Newbie mini flower pot smoker -Temperature Question

Discussion in 'Other Builds' started by lav25, Oct 14, 2011.

  1. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    Hello from Osaka!  Just wanted to show off (and get constructive criticism on) a flower pot smoker I'm in the process of building and figuring out, pretty much in that order.  I'm an apartment dweller, so something small and easy to move out of the way is a requirement.  Apologies to anyone who has seen my other post in the new members section which contains some of the same information, but I'm looking for design tips here.

    I went down to the local DIY shop the other day, bought 3 bricks and a couple of flower pots:


    The inside diameter of the pots is only about 12-13 inches at the top, but the lip partway down fits a 28cm disposable yakiniku grill perfectly:


    The cheese, by the way, turned out pretty rough.  I tried cold smoking it with a Japanese product called "smoke wood," which is just a block of pressed sawdust that burns like an incense cone:



    One stick of smoke wood was enough to melt even the cheese on the grill pretty thoroughly, so I've got high hopes for this thing as a hot smoker once I get my thermometer in next week.  I've got a little 300w all metal heater ring that will fit in the bottom, I just need to figure out where to put the smoke wood, and how to rig up a drip pan.  Space is going to be a problem here.

    One issue I'm having, and a couple of questions:  When I tried to smoke cheese, the small size of the smoker meant that there was a lot more heat down at the bottom, near where the smoke wood was smouldering away.  Is this just because I had food too close to the heat source, or is there something I can adjust in my design to even things out a bit?  Would swapping out my lid for a pot that's identical to the base help?  Also, how much of an issue is airflow when using an electric heat source? (for when I go to hot smoking)   The large drainage holes in the pots kept enough air flowing to keep the smoke wood lit, would more or less airflow help the heat distribution?

    Thanks for looking!

    Last edited: Nov 12, 2011
  2. mballi3011

    mballi3011 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    Welcome to your new Addiction.
  3. adiochiro3

    adiochiro3 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Is your grate galvanized mesh?  If so, get that thing out of there.  Galvanized metal + heat + food = toxic food. 
  4. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member


    Caution, you have been exposed to O.S.D.
  5. adiochiro3

    adiochiro3 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

  6. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    Thanks for your concern!  I'm not sure on the composition of the grate, but it is sold here in Japan for grilling use, usually used in the open air directly over a charcoal or gas fire, so I'm not worried about that. (Given the amount of yakiniku I eat, if it was a problem, I'd have been dead years ago!)

  7. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    James ( adiochiro3  )  has a valid question about the "smoke wood", as it may be bonded with non-organic/unsafe material. I googled for it but didn't come up with anything remotely close to this product. It looks more like a fire starter stick than anything else, to me, but if you can find (or have already found) valid info regarding it's safety or common use for smoking foods, then make the best with what you have available.

    Also, as James mentioned, the cardboard box for a cold smoke chamber with the flower pot as the smoke generator would be a good route to go.

    The food grate will be's designed for food contact.

    I would have to suggest installing a baffle of some kind to direct most of the heat towards the pot walls...a round metal pie pan of sorts, with the side/rim cut from the outside in and folded down or up, leaving just 3 or 4 "legs" to rest against the pot wall and hold it in place. If you positioned this above the heat source/smoke wood, it would give you more indirect heat, which would help not only for cold, but hot smoking as well.

    Hang in there...where there's a will, there's a way. A bit more tweeking and you'll find that triple sweet-spot...the one that makes your smoker happy, which in turn makes your food happy, which lastly, and most importantly, makes you happy.

  8. adiochiro3

    adiochiro3 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

  9. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    Thanks to all for your suggestions and concerns.  The Smoke Wood is sold specifically for smoking food, on the inside of the wrapper for the hickory it includes directions for making (including how to cure) bacon at home.  I don't know the specifics, but it isn't bonded with much, off the top of my head I'd guess it was pressed when wet.  The only thing in my setup not specifically made for grilling or smoking is the flower pot.

    The baffle sounds like a great idea, and I think it's something that will be easy to pull off.  I put a lower level in the smoker, it would be simplicity itself to find a bowl that nearly, but not quite, fills the diameter of the pot at that point and fill it with ice/water.  Should serve well as a drip pan when I do hot smoking too. 

    Once my thermometer gets in, I'll post some temperatures and see where I can go with this setup.

    Thanks again for the help!


    edit:  Here's a link to an apocalyptically bad Google translate of a site selling Smoke Wood:
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2011
  10. africanmeat

    africanmeat Master of the Pit OTBS Member

  11. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    Nice find Ahron!  I just checked (is my thermometer here yet? It shipped nearly four hours ago from the states!) and I've got a stainless steel bowl that will fit great in my smoker, I think I'll be in business next week.

    Is my thermometer here yet?

  12. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    It looks a little pricey.

