Building a Backyard Smokehouse | Living the Country Life

Building a Backyard Smokehouse

Enjoy smoked meats in your own backyard after you build a custom smokehouse. It's easier than you think.
The inside of the smoker boasts multiple levels.

The enticing aroma of meat smoking over a fire never fails to impress.

And if you’ve ever tried smoked foods, you know they’re more colorful, more evenly cooked, and juicier than their grilled, fried, or broiled cousins. Set out a smoked turkey or ham near its baked counterpart and people will go for the smoked variety every time. 
Minnesota native and home-smoke enthusiast Jim Tincher, who built a smokehouse similar to the one pictured, opposite and right, says the flavor of smoked foods can’t be matched. “Cooking low and slow has far more impact than any rubs or seasonings you could use,” Tincher says. 
Generally, meat in a smoker is cooked at a low temperature (around 200°–250°F) for a long time (burgers, steaks, or salmon fillets can take about an hour; a turkey breast or whole chicken, 4 hours; ribs, 4–8 hours; and a roast, 12 hours or longer). Wood chips, heated to the smoking point, impart flavor to the food. (You can use mesquite, hickory, cherry, or oak wood chips for a strong flavor or try pecan, peach, or apple versions for more subtle, fragrant smokiness.)
Why Build Your Own smoker
There are many types of smokers available, but a home-built smokehouse has two distinct advantages over traditional barrel-style or prefab cabinet smokers. First is its capacity. The larger size and the vertically stacked racks vastly multiply your cooking space. “We have a big barbecue every summer with about 100 people,” Tincher says. “We’d need three or four grills going at once to deliver enough food.” By contrast, his home-built smokehouse creates a smorgasbord of gorgeous smoked meat all at once. “We do two or three briskets, four pork shoulders, and a whole bunch of ribs,” Tincher says.
The second advantage of a cabinet-style smokehouse is consistency. Even airflow lets foods develop, so they come out juicy and exotic every time. “When I had a barrel-type smoker,” Tincher says, “it was brutal in the winter because I couldn’t retain the heat.” There were also hot and cold spots within the smoker, he says.

What You’ll Need
You don’t need to be a professional builder to tackle this do-it-yourself project. If you can swing a hammer and run a circular saw, you can build a smokehouse. You’ll make the box out of pine, plywood, and cement board and then add a propane cooker, oven racks, and assorted hardware such as vents and hinges. The cost? $500 or less. “It took about six hours,” says Tincher, who claims he’s not a DIY person. “It became a real family activity and we had a great time building it.”

Safety Tips
Chef Brian Polcyn, coauthor of Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, cautions that temperatures in the middle of smoked meats hover in the danger zone during cooking. You should use a meat thermometer to make sure you cook foods to a safe temperature. 
The USDA recommends smoking to these internal temperatures: 
• Beef, pork, veal, and lamb (steaks, chops, and roasts): 145°F 
• Ground meats: 160°F
• Ham, fresh or smoked, uncooked: 145°F 
• Ham, fully cooked: reheat to 140°F if USDA inspected; otherwise, 165°F 
• Poultry: 165°F 
• Fish and shellfish: 145°F
• Wild game: Most authorities suggest at least 150°F; check with hunting 
   officials in the area where you harvested the animal.
Note: Never allow the temperature inside the smoker to exceed 250°F. Higher temperatures could set fire to the smoker. When in use, position the unit well away from combustible surfaces. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for lighting and adjusting your burner.

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