Old Commercial Cooler into a Hot Smoker

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Fire Starter
Original poster
Dec 16, 2015
St. Albert, Alberta
Hey Fellow Smokers,

I am about to embark on a new project and am looking for some input and advice on the build before I get started on it.

I have obtained an old "Canadian Curtis Refrigerator" for the great price of free.  The entire cooling unit has been removed.  It is all steel construction inside and out and and the walls of the unit are filled with what looks to be fiberglass insulation.  I was glad to see a small hole in one of the walls where a drain tube was and I was able to pull some of the insulation out, I have not out a flame to it yet to see if it will burn. My thoughts are to line the unit with thin stainless steel as the inside of the looks like it is painted.  Is this adequate or do I need to remove the paint off of the metal first before I cover it with the stainless?

The doors were filled with a foam type of insulation so I am not planning on using them.  I am planning on building new doors with square tubing, Roxul insulation, stainless skin on the inside and probably aluminium on the outside to keep the weight down.

Also thinking of two fans to circulate the air inside to try and keep the temps even inside.

As for the heat source I am undecided if to go with electric or propane.

Cosmetically it looks a little rough but I think it has a lot of life left in it to as I will be kept in a open air building under a roof and out of the elements.

Just looking for any info in advance for anyone that has done something similar.
You need to pull the inner shell out and check the insulation inside and make sure there isn't wood in the bottom as a spacer. Mine had fiberglass insulation but had foam or wood I can't remember the in the bottom so it wouldn't smooth the insulation. As for covering up the paint I would just make a new shell from reg steel be way cheaper then lining with stainless
As for covering up the paint I would just make a new shell from reg steel be way cheaper then lining with stainless
Yes. If you don't remove the paint though make sure that the seams on the inner cladding are sealed otherwise the paint could still burn and the fumes enter the smoking chamber through the seams. As you are going to a lot of other work to do this conversion I would go the little extra step and remove the paint too.
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Are you sure it's paint? Could be enamel which is a good thing. Hit an inconspicuous spot of the interior with a Bernz o matic to see if it blisters/burns. Good luck and have fun.
I have been doing alot of research today about foam insulation as well.  i have found that there are two different types that could be used in freezers and coolers.

Polystyrene and Polyurethane.  Polyurethane does not melt, unlike polystyrene. In fact, polyurethane will remain mostly undamaged by heat until temperatures reach 700 degrees, at which point the material begins to char. Polystyrene will melt at temperatures in the 200- to 300-degree range. Polyurethane makes a superior fire-retardant material.

I also have a "Fosters Refrigerator" that is a double door unit that is no longer operational and I can aquire.  According to their website they use polyurethane as their insulation.  If I can verify this I am thinking I would not have to gut all of the insulation.  I managed to get a chunk of the insulation that was stuck to the bottom and I am planning on putting it in the oven tonight with the temp set at 350.  If it melts I will know it it polystyrene and would have to come out.  If it remains intact it is polyurethane and I would leave it as is.    

Here are some pics of the cooler.
I think this needs to be in a sticky:

  Please replace the insulation.  Old / new / polystyrene / polyurethane.  There are many types of each.  Polyurethanes, depending on composition, could be acceptable but you won't find many manufacturers that will say it is safe at temp because they are not designed for it.  Some will outgas other chemicals before they breakdown completely etc.  Why risk you and your family's health?  A package of roxul is around $50 and very safe.

  About the only insulation I would trust would be something that started life as a food warmer or other appliance designed for heat.  
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I had two very similar fridges that I was going to turn into a hot and a cold smoker. After a lot of effort to find the exact type of polyurethane that was used (they were not keen to tell me) and then researching the effects of (relatively low) heat on them I decided not to risk it. As Greyape says some will give off noxious gaseous chemicals well before before they break down completely.

I did convert one into my cold smoker but I made other arrangements for the hot smoker.
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