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Smokehouse Questions and Answers

Copyright June 16, 2012 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.


In order to determine whether or not you should you construct a smokehouse on your property you will first need the answers to the following questions:
  1. What is a smokehouse?
  2. What does a smokehouse do?
  3. What can be processed inside a smokehouse?
  4. How difficult is it to build a smokehouse?
  5. Why should a family build a smokehouse?

What is a Smokehouse?

A smokehouse consists of the following components:
  1. A chamber that will capture and contain smoke and allow the smoke to completely surround either the meat or the animal hides. (Note: Meat and animal hides cannot be smoked at the same time.)
  2. Something to hang the meat or the animal hides on so they do not touch each other and so each one can be completely surrounded by smoke.
  3. A source of smoke.
  4. A source of heat.
  5. A thermometer that indicates the temperature inside the smoke chamber.
  6. A method of venting any excess smoke and/or excess heat.

What Does a Smokehouse Do?

A smokehouse allows either meat or animal hides to be saturated with smoke and this significantly extends the shelf life of these two items.
  1. Meat: Properly smoked meat will usually be safe to eat for approximately one year if it is kept in a cool, dark, insect free container.
  2. Animal Hides: Properly smoked animal hides will last for many years if they stored in a moisture free environment.

What Can be Processed Inside a Smokehouse?

Most meats, many types of fish, and most animal hides can be smoked inside a smokehouse.
  1. Meat: All the fat must be removed from the meat. Fat will not dry like lean meat. Fat will melt, drip off the lean meat, and cause potential problems inside the smoker if the fat makes contact with the fire pot or the smoking coals.
  2. Animal Hides: All the meat and all the fat must be removed from the animal hides. The hair may be left on the outside of the hide or the hair may be removed from the hide depending on how the finished hide will be used.
There are major differences in the methods that are used to smoke meat for immediate consumption, and to smoke meat to extend is useful shelf life, and to smoke animal hides to create buckskin clothing. If you are aware of these differences then you will be less likely to make the mistake of trying to smoke everything the same way.

The variables of smoke, moisture, and heat need to be controlled differently for each of the following three applications:

a. Smoking Meat for Immediate Consumption: Requires some smoke, some moisture, and good heat.
b. Smoking Meat for Long-Term Storage: Requires some smoke, no moisture, and less heat.
c. Smoking Animal Hides: Requires thick smoke, no moisture, and almost no heat.

Now let's take a look at each of the above three smoking options in more detail.

Smoking Meat for Immediate Consumption:

A smokehouse is not designed to cook meat for immediate consumption for three reasons:
  1. The meat needs to be thoroughly cooked and it must also remain moist and tasty. A smokehouse is not designed to provide the moist cooking environment that is required to smoke meat for immediate consumption.
  2. The quantity of meat is relatively small, usually ten pounds or less. This is enough meat to feed a small family or a small group of people for one day.
  3. Since the quantity of meat is relatively small, a large smokehouse is not needed. A smaller smoking chamber will accomplish the task more efficiently using less smoke and it is easier to control the temperature inside a smaller smoking chamber.
Meat and fish that is properly smoked for immediate consumption will be safe to eat for several hours without the need for refrigeration. However, if all the smoked meat is not consumed in a short period of time then the leftovers must be refrigerated. If the leftover meat is not refrigerated then it will gradually become unsafe for human consumption.

Combo Smoker and Grill Smoker and Grill
Large Smoker and Grill on WheelsSmall Smoker and Grill

The easiest way to smoke small quantities of meat and fish for immediate consumption is with a commercial quality smoker, or a combination charcoal grill and smoker. These units are available for sale in the camping department of some stores, in the gardening department of other stores, at some hardware stores, and at some Army/Navy stores. Some of these smokers are on wheels and some are not. But most of these smokers are portable and they can be stored inside a shed or in a garage when they are not being used.

Since taste is a very personal experience, there are a multitude of different recipe books on how to smoke meat and fish using one of these factory built smokers. There are also a huge number of smoking recipes available for free on the internet.

Smoking Meat for Long-Term Storage:

Most of the meat that the early American pioneers smoked was for long-term storage. The reason is because they normally had between 20 pounds to 300 pounds of meat to process at one time and the purpose of smoking was to significantly extend the shelf life of the meat so the family could consume it gradually over a very long period of time.

