must have been on vacation.
The first iteration of the smoker was just a bunch of cinder blocks stacked on top of each other, with one site open for ventilation on the bottom and the other on the top.
It was designed with some blocks on the interior to hold the cooking grates, and my intention was to start the fire inside the whole contraption and keep it low enough for smoking.
I wasn’t aware I could get any kind of steel plates large enough to cover the top, so I purchased metal flashing material and wrapped it around plywood. Two of these were sufficient to cover the cooker.
How’d that work out you might ask? Well, I’ll start by telling you this smoker was used only once. Not because it didn’t work (although, it didn’t), but because it was such a colossal failure in design that I actually almost caught my house on fire.
The two major design flaws:
- no offset fire box
- thinking that wrapping flashing around wood could in any way protect it from a flame
Suffice it to say, the lids caught on fire the first time the fire flared up and burnt up along with my brisket. Who knew?
Version Two – Mold!
The second iteration improved upon the first in two significant ways.
First, I built an offset firebox. Besides making sure a flare up wouldn’t light anything on fire, it also gave me much more room for fuel and improved the air flow through the smoker.
The second improvement was more fundamental. Steel plates!
I was able to locate some 1/8″ thick 2×4′ diamond plate at Lowe’s, as well as some 26 gauge 2×2′ sheet metal. The diamond plate was meant for the top of the cooker, and the sheet metal for the firebox.
I bought some cement trowels to use for handles. I used high-heat JB weld to attach the trowels. Initially this design worked surprisingly well, and I was able to cook a pretty nice brisket on this puppy the day I put it together.
However, when I came back a few weeks later intending to cook up another brisket, to my surprise the entire bottom of the smoker (which was grass / dirt) was covered in mold. I had assumed that the grease and fat from the cook will filter nicely into the ground. However, I was wrong. So in iteration three, I needed to come up with a fix for that.
The handles also didn’t stick very well, so I needed to address that problem on the next go-round.
Version Three – Smoke On!
Version three culminated in everything I had learned from versions one and two. While it still had the offset firebox, I also added a chimney on the opposite side.
Additionally, I leveled the ground and put large 2×2′ concrete pavers down as the base for the cinder blocks. This made everything nice and stable, but also provided a surface for installing a drip pan. I bought a large galvanized tub with handles (pretty much like this one here), attached some additional clothes hangar wires to the handles to make one big handle, and placed it in the bottom of the structure under the cooking grates. It fit perfectly, and allows me to just yank out the grease after a cook and clean it all up.
I shored-up my handle problem by using a drill press and some bolts to attach the handles through the steel. They are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I also bought some high-heat paint and painted the entire thing.
I’ve cooked four or five briskets on this thing since, and they’ve all turned out great. Even the ones I’ve cooked the day before eating.
As an added bonus I put 2×2′ concrete pavers down one side of the smoker and built a custom cedar prep table on top – it really helps with the logistics.
Finally, I used my drill press and put a hole in the top of one of the diamond plate pieces for a thermometer.
photos © Joe Devine