Cold Smoker Conversion
In this topic:
Cold smoking is the process of applying smoke flavor to foods without
cooking them. Depending on who you ask, cold smoking is said to
occur at temperatures in the range of 80-100°F, but certainly no higher
than 120°F. Examples of cold-smoked foods include bacon, country
ham, and cheese.
In the topic
Smoked Cheese, I used a few charcoal briquettes
and a single chunk of apple wood to cold smoke in
the WSM. After watching two episodes of the television show Good Eats in
which host Alton Brown
cold-smoked bacon in a converted gym locker and
hot-smoked salmon in a cardboard box, I got inspired to convert
the WSM into a true cold smoker.
Using this setup, you can
produce cold smoke at 80-90°F for hours on end. I know, it looks like a high school
science project, but it really works!
Remember...click on any
of the pictures to view a larger image.
Why Cold Smoking Is
Difficult In The WSM
What makes cold smoking
a bit difficult in the WSM is that 1) maintaining a small number of
hot charcoal briquettes in the bottom of the cooker can be tedious, and
2) the small confines of the cooker make keeping the temperature below
The solution is to generate smoke in a separate chamber and pipe it into
the WSM. This allows the smoke to cool before entering
Here's the list of
materials you'll need for this project. You may already have some of
these items in your garage or basement.
- Large cardboard
box, at least 18"x18"x24"
- Piece of
cardboard, at least 12"x12"
- Electric hot
- Small cast iron
skillet or other metal pan or container for heating smoke wood
aluminum pie pan
- Two 4"x5'
sections of foil duct tubing
- 3-1/4" square,
115V AC computer cooling fan
- Piece of screen
door material, at least 12"x12"
- Rubber band
- Lamp cord with
- Large electrical
- Duct tape
- Electrical tape
- Wide, low-tack
The computer cooling
fan will be inserted into the 4" foil duct tubing, so the fan must be no
larger than about 3-1/4" square. The one I used measured 3.15" square
and cost $13.39 at a computer parts store.
The foil duct
tubing cost about $10 at a hardware store. Avoid vinyl tubing, which
is less expensive but has a strong plastic smell.
Building The Cold Smoker
- Setup the cardboard
box, taping the flaps with wide, low-tack painter's tape (Photo 1). Using low-tack tape will allow you to breakdown the box later with minimal tearing, so you can reuse it again and again.
- Cut an access door
at the bottom of one side of the box (Photo 2). Make the opening
tall enough and wide enough so the hot plate with the cast iron
skillet and aluminum pie pan on top will slide in and out easily. Make
a "door knob" by sticking a length of tape to the inside of the door,
letting the excess stick outside the box.
- Cut two 3-1/2" holes in another side of the box (Photo 3). One
hole should be located at the top of the box, the other at the bottom,
and the two holes should be in opposite corners. I used a drinking
glass measuring 3-1/2" in diameter to trace the circles on the box.
- Fabricate a cardboard access door for the WSM (Photo 4). Press
a piece of cardboard against the inside of the WSM door so it
conforms to the shape of the door and trace the outline of the door onto
the cardboard and cut out the door. Next, cut a 3-1/2" hole
toward the bottom of the cardboard door. The hole must be above the
notched area at the bottom of the door.
- Connect the leads from the computer cooling fan to the lamp cord.
Wrap the connections with electrical tape and secure with an
electrical connector nut (Photo 5).
- Cut an 18" length of foil duct tubing. Insert the fan a
few inches into the tubing. Test to make sure the fan is pushing air
out the opposite end of the tube. Cover the intake end of the tube with
screen door material and secure with a rubber band (Photo 6). The
screen material prevent bugs and debris from being sucked into the
cardboard box during operation.
- Join the two remaining lengths of foil duct tubing together and
secure with duct tape. Screw one end of the tube into the top hole in
the cardboard box (Photo 7). The coiled wire rib inside the tube
allows you to screw it right into the hole. Screw the other end into
the hole in the cardboard access door. Insert the door notch into the opening in the middle cooking section and secure the door with a length of low-tack painter's tape. Apply more tape around the edges of
the door to prevent smoke leakage. Finally, screw the output end of
the computer fan tube into the bottom hole in the cardboard box.
In Photo 8, you can see the setup. The fan blows air into
the bottom of the box, forcing smoke-laden air out through the top of the box. As the smoke travels through the foil duct tubing, it cools before entering the WSM.
The reason I use the fan to push air into the box rather than pull air out of the box is so the smoke does not pass through the fan, potentially gumming up the motor.
Operating The Cold Smoker
I recommend that you run
the cold smoker once without food to drive out any odors from the cardboard box and foil duct tubing.
For best results,
operate the cold smoker in cold, breezy conditions. This is probably the
only time you want to take advantage of the wind to suck as much heat as
possible out of the WSM.
