Smokers are composed of three basic parts: the frame, the firebox and the smoke chamber. The firebox generates the fire that creates the smoke, the smoke chamber holds the meat that will be permeated by the smoke, and the frame holds it all together. In addition, a smoker requires screens or hooks to hold the meat, as well as dampers and a baffle to separate the fire from the meat. The baffle is usually a perforated metal plate that separates the firebox from the smoking chamber. Most home smokers are 1/8- to 1/4-inch in thickness. This thickness is substantial enough to hold the heat effectively while the smoker does its job. Some smokers may be insulated, which helps to prevent heat loss in cold climates.
Choosing a Manufactured Smoker
There are many smokers available to consumers, and most will do a decent job of smoking the meat. However, those that are less than 1/8-inch-thick may not last as long as those made of thicker steel. They may leak excessively and have a difficult time maintaining a constant temperature. Thicker is always better for smokers, so it’s worth the money to pay a bit more for one with thicker material. Choose a smoker with closely welded seams that prevent leakage of air from the chamber. The smoker should be wide enough to hold a slab of ribs and tall enough for a turkey.
Building Your Own Smoker
Many do-it-yourselfers prefer to build their own smokers, and many do it inexpensively with scrap or recycled steel. Some welding experience is helpful, though a mechanically-inclined person can pick up this skill with an hour or so of practice. Choosing the right materials that are at least 1/8-inch-thick for the smoker is critical. The steel should be thick enough to maintain the heat at a constant temperature.
Do not use any steel tank or drum that previously contained solvents or other toxic substances. The residue left on the metal can be flammable and poisonous to humans. Smoker doors should seal properly without leakage. The smoker must be able to reach an adequate cooking temperature so that the meat is properly cooked, which means an internal temperature of at least 120 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for most types of meat.