Clay Pot Smoker – part 3

Wiring the Control Box

For the wiring, I bought a small plastic project box from Radio Shack to contain the temperature control. I just needed to drill holes for the power cord coming in, the wires to the burner going out, and holes to mount the dial for the temperature control. I also bought a little bag of assorted rubber grommets to prevent the raw edges of the holes from rubbing through the wire’s insulation.

I drilled holes in each end of the box for the power cord to go in and for the wires to the hot plate to exit. (I don’t have a workbench or space where I can do projects like this. While doing all this drilling, I was sitting on our patio trying not to drill holes in the little plastic side table that served as my only work surface.)

When drilling plastic, you need to go slow. I was doing very well until the point where the drill tip broke through to the other side. At that point the drill bit deeply into the plastic and the box spun in my hand. (I had carelessly left the screws to the box lid inside the box and, of course, they flew in all directions). Despite being careful and prepared for it, the same thing happened on the other end. Even my largest drill bit wasn’t large enough for the grommet so I reamed out the hole and hoped for the best. After a struggle, I managed to get the grommets in the holes.

The most anxious part was in drilling the holes in the lid for the temperature control. Looking at the wiring that I took out of the hotplate, I noticed that the wires came off one side of the control, so I needed to be sure there was room for them. I decided to place the control at one end of the lid, rather than centered so that the wires pointed towards the other end of the box. I needed two small holes for the mounting screws and one large one between and a little above them for the shaft.

There was also a wire with a small bulb for the on/off light. I managed to get the red plastic lens out of the hotplate housing without breaking anything. I also drilled a hole for that. Here’s a picture of the assembled control box. The whole thing came out better than I had expected.

The original wiring had attached to the burner with spade connectors. This was good since I didn’t want to leave the entire rig hooked up all the time. My patio is uncovered and I didn’t want all of the wiring to be exposed to rain. By using the clips, I could disassemble the rig after it cooled and move the burner and wiring to a storage closet.

I found a small bag of male and female connectors at Radio Shack. The first problem was that all the connectors had a plastic sleeve over the ferrule (the part that crimped onto the wire). Again, I wasn’t sure whether these would stand the heat inside the smoker. After trying (unsuccessfully) to find clips that didn’t have the sleeves, I used a utility knife to slit the plastic and remove the sleeve.

I cut two 4 ft. lengths of the high temp wire and put male connectors on one end and female on the other, threaded them into the control box and connected them to the original wiring. I ran the wire through the drain hole in the large pot and plugged up the burner.

Because of the way the burner was made, it lay at an angle in the bottom of the pot. I went back to Home Depot and bought three paver bricks (about 49 cents each). With a hammer and cold chisel (why is it called that?) I split the bricks in half. I used four pieces to raise the smoker up a little so the wire could pass beneath easily. The remaining two pieces were set on edge inside the bottom of the smoker and the burner rested on top of them.

I lidded the smoker up and cautiously plugged it in.

No sparks. No tripping of breakers. So far so good.

While the on/off light worked, it was too faint to see in daylight and therefore not much help.

I cranked the heat to half-way and put a meat thermometer in the drain hole of the bowl. I set a kitchen timer and checked the temperature every thirty minutes for two hours. By the end of the first 30 minutes the temperature was up to 260.

30 min. – 260
60 min. – 300
90 min. – 320
120 min. – 330

It kind of bothered me that the temperature kept climbing, although very slowly. For smoking, you need to maintain a steady temperature of about 220F for many hours. I later bought a replacement thermometer for a gas grill. It has a nice sized dial and the probe is only an inch long.

Other Thoughts

  • Though I’ve only tested it over a period of two hours, the temperature inside the smoker continues to climb, (slowly). I don’t know whether separating the control from the hotplate housing made a difference or not.
  • I’ve seen a beautiful variation on this using glazed pots that the maker calls Little Blue Egg. However, it requires more mechanical ability than I have. A number of people expressed concern over heating pots where you don’t know what’s in the glaze (lead?). Other people said it shouldn’t be a problem at the temperatures used for smoking. For me, plain terra cotta seems to be safer.


Clay Pot Smoker – part 1

Clay Pot Smoker – part 2

Clay Pot Smoker wrap-up


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jerri Reynolds on July 5, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    I have been using this configuration of clay pot smoker for 3 years now, but I use real charcoal and it works like a Big Green Egg, not quite as efficient but IT WORKS and lputs out beautiful smoked meats. I use the 18″ size large heavy clay pot from Home Depot, but got the round top at a specialty nursery. I’d be happy to share my pictures or text if you like.


    • I thought about doing a charcoal smoker (I’ve used a Weber kettle grill for many years). There’s a guy online who made what he calls his “little blue egg” that uses charcoal. It’s a beautiful piece of work, but he did a lot of drilling and cutting of the pot that I don’t feel comfortable trying to do. So, tell me:

      Did you need to add any more vent holes?
      How much charcoal does it take?
      Does it take much tending?
      How about cleanup?

      When I recently tried to use my smoker, the power light came on, but the burner isn’t getting hot. I need to figure out what the problem is.


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