Turning existing concrete/adobe building into smokehouse

Discussion in 'Smoke Houses' started by tdimler, Dec 11, 2012.

  1. tdimler

    tdimler Newbie


    I have had it in the back of my mind to convert the below building into a smokehouse and have gotten the bug to get on with the project!  I don't know the history on this architectural outcast but the walls are solid concrete.  We don't use it for anything...it is just one giant brown recluse nest.  It is 8ft. deep by 6ft. wide and has an 8ft ceiling.  There was a cement slab in the bottom but it has cracked up as the ground has shifted.  Aside from the door, there is no vent except for a 3" round hole in the base of the back wall.  My only plans thus far are to patch the cracks in the outside, re-pour another cement floor over the existing slab, and re-frame and replace the door.  From there, I am needing some suggestions.  Initially, I am thinking I would use a propane burner inside the house to generate smoke/heat but I have several questions.

    Is this space too big to reasonably/economically get hot enough to use as a hot smoker or will I have to use it only as a cold smoker?

    Would it be feasible/beneficial to construct an external fire box and run the smoke/heat through the existing hole in the back?

    Is it necessary to put a vent in the top, or could I put an adjustable vent in the new door?  I am apprehensive about boring through the structure lest it start to implode.

    Any help/suggestions are much appreciated!


  2. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Travis, Evening and welcome to the forum..... Nice building....  wish I had one of them at my place...  

    About the propane heat.... I would not use it... moisture is created at a greater rate from propane than say wood.. the cement walls would soon be dripping with water.... 

    Trying to heat all that thermal mass to 225 for a hot smoke would be really expensive... I would use it as a cold smoker and take what ever meat to the oven or steam cooker or something to finish cooking if it needed it... 

    Since the volume of the room is about 400 cubic feet, a small computer fan say 100 CFM would give you an air exchange every 4 minutes.... I would put it near the bottom and have it push the air in...  a 12 x 12 screened exhaust with a closer flap, near the top would work for an exhaust.. maybe even in the door would work...  They make a water proof sealing paint, UGL Dry-Lock, that works very well... You might paint that on the interior walls, 2 coats to seal stuff up.... It is water based and has hydraulic cement or something close that swells and seals cracks.... after that coating, you could use a high gloss enamel water based for easy cleaning and sanitation as a top coat.... You could have the paint dyed to mesquite color so you didn't know when to wash the walls too....   

    think of all the bacon, hams, prosciutto, and what ever else needs cold smoke you could make... even using wild pigs... I'd be up for that.... 

    In the summer you may need an AC unit, installed in the door to cool things off....  

    Before you pull the door, have a mason come out and check that chunk of concrete that is cracked above the door.... Might need a lintel installed or that hunk drilled and pinned in place....

    Take pics and let us know how you are doing.....  

    Please stop into "Roll Call" and introduce yourself for a proper welcome from our members......  enjoy the long smokey ride....   Dave
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2012
  3. tennsmoker

    tennsmoker Smoking Fanatic

    Hello Travis, never heard of Gail Tx.!!

    Dave gave a great mod and having a woodworker background I think I would frame the inside with 2X2 or 2X4 and add 19/32 in. x 4 ft. x 8 ft. plywood ($22 @ HD) should cost under $100 for that. patch all cracks and redo the door.  Then add your hangers and shelves, etc.

    Should be able to find a burner that would bring it up to hot smoke temp if not then use it for cold smoke

  4. tdimler

    tdimler Newbie

    Thanks for the replies and suggestions.  I think I am just going to stick to the idea of sealing the concrete walls rather than framing them up with lumber....it will make it easy to wash down and sanitize.  For racks and shelves, I am planning to make them free standing so that I can easily move things around.

    I am currently in the process of dealing with the cracks etc. and pouring a new floor.

    My main issue is what to use for a smoke/heat source.  I know in some of the old cold smokehouses they simply made a small fire in the floor which was replenished every day.  Would it be possible to make a fire box inside the smokehouse rather than piping the smoke in?  Seems like the simplest option but may be harder to regulate the temperature that way.  Thoughts?  As I said, the only hole in the building is at the very bottom of the back wall.  Wouldn't it be hard to get smoke in through that spot unless the external fire box was lower than the slab?

