The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker

Personal by + on July 5, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker

Friends built the Alton Brown flower pot smoker a few months back and then visited this weekend and convinced me to build one for the Fourth.

Getting the parts

While the actual construction of the smoker is trivial, I found that gathering all of the needed items was challenging. Many of the items were hard to source. If you live in Seattle, the guide below should help tremendously. Generally speaking, I would recommend that you try ordering everything but the Pot, Bowl and bricks online.

Pot size selection

The two hardest to source parts drive pot size selection. The terra cotta bowl is hard to find. The 17” bowl is the largest I was able to find anywhere. It is also really heavy so it is impractical to order online.

However, if you can find an 18” bowl, I would be pretty tempted to get an 18” pot. You can definitely fit the Weber 22.5” replacement charcoal grate in the pot (it is actually about 17”) or possibly even the 18.5” grill grate (it is slightly less than 18” in actual diameter). Not only would you get more cooking surface, but you’d also have a much easier to source grate.


Parts List

17” Terra Cotta Pot$19Home DepotThey had these at City Peoples, but I didn’t stop there until later.
17” Terra Cotta Bowl$22City Peoples Garden StoreHard to find. Try garden / nursery stores. I think it is also called an azalea bowl. Some people use saucers that they drill into.
Heat Element$10Walgreens AmazonThere are reports of insufficiently sized heat elements. This is a 1000W element that others have had success with. The Maxi-Matic ESB 300X is nearly identical to the Walgreens element I originally used. The interior wires are a little shorter (and thinner), but otherwise the construction is nearly identical.
16” Grill grate$20Sutter Hearth & Home in BallardThe standard Weber sizes 14”, 18” and 22” are available everywhere. Unfortunately, they don’t fit. Order a 16” grate online well in advance. I ended up using a more expensive ‘grill topper’
Grill Thermometer$14Sutter Home & HearthShockingly hard to find. Try ordering online.
Pan (for wood chips)unkour kitchenShould be easy to find. Get as heavy a pan as possible.
Ceramic Pot feet$6Stoneway HardwareThese are pretty easy to find elsewhere.
3 Bricks$1.50Home DepotCould be 2×4s or anything else to get the smoker above the base.
5 lb Pecan Wood Chunks$15Sutter Hearth & HomePlan ahead and consider ordering online. I later found Apple and Cherry chunks at Stoneway hardware for much less. We used about 2/3 of the wood.

Getting the Heat Element controls out of the smoker

I wanted to get the controls for the heat element outside of the smoker so that I could adjust the heat without opening the smoker. This approach had the added advantage of getting the plastic base (and overheat sensor) out of the hot pot. This was shockingly easy to do. These instructions are for the Walgreens hot plate which seems to be pretty commonly used (I’m assuming that you’re smart enough not to plug in the hot plate):

  1. Remove the screw that connects the burner to the plastic base. There is just one screw and its in the middle of the burner at the top.
  2. Disconnect the wires from the heat element. They are meant to be easily disconnected and reconnected. All you need to do is press the tab and pull the wire and connector off of the pin.
  3. Place some foil (or preferably a non-conductor) over the exposed base to catch any drippings that may fall out of the pot (we had none escape). Keep the foil clear of the control element.
  4. Center the hot plate base amongst the bricks (see photo) and run the wires up the hole in the bottom. Reconnect them to the heat element. I don’t think it matters, but the fat wire was originally connected to the prong that runs to the center of the heat element.

I used both bricks and the pot holder feet so that I could raise the smoker up off the base plate and allow air to flow up through the hole in the pot. I then placed a brick in bottom of the smoker to support the heat element and keep the electrical prongs off the base of the pot. I had to chip the corners of the brick so that it could sit to the side of the hole for air flow.

Obviously, the wiring is much more exposed than it was in the sealed hot plate. It is actually very hard to touch the wires during operation, but be careful. Also, I’d highly recommend you ensure that you’re plugged into a GFCI protected outlet (all outdoor outlets in buildings built after the mid-eighties are required to be GFCI protected).

Temperature management and monitoring

The temp at the top of the grill does a good job telling the temp inside the smoker. We kept wireless temp probes in the meat throughout the process.

Metal smokers vs. the Flower Pot vs. the Big Green Egg

You can buy a metal smoker from Wal-mart or other sources for less than you’ll spend assembling the flower pot smoker. I’ve never cooked with a metallic smoker, but based on other comments I’ve read the inexpensive ones are thin and shed heat tremendously quickly.

When we were finished smoking the internal temp was about 210. Two hours later it was 140. Four hours later it was still warm to the touch. The Terra Cotta simply holds the heat really well. The ambient air was in the sixties with a strong wind on our roof deck.

However, the flower pot is no match for the Big Green Eggs. These ceramic smokers are massive. The equivalent size to the flower pot is probably the Large Egg, which has an 18” diameter cooking area, weighs 140 lbs and retails for $700. Plus I can’t imagine I’d have had as much fun as I did figuring the flower pot smoker out.


We cooked two 4.5lb Boston Butts on the 4th using Alton Brown’s recipe for the brine and rub. It turned out fantastically well.


Hamilton posted a series of really good questions alongside one of the photos, and I wanted to include the questions and my responses here as I think they’ll help other people:

I was wondering if you think it would be feasible to run a second Walgreen’s burner through that bottom hole and into the pot. This may give me the potential for more heat and heat control in the winter months when the weather is a little cooler here in South Carolina. Maybe stagger them in the pot (one above the other.) Or even side by side standing up.

I don’t think you’ll need to do this. We had trouble keeping the heat down in the target 220 range and never had the dial anywhere near the halfway point. By the end of the session, I don’t think the dial would go any lower.

Also, these are 1000W burners (9 Amps). Many household circuits are 15 Amps (some are 20), so you’d run the risk of blowing a fuse if you plugged them into the same circuit.