    How long does one log burn for?
  13. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    In Japan, one log retails for about four dollars.  I'm ignoring the exchange rate for now, since I get paid in yen.  According to the labeling, one log should last between 3-4 hours.  So far, I've only done a half log burn, and that lasted for around two and a half hours, however, it got smothered by cheese halfway through that, so I can't tell for sure.  More later as I find out.

  14. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    I got my thermometer in last night!  A Maverick ET-732, based on what seems to be the general consensus around here.  The oven and food probes seemed to be running 4-5 degrees (F) different in the open air, but when I tested them in ice water, and then boiling water, they both gave the same correct answers, so I should be good.

    Next part:  Testing my flowerpot, with a possible problem.  I put the little electric ring I got from a local shop's smoking section in, it's pretty small and only 300w, but I'm dealing with a small space.  I left the food probe outside, hung some distance away, to monitor the outside air temperature, which stayed at 63-64 degrees for the whole time.  I ran the test with nothing in the smoker but a diffuser (empty stainless steel bowl) to keep the direct radiant heat off the probe, and the grill that my food would sit on to support the probe.  There wasn't any water, brick, lava rock, or anything like that inside.  It was a little gusty, but the setup was shielded by my balcony wall.  At first, I left both the bottom and top holes of the flowerpots unobstructed, to simulate the airflow for allowing the smoke wood to burn.


    With the top hole wide open, it took 40 minutes to get to 200 degrees.  Between the 30 minute and 45 minute mark, the temperature only went up from 190 to 201 degrees, so I decided to mostly plug the upper hole with aluminum foil.  The temperature then went up relatively quickly in the next 25 minutes to 219 degrees(at the 70 minute mark).  At that point, I decided to test opening the smoker.  I held the lid (which was warm but not uncomfortable to bare hands) well clear of the lower pot for a ten count to simulate flipping, basting, or otherwise fiddling with the food, and then put it back on.  The temperature dropped to 208 degrees, but within four minutes was back up to 217.

    So, am I perfectly in the zone here, or in for trouble?  From what I've read, 200-220 is ideal for low and slow, but I'm not sure if this would hold that temperature with a big chunk of cool to room temperature meat in it. The heating element doesn't have any thermostat, adjustment, or cutoff that I'm aware of, as far as I can tell it was running all out the whole time.

    Thoughts?  Suggestions?  I don't really want to waste money on meat the won't get properly done, but if this little heater is sufficient, I'd rather not muck about buying and modding a higher powered one.

    Thanks in advance

  15. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Sounds and looks to me like you're pretty close to having a decent electric rig. If you're not tossing on a large cut weighing 6-8 lbs (pork butt), it should do a nice job for temps, as long as your ambient doesn't drop much below what you had during testing.

    If you preheated the smoker with water in your pan, smoke wood in place, etc, then, toss your prepared meat onto the grate, say a 4lb chicken, you will see a temp drop for two reasons: opening the smoke chamber which vents heat, and the thermal absorption of the meat itself after closing it all up again. The thermal absorption rate will decline in time, and that's when you'll see the chamber temps return closer to where you started. This could take 30-45 minutes, or longer...just guessing here, based on what I've seen with the four smokers I've run, being propane and charcoal fired, 3 verticals and 1 horizontal. I'm thinking that the electric heated pot design will be slower and have a smoother rate of climb during recovery due in part to having lower BTU output, smaller overall size and thermal mass. Heat loss will effect it quickly and recovery may take longer than a larger rig would without making adjustments.

    A couple things to remember about using water pans: less water translates to higher temps due to less evaporation of water, more water = lower temps due to more evaporation. Water adds thermal mass, which increases temperature stability, while acting as a temperature limiter. Knowing this, I would say that if you have trouble getting up to your desired smoke chamber temp, then go with a dry pan instead of wet. Dry will reduce chamber humidity somewhat, but part of the cooking process of meats requires internal water evaporation, and if a humid cooking chamber is used, this can dampen the process. Less humidity = faster cooking.

    Also, adding clean sand with a layer of foil on top (to catch drippings) in the pan adds thermal mass for more stable temps without the cooling effects of water evaporation. Sand will take a bit longer to heat up than a dry pan, or even a wet pan, but will hold more steady temps than dry, and give a bit better performance for reduction of initial temp loss during opening of the smoke chamber. Total recovery time will be about the same, as the mass of the sand must be reheated after throwing off it's heat from the initial loss, but the average chamber temp during this period may be slightly increased overall, due to not dropping quite as low during brief open smoke chamber conditions.

    You may find that using methods which don't require tending during the smoking of your foods may be the best option, unless you make allowances for additional cooking time based on average chamber temps in stead of target or peak temps. I would consider also in holding off for any tending of the meat until I were reasonably assured that the danger-zone temps (41-135* internal) would be within the recommended 4-hr limit. Then, tend the meat to your hearts content.