    Dave...per your suggestion of a computer fan, are you suggesting using the fan to pull in the smoke from an external source, or to use it for circulation in the house?

    Regarding temperature, I don't plan to use this much out of the cold months but a window unit in the door is a good idea if I decide to do more smoking in the summer.

  5. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Dave...per your suggestion of a computer fan, are you suggesting using the fan to pull in the smoke from an external source, or to use it for circulation in the house?

    I would put it at the existing opening...  Maybe with a piece of duct work attached to the hole... They make "in duct fans" for forced air heating ducts for home use.....  Something along the line below.... You could make one yourself with the small desk fans that W-M sells... They usually have 2-3 speeds too... And maybe a fan or two inside the smoker to circulate smoke and heat.... Wouldn't take much... Gradual air flow is all you need.... It prevents dead air spots and mold...  A simple exhaust port for smoke/moisture to escape would do also....  


  6. tdimler

    tdimler Newbie

    Well...not making much progress but I do have some more ideas.  The concrete is pretty soft so I don't think I'll have much trouble making a new hole for the smoke to go in.....which means I'm going to be able to use a conventional fire box.  My initial thought was to build a masonry box with a steel door....which I still may do, but then I had the thought of using a semi-portable fire box where I could change the distance of the vent pipe between the fire and smokehouse.....this way I could, in theory, use it as both a cold and hot smoker.  Anyone tried this?

    Dave....do you know about the heat tolerance of the DryLock sealant you mentioned???

  7. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    If you do decide to go with a masonry fire box make sure you use the fire resistant cement and bricks... regular cement blocks and cement will crack and break from the heat...
  8. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Travis, morning....   Because DryLock is an application on the surface, I would "GUESS" thermal expansion may cause it to spall.... flake off... also moisture under the application will not be able to escape through it, due to it's water proof nature.... All that being said, slow temperature rise could be the solution to those situations allowing equal expansion of the two materials and moisture to escape through the exterior of the wall..... building cement is porous to a certain extent....

    About making smoke....   A neighbor back in the 60's had a cold smoker on his porch... A cast iron miniature stove about 8w x 8h x 16d on legs with a 4" duct running to the smoker....  He sat on the porch with his wild turkey and put in a split about every half hour.... splits were about 1" square x 12" long.....  I think that was his favorite thing to do....  He used charcoal briquettes and wood to run the stove...
  9. tdimler

    tdimler Newbie

    Well, progress has been a bit slow but I'm hoping to pick it up in the next couple weeks.  I got the door re-framed which you can see below. The building has shifted four of five inches so the existing door opening was all womper-jawed.  I found an inscription that it was poured on 10/16/1917.  I re-framed it square...the photo is a little distorted and it looks like there is a bow in the frame.  Poured a step flush with the slab and then finished out the door frame with cedar and got it all sealed up.  I've built a door out of cedar too but I haven't hung it yet.  That's a branch hanging down in the second photo and not a crack!  I've got 3 of the four inside walls re-finished with a thick coat of concrete "parge" which was an interesting process to say the least but it looks a lot better and I hope it holds up.  So up to now, all I've got is an upgraded storage building.  In the last photo below, you can see the hole I am thinking of starting with to bring smoke in.  My original thought was to put a vent in the top of the door to let the smoke draft through, but there's really not much height difference between where the smoke would come in and where the door vent would be.  There's a good distance...maybe 5 feet but not any real lift. 

    Will this be a problem? 

    I'm going to have to use a rotary hammer to get through the wall for the smoke to come in so I am now thinking of just boring another hole and putting a vent stack in the ceiling, but I'd skip it if I'm going to have enough draw with a vent in the door. 

    Additionally, I'm not married to using the existing (small) hole as a starting point and could move down lower to come in if it would be beneficial. 

    Any thoughts out there?

  10. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Travis.........  Holy [email protected] that looks nice.....   great job.....

    Think about using that hole for a power cord to hang a light or 2 and to run a small fan for air circulation....  As far as holes go for heat/smoke in and out.... what size you thinking ? 6" or 8" type thing ?   For drilling, I would use a rotary hammer drill with 1/4 or 3/8 bit....  that concrete may be pretty soft and crumble...  I would put the exhaust stack in the side wall of the building so it could be accessed and not have moisture dripping into the smoker...

