Got A Cardboard Box? Get Into Food Smoking!

We appreciate a good kitchen hack, and we have always liked TV personality and chef [Alton Brown]’s McGuyver-ish approach to these things. So for anyone who hasn’t seen it, let’s take a moment to highlight how to make (and use) Alton Brown’s Cardboard Box Smoker.

[Alton] himself confesses that over the years it has remained his favorite smoker for a few good reasons. The price is certainly right, but there are a few other things that really stand out in the design. It’s easy to assemble and take down, needing very little storage space compared to a purpose-built smoker. It’s also trivial to monitor the temperature inside: just poke a thermometer probe through the side of the box. Finally, it’s a great way to get some additional use out of an old hot plate and cast iron pan. It’s the kind of thing one could put together from a garage sale and a visit to the dollar store.

The cardboard box is perfectly serviceable, but one may be tempted to kick it up a notch with some upgrades. In that case, check out this tech-upgraded flower pot smoker (also based on an Alton Brown design.)

Reusing and repurposing is a great way to experiment in the kitchen without needing to buy specialized equipment. Here’s another example: Kyoto-style cold brew coffee. It’s thick and rich and brings out different flavor profiles. Curious? Well, normally it requires a special kind of filter setup, but it can also be accomplished with cheesecloth, coffee filters, and a couple of cut-up soft drink bottles. Oh, and some rubber bands and chopsticks if things are too wobbly. Just do yourself a favor and use good quality coffee beans, or better yet, roast them yourself. Just trust us on this one.

17 thoughts on “Got A Cardboard Box? Get Into Food Smoking!

  1. I think the cardboard idea is not great. MAYBE normal cardboard won’t release some crazy cancer inducing VOCs when heated, but you can bet your bottom dollar some people will just use whatever box they have around the house to do this. There are a ton of materials used for packaging that would release toxic chemicals when heated. Even some classic cardboard boxes might have paints or leftover packing tape or glue residue that you really wouldn’t want next to your food.

    1. It’s cold smoking. All the carcinogens are coming from the smoke itself. If the cardboard is getting hot enough to release VOCs you’re doing it wrong.

      I’ve done this a few times – it works great.

    1. They do no such thing. they might use a food grade boric acid to inhibit mold growth, but it’s non-toxic and vaporizes at 320 degrees F. Waterproofing is an extremely obvious wax coating which is food grade and vaporizes at 380 degrees F. so if your waterproof box is vaporizing the wax coating… IT’S ON FIRE!

  2. I’ve done this to make Salami. I got the idea watching Good Eats.

    I find it hilarious that Alton Brown had to clarify later to put the hot plate INSIDE the box, after a bunch of people lit their smokers on fire.

  3. I know a New Hampshire Boy Scout troop that used to extend this idea to roast a turkey. In essence: line a cardboard box with foil above a heat source (e.g., campfire coals). The box is closed on top and open on the bottom with a rack or pan to hold the turkey-and-box up above the fire. The foil reflects heat to cook the turkey and to avoid ignition of the cardboard. It is a slow-cook method and stuffing is NOT recommended.

  4. Not to be a downer but “smoking” foods really just means you are attaching a lot of hydrocarbons to them. What this means is they are highly carcinogenic which means your chance of colon cancer goes way up.

    1. Let’s not forget that everyone whom ingests bread or water will, without exception, inevitably die. But Big Loaf and Big Water have too much of a hold over mainstream media through advertising dollars – so you will never hear this reported. And their lobbyists are too influential in the halls of government, so no regulation is ever going to happen.

        1. You’re a liar! I’ve been told that people who eat nothing but plants not only live forever, but they also do not get sick. Ever! Especially if they drink alkaline water.


      1. You might want to look at post WW2 when all the people had to eat was white bread because we only airlifted bread into germany in the early days of post WW2. No one starved eating white bread.

  5. I dunno, does the unintended-use box list all the nasty volatile chemicals infused into the materials it’s constructed of that will inevitably end up in your food when you heat it up over a protracted period of time? There’s a reason for the “food-safe” qualifications on devices coming into contact or proximity to said food.

  6. Ha! Smoking food takes a looong time. Here in S.E. Florida I can practically guarantee the cardboard box will have to survive at least one windy-drenching downpour before each smoke job is done.

    1. I would trust this inside of my garage (with the door partially or fully open!) a lot more than the cheap ones from the big box stores. And having tasted the results, it’s well worth a try!

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