However, if you did do it, I don’t think you’d want to stagger them as the heat from the lower one may melt the solder on the higher one. Side by side would work, but you’d need something else to set the grate on.

Also, when you disconnect the burner from the base, do you have enough length in the wire to connect the burner back to the burner once you’ve run it through the hole with the original connections or do I need to buy some extension wires?

It is tight, but there is enough wire. If you do need to get wire, make sure it is thermally insulated.

What was the highest temp you were able to see in your cooker?

We accidentally let it rise to around 240 (220 is the target). At some point I’ll do a controlled test, but it could definitely go much higher.

Do you soak your wood chips as well as leave water in the bottom of the pan? When do you like to put the chips in the cooker - When the cooker comes up to temp?

We used chunks instead of chips as they are less likely to actually catch fire. I’ve read that you don’t need to soak them, but a friend advised to soak half. This way, the dry ones start smoking early and the wet ones start smoking later. So, you don’t need to lift the top until later in the cooking process (lifting the top lets out the smoke and cools everything slightly).

Do you end up adding more chips to the pan throughout the cooking process? If so, what is your advice for removing the grill surface and the meat?

We added wood once (and only opened the top twice). The second time we lifted the top was to rotate the butts. The meat can be easily removed using foil and oven mitts. We had a plate with foil on the side to set them on.

If you look carefully at the picture of the butts you’ll see two screws sticking up through the cooking surface. We gripped the screws with oven mitts and lifted it directly out (it did take a bit of effort as it was kind of jammed down there).

To remove the upper pot/lid, have you come up with a good “handle” or do you have an alternative method? As your graph shows, I guess it’s a little hot and awkward to fooling around with when it’s that hot.

It shockingly isn’t too hot to touch. The lid measurements are from the interior. The exterior of the terra cotta is definitely cooler. Some people claim that they can use their bare hands, I just used oven mitts, but used my hands to make minor adjustments.

Would it be beneficial to drill more holes in the bottom of the pot to let in more fresh air or do you think that would let too much heat out?

I don’t think you want to do this. You don’t want the wood to burn (heavy air flow), you want it to combust enough to smoke. We had absolutely no problems with air flow.

  • sa

    sigh. brings a tear to my eye ;)

  • Hamilton

    Thank so much for your timely responce!

    I was able to find most of my materials today at Lowe’s (terra cotta pots 2 @ $24.97), True Value Hardware (grill surfaces, cast iron smoker box for the wood chips, and the meat thermometer = total $42), and Walgreen’s (single eye burner $9.99.)

    Tomorrow I start!

    I couldn’t find a terra cotta bowl, so I’m gonna start with a second pot of equal/exact size to use as my lid.

    I also bought some 4-5 inch tall terra cotta pots to flip upside down and use as the legs for my cooker. This should give ample space for the burner base.

    The grill surfaces I bought were the ones that actually go in the bottom of a standard, circular shaped (kettle-style) Weber grill. The ones I bought are designed to hold the charcol not the meat. Therefore they are built of steel as opposed to aluminim of whatever cheap material they always use.

    As soon as I can find the time to start on all of this, I will.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Awesome. I can’t wait to hear how it turns out.

    I tried using the charcoal grate, but it didn’t fit in my smoker. I spoke with a guy at the BBQ store and he told me that both the charcoal grate and cooking grate are made of steel, but the cooking grate has been chromed. The chrome will eventually fleck off over time (and end up in your food), so the charcoal grate would be just fine.

  • Hamilton

    Cooked a 6 pound Boston Butt for 1.5 hours per pound = 9 hours plus allowed another hour to make up for the time and temperature i lost while adding new chips. turned out great!

    Some things i altered:

    I bought some weber roasting/drip pans from my local hardware store. 8.5 x 11 inch pans. I used one on my bottom charcol grate by as a drip pan to keep anything from dripping on my burner. I filled this pan with half of an inch of water.

    I cut out a section of another roasting pan exactly the size of my burner and placed it directly on the burner. I then put my cast iron smoker box directly on the cut out roasting pan. I found that if I didn’t do this, the cast iron smoker box put out a foul smelling odor as whatever it was coated with during production was burning off when it was directly on the burner without the cut out foil to seperate them.

    I bought 4 stainless U bolts to use as handles when removing the grill grates during the process of adding chips.

    Something i would like to change………..

    Adding chips during the cooking process is a pain in my ass. In the time needed to disassemble the cooker to get to the bottom, my temp drops to 170 or so by the time I get it put back together. Need to find a way to pull out my smoker box through the side of the pot. Any suggestions? Can I cut the pot? i iwould need to find a way to do that so I could slide my smoke box out, do the exchange, and slide it back in quickly. I would want it to seal back up tight so as to not lose too much heat.

  • Dave Naffziger

    That sounds awesome.

    Nice thinking on putting something between the cast iron smoking box and the burner. What did you use to cut the pan?

    I’ve also read a few posts that suggested using a water pan as it helps to serves as a heat reservoir, reducing temperature fluctuations. I was surprised by how little fat dripped off the two butts that I cooked.

    What temp did you cook at?

    How often did you have to replace the chips? Is it possible that they caught on fire and burned up quicker? I only had to replace the chunks I used once and still had plenty of wood left to burn when I stopped smoking.

    I’ve been reluctant to cut into the pot. About 80% of the pots at Home Depot of this size had cracks in them so I presume that they are more fragile than they seem.

  • Smoking Flower Pot – Assembly | inuyaki | a food blog

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  • justin

    Nice site. I thought about using clay pots for a smoker since the green egg is soooo expensive. Then I figured that I wasn’t the only one and did a youtube search. Sure enough, we have a cult.

    I’m off to our second annual J&K Rib cookoff classic tomorrow. It’s just a few highschool soccer buddies finding a way to hang out. Last year, I took my New Braunfels smoker up in the back of my truck and smoked up some very tasty ribs. It was only my second run at them and they turned out great. Unfortunatly, the judges did not like to spice that we like down here in south (central) Texas. Most were from Dallas.

