How to Turn a Garbage Can into a Smoker

What You'll Need
Tin outdoor garbage can and lid 20 gallon
Single burner electric hotplate
Metal grate
Wood chip box
Temperature gauge
Wood chips (food safe)
Extension cord
Tin snips
Grommet designed for high temperatures (optional)

Making a homemade smoker from a garbage can will be less expensive than buying the commercial smoker. Even if you are not a sport hunter, smoking meat yourself is a great way to add flavor and to preserve it. Different from grilling and barbecuing, smoking meat uses far lower temperatures but works over a longer period of time. By using heat indirectly through smoke at about 225 degrees, the meat is infused with extra flavor. A homemade smoker is a great tool to have around the house, especially if you enjoy meat.

Step 1: Feed hotplate power cord through garbage can

Once you have all of your supplies, it’s time to begin making your smoker. With your drill, make a hole about ¼ inches in diameter at the bottom of the side of the garbage can. Take the tin snips and make a cut off of this hole. Make it big enough so the power cord prongs will fit through. Place the electric hotplate inside the can and feed the power cord through the hole. You don’t want the tin to damage the cord, so with the pliers bend the sharp edges away from the cord. Once the cord is all the way through, use the pliers to bend the tin around the cord to create as little an air gap as possible. You may also measure your hole and use a rubber or silicon grommet, just make sure it’s use is specified for high temperatures.

Step 2: Position the wood chip box

A wood chip box is a metal box that catches wood chips or ash. It should be no larger than can comfortably sit atop the electric hotplate. Position it directly on top of the hotplate in the center. Remember, the wood chip box must be steel so that it does not catch on fire.

Step 3: Load the wood chips

Wood chips are sold in the same kind of package as charcoal, and they come in several varieties. You can experiment with different types of wood chip for different flavors. Hickory and apple wood chips are two popular options. You can also soak the wood chips in water for 20 minutes before turning on the hotplate. Always make sure the wood chips that you're using are safe for smoking food.

Step 4: Insert temperature gauge

You want a simple cooking thermometer to establish the temperature. It should consist of a gauge and a needle. Measure the needle and drill a hole in the lid the same size. Insert the gauge. This will give you an accurate reading of temperature.

Step 5: Set in the grate

The grate used for holding the meat should fit snugly just inside the trashcan. Because the can tapers inward, the grate will eventually have nowhere to go and thus be supported.

Step 6: Fire up the smoker

Put the wood chips into the wood chip box set directly on the hotplate and plug the cord into an extension cord. Make sure the smoker is outdoors. Place the smoker away from trees and keep it away from windows to keep the smoke out of the house.

Warning: The use of any device to burn wood is prohibited during air-quality burn bans, or may have conditional use regulations based on your premise or location. Check with the appropriate authorities in your area or residence to ensure you are following the laws and regulations.

Step 7: Put the meat on

Season whatever meat you will be smoking and put it directly on the grill after smoke has started to rise. Put the lid on the can and wait. Check the gauge, for you want the temperature to be between 220 and 230 degrees. The wood chips last anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes, and it typically takes at least four hours for the meat to reach a safe minimum internal temperature.

Make sure you understand the minimum internal temperature that your raw food must reach to ensure that it is fully cooked and safe to consume. Undercooking raw food can cause foodborne illnesses.

Smoking meat is a slow process. Once you have built your homemade smoker, start smoking a batch in the morning, changing the chips every 90 minutes. Smoking cooks meat slowly, but when it is done you will have jerky-like smoked meats with exceptional flavor.