Terra Cotta Smoker

[Republished from January 2007 from my previous site]

Chicken thighs smoked over rosemary sprigs

I built myself a small ceramic smoker out of unglazed terra cotta flowerpots and have been using it frequently for several months now, it’s high time I wrote it up so others can enjoy the smokey goodness and continue to improve the design.

It is based on the smoker Alton Brown built in the Good Eats episode Q which has also been written up herethere and yonder, but I reworked it to use charcoal instead of an electric hot-plate.

Cast of Characters

From left to right:

  • Chimney starter of natural hardwood lump charcoal
  • Terra cotta feet to allow air under the smoker
  • Drilled unglazed terra cotta saucer, inverted to elevate the “firebox” from the floor of the smoker and improve air-flow
  • 8-inch unglazed terra cotta orchid pot for the firebox (despite cracking during its first fire, it has held up remarkably well)
  • 16-inch unglazed terra cotta pot, fitted with a damper to control air flow (see below)
  • Replacement grate for a 14-inch grill (~13.75 inches in diameter)
  • 16-inch unglazed terra cotta cactus bowl, fitted with a handle, damper and 1/8th inch hole for a thermometer probe (see below)

The modifications for burning charcoal required a number of holes to be drilled for hardware, probe thermometer and air-flow.  This is actually quite easy, just keep pouring water on the drill site (the terra cotta soaks it up like a sponge) and keep the pressure gentle and the bit true. 

Masonry drill bits are my friends

For the top, I built a handle out of scrap wood and thin aluminum bar stock and a damper out of wider (2-inch) aluminum stock; I also added a 1/8th inch hole about halfway down the side for an instant-read thermometer so I can monitor the smoking temperature.

I also added a damper to the bottom, controlling the internal temperature really does require both.

The handle and dampers are attached using stainless steel machine screws, washers and nuts.

I still need to get some fireplace gasket to seal the crack between the body and the top, but it’s not critical. [Update: I now have some bona fide BGE gasket, but first I want to experiment with crumpled aluminum foil]

So far, I think the best thing I’ve made is a 10-hour boston butt (pork shoulder) using only the smokey flavor of the natural hardwood charcoal, though I’ll definitely brine it first next time and maybe smoke it over corn cobs.  Rosemary sprigs make a really nice smoke for chicken or lamb.

I think I’ll try doing a pot roast tonight…

3 Responses to “Terra Cotta Smoker”

  1. […] terra cotta flowerpots and have been using it frequently for several months now, it??s high time Ihttp://brainmedley.com/blog/2008/05/terra-cotta-smoker/Before you fire up the grill Detroit Free PressKeep your grill surfaces clean by using a grill […]

  2. KenC says:

    Nice, I’ve been doing the exact same, charcoals instead of hotplate. Just gotta learn how much coals to keep temps at 250f for the size pots you use and you’r cooking q like a champ.

    Although your’s is a bit nicer with the dampers and all :)

    I use mine as a complement to my q300 gasser, been doing st Louis ribs, briskets, chicken etc.. and they come out amazing. I start out with some non-soaked smoke chips on top of coals (Hickory mostly, mesquite is to strong imo) for great smoke flavor, great smoke ring.

    Also gotta love how little fuel these things use. A quarter chimney starter and a handfull to top up halfway using minion method is enough for most all day q.

    Gotta love Alton :)

  3. Ricardo says:

    I love the design. I am looking for the pots now. I am having trouble finding the 16 cactus bowl. I also have not yet found the 14 inch round grill. But if you could direct me as to where you found these things, I want to fire it up.


    Ricardo Suarez
    My family is originally from Argentina and love grilling

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