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Can't get it hot enough

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I built this smoker.

I first used the Northern Tools burner, which only reached 225. But that was without any meat, and I'm expecting 100 people this weekend. I know if I put in 40 pounds of meat it won't get nearly hot enough.

So I put in a chimney starter full of charcoal, and it only reached 125. I realized the airflow was insufficient, so drilled over twenty 3/4-inch holes on the bottom, and 14 on top. [IMG]

While the first charcoal was still hot I added a second chimney starter worth of charcoal, but can only get it to 200.

First question, how do I get it hotter with either heat source. Second question, am I better off with charcoal or LP?

Third, I realize now that I need to better seal it. I ordered something off of Amazon, but it probably won't get here in time. Any idea where to buy it in the Twin Cities?

Thanks for your help. My wife is getting nervous!
post #2 of 9

LP is very dangerous without all the safety attachments...  like a flame detector which turns off the propane when the flame goes out....

Look at some of the other smokers folks have built with an external fire box....



Man killed when meat smoker explodes

Colleen Kottke, The (Fond du Lac, Wis.) Reporter 4:49 p.m. EST December 15, 2014


(Photo: The (Fond du Lac, Wis.) Reporter)

TOWN of LAMARTINE, Wis. — A Wisconsin man using a homemade meat smoker to cook turkeys and chickens died when the smoker exploded, police said.

Richard L. Zabel, 55, was found dead Saturday afternoon inside a machine shed.

"The North Fond du Lac Ambulance and Lamartine first responders were called to the scene for the initial report that someone had fallen," said Lt. Cameron McGee of the Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office. "When investigators arrived on scene, they discovered that a 55-year-old man was dead inside the building."

Zabel, a town of Lamartine man, did not live at the building's location, but lived nearby.

"Evidence indicates that the flame on the LP burner went out and as a result the gas continued to accumulate inside the smoker," McGee said. "And when (Zabel) went to relight the burner, the spark from the lighter caused the gas to explode."

McGee said the force of the explosion caused the heavy duty door of the smoker to blow open, striking Zabel in the head, killing him instantly.

"When something explodes, it's going to blow open at the weakest point which was the door, which was triple-latched," McGee said.

McGee said the smoker was larger and better constructed than most store-bought models.

"It was about 4-feet tall and about 3-feet wide and built really solid, including the door. Someone really put a lot of thought into building this thing," McGee said. "We were told that they had been using it for the past three years without any problems."

The Fond du Lac County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks. I'd like to use charcoal, but 200 isn't hot enough. And it seems like an external fire box would have less heat.
post #4 of 9
You need more air flow. Bigger holes. Lots of tiny holes do not work as good as several large holes. You need one large exhaust hole, 3"-4". Two large holes below your burner (propane) once again 3". Try that. Without seeing the inside of your smoker and all the components it's hard to say what else you need. I wouldn't burn charcoal unless the burn area is fireproof. Propane is risky too. Interior photos are needed for us to help.
post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
Okay, I'll try the larger holes. Thanks!

Here's what the inside looks like with the propane burner. [IMG]
post #6 of 9

I'd be a bit hesitant to have a fire burning, propane or otherwise that close to wood with no protection. You really need to line the area around the burner with fire proof material. Is the area above the burner open to the cook chamber? Do you have a diffuser or drip pan between the flame and food?

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

I've put the cement board underneath, but am hesitant to add too much, as it's not food-safe.  From what I've read, it's been done both ways.  But that's certainly a concern.  Is there a food-safe form of insulation?


The area above is completely open, and I put a rack with a water pan about 24" inches up, which also serves as a drip pan.

post #8 of 9

Fire brick would be a good solution. Stack it up along the walls, wouldn't need to be mortared in place. Leave a 1" gap between the fire brick and the wood. You'll have to figure a way to get the intakes around the brick. Ideally the intakes need to be below your propane smoker.


Another suggestion would be to build a base out of CMU block ans set your smoker on top of that. I would go a minimum of 3 courses high. Then you could also use charcoal in a basket if you wanted to. 


You definitely want some sort of drip pan between the burner and the meat. Open flames and dripping grease is a great candidate for a grease fire.

post #9 of 9

Oh yeah and like Dave mentioned the safety gear for gas is a must.

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