    This year I have to either leave the cayanne behind or take a large box of tampons for the judges.

    Anyway, I got started on this clay pot smoker about 2 weeks ago. I have had trouble finding a hot plate that would do the trick. I ended up with a fryer since it went to 1500 Watts and could hold the wook nicely. The non coil style hot plates at 1200 Watts would only get me up to 160F. The fryer only gets it to about 170-175. I am planning on converting to the Walgreens special. Walmart was out of hot plates at the time due to hurricane Ike. Funny thing is, I could walk to a Walgreens but never gave it a shot. I’m checking in tomorrow before I leave.

    I’m going to have to wing it a little and use the new hot plate on competition day. I can’t wait to see my friends faces when I put my pot together to start the competition. They are going to crack up and give me hell. The conversation alone will be priceless.

    I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes.


  • Dave Naffziger

    Justin, that sounds great.

    Many of the hot plates have some fail-safe that triggers if the base gets too hot. That’s probably why you’re seeing your temp up to 160-175. Two solutions to the problem are to: 1. get your base out of the pots, or 2. figure out the heat sensing mechanism and disable it. The Walgreens plate is super easy to take apart plus you get the benefit of controls outside the pot.

    Happy smoking!

  • Snowpro

    While I haven’t gotten around to building my Tera Cotta Smoker yet, I was wondering if anyone has tried cutting the handle off an old cast iron skillet to use for holding the chunks of wood. I have read that thin pie pans don’t work, but would an old skillet be “overkill”. If anyone has tried one, let me know how it worked…

  • Dave Naffziger

    I think this is a great idea. The tin I used was definitely on the thin side and I’ve had a few flareups to deal with. I’d think that a cast iron skillet would work be excellent.

  • Zooter

    I just built one of these 2 weeks ago and couldn’t be happier. Found just about everything at Home Depot. I ended up going with a slightly oversized top to help reduce the smoke leakage. Alton gives specifics in his Essential Kitchen Tools book, but for me it came down to finding the right size pot, lid and grill. I think I’ve got a 16″ bottom base with a 18″ top pot, but it looks essentially the same as the ones pictured.

    After experimenting, I found that it helps for consistent temperature if you pre-heat the flowerpot for about 20 minutes prior to popping in the wood chips. Once the pottery is warm the temperature stays consistent.

    PS: Thanks for the tip on getting the controls outside of the smoker. That’s a great idea – I kept trying to adjust from the top with a stick – didn’t work.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Great idea on pre-heating the flowerpot! I’ll have to do that next time I use it. Once I’ve put the meat in I’m generally reluctant to open it and preheating definitely would allow me to make sure its at the right temp.

  • Zooter

    I’ve got a question about drippings. I smoked a beautiful boston butt (ala Alton’s recepie) and it was amazing. Problem was that there were a lot of drippings – well, that’s kind of a good thing, but 1) it kept dousing some of the wood chunks, acutally soaking some to the point of their going out. and 2) I believe that the smoke from the fat drips is supposed to be carsonegenic – pretty bad for you. The design of the flowerpot smoker makes it impossible to avoid the drippings, so I’m wondering if anyone has ever experimented with a drip pan or something to keep the drips off of the coals? I’ve been thinking of hanging a small catch tray from my Webber under the grill, but would like to hear if anyone else has any thoughts, ideas or solutions.

  • Dave Naffziger

    I haven’t had a similar problem.

    Hanging the catch tray sounds like a pretty good idea, but you’ll need to be careful when removing the grate to add wood chunks. Alternatively, you could also place a smaller grate in the pot that sits above the wood chunks and rest your dripping pan on that.

    Let us know how it works out!


    I put foil under the the flat side of the ham and make a little bowl out of it by crimping up the side around the the bottom of the ham about 2 – 3 inches deep. It catches most of the drippings and protects the ham from drying out on the flat side that is facing the element. I put my wood chips right on the hot plate burner with no pan. I found that a pan setting on the hot plate will bring the temprature down too low, as it makes the hot plate cycle prematurely. Otherwise I let the jucies from what ever I am cooking just drip right down on the buner and the bottom of the pot and drain onto a pan underneath the pot. I have done this now for 4 years and never had a short. After I finish smoking and it all cools down, I unplug and pull the hot plate out and scrape the residue build up off the plate and under the coils with a screwdriver. I have smoked hundreds of hours before the hot plate had to be replaced because of rusting of the metal base under the coil fo the hot plate. I get my hotplates at Walgreens $9.95. Replacing once every year or two.

  • Ken

    Just wanted to post my smoker trip report. I followed Alton's episode to the T minus the teracotta bowl (simply couldn't find a well-stocked garden center in January) and made pulled pork for the superbowl. I also decided to cook on a bone-piercing cold day: -3 with the windchill, 15 degree air temp. I did it in an empty garage w/ventillation. I could get the smoker empty up to 230 degrees. Once the pork went in, though, it never got above 200. It coasted at 185-190 most of the time and I had to finish in the oven because my cook time was going to push me to about 2 in the morning at that rate. The outside temperature was simply too cold and the plate could not keep up. Some exterior parts of the pot were barely warm to the touch, others out of the path of the heat was even cold. The garage was barely a shelter, just for the wind. Changed the wood once during the smoking.

    If I had the time (and woken up at 4 am) I could have done the whole thing in the smoker, but I can't wait for a warmer day to give this a go. Knowing that it will perform in the dead of winter, I will be able to start working with this thing when it gets back to 35-40 degrees instead of -3.

  • Ken

    Oh and the pork was amazing. It was gone before the first quarter was over, and it was a pretty small party.

