Design & DIY

Check out this reader’s low-cost DIY smoker

Illustration of a woman putting wood into a fire, and two men walking over with a smoker. Illustration by Jarett Sitter

Murray Shaw has tried expensive smokers at his cottage on Lac Heney, Que., but he keeps coming back to the one that cost almost nothing. “A jerry-rigged thing,” he says, describing the pit smoker he built more than a decade ago. First, he dug the pit—about 30 inches wide, 40 inches long, and 15 inches deep—in well-drained, gravelly soil. Then he surrounded the hole with concrete blocks, stacked two courses high, and covered it with a lid of aluminum flashing. 

At one end of the pit, there’s a simple hearth for charcoal; the meat goes at the other end, suspended in a cage of rebar, baling wire, and radiator clamps. “You never want the meat directly over the heat,” Murray says. A trough of bent flashing below channels meat drippings to a basin. “Otherwise, you’d have a mess at the bottom. Maybe even a flash fire right under the meat.”

Although smoking in the pit takes up to 10 hours, once the charcoal is smouldering, the hearth only needs an hourly top-up with fresh briquettes and some apple twigs soaked in water (trimmings from trees at home). Other essentials include two thermometers—one for the meat, one for the pit—some beer, and usually a few friends to hang out. “They help with the beer,” Murray explains.

It’s been a few years since he and his wife, Aileen, have been able to host a crowd at the lake. In 2013, they smoked three pork shoulders to feed 24 guests. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-themed party celebrated the couple’s anniversary. How many years were they marking? “Forty-two, of course,” says Murray. “The meaning of life, the universe, and everything.”

This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of  Cottage Life magazine.

This smoker has all the bells and whistles 

Featured Video