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Oh Bother Blog / Hardware

How to Build Alton Brown’s Cardboard Box Smoker

November 10, 2020

Alton Brown uses tongs to flip Smoked Turkey Legs inside his Cardboard Box Smoker.

Here it is: The formula for building my Cardboard Box Smoker.

All faithful Good Eats fans will remember the episode, “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fish,” from way back in 2001, in which I smoked a side of salmon inside a MacGyver’d smoker made of bits and pieces from the hardware store. Why? Well, I wanted to present a way for regular folks who don’t own or operate complicated smoking apparatuses to reliably produce hot-smoked salmon with tasty results for minimum investment of cash.

Believe it or not, after all these years, a heavy-duty cardboard box is still my favorite smoker. It’s easy to assemble and disassemble as needed. It’s also far cheaper than the dozens of clunky metal models out there on the market. Why complicate something as fundamental as smoking fish, poultry, or even a savory sauce?

Here’s how I do it:


1 large, heavy-duty cardboard box, at least 16 by 22 by 26 inches
1 disposable roasting pan
Metal cooling rack, for holding the food
Box cutter
2 (3 5/8-inch) wooden dowels
Electric hotplate
Heavy-duty outdoor extension cord
Small cast iron skillet
5 dry hardwood chunks
Aluminum pie plate with multiple holes punched in bottom
Fire extinguisher
Probe-style thermometer
Foil-wrapped brick


  1. First, find an outdoor space with a level, nonflammable surface, like a concrete driveway, on which to set your box. Make sure you have access to an outdoor outlet somewhere within reach of your extension cord. (Don’t use an indoor outlet unless you are very, very sure no water could come in contact with anything.)
  2. Place the disposable roasting pan in the bottom of the box to catch any drippings.
  3. Use the box cutter to cut four square holes; two each on opposite sides of the box. Place the wooden dowels parallel to each other through these holes.
  4. Set the electric hotplate in the roasting pan and cut a hole in the side of the box for the extension cord to go through. Plug it in to the outdoor outlet.
  5. Put the cast iron skillet on the electric hotplate and place 5 dry, hardwood chunks in the skillet. Cover the hardwood with the hole-punched pie tin.
  6. Before turning on your hotplate, set up your base of operations: Have the fire extinguisher, probe-style thermometer, and foil-wrapped brick standing by.
  7. To ignite your smoker, place the hole-punched pie tin off to the side and turn the hotplate to “high.” Let the wood smolder for at least 30 minutes to drive away some of the nastier compounds — these do not taste good.
  8. Monitor the internal temperature of the smoker by sticking the probe end of the thermometer through the side of the box. Once the internal temperature of the box reaches 180°F, you’re ready to smoke.
  9. To use, arrange the foodstuffs you’d like to smoke on a metal cooling rack. Rest the rack across the two wooden dowels. Close the box and place the foil-wrapped brick on top to secure.