  • Larry

    Here's a potential upgrade: plug your hotplate into a temperature controller who's probe goes into the top hole of the bowl where the thermometer is now. You could probably fit both, but since the temperature controller will show the probe temp, you won't need the thermometer anymore. It's good to keep the meat probe, though.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Wow, I like that a lot!

  • Mike Shultz

    I have been using the Alton Brown smoker for 2 seasons now. I use a old heavy pie pan for wood chips.
    I would not cut or drill the flower pots. My first pot i drilled a hole for a thermometer and the pot cracked during smoking.
    I now use the set it and forget it method. I will put my butt in at night and just let it go all night and the next day.
    About 16 hours total. It seems you cant overcook the meat. My next experiment is a digital temperture controller attached to the burner. Thanks for the nice site Dave

  • Dave Naffziger

    Mike, thanks for the note. I would tend to agree about drilling into
    the pot – these things are fragile enough as it is and I can only see
    the holes weakening the pot.

  • Robert

    Do you guys cook steaks or any other meals on this cooker or is it just pretty much slow cook BBQ? Just wondering if temp would be high enough?

  • Dave Naffziger

    The temp would not be high enough for steaks. It could get easily as
    high as 300+ degrees, but I think typical surface temperatures of a
    grill are much higher.

  • Smokes a lot

    Do you think using another terra cotta plate as the holder of the wood chips wood get hot enough to bring the wood to a smoke point? Seems like it would smoke it a little slower and more evenly.

    Great site –

  • Dave Naffziger

    That's a good thought. I honestly don't know, but would love to hear
    how it goes if you try it.

  • drummer1982

    I have the possibilit of getting the terra cotta pieces in 20". Do you think I would need to make any temp adjusments or other adjustments?

  • Dave Naffziger

    Probably not. I would think it would work just fine.

  • ZachV

    Thanks, you saved my bacon with the tip of breaking the walgreen's hot plate apart. So simple!

  • Daniel

    Has anyone had any luch finding the pot for the lid?
    Home Depot and Lowes dont carry them and neither do any of the local plant shops.
    I ordered a Terra Cotta Bowl online and just received a plastic pot, what a scam.
    Any Help, would be greatly appreciated

  • Dave Naffziger

    This was by far the hardest part for me to find. I wasn't able to
    find it online, but I didn't look too hard. I have seen people use a
    large terra cotta saucer quite successfully (that would normally go
    under the pot).

  • Daniel

    i also had a problem finding that too
    the saucers i find dont have the hole

  • Dave

    I've done the store-bought frozen turkey breasts on the bone with astounding results! I put the frozen breasts in the standard brine overnight, which thaws and brines in one step, then smoke at ~ 200 degrees for ~ 7 hours (depending on size). This will be the best smoked turkey you have ever had!

  • Dave Naffziger

    brilliant. That sounds awesome – I think I'll give it a try.

  • Peter De Smidt

    Just built my Smoky Pot last week. I used a diamond blade in a 4" angle grinder to cut a circle through the base of the bottom pot.. It cut easily, and I haven't had any problems with cracking. I mounted the lower pot on a frame, and the electric burner is held such that the base is outside the pot but the element is inside. This allows me to lower the burner and wood pan out of the smoker to add wood. I also mounted a woven fireplace gasket strip to the lip of the top pot. This gives a pretty good seal, and it minimized the chances of chipping either pot when removing or replacing the top.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Awesome. You've got a great set of photos on your blog. How about a
    few photos!?

    I like the idea of the fireplace gasket strip.

  • Lime D. Zeze

    Thanks for this page. I used my flower pot smoker for the first time last weekend. The pork shoulder came out great!
    A couple of things. I had to rewire the heat element for the wires to be long enough for the element to sit on two bricks. I need to get some better heat-resistant wire, though. I used a combination of applewood chips and apricotwood chips…delicious! but I had to add chips every 1 – 1.5 hours. I will get wood chunks next time. I ended up smoking a 6 lb. Boston butt for 11 hours.
    Also, I found an 18" pot at Lowes and an 18" "lid" pot at Swanson's in Seattle. With these, there is a Weber charcoal grill grate that fits perfectly on the lip of the pot, so it's always level.
    Anyway…thanks again!

  • Lime D. Zeze

    Not sure where you are, but I was able to find an 18" pot/bowl for a lid at Swanson's in Seattle. I had to hunt around, though. I thought I would never find it.

  • Tim

    Has anybody tried replacing the electric burner with gas burner? I would think that you could control the temperature alot easier

  • daniel

    ok so i found all the pieces
    tried this today and it came out like shit
    i thought at first it was the brine so i put some ribs on the grill without being brined and they tasted just as bad
    i think it may be the wood
    i used hickory chunks, can anyone tell me if that was the problem?

  • Dave Naffziger

    I've read that too much Hickory smoke can turn meat bitter. Not sure
    if that is what happened here.

    I've had great success with both apple and pecan chunks

  • Jeff

    Great descriptions. I built mine using a 20inch pot from Home Depot and a 20inch bowl from City People's in Seattle. The burner I found from walgreens was a square base so I got a Toastmaster 6420 from Ace Hardware and it's been working great for the past 5 sessions. The learning curve with getting the thermals correct is a little tricky but worth the effort.

    Daniel: I wouldn't recommend brining ribs since the lean/fat ratio is pretty high in the first place. Second, smoke from hickory chips/chunks can be pretty bitter if overzealously applied. What did you do for the rub on the ribs? Also, how long did you smoke them for?

  • daniel

    Thanks Jeff.
    The hickory did make the food very bitter.
    When i tried the plain un-brined rub free meet it was not only bitter but salty too. And no salt was added.
    Which wood would you reccomend for next time, i refuse to five up?
    It did take me a while to get the temp right. It took like 2 hours to get over 150 degrees
    The pie pan i bought also partially disintegrated.
    So i cooked the ribs for about 1.5 hours and they were dredful. tender yes but overcooked and tasted like charcoal
    the pork shouldder cooked for about 6 hours, keep in mind i used haldf a shoulder, cause since i could not find a bouwl a bought a saucer and it seemed to fit with half a shoulder.
    The shoulder after 7 hours was very darken, on the outside and it also tasted like charcoal but when i went to cut it it was tough and the hickory taste made it uneatable.
    Ill post some pics a bit later to show u how it came out .

