Contrary to popular belief, you can build a smokehouse out of wood and in fact many are still built like that today. To be fair, a lot depends on the size of the smokehouse that you are building, if for example you were trying to build a shoebox smoker out of wood where everything is so compact then the chances are that the thing is going to go up in flames.
Let’s start right at the beginning, my first design was much bigger than a shoebox, probably best described as a wardrobe and even that went up in smoke, so whilst it’s true that you can build a smoker out of wood there are still some things that you need to consider.
Two things really determine whether wood is a suitable building material for a homemade smoker:
The size issue is pretty easy to resolve and that is that your home-made smoke house would have to be sufficiently big enough to ensure that the heat and smoke source is fully enclosed in fire-retardant materials and insulated at floor level. Provided you take these steps then you really can build a smoke house out of something that resembles nothing more that a garden shed.
In Africa for example, you will still see smoking as part of the daily life in the coastal villages where the daily food staple is fish. In the African sun, fresh fish will keep but for a matter of hours and without refrigeration the only way to preserve fish for market or for days when the villages don’t catch anything is to smoke it.
The smoke house will effectively be a shelter with a wooden thatched roof and inside a naked log fire – how fireproof is that? It just goes to show that provided the hut is big enough and the fire is insulated (it sits on sand) then wood is perfectly acceptable.
The African fishermen brings me onto the next point which is that the temperature of smoking is important top. Generally when smoking fish it is either cold smoked or warm smoked, the latter being up to a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius. This is some way from the higher 110 or 120 that one would encounter when hot smoking American style.
Certainly at these temperatures, wood, if in a confined environment (and it would have to be so in order to get to that temperature) could easily char.
My own solution to making a small smoker out of wood was to line the entire internals with fire retardant boards and also leave an insulation gap of 25mm between the board and the wood. By doing it this way I’ve managed to provide all the aesthetics of a traditional wooden smoker with the practicality and durability of an American hot smoker.
In addition I’ve done it for a fraction of the price that I would have had to pay for a smoker had I bought it in the shops.