    Maybe I got too detailed there, but I do see a lot of potential with what you have so far. Everything has it's limitaions, and you'll need to experiment a bit to see where the line needs to be drawn, so to speak. Keep in mind that small cuts of meat don't require high smoke chamber temps to cook safely through the danger-zone like a big ol' pork shoulder or beef brisket does. If you can reach 205-210* within 45-60 minutes after loading the food just may well be enough. Quartered chicken may be a good candidate for her maiden voyage as an electric, giving a reasonably large cut, but not so large that it would overwhelm the heating capacity of the 300 watt element. Another candidate would be hot smoked fish...smaller mass, reduced cooking time, reduced minimum finished temperature requirement.

    BTW, there are a few 300 watt electric smokers in production for retail sale to consumers (I can't recall brand names or models at the moment), and they seem to be doing just fine with insulated, but much larger capacity smoke chambers than what you have here.

    Anyway, nothing seems too far out of line that I don't think you can make it come together...continue foward, I say. Good little project you've got going, and you've put alot into seeing to it that it will work so far. I see good eats coming for all your efforts.

    Have fun with it!

  16. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter


    Thanks for all the tips, as far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as too much information.  I'm still a little worried about balancing heat and ventilation, since I don't know if it'll go much over 200 degrees with the top vent hole open, but we'll see how that goes.  I read about the sand trick somewhere a while ago, and I think I'll give that a try, just to keep things warm.  It only lost a few degrees after being open for ten seconds, and gained those back quickly without extra thermal mass, so I'm cautiously optimistic.

    More later once I cook something!

  17. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Val, I just had a thought about your possible venting issues/low chamber temps: you mentioned earlier that you had the bottom open, and then partially blocked the top with foil (if I recall correctly...yep, just read back on it) to bring the temps up more. My thought is that if you were to partially restrict the bottom (intake) that you should suffer less heat loss as well. It could eventually work out to having to regulate the top and bottom vents, allowing just enough air into the bottom to keep the smoke wood smoldering while still allowing enough flow through the chamber and out the top to prevent stale smoke and excessive humidity from accumulating. It's kind of a balancing act of sorts, but that may be what is needed with a non-thermostat controlled heater of this lower output. If you think along the lines of a forced air heater, with lower air flows capable of producing higher air temperatures, while higher air flows produce lower air temperatures...same BTU output, just air flow variances to change air temps...same principle with choking back the intake and exhaust vents on your smoke chamber.

    It may be that without pulling a few tricks like this to squeeze what you can out of the smaller heater element that you would basically be trying to operate it beyond it's threshold and not reach the temps you want. A little trial and error and you will find that sweet spot where your temps peak to desirable levels while still allowing enough air flow, and with a bit of note keeping, you'll know how to get there again and again, when needed.

    I guess if you do find that you can't quite get a happy medium between flow and temp, you may be able to add a second smaller heater element...maybe a 100 watt, just to give the 300 a bit more edge when you need it. Not sure what sources you have for heater elements, or if one that small is available, but that may be worth looking into if all else fails...instead of grabbing a 500 or 600 watt and finding it's way too much output to control effectively.

    (THUNDER CLAP)...another thought: have you ever used electric infra-red heat lamps like what were/are used for poultry roosts in small farm applications? This may be something you could add to the exsisting heat source as well, although fitting into small spaces could be a challenge. They look, and are sized similar to, a screw-in bulb style flood lamp, for comparison (about 5" diameter x 6" long, lens to base measure). These can produce extremely high temperatures compared to regular flood lamps (flood lamps are known to be fire hazards)...enough to start your smoke wood, and then some. The infra-red type of heaters are radient heat only (non-convective), meaning, they only heat objects, not air. If a sand-pan were mounted above the lamp, the sand would convert the radient heat from the lamp to convective heat, and transmit the heat from the lamp to the smoke chamber. Combine that with the convective heating of the electric heater element, and you'd notice a big change in peak chamber temps. One caution on radiant heat: don't allow it to radiate heat directly at the food, or the indirect low and slow cooking method will be thrown out the window...scorching/burning is highly probably in close proximity to the source...think of it as instant sun-burn for your food. This is how gas grill rotiseri burners operate, BTW...infra-red/radiant heat.

    That's all my thinking cap can produce at the moment, so, I'm taking it off for now...[​IMG]

    You got me picking my brains now, but I'm enjoying it...helps me stay sharp!

  18. lav25

    lav25 Fire Starter

    My apologies for not replying, Eric.  I took your suggestion and plugged the lower hole, then partially plugged the upper hole (I left a pencil sized hole in the plug).  The wood still burns with no problems, and I was able to hit temps of 244 occasionally.  Did some salmon last week, and a pork loin today.  Spare ribs in the freezer for next weekend, and I'll try a butt someday soon.


    Thanks for the help!

  19. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hey, no problem, Val. Glad to see things are moving along for you with the smoker. I checked out your latest smoke posts...NICE!!!

    All the little tricks you're using to make it work are paying off in a bag way!

    I'll be looking for the spare ribs, so don't be shy! Ha-ha-ha!!!

  20. frosty

    frosty Master of the Pit

    VAL, Beautiful work!  Looks great, and the photos are wonderful to see.  What ingenuity, well done.

Share This Page