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Converting 3 door fridge smoker from propane to electric

Discussion in 'Fridge/Freezer Builds' started by borchers85, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. We currently use this as our smoker and have a propane triple burner at the bottom supplying the heat. We use the middle burner for the smoke pan in the beginning and then use all three later for cooking. The problem is that our flame goes out sometimes and it cooks unevenly when using racks. This causes us to either check the flame or the meat periodically. It's not uncommon to open one of the doors 5-10 times during a batch, which significantly adds to the total cook time. We're currently quoting an electrician to convert it to an electric smoker using two heating element kits from sausage maker ( Pt # 49203), but wanted to get any advice people might have before we spend the money. The smoker dimensions are 80" wide by 56" tall by 26" deep.

  2. Hello borchers85.  Welcome.  I see this is your first post.  Please take some time and swing over to Roll Call and introduce yourself so that we may give you a proper "Hello".  All info you can provide us with such as smoker type, location and so on will help us answer any questions you may have.  As for your question:  Here is my opinion for what it is worth.  Others will have different advice.  This is only my opinion.  I seem to be stupid enough to offer advice and ask questions.  Heaven only knows why?  [​IMG]  The first problem is that we can't see enough to offer "competent" advice   I mean ABSOLUTELY NO DISRESPECT, but those picts show me a bank of smoke chambers, some racks and I am told the fire goes out.  What sort of burners are you using?  Do they have pilot lights?  Where are your intake vents?  How many?  How big are they?  Looks like the unit is inside a room.  Is there a flow of fresh air going into the smoker?  If it were outside you would have a breeze supplying air flow.  Are your intake vents below your gas burners?  Do you put all the meat in at one time or do you open the door periodically to add meat?  How big is the stack and do you use a damper to close it down?  These questions need to be answered to have any hope of helping.  The basic answer to a basic question is in my opinion whether gas or electric, if you have an air flow problem the smoker will not work as you had hoped.  Hope this helps.  Keep Smokin!

  3. Hey Danny thanks for the reply. I know the pictures aren't helpful and some of the stuff you're seeing is the smoker being used as a shelf. It's my old mans smoker that we use for processing our families deer meat and I'm trying to make it better. I live 2 hours from him, so I'll take more pictures next weekend (Nov 16) when I go back for opening day rifle deer season.

    I'll try to answer some of your questions, but I must say I'm embarrassed that I don't know all that much about smokers.

    Here is a picture of our burner that we hook up to a propane tank. Each burner puts out about 15,000 BTUs I believe.

    The smoker is stored inside the building you see it in, but when we use it we put it in the driveway to our shed so we do get some airflow. However, I think the only vents that are currently in it are two 2-3" holes at the bottom of each side of the smoker and they are the same level as the burner, which actually causes the flames to go out sometimes as well. I'll make sure to take plenty of good pictures for you as I know that I'm just typing from a visual of what the smoker is at home.

    As for meat, we always put the entire batch on all at once and then start the cooking process. We open the door too frequently, because we get nervous that the propane burner goes out (which one of the three does from time to time) and the way the inside looks, our meat cooks way to uneven when using racks. When we hang summer sausage or ring bologna from hooks at the top we typically don't have the uneven problem.

    I believe the stack at the back of the smoker is probably 3-4" and it currently doesn't have a damper. Like I said before, it's embarrassing not knowing this stuff. We fell into this SS refrigerator for free and my old man gutted it, put a vent out the back and cut a hole in the side for the propane hose to fit through and air flow. It worked awesome when just him and I used it for our deer because we had nothing but time and we're just excited to have a new toy and we didn't know any better. Now that the family loves our product, we do 12-15 deer a year for uncles and cousins. The cooking time takes forever and it's been getting stressful and too the point where I no it's time to make the smoker top notch! :)

    Ok I'm done rambling. Thanks so much!
  4. dward51

    dward51 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Ummm, Guys...... 

    You are talking about a 10,000 watt smoker.  That going to take a hell of a lot of power to run.  I mean like a little over 45 amps OF 220V!!! and that's just for the two heating elements, not counting those two blower motors and anything else you have going on. 

    Is the location where you are going to run this smoker at going to be able to have an extra 60amp 220v breaker and circuit added?  Do you ever take the smoker on the road?  If so that's means you will need a pretty stout (and loud) generator that you will have to bring along also. Probably in the 15,000watt class or bigger.

