An Indoor concrete block smoker

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Meat Mopper
Original poster
OTBS Member
Jul 3, 2005
North Texas

After 18 months of construction (on and off), my indoor concrete block pit is complete. I have many pictures that were taken during the construction. Final pictures only are shown for now. Some stats: it's OD is 4ft x 6 ft and it is 42 inches tall. The cooking grate is 56 x 32 inches. The interior is lined with fire brick up to the bottom of the cooking grate. A design decision was to vent it to the outside via a chimney. If I was to do it again, I would likely just let the smoke fill the room and use a ceiling mounted exhaust fan to vent the smoke. The decision to vent through the roof was an expensive decision. The design is unproven, however I can independently control air intake through the vents in the door and the flue via a damper and grates inside the smoker. The vent construction is an overkill in terms of flue size but was driven by the local code inspector.

The plan was to have an outside fireplace and an inside pit. Hickory wood was to be burned in the fireplace to create the fuel for the pit as is the Western Kentucky tradition. However, I have spent greater than $2000 on the pit and it is winter so the fireplace will have to wait on the spring and more cash. The local city fire marshal will not allow me to build a outside fireplace despite the fact that several neighbors have them. Texas is in a severe drought state and it is now the local ordinance. However, I can build the fireplace inside the storage building and so that is the current plan. But for now, I have to use lump charcoal.

I have made two runs cooking four pork shoulders in each run. I use about 30 pounds of lump charcoal per run. The pit retains heat nicely and the heat is fairly constant needing to add some charcoal every two hours or so. The meat was tender and done after 16 hours or so each run. The internal temperature of one shoulder that I probed was 177F when done to tender. Cooking temperature was maintained between 190F and 200F. This is lower that what I have been used to with my GOSM propane smoker but is where I was advised to cook by friends who also have concrete block smokers.

Here is where I need some help. While the meat is tender and moist, it has very little smoke flavor. The meat, after 16 hours, has little color. It is not dark and smoky as I get when using my GOSM propane smoker and also compared to Western KY shoulders when purchased from a BBQ place. So it would be obvious that I am not getting enough smoke. The first run, I had the flue damper in 25% open. So after ending the run and not having enough smoke flavor, I theorized that the vent to the outside was too efficient and all the smoke was going up the flue. So, on the second run, I added damper registers to the intakes and completely closed off the vents and flue damper. The room filled with smoke more and it certainly seemed like there was enough smoke. There was no improvement in smoke flavor of the meat however. My design of using a flue to the outside assumed that in order to keep my coals from going out, that I would need a flow of air in the front and out the top of the smoker. This is certainly consistent with most smoker designs. However, I did not have any issues with the coals extinguishing without the flue on the second run. It appears that the coals get enough oxygen from the louvers in the doors.

Is it that the lump charcoal (B&B Oak lump charcoal) produces little smoke after being lit? Would the wood burnt in the fireplace give off more smoke when the coals are shoveled into the pit? Is there a design issue with the pit? There is 30 inches from the fire to the cooking grate by design. This was intentional as I was advised to keep enough distance from the coals and the meat so as to not cook too hot. Indeed, the temperature is easily maintained. It would seem that the smoke would pool near the top of the cooker no matter the distance anyway.

Any Ideas?
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I di in fact do that during the first smoke. However it was only two small split pieces of Hickory. Obviously that did not help much.
Try starting with a small fire.... keep the smoker temp below 120 ish and add smoke for 4-6 hours... then increase the temp to 200 ish for final cooking... What I have noticed is... meat takes smoke better at low temps....
As long as you don't inject, probe, prod or anything else to the "whole intact muscle" it is safe for long low cooking temps.... Whole muscle is considered sterile inside and safe for long and slow cooking....
Nice looking smoker by the way.... very good job building it....
If you adjust the exhaust dampers so smoke just trickles out from under the lid, that should be adequate ventilation and provide good smoke flavor... Add some splits of different fruit woods or mesquite would do nicely for smoke... Probably should use seasoned hunks of wood to add to the charcoal base...

SNA you have a fine looking pit there. Here are my thoughts on getting a better smoke flavor and bark on your cooks. I will tell you that I have a Lyfe Tyme  Smoker   and that this article give me a good idea of how I needed to manage my fire and keep from over smoking my Q.

Start with your bed of lit lump coal and make a pile of splits close enough to get them hot but not close enough for them to catch on fire. Once your pit has come up to temp you can begin adding splits to the bed of coals. When you add wood you should see ignite and have an instant flame. You can add your meat to the pit so long as you have an open flame and not worry about over smoking.

The absolute key to keeping the smoke from becoming overbearing on the meat is the pre-heating of the wood that will be burned. Pre-heating allows for the wood to light immediately and have on open flame. The open flame burns and keeps the thin blue smoke rolling in your pit. Keep adding the amount of wood to the open fire that is necessary to maintain the temp you want to keep.

As you put wood on the fire add splits to the pre-heating pile so you never run out of pre-heated wood.

I like cooking in the higher 200 and have found that I get great bark and smoke flavor by not wrapping. The cooks go a little longer than when I wrap, but I have to admit that I enjoy stoking the fire and keeping the smoke therapy session going. But that is just me.

Dave has a very good suggestion about closing down the exhaust till you get a small amount of smoke coming out from under the lid.

Happy smoking and please post pictures of your progress.