Most types of meat can be smoked. This includes domestic farm animals such as cows and sheep, and wild animals such as deer, elk, moose, bear, beaver, and opossums.

The purpose of smoking is not to cook the meat. The purpose of smoking is to thoroughly dry the meat and to kill any harmful microorganisms that might be in the raw meat. Once the meat is properly smoked it can be stored in an insect free and rodent free container and a family can remove the amount of meat they wish to eat each day.

A traditional smokehouse is the most practical way to smoke large quantities of meat for long-term storage. A variety of different ways to smoke meat into meat jerky are on my website here.

Fish can also be smoked inside a smokehouse. However, fish does not have the firmness or the texture of meat. Smoked fish more quickly loses its taste and its palatability when it is stored in the same manner as smoked meat. Therefore fish is usually smoked in much smaller quantities and on a more frequent basis than meat.

Smoking Animal Hides:

Most early American pioneers made their own clothing. Some of that clothing was made from cotton and some of it was made from wool. But a significant amount of their clothing was made from buckskins. The reason buckskin clothing was preferred was for three reasons:
  1. Buckskin clothing lasted a lot longer than clothing made of cotton or wool.
  2. After they skinned and butchered an animal for its meat, the animal skin was immediately available and it didn't cost anything.
  3. It was a lot, lot easier to smoke an animal hide when compared to the amount of work required to process either cotton or wool. To make cotton or wool clothing you must first grow some cotton, or you must take care of some sheep. Then you must harvest the cotton or sheer the sheep. Then you need to separate the raw fibers from the stuff you don't want. Then you must card and comb the raw fibers. Then the fibers must be spun into thread using a spinning wheel. Then the thread must be woven into a fabric using a loom. Therefore smoking an animal hide is a lot easier and a lot faster than trying to make clothing out of cotton or wool.
A traditional smokehouse can be used to smoke animal hides so those smoked hides can be made into high quality buckskin clothing. Complete instructions on how to smoke animal hides and how to make high quality buckskin clothing are in my book How to Tan Animal Hides and How to Make High Quality Buckskin Clothing.

How Difficult is it to Build a Smokehouse?

Complete instructions on how to build a simple practical smokehouse that can be used to smoke meat for long-term storage, and to smoke animal hides, are on my website here.

The minimum materials required to build the smokehouse that is described on my website are as follows:
  1. Five sheets of 4 feet by 8 feet plywood that is between 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick.
  2. Eight 8 feet long 2x4 boards to build the interior frame for the smokehouse.
  3. Some 3 inch long nails to build the interior frame.
  4. Some 1.5 inch long nails to nail the plywood to the interior frame.
  5. Some waterproof sealant for the wood and a paintbrush.
  6. One metal latch (gate latch) that can be used to open and close the front door.
  7. Two heavy-duty hinges (gate or door hinges) for the front door.
  8. Two medium-duty door hinges for the lower side wall door.
  9. One oven or meat temperature gauge with a scale that will read between 100F to 200F (or higher).
  10. One Dutch oven or a heavy-duty steel pot with a lid.
  11. A flat rock or a patio stone to place beneath the Dutch oven inside the smokehouse.
  12. Some wires that can be strung between the walls on the inside of the smokehouse.
The smokehouse can be built in one day, if the area where the smokehouse will be constructed is ready to receive the smokehouse. The smokehouse requires a space of approximately 4 feet wide from side to side and 5 feet deep from front to rear. For safety reasons it should be at least ten feet away from any other structure on your property. It should also be at least ten feet away from any trees or shrubs. Finally, the area around the outside of the smokehouse should be short grass, or dirt, or gravel, or stone.

Complete smokehouse assembly instructions are on my website. My website also explains how to properly use the smokehouse.

A smokehouse could be used to smoke meat for long-term storage and it could also be used to smoke animal hides. However, a smokehouse does require smoke and this means you must be able to acquire hardwood chips that can be used to create the smoke you will need to process the meat or the animal hides.

Why Should a Family Build a Smokehouse?

A family that had a functional smokehouse on their homestead would have the ability to survive a long-term economic depression or a natural disaster if that family lived in an area that was close to wild game and that family also knew how to hunt, trap, and fish.

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Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com