  • Cris

    Wow great posts I'm from Michigan and having a lot of trouble finding (the bowl) the top.Can't find two pots that sit into each other either. Please give me some suggestions / tips. Thanks in advance

  • Dave Naffziger

    I've seen some people use a saucer and it worked out fine for them -
    they just needed to get a smaller diameter grate so the smoked goods
    sit lower in the pot.

  • J.P.

    Would this not be big enough to fit a turkey on? I mainly see people smoking pork shoulders and such but I haven't really seen anything about whole turkeys.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Yup, I've smoked a turkey – 15lbs I think. It could have been larger
    if I recall correctly.

  • Kathleen

    Too much fun! Never even heard of these until yesterday, and now I have one heating up in my yard. So here's my take:

    I also could not find a bowl, so used a saucer. Spoke to the Home depot guy, who said I didn't need a masonry bit to drill terra cotta–just go slow and keep it wet. (I poured 1/2" water in the bottom of the saucer and drilled through it.) One center hole, two side holes, through which I placed screws to attach drawer pulls. They run a little loose in the holes, but since I pick up that slack when I pick up the lid, I'm not worried about it. Used some of the shaped wire handles rather than solid block–look nice, and may dissipate heat better. Also that slack space would leave room for a thermal break if I wanted to drill a small block of wood and put that between handle and lid. Another thought–threaded rod instead of a screw would have allowed me to put a set of handles on top and bottom–right side up when less room/more heat retention desirable; inverted when I want more hight over my meat. Also, big washers would be a smart thing to have under the screw heads to distribute the weight. I didn't say I *had* them, just that it would be smart . . .

    No Walgreens around, bought a ceramic-topped, metal-sided GE cookplate (w/two-year warranty included) at Walmart. Trying it first w/the whole unit inside the flowerpot. If that doesn't work, I'll either dissemble it or cut the pot and lower it over the unit as described by Peter above.

    So the base is in the pot, cord run out through bottom hole. On top of cookplate is a single-layer-cake round pan–a little stouter than the pie plate, and straight sides to impede air flow less, hold more chips. Layer above that is a thrift-store find–a round "stove-top grill", the two-piece kind consisting of a chrome ring w/a drip tray, and a round cooking surface that is slotted around the outside, and fits on top of the chrome ring. The slots go over the drip tray, so nothing goes on the burner or into the chip pan below. I had to arrange the chip pan off to the side a bit, to allow for free flow of air from below, or that drip ring would have impeded it. Not only does this catch drips, it serves as a water reservoir, and the cooking surface could in theory be used for searing, holding potatoes for baking, etc. Who knows?

    Then above that is my steel charcoal grate, which I plan on using for a cooking surface, obviously. Above that is an adjustable rectangular grate section, which I expanded to fit on the inner lip about four inches down from the top of the pot. Could be used to hold things for warming, cook on, removed if not needed, etc.

    Wah lah. (I hope.) The whole arrangement looks pretty spif, anyway. Just checked it, and the grills are hot, warm, and warm-ish respectively, from bottom up. No smoke yet. Also occurs to me that when the winter winds are howling, there would be no reason not to use this as a slow-cooker in my sunroom (sans chips). Taking that warranty out for a test-drive . . .

    Work in progress, but I'm liking my set up so far.

    Regarding replenishing chips, I've read that you don't need to have smoke throughout the whole cooking process, and that too much (esp. hickory) can make the meat bitter. So if the temp is good, there really shouldn't be much need to get in there and fiddle. Will probably try the u-bolts in the grate and the cooking surface on the stove-top grill just 'cuz, but a step at a time.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Wow. I love your setup.

    The handles on the top are a great idea – I've definitely found the
    hot lid to be awkward to handle.

    I also think that the drip pan is a nice add. It should reduce the
    flareups that we have from time to time.

  • jimwong

    Thanks for the informative tutorial. Put together the smoker yesterday and gave it a spin. Two small issues to throw out there:

    I was not being able to find the top portion, the terra cotta bowl. I purchased a saucer since they were readily available and used 3/8" masonry bit to drill a hole for the thermometer. The saucer works fine but it leaks a lot of smoke. Does the bowl keep a much better seal? My project today is trying to come up with some type of seal. I'm sure some duct tape along the outside would work fine, but not very practical if you want to open it every hour or two.

    The other difference was the hotplate. It's still $9.99 at Walgreen's but the base now is a rectangle, not a circle. It made fitting the base underneath the pot more of a challenge. I also had to remove a rubber piece from the base that stops the plug wire from moving. I needed to slide more cord up through the base to make the connection to the heating element.

    Thanks again!

  • Brian

    I have mine mostly assembled now sans finding a pan I want to use for the chips and getting the bowl top (still have a few more stores to check). The previous poster is right about Walgreens changing the hotplate to square. Mine fit without any extra work, but it's very tight. The interesting part is it almost seems sturdy enough to support the whole unit by itself, but I think that might create airflow problems.

    I will also say I was extremely frustrated trying to find non hickory/mesquite wood chunks in Las Vegas, but I finally found a place way out in the boonies. The author isn't kidding about checking online well in advance!

    What approximate temperature should the meat thermometer read when the pork is "done?" The full 210-220?

