Just when you thought your old refrigerator had run its course, you realize that you can use it to build yet another appliance-a cold smoker! Want to learn how to turn a refrigerator into a cold smoker at home? Firstly, yes it’s very much possible. Secondly, this a simple DIY project you can do at home. All you need is an old refrigerator, some charcoal, wood chips, drill, old pipe, metal bucket, source of power and you can build your cold smoker!
Why consider cold smoking? Smoking isn’t one-dimensional. There are multiple methods to smoke your food well. While most people are very much familiar with hot smoking and smokers, cold smoking is certainly a skill to master.
With cold smoking, you’re not cooking food as with hot smoking, like on charcoal or pellet smokers. Rather you ‘re transforming fresh foods into delicious flavored smoked treats. The process can take anything from a few days to a couple of months depending on the type of food you’re smoking. And it’ll require low temperatures that ensure the food doesn’t get cooked in the process. That’s where a refrigerator comes in!
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Why use a refrigerator for cold smoking?
In case you weren’t aware, refrigerators are excellent insulators. As such, they are perfect at effectively smoldering wood at the required low temperatures needed to either dry, flavor, preserve your meat, and keep bacteria growth down. You could purchase a cold smoker but of course, that’s an expensive option. Besides, when it comes to using a refrigerator you have more options.; you can either use one that’s new, old, working or not. It’s up to you.
But for best results, build a cold smoker using an old fridge. In actual fact, the older your refrigerator is, the better the cold smoking process. Or, you can go ahead and buy a used refrigerator for the job. There’s absolutely no need to buy a new one. Why? Older refrigerators have less plastic and a metal interior compared to newer models. If you didn’t know, plastics hinder the smoking process. So, think about that the next time you want to throw out your old fridge!
I’ll have you know that there are different ways in which you can build a cold smoker well using an old refrigerator. And today, I’ll discuss them all, explain how to go about it and what factors to keep in mind.
Let’s dive right into it.
How to Build Your Cold Smoker
It’s possible to build a cold smoker using either a working or non-working refrigerator. To build your cold smoker you have three methods to pick from as I’ll detail below. The methods are more or less the same but do have a few differences. Simply pick the best one for you. In this video you can see what you can expect as final outcome.
Step1: Clean the Refrigerator
The first thing you must do is clean the refrigerator. You can do so using warm soapy water and a hosepipe. Leave it to air dry for a few hours
Step 2: Build Your Compartments
Next, you must remove the different food compartments that are found in the refrigerator. The idea is to create more space in your smoker to place your meat.
Step 3: Fireproof Your Fridge
After creating space, you’ll need to gather a couple of bricks which you’ll use to build an anchor for your cold smoker Place them at the bottom of the fridge. The point of this exercise is to avoid excess heat from forming at the bottom of your refrigerator.
Step 4: Drill Air Vents
The next step is to drill a few holes into the refrigerator. Drill one hole right at the top to build a chimney which will serve as a vent allowing smoke to escape. Note that you can control the amount of air that flows via this vent by simply covering with a brick when necessary. Drill two or three more holes on the sides of the refrigerator which will allow air into the main chamber during the smoking process.
Step 5: Season the Cold Smoker
Next, it’s time to season the cold smoker. But this exercise needs to be done outside of your home because a lot of smoke will be produced in the process. Make sure you place your fridge far away from your home entrance as possible. To season your smoker, follow these stages:
- Place some charcoal inside a metal pot which will act as a smoke generator. You don’t have to use too much charcoal. Light it up and leave it till it starts glowing.
- Using a separate metal pot, soak your wood chips with cold water.
- As soon as you see the charcoal glowing, open the fridge and place your metal pot of charcoal at the bottom on the refrigerator-on top of the bricks.
- Add a handful of wet wood chips to the coals.
- Close your refrigerator door and wait for the smoke to die down
- Add more wet chips were necessary.
- And you’ve managed to build yourself a cold smoker that’s ready to use!
Now for the second method to build your cold smoker. You’ll be using an electric hot plate as your source of the smoke and not wood chips. You’ll need to first clean and create space inside the refrigerator as outlined earlier in the previous method and then follow these simple steps.
Step 1: Build a Chimney
After creating space inside your refrigerator, you must drill a hole at the top of the fridge to build a chimney. This allows smoke to leave the cold smoker during the smoking process.
Step 2: Place a Metal Bucket
This method seeks to aid the flow of smoke into the fridge and also acts as a smoke generator. To achieve this you must place a metal bucket next to the refrigerator. Make sure that the bucket has a tight-fitting lid and it must also be positioned a little lower than the fridge for effective airflow. Dig a hole next to the refrigerator (cold smoker) where you’ll place the metal bucket. This allows smoke to flow towards the direction of the refrigerator.
