How to Build a Fish Smoker

Updated April 08, 2017

Smoking fish or meat can be as elaborate or as simple a process as you wish. The Caribbean inventors of barbecue would simply hang meat over the fire on sticks. In stark contrast, many restaurants spend thousands of dollars and countless hours on smokehouses. The smoker outlined below is somewhere in the middle. Made out of an aluminium trash can, it may not look pretty. However, it will give you succulent smoked fish and meat that can stand up to the best.

Drill a hole near the bottom of your trash can to run the hot-plate cord through. This need only be large enough to accommodate the hot plate's power cord. File down the edges of the hole so that the sharp aluminium will not pierce the electrical cord.

Place the hot plate in the centre of the trash can's bottom. Since the idea is to heat the wood chips, rather than the metal skin of the trash can, make sure the hot plate is centred. Its filament should not touch the edges of the trash can. Run the cord out of the pre-cut hole.

Set your charcoal box on top of the hot plate. Nothing needs to separate the hot plate from the charcoal box, since the box is designed for even higher temperatures than will be pursued here.

Fill the charcoal box with wood chips that have been soaked in water for three to four hours. Hickory chips can be purchased at any grocery store, although you may want to try different types of wood to produce different flavours. Soaking the chips in water will allow them to last longer in your smoker.

Place your round grill inside the rim of the trash can. It should sink a few inches below the rim of the trash can before catching. The grill should be large enough that the narrowing trash can diameter holds it more than 2 feet over the hot plate.

Drill a hole in the trash can's lid for a thermometer. A standard meat-probe thermometer will work perfectly, since the probe can be lowered into the trash can, leaving the reader sticking out of the lid's top. Optimal temperature for smoking is between 98.8 and 110 degrees C.

Add your fish or meat and plug in the thermometer. Meat should be cooked to an internal temperature of 77,843 degrees C. This process typically takes four hours of slow smoking. Keep the lid on tight to preserve the all-important smoke.


If the temperature inside your smoker is consistently too high, drill another air hole into the garbage can lid. Use a dry rub to enhance the flavour of your fish or meat.

Things You'll Need

  • Aluminium trash can
  • Charcoal box
  • Hot plate
  • Metal file
  • Wood chips
  • Round grill
  • Thermometer
  • Meat or fish
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About the Author

Based in Seattle, Louie Doverspike has been a professional writer since 2004. His work has appeared in various publications, including "AntiqueWeek" magazine, the "Prague Post" and "Seattle Represent!" Doverspike holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Hamilton College.