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Nice build. The issue here is if you use mostly or all Lump Charcoal you will get very little smoke flavor. The way Lump is made all the good flavorful gasses and particles have already been burned off so you get a hot clean fire. You have to add Wood to the fire to get good smoke flavor and Tequilero procedure will get the job done. There is a Dance to be done between getting the splits hot enough to burn clean yet limit the Flame to have control over the temp. Flame is hotter than smoldering, glowing Embers. Too much flame or too big a fire and the temps run away. If the wood is not burning hot enough you get creosote laden White Smoke. When you build a separate pit or fireplace used to start burning wood and generating your own embers you will have a much better and easier time of it. The embers you generate will burn at a more controllable temp, generate clean Thin Blue Smoke still having all the gasses and particles to make great tasting Q. 190 to 200°F is fine for low and slow cooking of Butts and Brisket but you will generate more Bark at 225°F or higher. In any event if you smoke at ANY temp below 225°, DO NOT puncture, inject, de-bone or smoke Ground Meat unless it is Cured...JJ
Good suggestions, Dave, Jimmy J. and Tequilero.

The suggestions seem to be detailed and involve burning wood carefully along with charcoal is one answer.

Jimmy J seems to think a separate fireplace is a good answer. Shouldn't I go with my original plan and build the fireplace and burn Hickory wood and use the coals from that burn? I am willing to do that if indeed that will solve the problem since it was my original plan anyway. That is if there is no design issue with my pit that I need to address first. I have seen pictures recently of commercial pits that seem to show the cooking grate closer to the coals than the 30 inches that I have so that is one concern. There is another thread by staredat where he is building an offset concrete block smoker and he also has 30 inches from coals to cooking grate. I seem to get enough draft to keep the coals going with leakage around the lid alone. Jimmy J seems to think a separate fireplace is a good answer.

The process of burning the wood separately is a southern tradition and is the way it is done in Western KY where I am originally from. The flavor is unique and superior in my opinion to the traditional (around here anyway) offset smoker where the smoke from burning wood is used to smoke the meat directly.

As far as smoking temperature is concerned, I used to smoke at 225 to 235F with my propane smoker but I was advised to lower that with the concrete block smoker to 190 to 200F. I understand the safety concerns.

One issue that I think I have is that the smoker is too well built. Let me explain. The fire brick and tightness of the build makes the pit very well insulated and it therefore takes little coals to keep the temperature up. Most home builds of concrete block smokers are not lined with firebrick and are loosely constructed with lots of gaps in the walls. So it would make sense that more coals would be required to keep the pit up to temperature and therefore more smoke?

Thanks for the suggestions.
I have seen a lot of Pro's with Burn Barrels or Fireplaces to pre-burn their wood to hot, clean smoking embers. Seems like you were going this direction until the Burn Ban went into effect...JJ
Yes, JJ that is the direction that I was heading. I was going to use a burn barrel temporarily and build a outdoor fireplace long term. However, local ordinances now prohibit that. However, I can still build a fireplace indoors with full blessing of the fire marshal and code enforcement. They have visited the site and approved the pit and discussed the possible indoor fireplace with me. In fact it was the fire marshal who suggested the indoor fireplace.

Since I am from a region of the country where Hickory wood is burned and used as coals for the pits, I assume that adequate smoke will come from the embers. However, I have a friend in Houston (who I went to high school with) who shares my BBQ hobby. He is also a KCBS judge. He has built two pits one at two houses that he has owned. Because of restrictions, he also does not have an outside fireplace to burn his wood. So he uses lump charcoal (oak) with purported good results. So why does it work for him and not me?

Is there a design issue with my pit?

Attached below are pictures of his pit. Note that it seems to seal tightly and there is no vent at the top.


I don't think there is any problem with your design. Your friend may find the smokey flavor of commercial lump sufficient, though it is pretty much as mild a flavor as you can get.. Think of it this way...My Dad slow roasted Butts and Ribs using indirect heat on a charcoal fired grill. We all thought this had plenty of smoke flavor. Years later at my youngest two daughters Birthday/Christening party I smoked a whole hog using a large trailer mounted propane cooker with Oak and some Hickory chunks. He could not believe the flavor difference and intensity. I explained that all those years we were really just grilling, THIS was Smoked Meat! Additionally, I am sure you have built a fire camping or in a fireplace, The smoke smells awesome and is very visible, white in the beginning then blue. That smell is all the gasses and other flavor stuff coming off the burning wood. Other times you have lit your lump to make a steak or whatever, there is no where near as intense a smell or a whole lot of visible smoke. It simply was already burned off making the lump...JJ
I built a fireplace with my smoker for the purpose of feeding the smoker.   For me, the fireplace couldn't keep up with the smoker needs.   I start my smoker with a chimney of charcoal.  From there I use wood till the end of the smoke.  When the meat is close to being done, I use 4 or 5 charcoal just to keep the fire from going out.   Maybe a stick of wood at a time.  

Love your indoor idea.  Great looking smoker.   Lots of great advice here. 
Thanks, Wes for the suggestions. I would find it hard to believe that a fireplace can't keep up with the needs of this smoker that I built. It is so well insulated and takes so little coals to keep it up to temperature. See the first picture of my top post where the coals only cover 1/3 of the floor of the pit.

It does look like I will need to use wood as you and others have suggested to keep the smoke up especially when using lump charcoal as the source of heat.
Very nice pit ! One day I love to build one like that .
Thanks, Wes for the suggestions. I would find it hard to believe that a fireplace can't keep up with the needs of this smoker that I built. It is so well insulated and takes so little coals to keep it up to temperature. See the first picture of my top post where the coals only cover 1/3 of the floor of the pit.

It does look like I will need to use wood as you and others have suggested to keep the smoke up especially when using lump charcoal as the source of heat.
Don't  forget, you get your awesome flavor from wood smoke.    I only wish I had a basement to put something like that in.   It would beat the crap out of freezing my butt off in the winter.  :-)
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