Where there’s Smoke, there’s Flavour – DIY Trash-can Smoker


Tinkering, cooking, and eating are three of my favourite downtime activities. So it will come as no surprise that I often go to great lengths to combine all three.

My latest obsession is perfect slow-cooked ribs. Crafted with smoke, fire, and care.

I have been to many dedicated BBQ restaurants, and always thought there must be some secret voodoo that produces the delicate mouthwatering flavour of real Barbeque.

Cooking with fire is perhaps the oldest cooking method, and for many, the most mysterious. Most are willing to pay a little more to dine out, never considering that they could do it themselves – It doesn’t have to be this way!

Like most things, the truth of real Barbeque is of course quite simple.

In my estimation the secret to great ribs is heat, smoke, and time.

With a little knowledge, practice, willingness to fail, and the right tools, anyone can produce ribs with tender fall-off-the-bone flavour, right in their own backyard.

In my limited experience I have learned that every dish requires an appropriate measure of three key elements:

  1. The best ingredients you can get
  2. Thoughtful preparation
  3. Deliberate technique, equipment, and execution

When it comes to ribs, all three elements are vital. Each step contributes nothing but the building blocks of flavour that will penetrate literally to the bone.


For my purposes, I wanted a simple charcoal burning smoker that would allow for moderate cooking times (up to 6 hours) with little attending. There are plenty of commercially available smokers out there. Some cheap, some over the top expensive. You could wait for a sale and buy one, but what fun would that be?

With just a bit of searching I was able to find all the bits you see above for about $60.

What I used:

  1. Galvanized Trash-can
  2. Stainless Steel colander (to hold hardwood charcoal)
  3. 6 x 2″ Stainless Steel bolts and nuts (3 each to support 2 shelves inside)
  4. An empty can to hold hickory/mesquite wood-chips or pellets
  5. A sheet of thin steel and magnets for a door
  6. 2 x 14-16″ wire racks or perforated pizza pans

I even added at BBQ thermometer on the lid (I like to keep the heat below 240 or so).


As you can see I cut a hole in one side of the trash-can to control air ventilation and to be able to add charcoal as necessary (I have not needed to yet).

The colander is loaded with charcoal and placed at the bottom of the can. Allow the the coals to heat to ash, then place the can of  wood-chips/pellets right onto the coals. Cover the door and add the ribs, put the lid on the can and walk away.

Even with the door in place, there is not enough of seal on my smoker to snuff the fire – keep an eye on the temperature and open the door if your fire needs air.


As for a rib recipe, there are a million, and I urge you to make it a million and one.

For the record, here’s mine:

  1. 4 x neatly trimmed pork side or back ribs, membrane removed
  2. Dusted liberally with dried mustard powder, garlic powder, pepper, paprika, and cayenne powder
  3. Wrap tightly and refrigerate overnight
  4. When the smoker is ready, add the ribs and spray lightly with a 50/50 mixture of apple juice and vinegar (I use a squirt bottle). Repeat every 45 minutes or so for about 4.5 – 5 hours

After a few hours you should have something like this:


If you like, during the last 15 minutes or so you can add your favourite sauce and heat through.

If you made it this far, why not give it a try yourself? It’s simple, and the results are astonishing.

Now, what else can I fit in there?

Bon Appétit!


5 Responses to “Where there’s Smoke, there’s Flavour – DIY Trash-can Smoker”

  • Robert says:

    Try a whole turkey with the size of the trash can you can do a good sized 15 to 20 lbs tom for about 12 hours. Use an extra can with a liquid of choice. I use wine / beer and some herbs and spices

  • Andy says:

    Have you tried other meats in the smoker? Sausages, chicken, that sort of thing.

  • Kay says:

    Do you have to add charcoal to the can to keep the temp up?

  • Kay says:

    Do you have to keep adding charcoal to keep the temp. Up? If not how much charcoal do you use?

  • Tom Hofstätter says:

    Hi Kay.

    I have built a newer smoker in an oak barrel, but the principle is the same. I can get about 6 hours of steady 230 F from about 3-4 two-handfuls of charcoal briquettes. I often add a few handfuls if the temp drops below 220 F or so.

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