  • Peter

    I've made a couple of changes to mine. First, I put a fireplace woven gasket around the rim of the cover, mostly to cushion it a bit when I put the lid on. Don't use the gasket adhesive, as it's too thin for this application. Use regular silicone adhesive. I also put an aluminum drip pan under the grill. This catches most of the liquid from a shoulder. I hang it from the grill using some thick copper wire. My second hot plate died. This is a weak point of the design. I took the coil out and mounted it on a terracotta plate by drilling two holes through the plate. I connected a 1000 watt rheostat to the hot line and pluged the cord into a gcfi outlet. This allows constant heat instead of the on/off heating cycle of the regular hotplate. This has been working really well, but please don't do this if you don't know what you're doing.

  • Mark

    Just made mine. I purchased an 18" pot for the bottom and another for the top. i got the square burner from Walgreens and the 22.5 Weber replacement grill. The square burner fits in the bottom or nearly fits. It touches on the corners and is suspended about an inch of the bottom.

    Put the pork in and off I went. I could not get enough heat in the pots. With the hot plate on high I could only squeeze out a consistent 160 degrees. Do I have to much volume to heat? The burner is 1000 watts. a bit mystified.

  • Dave Naffziger

    If the burner is anything like the one I have, there is a mechanical
    temp sensor inside the burner that turns it off if it gets too high
    (and back on when once the temp drops). One of the advantages for
    separating the heating element from the controls is that it obviates
    the need to disable the sensor.

  • Peter

    The hotplates have a temp cut off switch. That's probably the issue.

  • cb2

    Sears has a pretty good smoker for $19.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Yeah, the thin metal smokers can be found pretty inexpensively.
    However, the primary advantage of the flower pot smoker is that the
    ceramic pots holds the heat far, far better.

  • jjj

    Just in time for football season and just big enough for my apartment's tiny deck! thanks a lot!

  • Brian

    Since so many people report lifespan problems with the hot plate I wonder if cannibalizing the heating element from one of these cheap smokers might be a good option. I haven't really looked at how they function so this might not be possible, but just throwing it out there.

  • jbb

    The new Walgreens design also solders the internal wires to the heating element, making it impossible to remove/reassemble the element without soldering tools (which I do not have).

  • Steve

    if you can get your hands on pecan it is like GOLD!! Also Hackberry wood is really good to use. It is plentiful in the mid-west, in the Kansas area.

  • Charles

    Per Alton's show… propane gas produces water vapor when it burns, so you'd end up with a moist smoke rather than a dry one.

  • Brian

    2:30 am and I'm still trying to get mine going. With everyone's temp complaints I started mine on high and it preheated to just shy of 300!! After turning down I still got 2 wood fires and am still trying to figure out the sweet spot. This is a mess. :(

  • sevesteen

    This sounds like a neat idea that I may try., I have one of the box smokers that I am reasonaby happy with, although I doubt it will last all that long.

    Two ideas for this (one of which I have actually used…)

    To reduce the need to add chips, I use several containers of chips and water, with different amounts of water in each container. If you get it right, as one container is used up, the next one boils away and dries enough to start smoking.

    As for sourcing cooking grates–Would pizza screens work? (no connection with the link, just the first relevant result I could find on Google) Bigger restaurant supply places have them in 1 inch increments, and most have all the even sizes, up to 18 inches.

  • Don

    Stein Garden & Gifts has them in the Milwaukee, WI area. 16" bowl has the same top diameter as a 17" standard pot. A gardening store is your best bet (rather than a gardening section of a big box hardware store) – and the 50% off end of summer clearance sales don't hurt right now either!

  • edouad coneho

    I use a coffee can filled with applewood saw dust, and a long barrel wood burning iron. Punch a hole in the can, insert the wood burning awl, add sawdust and presto … instant smoke. A lot of smoke.

    I roast my meat in a temperature controlled oven in damp conditions, low temp, long time, a turkey roaster with the top on. Then move to the Weber with my coffee can smoker to lay down the finished smoke, then sear the crust on.

    Beautiful. But I am tempted to try Alton's method, though in 2009, big flower pots cost A LOT more than $50 out here.

  • Ted

    The round Walgreens burners can still be found — I picked up the last one (behind the new square ones) in our store yesterday. Also bought an 18" pot at Lowes. For the top, I'm going to use a 21" bowl from a local (Baltimore) garden store — it will fit over the 18" pot and reduce smoke/heat loss. Unfortunately the bowl isn't available until Feb/Mar. Maybe I'll be able to find another at a different garden store.

  • Rick

    Hi all. I just sourced the parts for Alton's terracotta smoker and did a first run temperature test. Here are some observations:

    For those having trouble sourcing the tops, try pottery wholesale outfits. I had the same trouble finding an 18-inch bowl for the top. I stumbled into a wholesale supplier listing on the web that pointed me to the Washington Pottery Company in Kent, WA. Some of these wholesale places sell to the public, but don't advertise this fact.

    As for temperatures, be careful with the thermometer. I had an older oven thermometer lying around and used it at first. I decided to use an instant-read probe thermometer to calibrate the oven thermometer. It turns out the oven thermometer was consistently reading about 50 °F lower than the digital probe thermometer. I had previously calibrated the digital unit with both ice water and boiling water (I am at sea level or very near so, so I did not correct for altitude). I got a new grill thermometer from Lowe's that rests directly on the grill. After some control knob tweaking on the hotplate, I eventually got pretty good agreement between the digital probe sticking in the hole of the lid and the grill thermometer. I used the oven thermometer to plug the hole on the top bowl and to secure the probe.

    One last comment. I read previous posts from people using water in their smokers to catch drips. I think we are seeking dry heat in these units. If too much steam is generated (depending on water volume and oven temp), it may interfere with the smoking process. Either way, the meat will cook just fine. I think only the smoking efficiency will be affected by adding water to the process.

  • Mike

    Interesting, I just picked up the new square based Kitchen Gourmet burner from Walgreens and did not find the wires soldered to the coil. There was just a slip-on connection. I also had to remove the rubber gasket from the base so the wires would reach.