    Granted it's only going to be drawing maximum power while heating up.  Once the overall cabinet and meat load have stabilized and the interior air temp is stable, the power draw will be considerably less, but those are still two big heating elements.

    PS - you can sit there and watch the electric meter spin at warp speed when that baby is fired up!  We are talking about the rough equivalent of two central AC units on full blast when that sucker is running.


    More info....

    Ok time to throw some math into the mix.

    A kilowatt hour (1,000 watts) is 3,413 btu.  So 10,000kw is 34,130 btu.  If your triple burner was 15,000btu per burner or 45,000btu total, then you can expect around 76% of the maximum performance of the LP burners with both electric elements on full power.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  5. The smoker never goes on the road and we do our processing in a 40x60 outdoor shed and we do have the capability to support the power needed for the two heating elements/motors. I'm open to any suggestions on improving the smoker and the only reason we thought about converting to an electric heating element is because we thought that'd be the easiest to control temperatures and even cooking. Maybe our burner is just too old and needs to be replaced too, because we can't have all three on at once. We also have to open the door to change heat as we physically have to turn the nobs.

    I should mention that our ultimate goal is to speed up cooking time, consistently cook the meat, and only have to open the door at the start and then again when getting ready to she meat off. I'll try to snap some pictures of the inside next week so you guys can point out our errors.

    Ps. I think we decided it would need two heating elements because of the inside dimensions of the smoker and what the specs say those elements can heat up. Thanks again for your help.

  6. Hello Jason.  I agree with dward about the electric.  IMHO I would stick with gas for that monster.  It is clear from what you are saying it needs modification.  If you can't run 3 burners at once then your gas supply line is too small or blocked and/or you may need to change regulators to one that allows an adjustable  ( and higher ) output.  The flame may not be going out until you open the door to check if the flame has gone out. [​IMG]  I think I'd find a way to get those burner controls accessible from the outside to avoid opening the doors for adjustment.  IMHO the uneven rack cooking in a unit that size is going to be tough.  Maybe adding some sort of circulating fan?  The picture may help with some of this.  Good luck.


  7. Hello Jason.  Gave the uneven cooking some thought and if you are now doing that sort of volume, you might want to think of building a rotisserie style set of racks to put the meat on like those used in big BBQ joints.  I have never hunted in GA..  I gotta ask, how big are you GA. deer?  My point being, is it worth trying to modify and run this large unit?  You said 12-15 deer per year.  Could you not do 12-15 smokes in a smaller commercial fridge conversion and solve at least some of your problems and cut down running costs?  [​IMG]   Maybe even put dividers in and run them as single smokers with a single burner in each? [​IMG]   More smokes gives you more time to enjoy your favourite beverage and gnaw on some deer ribs. [​IMG]   Just seems to me that you are looking at quite some investment to comfortably use this as one large unit and maintain temps and cook evenly.  If you are looking to offer your services to the public then the investment may be worth the return.  If only doing smokes for the family, I'd forget the one large unit; too much $ to modify, too much hassle as it is, and too costly to run.  This is just my opinion.  Others may offer different advice.  Just food for thought.  Good luck.  Keep Smokin!

  8. Below are a couple of pictures of the smoker from a little closer view. I think we like the idea of continuing to use this unit as our smoker and after hearing the electrical comments, I'd agree propane seems more reasonable. As a starting point would it make sense to buy three burners and put one under each door, rather than a triple burner in the middle, even if we don't put dividers in between the doors? Also, since I'm a newbie, what would you recommend doing for heat shields over them? One shield over each unit, or framing in a solid shelf across the bottom of the smoker with vents cut into them.

    As you can see from the pictures we only get airflow through those PVC openings in the bottom and we just take the caps off each one depending on wind direction when cooking. No idea how and why we chose to put them there. Knowing that we will use propane burners going forward, any advice on the external air flow?

    The chimney is dead center in the back at the very top and doesn't have a damper? Thoughts on location or size?

    As for uneven cooking, we never really have problems when we hang food from the top hooks (ring bologna, summer sausage, muscle jerky, turkeys, etc. I think we just need to find a way to put a rod at the top so that when we make slim jim sticks or polish dogs we just hang them over the rod too. We use our Traeger for any other smoking we do, so this is just our venison toy! And yes there are many beverages consumed when smoking. :)

    Thanks all for your advice and replies. It's really cool that people care enough to help.

  9. We shut a few deer this past week and hunting season is over and smoking season starts. Did anyone have any advice on my last post? Thanks so much!