Also, remember that the
WSM can reach temperatures well over 100°F when sitting empty in the
direct sun, so keep the cooker in the shade when cold smoking. Better
yet, do it at night.
Finally, stretch out
the tubing between the box and the WSM as far as possible. The greater
the distance the smoke travels before entering the cooker, the cooler it
Here's the process for
operating the cold smoker:
Cold Smoking Tips
- Place the cast iron skillet on the hot plate. Add the desired
amount of dry smoke wood chunks, chips, or sawdust to the skillet (Photo 9). Poke a large number of holes in the bottom of a disposable aluminum pie pan and place it upside down on the skillet like a lid. The pie pan will (hopefully) prevent the smoke wood from bursting into flames and burning down the cardboard box. See the note below about having a fire extinguisher handy.
- Center the hot plate and skillet assembly inside the cardboard
box. Turn on the hot plate to the highest setting and close the door. Plug in the fan to blow air into the box. After about 5 minutes, the box will begin generating smoke (Photo 10) and the fan will push the smoke into the WSM (Photo
- Set all WSM vents, top and bottom, wide open so smoke can
circulate inside the cooker and then exit.
- Put the food to be cold smoked into the WSM (Photo 12). Place a
probe thermometer in the cooker with the food to monitor temperature. Set the probe thermometer to alarm at 80-90°F (Photo 13).
- If the probe thermometer alarms, set the WSM lid ajar or remove it briefly to help lower the temperature. You can also try adjusting the hot plate to a lower setting that still produces smoke.
- Cold smoke the food for the desired length of time, removing ashes
and adding more smoke wood to the pan, as needed. Note that the ashes are very hot, so handle and dispose of them carefully.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby at all times. Do not operate the cold smoker near any flammable materials.
The foods you cold smoke in the WSM will taste much stronger than the
commercial products you buy at the supermarket. As a result, you should
start by cold smoking for short periods of time using mild smoke woods.
The cheese and green olives shown above were cold smoked for about 1
hour, and that was plenty of smoky flavor for me. Some folks will cold
smoke cheese for up
to 2 hours.
Mild woods like apple
and cherry are ideal for cold smoking. Of course, alder would be a
good choice for salmon or any variety of fish. Regardless of the wood
you choose, don't expect a lot of color on cold-smoked foods. You will
get just a hint of color, not the dark exterior you see on
commercial products that use liquid smoke.
When cold smoking,
a temperature below 80°F is best, but operating in the 80-90°F is
fine. When I cold-smoked the cheese
shown above, it was a cool, breezy evening and the cooker never went
over 82°F. If the temperature rises above 90°F and you can't get it
down by manipulating the WSM lid or adjusting the hot plate, move the
food into the refrigerator until you get the temperature under
My limited experience
shows that using a single chunk of dry apple wood measuring
3"x3"x1" will generate smoke for about 40-45 minutes.
Smokers From TVWB Readers
WSM / WSJ
Shao Lin shared this
approach for converting a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker and a Weber
Smokey Joe (WSJ) into a charcoal-powered cold smoker.
- Weber Smokey Joe (this is the firebox)
- 6" HVAC
duct starter collar
- 6" to 4"
HVAC duct reducer
- #8-32 x 5/8 inch
machine screws and matching nuts (16)
duct clamps (2)
- Metal duct for
clothes dryer, 4" diameter
- Dryer vent draft blocker
- Piece of
- Small metal
drill bits or
The total materials cost is roughly $50
including the WSM or drill bits).
- Starting with the 6" HVAC starter collar, bend all of the
flanges outward (Photo 15).
- Drill a hole in
every other flange big enough to accommodate a #8-32 screw.
- Place the starter collar over the WSJ lid vent and adjust the flanges so they conform to the shape of the lid.
- Apply masking tape to the WSJ lid where the
starter collar will be fastened. Trace an outline of the starter collar onto the tape and mark at each flange hole to be drilled (Photo 16).
- Remove the lid handle to make room for drilling. Drill
small pilot holes at each location, then drill to size to accommodate a #8-32 screw. Remove the masking tape (Photo 17).
- Attach the starter collar with the screws and nuts and replace the lid handle (Photo 18).
- Slide the 6" to 4" duct reducer over the starter collar (Photo 19-20). Attach one end of the metal duct to the duct reducer and tighten with a duct clamp.
- Measure a piece of cardboard the same width as the
WSM access door but approximately 4 inches taller. Cut 2 slits, about 2" long, at the top and bottom of the
piece of cardboard, about 1-2" inches from the outer edges. This piece should wedge into the access door opening and stay in place without tape (Photos 21-22).
- Cut a 4"
diameter hole in the center of cardboard. Attach the draft blocker to
the hole using screws and nuts. Remove the flapper from the draft blocker—it should just pop out
- Attach the other end of the
metal duct to the draft blocker with a duct clamp (Photo 25).
WSM/Smokey Joe cold smoker conversion: 2004 by Shao Lin.
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