    They do make carbide holes saws....  what ever you choose, the pipe/hole will need to be mudded in anyway...   Keep us up on this project... it is a cool project....  

    What did you choose for a smoke/heat source.....

  11. kathrynn

    kathrynn Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    All that I can say....is that is totally awesome!!!!!
  12. turn4fun

    turn4fun Fire Starter

    Considering the age of the structure, I'd say there's a good chance it was originally a smokehouse  to begin with.
  13. dward51

    dward51 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Just a thought, but since you were considering using an external fire box for hot smokes, you might watch craigslist for a old free standing woodburning stove.  If you can find one of the older ones without the catalytic insert you should be able to do hot smokes and tend it from outside.  A lot of places are making people replace those old ones with the new low emission models so you might find one cheap. Just put it on one side and build a small lean to roof over it to keep the rain off.   I think even a wood stove fireplace insert would work but not look as nice unless you build some sort of enclosure around it.

    Northern Tool has this one for $320 new so used should be much less than this.  Either way that is a sweet looking structure to convert.  As to a cold smoker, could you not put two or three of Todd's pellet trays or tubes in this instead of stick wood?  Those trays can crank out the smoke and last a long time.  Plus you could still tend and reload it from outside.

    I just looked at the Dallas craigslist and there a bunch of the old wood burning stoves on there.  Some pretty neat and ornate ones too!  A couple of the new ones are in the $100 to $150 range (looks similar to the one above).
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2013
  14. tdimler

    tdimler Newbie

    Thanks....That's a good idea to use the little hole for a power cord.  For the smoke coming in I am thinking the standard size of a 5" to 6" vent pipe.  The door vent would be somewhere around 5"X8", but I like the idea of a vent in the top of one of the walls..that way I could adjust it easily.  The concrete is really soft in some spots except for anywhere you would want to drill through it!

    I haven't decided on a smoke/heat source but REALLY like the idea of a wood burning stove that was suggested...I haven't thought of that.  I might could get it to hot smoke that way...only one way to find out.  For hot smoking I would only want to use it for sausage so as I understand, I wouldn't have to get it super hot.  I'm not sure how the cement would react to that much heat either???  For true cold smoking, I might just use something like the AMAZN smoker......don't see why that wouldn't work good and be simple.
    That was my initial thought but there just wasn't any sign of smoke or ventilation.  I think it has something to do with storing some type of ancient batteries that were used for powering parts of a house out here in the dark ages.
    That's a great idea....I'm going to be in the metroplex this weekend and might just find something on CL there.

  15. Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  16. tdimler

    tdimler Newbie

    Well it's been slow going but I'm on the home stretch.  Got the door built and it seals up good.

    I lost lots of sleep worrying about boring through that cement to get my smoke inlet and vent but a solid morning with a hammer drill then hammer and cold chisel and I had it whipped.

    I built two of these out of 1/4" plate and 5" casing to go through the walls.  I anchored them with concrete screws and mudded them in.

    The above spot is where the fire box is going.

    Upper left in the below photo is where I am putting my vent which will have a rain cap and a damper.

    You can see where I finished out the sides of the step and poured and finished the two footers on the back side....

    This is where the smoke will come in.  Also got the re-finishing job complete on the walls...it was the most tedious and time consuming part of this project thus far.

    I'm about through with my fire box...it's 28" long and made from 20" casing set horizontally.  

    Regarding racks for meat etc.....I'm planning on building two simple supports on either side of the house out of lumber and just suspend rods in between them.  My only issue is what to use for rods.  The only wooden dowel rods I can get locally aren't very long...4' max.  Any ideas on this one?
  17. smokeamotive

    smokeamotive Smoking Fanatic

    I think you'll have a fine smokehouse when you get er finished. You could smoke a whole beef in one that big. As far as racks to hang stuff on they don't have to be stationary. You could use an old bread rack or proofing rack as a frame for a hanging rack for sausages and such.
  18. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Travis.....   Very nice work....   Looks perfect....   You could set a couple of A-frames up next to the walls and put a cross timber on them for hanging anything...  portable racks like  w-mart and costco sells would be good to....  Hey, come up with something and surprise us....   Don't forget pics of the pipe to smoker build.....     Dave
  19. z
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  20. Thats a sharp looking set up.

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