Everyone loves a nice cookout, right? Hot dogs, hamburgers, maybe even a steak or two all make for delicious summer time grill fare. But what about real barbecue? You know, stuff like ribs, brisket, and pulled pork? That stuff isn’t so quick and easy. It’s not like you can fire up your propane grill and throw on a whole beef brisket and be done cooking in an hour. That is, unless you like flavorless chunks of food. No, real barbecue requires a different type of cooking known to BBQ connoisseurs as smoking. Smoking fanatics disagree on a lot of things, like whether to use dry rubs or mop sauces, or whether ketchup BBQ sauce is better than vinegar BBQ sauce. But what they all agree on is that smoking must be done on a low heat for a long time if you want proper results.

The problem for the BBQ novice is that commercially available smokers tend to be pricey. Sure, you can find some cheap smokers out there for sale, but their thin metal siding is going to allow a lot of heat and a lot of smoke to escape, essentially making all your time spent smoking almost worthless. But instead of buying a cheap, ineffective smoker or spending hundreds of dollars for a high-quality smoker, why not make your own? Yes, even someone with literally no handyman skills can make an effective smoker for very little money. Behold; a quick and easy way to build your own smoker for cheap!

The Equipment. Smokers are built with a few principles in mind. First, you need to generate smoke in the form of smoldering wood in order to flavor the meat during the long (four hours all the way up to twelve hours in some cases) cooking process. Two, you need a controllable heat source in order to make the sure the meat doesn’t cook too fast or at too high a temperature. And three, you need a durable, thick, well-sealed container to make sure all of that heat and smoke doesn’t end up in the atmosphere, instead of cooking your meat. So, how can you get all of these principles without breaking the bank? With a little shopping trip.

First, consider the smoke pit. You’ll need something durable and large, but something that has a lid which can be removed in order to put in the food. A small, galvanized trash can be purchased for very cheap, and with only a few modifications it will be perfect for a smoke pit. Make sure it’s galvanized, and the heavier the can is, the better. The thicker metal will allow better heat retention.

Next, you’ll need a heat source. A lot of smokers use charcoal which is fine, but you can get more precise control over the heat by using an electric hot plate. Best of all, it’s totally reusable, unlike charcoal. You’ll also need something to hold your chunks of wood. Go with a heavy-duty metal dish like a pie pan which can be placed directly on the hot plate. Visit the hardware store and pick up a round, stainless steel grill grate, and also pick up a grill thermometer there as well. The grill grate should be wide enough that it rests inside the trash can about halfway down. You don’t want it to be too small, or else it will sit too close to the heat source. Last, pick up some shelf brackets and some screws, which you’ll need to help elevate the trash can.

Assembly. Remove the lid from the trash can. You’ll need to punch a small hole into the lid in order for the thermometer to rest there. It doesn’t need to fit snugly; it just needs to rest on top of the hole. Punch another hole an inch and a half in diameter in the bottom of the trash can. While you’re working on the bottom, screw the shelf brackets on the bottom of the trash can, so that now the can rests just a little bit off the ground. This will allow air to move into the can and circulate the smoke and heat better. Insert the hot plate into the bottom of the can and feed the electric cord through the bottom hole. Place your heavy duty pan on top of the hot plate, and then put your grill grate inside the can. Remember, size is important since you don’t want the grate too close to the bottom. Replace the lid, and in the hole in the top of the lid, insert your thermometer. Guess what? It’s as simple as that! If you shop smart, all of this can be done for about $50!

-Stu Moody