Step 3: Drill a Hole in the Side of the Refrigerator
Next, you must drill a hole in the side of the refrigerator close to the bottom. Make sure that it’s on the same side as the metal bucket. After which you place a 3mm diameter pipe inside the hole. Drill another hole on the other side of the refrigerator that’s large enough for the electric cord of your hot plate to fit through.
Step 4: Connect the Pipe
Connect the pipe from the refrigerator and the bucket and seal the connection with silicone sealant. Leave it to dry for a few hours.
Step 5: Place an Electric HotPlate Inside Bucket
The last step is to place an electric hot plate inside the bucket, run the cord outside of the hole, and close with the lid. (This will serve as the power source). And your cold smoker is ready! Place your meat and start smoking.
For the third and final method to build your cold smoker, you’ll also don’t need wood chips or coal. You can use an electric heat source like a microwave. Clean your refrigerator and follow these steps.
Step 1: Create Your Compartments
Decide where you want to place your shelves inside the cold smoker. This will depend on how you intend to place the food during the smoking process. Will you require horizontal racks or you’ll need hooks for hanging fish? Figure out how many racks you need, how you’ll place them, and the amount of hanging space you’ll require. Mark the places you intend on placing the shelves. Next, you attach your shelves. Make sure that you align them properly and the do not prevent the the door from closing properly.
Step 2: Build a Chimney
By now, your refrigerator should now resemble something that looks like a smoker cabinet. You can proceed to build a chimney which will act as an air vent. You don’t need anything fancy to build the chimney. An old pipe should suffice. Just make sure that it’s not too big or else there’ll be excessive air inflow and outflow.
Step 3: Drill a Hole
Next, you drill a hole at the top of the refrigerator. This top vent will act as a chimney. You can remove some of the insulation on the refrigerator to make the drilling process easier.
Step 4: Fit Your Chimney
After drilling the hole, go ahead and fit your pipe. The pipe should hang slightly inside the refrigerator-approximately between 2 and 4mm. The idea is to leave enough room to place sealant around the pipe. Paint the pipe so that it lasts longer thanks to the protective coat of paint. After which you can proceed to apply sealant around the pipe to cover the holes. This is to ensure that any pesky bugs are kept out.
Step 5: Fireproof Your Fridge
The next step is to fireproof the bottom of your refrigerator to prevent excess heat formation. To do this you can line the bottom of the refrigerator with sheets made of steel. Place your source of heat.
Step 6: Install a Thermometer
It’s important to monitor the temperature through the entire smoking process. Placing a thermometer inside the cold smoker cabinet allows you to do so.
Ideally, you want to place two thermometers: one just above the smoker generator and the other one just above the center rack where your food will be positioned. Don’t place them at the bottom or near the smoke source.
Make sure you purchase high-quality thermometers that are designed to last long. To get an accurate temperature reading, be sure to insulate the thermometers. This can be achieved by lining the hole where you’re to place the thermometers with corks. Feel free to trim the corks so that the thermometer fits securely inside.
Step 7: Do a Smoke Test
Once you’re done, leave the sealant and paint to dry and you’ve managed to build a cold smoker. Conduct a smoke test to ascertain it the temperatures aren’t too high.
Can You Build a Cold Smoker Using a Working Fridge?
The short answer is yes, you can build a cold smoker with a working fridge as previously alluded to. Some people prefer using a working refrigerator to build a cold smoker. In this case, not only does it work as a cold smoker but also keeps the contents of the refrigerator cool. The only issue here is that temperatures produced by a working refrigerator are likely to go beyond the recommended cold smoking temperatures. For effective cold smoking, temperatures should be between 80 and 100 degrees.
However, with a working refrigerator, they may go as high as 100 degrees. I’ll quickly point out that 100 degrees isn’t particularly bad and won’t necessarily spoil your food. You simply need to cook the food immediately after smoking.
However, there are a few modifications you can make to the smoking process particularly when you’re using a working refrigerator to regulate the temperatures. I’ll list a few examples:
- Opt for a smoke source that isn’t too hot like an igloo cooler which allows enough airflow inside the refrigerator. This way the temperatures inside the refrigerator won’t be too hot.
- Coat the heat source with vegetable oil. Leave the oil to cool and heat a couple of times before adding your wood chips. This process gives your smoker a concentrated source of heat without raising the overall temperature of the smoker.
- Add more wet wood chips to regulate the temperatures.
- Smoke on a cool day or at night. The time of day you decide to smoke also plays a huge role with regards to smoking temperatures. Cold smoking on a cold day prevents the temperatures from going up as much.
Ready to Build Your Cold Smoker?
There you have it: all the different methods you can use to build your very own cold smoker using an old refrigerator. Simply pick the method that’s easier for you. No need to purchase a hot smoker, follow our tips, and build a cold smoker in the comfort of your home. If you look for easier ways to build your cold smoker, check this article.
For best results, start by curating the food before the smoking process to preserve your food for longer. With that said, are you ready to build your cold smoker?