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Modifying a Totem/Big Chief Smoker with a Hotter Element for Colder Climates and Hot smoking....


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Joined Nov 12, 2010
Several years ago I moved to a cold climate and my smoker would not get hot enough to smoke fish in the fall... even wrapped and insulated it wouldn't get hot enough to kipper salmon..... So here we go on my modification....

Went to W-M and found a single burner counter top unit for about $10.... I totally disassembled it into it's basic parts....

I drilled holes in the lower front of the smoker to accomodate the temp controller knob and the indicator light that lets you know when the element is heating.... the sheet metal tabs on the lower left and right of the smoker are used to set the door on for increased air flow for drying product to form a pelicle.. more to come later on that.... and the cookies I use instead of chips...  They burn longer and produce TBS as compared to chips.... Only 1 cookie in the pan at a time.... It takes 2 pieces of wood to make a fire....

Here is the underside of the smoker...original power supply on the right side and the terminal block... on the left, the indicator light is installed and above it the adjusting knob for temperature controll... in the center are the legs of the heating element protruding through the bottom of the smoker with wiring attached.... Nothing difficult here... Just do everything exctly as it was before you took the hot plate apart.... Drilling the holes for the element legs to get it properly located is probably the most difficult for centering it in the smoker... be sure to drill the holes the correct size for the indicator and controller switch... I recommend a small increment step drill....

Here is the top of the door cracked open to allow good air flow for drying product to form a pelicle with low heat or applying a light smoke while venting the smoker.... Notice the tabs on the left and right to keep the door from falling off.....

This shot shows the tabs for holding the door in the lowered position... I had to bend down tabs on the door to fit the tabs on the smoker face....

After all was said and done, the mods proved to be better than expected.....  Temp range of the smoker was expanded greatly.... from cool smoke with the door ajar to door closed to insulating with a blanket of sorts....

Thank you Totem for not making it perfect so Dave had something to do......

Thanks for looking....  Dave


Master of the Pit
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Joined May 27, 2008
>>>Thank you Totem for not making it perfect so Dave had something to do......<<<

lol - ain't that the truth! looks like some great mods here, with very easy to follow instructions. both my little chief and big chief smokers are "top loaders," but i bet it would be easy to incorporate the same modifications, and will definitely see about giving it a try.

If I read correctly, you can have a lot more control over temperature, such as cool smoke for longer curing projects or hot-smoking for projects that fall more into the cooking range? that's just about perfect, and i may have to see about doing the same of the little chief as well. i love the chief smokers, but my complaint has always been no way to keep track of or regulate the temeprature.

thanks for posting!


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Joined Aug 1, 2008
Fascinating Dave!

I almost feel guilty for never having owned one of those.  Especially considering how cheap they used to be.  I can't believe the price they are getting for them now.

It looks like you have greatly improved the utility of that little unit.

Good luck and good smoking.


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Awesome Dave!


Joined Jun 11, 2021
Resurrecting this old thread (and registered to reply!) to say thanks to daveomak daveomak for the idea to do this. Got an old Totem Smoker given to me a few years ago, and it just won't get hot enough. I'm smoking fish right now, and it's going to take a few extra hours, as it's cool and rainy today. Going to Walmart today to get a hot plate, at least I'll be more ready next time.

Just happened to notice daveomak is actually in Omak. Spent a few months in Conconully in the early 90's, wife was rebuilding the road between Omak and Conconully. Love that area, first place we lived in WA, been in Shelton for the last 20, but get over there about every year.


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Joined Nov 12, 2010
Cool... It should work good for you... Still working very well for me after all these years...
Yes it
Yes it's a beautiful area... I really like it...

HEY !! Tell the wife the road is holding up...

Hey DB..... You run out of cash yet ?????

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