How to Build Gas Smokers

Properly smoked meats, whether beef, chicken or pork, have that tell-tale pinkish tint around the outer edges. The smoky flavoring penetrates to the bone and adds to the barbecue essence of smoked meat. Gas smokers have the distinct advantage of allowing you to adjust temperatures, and run them for longer periods of time, without the need to add wood or coal to the fire. Building your own gas smoker can help make your barbecue picnics and parties memorable and more popular.

The Cooking Area

Step 1

Build a cooking area the size you wish.  The cooking area must have enough room inside, so the smoke surrounds all exposed areas of the foods you cook.

For smaller smokers, you can use a metal garbage can or 55-gallon steel drum. 

Step 2

Clean the inside of the garbage can or drum.  Residue from what was previously in these containers can linger and affect the taste of your food, but most residues burn off.

Fill the container with wood scraps, paper and anything that burns clean.  Use charcoal lighter fluid and let the contents burn to ash.

When the metal is cool, dump the ashes out. 

Step 3

Measure the circumference of the interior of the container.  A smoker made in a vertical container should have three levels, supported by using discarded round grill grates.

The first level is the wood smoke level, where the wood is placed to generate the smoke needed.  The second level is for the drip pan, which holds water to help keep the smoke from drying the meat being cooked.

The third level holds the meat itself. 

Step 4

Drill three holes around the outside circumference of the container, at each level, for a total of nine holes.  The first level should be 3 inches from the flame of the gas pipe below it.

The second level should be another 3 inches from the first, and the third level should be at least 2 inches up from level two. 

Step 5

Insert a bolt through the outside of the container and attach a nut and washer on each bolt from inside the container.  Tighten these by hand.

These bolts hold the grill grates in place.  The lids on both containers keep the smoke in.

The Air Flow

Step 1

Drill a 2-inch hole into the lid of the container and a 2-inch hole at the bottom-left side of the container.  Set these circles aside.

While the smoke flavors the food, the heat cooks the food.  Achieving the perfect balance between not enough smoke and too much smoke is an art.

If too much smoke is allowed to remain in the container, it can turn the food bitter.  If there isn't enough, you roast the meat, rather than smoke it.

Step 2

Insert the 2-inch ash guard into the hole in the lid.  The ash guard is the pipe with the angled top that allows smoke, but not burning embers, to escape.

It also serves the dual purpose of keeping insects from building nests inside the container when the smoker is not in use. 

Step 3

Weld the ash guard onto the hole in the lid around the seam. 

Step 4

Drill a 1/8-inch hole in the top of one of the circles you set aside earlier.  Drill a small hole through the container, slightly above the open hole.

Invert the circle piece, so the curve faces out, and insert a small bolt through the hole to attach the circle over the hole.  Tighten by hand so the circle piece can be easily moved.

This serves as your air flow regulator. 

The Heat Source

Step 1

Drill a 1-inch hole in the bottom of the container under the first level. 

Step 2

Insert the gas line from the outside of this hole, into the garbage can, and slide the gas vent onto the gas line.  The gas fills the vent, which disperses over the vent's length through a series of holes in the top.

Step 3

Light the gas through the 2-inch hole in the bottom of the container.  Use an extended lighter to avoid injury.

Additional Options

Step 1

Drill a 1/8-inch hole in the lid of the container and insert a grill thermometer through the hole.  Tighten the bolts on the thermometer by hand.

Step 2

Cut a square from the container between the first and second levels.  This door addition allows you to add wood, to continue the smoking process, without removing the meat and drip pan levels.

Step 3

Weld hinges onto the door and on the side of the container. 

Step 4

Repeat this process between the second and third levels, to add water to the drip pan. 

Things You Will Need

  • Metal garbage can or 55-gallon steel drum
  • Scrap wood
  • Drill with 1/8- and 3/4-inch bits
  • 9 Bolts, nuts and washers
  • 2-inch circle cutter
  • 2-inch ash guard
  • Welding equipment
  • 1/8-inch bolt, nut and washer
  • Gas tank
  • Gas line
  • Gas vent or burner
  • Extended lighter
  • Grill thermometer
  • Hinges


  • The advantage to building one of these container smokers is that, if you run out of gas, the gas vents or burners can be replaced with an electric heating element to accomplish the same purpose.

About the Author

David Roberts has been writing since 1985. He has published for various websites including online business news publications. He has over 11 years experience in tax preparation and small business consultation. He is also a Certified Fraud Examiner. He received a Master of Business Administration from Florida Metropolitan University in 2005.