Smoking meats is a safe way to create tender, juicy and flavorful meals from tough cuts of meat. From fish to vegetables, cheese, breads and pasta side dishes, there is no end to what types of proteins and meals benefit from the smoking process.
Buying a pre-built commercial smoker designed for use in the home can limit the space you have to smoke large cuts of meat or many types of protein. Converting an old oven into a smoker offers more space and options, such as a glass door or added racks to hold meats and dishes.
Making a smoker from an old stove is a relatively simple endeavor, compared to building your own out of steel or converting a refrigerator or other appliance for that purpose. In fact, a working smoker can be created from an old oven in an afternoon with the right tools and techniques.
Benefits of Smoking Meat
Many chefs have more than one smoker in order to finish off a few different types of meat in one sitting. Converting an old oven into a smoker is a good way to increase your ability to smoke meats, fish side dishes, cheeses, vegetables or other meals.
Smoking meats and fish offers a distinct flavor. It is also considered healthier than frying or baking. The low and slow cooking method breaks down the collagen that is found in muscle tissue. This process of cooking tougher, fattier cuts of meat makes them more tender and flavorful.
Smoking also allows for the grease to slowly be released from fatty cuts of protein — and yet the texture is still moist and tender if done correctly and at the right temperature. The relative lack of moisture that happens when smoking meat, as well as the acidic coating that occurs around the meat, creates a harsh environment that deters bacteria from flourishing.
Hardwoods to Use for Smoking
The flavor from smoking foods comes from the hardwoods used in the smoker. The main choices for wood to use in a smoker include cherry, mesquite, oak, hickory, pecan, maple, apple and alder.
The pink smoke ring found inside the coating of the meat is the signature of a cut of meat that was properly smoked.
History of the Stove Timeline
Today, there are convection ovens, dual-fuel ovens, induction cooking and flat cooktops, to name but a few of the technologically advanced stove options available for home cooks. Society has come a long way in the last few hundred years from wood-fired hearths.
But smoking meats and vegetables over an open fire or within a brick or stone structure has been in every culture since ancient times. Baking bread this way is still considered to offer a superior finished product, compared to indoor ovens or outdoor barbecue grills.
Colonial Americans began to fiddle with the shape of ovens to better gauge and control the temperature within the confines of their brick ovens. They created a beehive-shaped oven that, when paired with the correct amount of wood-to-ash ratio, could control the temperature of the oven for a perfect cake or crisp bread.
Cast iron stoves made an appearance in the mid-1700s, according to the Old House Journal. Count Rumford created a single fire source within a cast iron stove in the end of the 18th century that regulated different temperatures for a variety of pots placed on the stovetop at the same time. This hulking appliance heated the room, as well, and eventually was scaled down to be used in modest home kitchens.
By the early 1800s, gas cooking was introduced by a Moravian named Zachaus Winzler. A few decades later, an Englishman named James Sharp figured out how to manufacture a stove that burned cleaner and was easier to maintain than its coal and wood counterparts.
By the end of the 1800s, electric stoves came into play in upscale home kitchens. By the mid-1900s, stoves and ovens came in all shapes and sizes, from gas to electric, and convection cooking began to become an option for home chefs.
Ovens That Work Best for Converting into a Smoker
It's a relatively inexpensive way to create rich, smoked foods. Creating a smoker from an old stove is safe, with the right amount of patience, tools and correct techniques.
The best type of oven to convert into a quality smoker is electric that has a cavity with a solid structure and no signs of decay or rust. The oven doesn't need the burners, knobs or a functioning electrical heating unit to work well as a smoker.
The old oven should have a large bottom drawer, as well as all of its racks. If it doesn't have all of its racks still, then they can typically be found online to buy. Contact the manufacturer if you can't track down old racks that can fit within the cavity of the oven.
How to Make a Smoker from an Old Oven
Once you have located a suitable old electric oven, remove all of the burners, burner covers, knobs and remaining electrical parts. Also, remove the top of the oven that is no longer functional. Clean the item thoroughly, and use a degreaser, if needed, to remove all old globs of grease or burnt on foods.
The large drawer on the bottom needs a hole drilled in the center that is large enough for an extension cord. In the center of the floor of the interior of the old oven, cut out a 7-inch diameter hold. This links the interior of the oven to the drawer below. Smoke will rise easily through the racks from the 7-inch hole.
Place a 7-inch diameter metal duct into the hole you've just made to create a chimney. This will also keep the grease and marinade from dripping onto the hotplate in the drawer below. Then, put a hot plate in the drawer directly under the homemade chimney. Thread the power cord through the hole in the center of the drawer that you drilled. A cast iron pan filled with wood chips, soaked or dry, placed on the hot plate completes the smoker.
Other Ways to Create a Wood Burning Smoker
A wood stove smoker conversion kit can be bought online. You can also create your own if you are comfortable with welding and working with thick metal. You can create a wood stove smoker out of a food-grade barrel, according to Popular Mechanics. A local sheet metal shop can cut pieces to fit the size of wood stove smoker you intend to build.
Refrigerators, large metal coolers and stand-alone freezers can also be converted into a wood stove smoker. A wood stove conversion kit makes the process simple.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at www.vegaswriter.com.