  • Tony

    I just did this smoker the past weekend with a terra cotta plate instead of a bowl, I was worried that the grate I bought would sit the meat too low and be too close to the heating element, but everything turned out fine. I had a 8lb pork shoulder cut in half and smoked both pieces in about 6 hrs. Internal temp was around 170, ideally I would have liked to have smoked the butt for 9 hrs and waited for the internal temp to get to 190 but people were getting ansy and it was already 9:30P…:). I prepared the rub and the brine just like Alton brown did and it turned out great. I also used applewood chips soaked in water since I couldn’t find any chunks.

    My biggest problem was getting the temperature steady around 210, I tried using a wet towl to create a seal around the plate/pot, that helped a little bit.

    Thanks for all the info on the site. I’ll probably try this again this upcoming weekend.

  • Dave Naffziger

    That's great to hear. The slip on connection is great and convenient
    - it allows for super-easy assembly.

  • Gary


    I've burned up 2-3 hot plates and am getting ready to go the burner-only route. I already have the 1,000watt rheostat. How did you mount the burner to the plate (is there a spacer) and how do you allow for air flow. Would you be willing to post some photos to help others who are struggling to solve the hot plate issue?

    My plan in the future is to smoke the Boston Butt with a couple of pans-worth of chunks, then move the butt to an oven indoors to finish the process to keep the fat and collagen from dripping into the smoker base.



  • Russ

    I built this years ago. I had a lot of trouble with the burners…For some reason, I fried three of them. They would last for 1 or 2 smokes and stop working. I tried a couple different brands, all around $10 from walmart.

  • Griffer

    Okay, guys, I have all the peices for this EXCEPT the hot plate.

    I live on the east coast, and I can't find this 1000W hot plate. Kmart and Target had plates, but either solid, construction or screwed together in a way that made the disassembly impossible.

    Any help on the walgreens one? A brnad name that I could search for? The origianl link is no longer good.

    Help? I really want to make this thing!

  • Griffer

    Never mind! I saw the second page of comments, found the product name, and found it!

    Here is the valid link:

  • Griffer

    never mind, never mind. Grrrrrrr….my wife offered to look at Walgreens for me, and they are the new model.

    Back to square one. I am looking at the Continental Electric Single Burner at Wal*Mart. It LOOKS very similar, but it is only available on-line in my area.

    15+ shipping makes it double the Walgreens burner, but at this point I just want to FINISH this project.


  • Guest

    Where did you find the rheostat? Do they cost much? Need one to control my Brinkmann 1500watt hot plate element.

  • Hal Kildahl

    I have all the "stuff" to do this type of smoking, but I found that either the wood was too large, and/or the hot plate maybe not be hot enough. I waitied a good 1 hour for the smoke to appear – alas, it did not happen. I reckon I did something wrong. The wood chunks were pecan – soaked some, & added dry as well. Anyone, hopefully, be willing to tell me what I may have done wrong – still think it is a great idea, & not all that expensive. I finally decided to use my Weber grill to smoke the brisket – it seems to be doing such; but I'd like to use the flower pots now that I have them. Help! Please" Hal Kildahl

  • Dave Naffziger

    Most likely your hot plate has an internal heat sensor that turns it
    off if it gets too hot (which happens when it is entirely in the
    pots). Most likely you'll need to open it up and disable the sensor
    (it is usually mechanical) or separate the base from the burner so the
    base is outside the pot.

  • CJ A.

    I have all the pieces as well except the grill grate and thermometer. I bought an 18" pot as well as and 18" bowl for the top. Where can I get an appropriate grill? The grill i have is the standard 18.5" grill replacement, and does not work. Any suggestions for the thermometer? Help please?

  • RDS

    Someone asked this earlier, but I didn't see any response. Has anyone tried to replace the electric burner with a gas burner, preferably using the small Coleman canisters? It would make this smoker great for car camping. There are portable smokers for around $235 that feed wood disks into the burner and divert the smoke to racks of meat under a foil cover. I would think the heat retention in the terra cotta pots would work much better, as long as you could heat it up and then control the temp with a low-enough burn. Anyone try this or otherwise rule it out?

  • CJ A.

    Where can I find a good thermometer, and a grill grate for an 18 in pot?

  • Wellsty

    It works! I used chunks of pecan wood to smoke a chicken breast for my initial test and then the whole bird after that. I think I over smoked it; the outside skin had a very bitter… almost acrid aftertaste (yet the inside meat was very tasty). After doing a little research at The Smoke Ring it seems like a lack of exhaust caused the bitter aftertaste. I know that drilling holes in the lid would allow for better exhaust, but do you think that would affect the smoker's ability to maintain a constant temperature?

  • diana prince

    This may seem like a dumb question, but…..why do this? Wouldn't it be cheaper, easier to just buy a weber grill or BBQ or gas grill, etc?
    It doesn't appear to be a great $$ saver or time saver.
    Is this supposed to cook or taste better?

  • Asim Ali

    D P,

    Please watch the video from Alton brown here.

    this should explain everything. If you still have questions, please post 'em here.

  • KJA

    The Weber 7441 replacement charcoal great fits a 18' pot perfect. Just bought one at Lowes. I'm using a 12" turkey frier thermometer

  • Mike

    Hi! I noticed some people asking, so… The purpose of this is NOT to grill, but to SMOKE. You only want enough heat to "Smolder" the wood chips. The smoke flavors and slowly cooks the meat. YES IT TASTES WAY BETTER!!!

  • Garry

    I'm in Denver and I just made one of these today. Total cost, about $70.
    $10 for the hotplate at Walgreens.
    I got the 18.5" pot for $14.99 on sale at Lowes. I couldn't find the azalea bowl anywhere, nor a pot plate, so I went with a hose bowl that was on sale for $20.
    Also got the 18" grill for $11 and temperature gauge for $9 at Home Depot.
    Three bricks were $1.50, three ceramic feet were $1.99.

