Using a Ceramic Smoker

We've watched the episode of Good Eats where Alton makes a terra cotta pot and some other accessories into a smoker ("Q"). It always sounds like a good idea and I regularly think about making one. I love smoked meats! Earlier in the summer I finally put one together.

Assembling the smoker together was easy: a 16" terra cotta pot served as the base. Inside that went a 750-watt hot plate and on top of that went a pan to hold the wood chips to smoke with. I couldn't find a perfectly-sized grate, so I used a slightly small (18") grate and four bolts to hold it where I wanted. The lid is an inverted 16" terra cotta plate with a grill thermometer. I used a few small bricks to hold the pot off the patio floor for air to get in and circulate. I bought everything at Home Depot except the hot plate, which came from Sears.

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We've smoked three things with it so far: a small top round beef roast, about a six pound beef brisket, and turkey legs. Despite not really being a "smoking" cut, the top round roast turned out quite well. After smoking the brisket for about 11 hours it was wonderfully juicy and tasty, but the fat cap was still pretty thick. I'm not sure if I didn't trim it enough, or if it wasn't melting much. The turkey legs were very much a mixed result--the one I ate was quite tasteless and tough; I tasted some of Sherree's, which was a mild flavor and a great texture.

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The ceramic smoker is great because I don't have to invest mega-bucks for a real smoker, and it really does work well. It retains heat and is unaffected by wind. Temperature is low and maintainable. Plus, it's small--especially compared to "real" smokers. There are two things we've learned that might be of use to others:

  • Use a round pie pan to hold the wood chips. A lot of fat will drip from the meat as its being cooked and a round pan will fit the pot better to catch more fat. This is important because it protects the hot plate from the dripping fat: the plastic surrounding of the hot plate has cracked in a few spots where the fat has landed, and the adjustment knob has cracked and fallen off.
  • 750 watts puts out just barely enough heat. In the sun on a warm (80-85 degrees) summer day, 225 degrees can be reached with the hot plate turned all the way to high. On a 70-75 degree day, 200 degrees is about the most I can eek out of the smoker. We'll definitely need a bit more power to smoke in the remaining three seasons!

Maybe we'll try a pork butt next...

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Thanks for your insight. I too saw this episode and have wanted to try it out. The one question I have it the hot plate. How well did it fit inside the bottom of the pot and what style did you use. I will definitely look for a stronger hot plate though.

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