If we take a step back, BBQ is essentially a DIY project that results in delicious meat.
We understand why so many people are fascinated with the idea of building their own DIY pellet smoker or stick burner.
While this is not something that we recommend most people to do, we thought it would still be useful for us to share a couple of interesting projects that we’ve come across and what we know as Australia’s leading brand of pellet smokers.
Build DIY pellet smoker from scrap metal
Just like homemade offset smokers, one of the most common DIY pellet smokers builds involve building it out of an old metal keg, hot water system tank or a drum.
You will need to ensure that the chamber was previously only used to store non-toxic substance.
This will probably be the most involved process among the other methods in this post, but it can be the most rewarding one.
Here is an example of one of our favourite projects that we’ve come across:
What you will need:
- A Chamber: As mentioned, this can be an old metal keg or commonly a food-safe metal tank. It is extremely important to only use a chamber that was not previously used to store any potentially toxic substances. The other thing you will need to consider while choosing your vessel is the thickness of the wall. While steel is an excellent conductor of heat, it stores heat very well too. A thicker wall will effective dampen any temperature swings within the grill due to opening and closing the grill lid. With that said, a thicker wall will also require more energy, hence more pellets burnt to get it up to cooking temperature. Over the life of the smoker, this can add up to a fair bit more money to fork out on pellets.
- Grill Rack: This can be any sort of grates or racks that you can get your hands on
- Heat Diffuser: Pellet burning in the firepot generates a very direct source of heat. You will need some sort of heavy gauge metal sheet to effectively diffuse the heat throughout the grilling area. You will typically find a heat baffle and oil tray in all Z Grills which not only serves the important purpose of diffusing heat but also to make clean-up a breeze.
- Wireless Thermometer: You will likely find some hotspots throughout your custom cooking chamber depending on how you have designed your project. A multi-probe wireless thermometer such as this Inkbird wifi thermometer will be incredibly useful to find out the temperature of your cooking chamber.
- Pellet Smoker Hopper Attachment: These are also commonly known as pellet smoker conversion kits. (More about this later) While these are not easy to come by as an off the shelf component, you may be able to score yourself a used one.
If you are good with electronics and have a bit of coding experience, you may want to go down the route of building your own hopper attachment
- Custom Controller: You can quite easily build a custom PID-enabled microcontroller with something like an Arduino or PSoC. To learn more about microcontrollers, check out this video.
- Thermometer: PT-1000 RTD (Resistance Temperature Detectors) sensors are quite commonly used in various brands appliances including pellet smokers.
- Stepper Motor: Stepper motors are commonly used to drive the auger which feeds pellets into a firepot. These are usually rated by the RPM (Revolutions per minute) and you will need to work it out based on the diameter of the auger and size of the smoking vessel. As a reference, the Z Grills 700E Pellet Smoker uses a 1.5RPM stepper motor to drive the auger.
- Fan: Unlike an offset smoker in which convection alone is enough to provide the fire with oxygen, an intake fan is required in pellet smokers. For this, just about any sort variable speed fan in which you can control with your controller will work. These are commonly regulated by PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) which constantly cycles on and off as opposed to a variable voltage.
- Ignition Rod: All pellet smokers and grills will have an ignition rod somewhere in the firepot which is essentially just a resistive element. This is a key component to get the pellets ignited. Depending on how you have designed your fire pot, you can in most cases use a BBQ firelighter gel or a flaming torch to get the fire going. The trick here is to find a good balance of airflow into the firepot so that the fire doesn’t die down in the middle of a cook.
Pellet Smoker Hopper Assembly
Some companies sell these as pellet grill conversion kits. These are essentially a pellet smoker without the cooking chamber. It will usually come with the auger, fan, ignition rod and the controller already pre-installed.
When using one of these pre-assembled hopper units for your custom DIY pellet smoker project, you should not expect it to perform as well as a complete pellet smoker unit.
Here is why:
The controller on these are pre-calibrated
Most controller found in a pellet smoker (and just about any other home appliances) will be based on a PID (Proportional–Integral–Derivative) control logic these days.
The principle of a PID controller is has a feedback-based control logic that calculates the error value, in this case the temperature difference between the set temperature and sensor temperature.
These controllers were fine tuned during the design phase of pellet smokers before it goes into production.
In most cases, it will not be easy to update or flash the controller yourself without guidance from the manufacturer or special tools.
The auger has a fixed RPM
Similar to the controller, the augers are often carefully selected according to the specifications during the design phase.
This is due to the fact that the Z Grills 700E-XL features a double-wall bottom interior which acts as an thermal barrier to keep the bottom storage unit cool.
DIY Pellet smoker from an offset smoker
To be honest, we are not sure why you would want to go down this path rather than buying a new pellet smoker and have two functioning smokers that you can use.
That way, you have a pellet smoker that you can set and forget and still have a stick burner to play with on weekends.
However, if you do go down this route, you can skip the part of finding yourself a cooking chamber and just use a pre-built offset smoker.
Creative DIY pellet smoker projects
Here is a few interesting examples of homemade pellet smoker projects that we have come across.
we strongly recommend against blindly following these builds as the inner surfaces of these vessels may give off potentially harmful fumes when heated.
Pellet Ugly Drum Smoker
We made sure not to leave out this awesome pellet UDS build by a user on a popular BBQ forum. They have done a great job documenting their build here.
Pellet smoker from a filing cabinet
Pellet smoker from an old fridge
Instant Pellet Smoker (Sort of)
We did start this post by pointing out that you could easily build a pellet smoker today.
Strictly speaking, this type of smoker is classified as a cold smoker, but we feel like this post wouldn’t be complete if we did not point out the fact that you may already have everything you need at home to build a ‘pellet smoker’
The beauty of this concept is that you can easily increase the amount of smoke you get in just about any smoker by using a smoke tube.
Common Questions Answered
Should you build your own pellet smoker?
Probably not. Even if you have built your own offset smoker in the past, building a pellet smoker involves a different set of skills. For most people, getting yourself new pellet smoker is a better option.
Is a pellet smoker worth it?
Definitely. Pellet smokers are incredibly realiable and are worth every penny. There is quite a large number of our local Aussie customer who previously owned an offset smoker or something similar and wanted something that they don’t have to babysit.
Where can you buy a pellet smoker conversion kit?
If you are in Australia, you may be in luck. We will usually have quite a few spares in stock. Get in touch with us and we will try our best to help you get sorted.
If you are new to smoking or not very hands-on, we strongly advise against going down the DIY path of building your own pellet smoker.
For the purpose of keeping it short, we have left out a lot of details and considerations when it comes to building a pellet smoker.
Regardless, we still hope you enjoyed reading through this post on how to build your very own homemade DIY pellet smoker.
Do you have your own pellet smoker build that you are proud of? Are you looking to build your own DIY pellet smoker? Have you got any tips or tricks for people looking to build their own DIY smoker? Be sure to reach out to us.