    There is a hole in the bowl for the hose to come out and connect to a spigot. I'm not sure if that will be a problem or not. If so, I'll have to cover it with something. At some point I'll find the correct bowl top, and a 16" grill that sits lower in the pot.
    I'm pretty sure the hotplate is different from the ones you guys have been using. There wasn't enough cable to keep the base outside and the element inside. Also, there are ceramic tabs that hang down under the element about one inch, without the base these would break. However, I was able to disconnect the temperature control and run this on the outside under the pot. It doesn't stick all the way out, but it's not too difficult to reach. At some point I'll extend the wiring and maybe make a control box for it.

    I also picked up a bag of hickory chunks. The only other thing I could find this time of year was mesquite chips and I wanted the chunks. I can't wait to try it out.

  • Kenn

    I just made my ceramic smoker as well.

    17 bucks each for 18 inch pots, 3 bucks for the thermometer, 10 bucks for the burner, 3 bucks for bricks and 10 dollars for the replacement stelel grill from weber (supposed to hold charcoal like an earlier poster used),jpg

  • GaryR

    Part 1:
    First of all let me thank Dave Naffziger for having the best reference (by far) on the web for the flower pot smoker. I referred to Dave’s information many times when setting up my smoker, and to the on-going discussion to which I am happy to now contribute.

    I’ve just about got this flower pot smoker thing perfected, finally. Below are my notes to myself about how I did it. These are not instructions and I accept no responsibility for any injury or damages that may result from anyone else doing what I did.

    To cure the problem of destroying hot plates, I mounted a hot plate burner to a terra cotta saucer using wires gutted from the Walgreen’s 1000Watt hotplate. The spacers I used to raise the burner off the saucer are 6/32 washers. This raises the contacts of the burner off the floor of the flower pot. I made three “cookies” ¼”, or so, thick using silicon caulk and placed them on the inside bottom of the base flower pot to set the saucer on to allow air flow. This setup provides a constant flow of cool air passing by the wires. I have had no hot plate problems since coming up with this arrangement.

  • GaryR

    Part 2: I cut the handle off a seven inch cast iron fry pan to put the wood chunks in instead of a metal pie plate. I used a masonry blade in my skill saw to cut the handle. I feel the cast iron skillet heats more evenly than the steel pie plate and provides a more complete use of wood chunks.

    Using three inverted wood shims about an inch wide, I suspend a grill about six inches below where the meat grill will go. On this grill I place a disposable rectangular aluminum cake pan wrapped with aluminum foil to catch meat drippings. Not using a drip pan is a major flaw in the original flower pot smoker concept IMO. If meat drippings fall onto the hot pie plate they impart a burned flavor to the meat and can extinguish the wood chunks as well as making the inside of the base flower pot nasty.

    Next I place the grill and the meat to be smoked on the tops of the inverted wood shims. The wood shim method is a bit tricky until you get used to it, but I didn’t want to drill the base flower pot to place bolts to support the grills as I though that might weaken the base flower pot.

  • GaryR

    Part 3:

    The cherished terra cotta cover that is so hard to find is available from Patapsco Valley Sales (email: [email protected]) ask for Jack or George Marshall @ 410-525-2325. The catalog number is 027-20 for a 20” bowl which is what I used. My local garden shop ordered two for me. They are not cheap at $50 each, but they are a special order and shipping is expensive. The shape of the top is important for proper smoke circulation IMO.

    I use a 2” terra cotta saucer as a damper over the hole in the cover pot. ALAWYS allow a good flow of smoke through the smoker when using a gasket or the smoke will flash over and blow the cover off the smoker.

    In AB’s book “I’m Just Here For the Food V2.0” he states that he uses a 1000watt dimmer to control the hotplate temperature in his flower pot smoker. The 1000watt dimmer I use is available at: . The model # is: 1K-DIMMER. It is a Leviton 1K Dimmer. It cost $105 including shipping.

  • GaryR

    Part 4 (last part):
    I used a terry cloth towel for a gasket between the flower pots to keep the heat and smoke in the smoker. I purchased a silicone sponge gasket for next season (I live in the north and there is no smoking going on in these winter temps). My silicon gasket was purchased on eBay from:

    Kim Schulze
    Assistant Director of Internet Sales
    N State Packaging Equipment & Supply Co.
    8833 J Street, Bays 1W & 2
    Omaha, NE 68127
    [email protected]
    (402) 573-1500 Phone
    (888) 573-1500 Toll free
    (402) 573-7751 Fax

    I didn’t get a photo of the cherished terra cotta cover in action, but detailed photos of my smoker with my first cover are viewable at:

  • JonathanG

    I decided to use this concept but make it bigger. I bought a metal barrel for about $11 at Rural King and then got 50 lb of clay at an art supply store for $25, I lined the barrel with the clay and it is curing right know. I will burn charcoal inside to fire the clay, and then I will try to get a Walgreens heating element to Make the heat and smoke. Is that powerful enough?

  • Dave Naffziger


    This is simply awesome. Truly, truly helpful.

    Thanks a ton for contributing this. I feel that you've taken it to
    another level!


  • Peter De Smidt

    You can use a woven fiberglass gasket for fireplaces as a gasket on your smoker. I bought mine at Fleet Farm for very little. Use high temp black silicone as the adhesive. Don't use the gasket cement sold right next to the gasket. I used that first. It's too runny, and it didn't last long. The regular thick silicone is going strong.

  • GaryR

    Thanks Dave. Your blog was such a big help to me when I started, I wanted to post my info on your site. I also spent coutless hours tracking down the parts, as well as lots of trial and error with the smoker. I enjoy this smoker a lot and if I can help someone else enjoy theirs, I'm happy to do it.

  • Saw the new Twins stadium light up tonight |

    [...] Obviously, there are others who have wondered the same thing and a search on the Interwebs finds THIS and THIS and THIS. Building the actual clay pot smoker/grill will be the easy part. I’d like [...]

  • Ironmangler

    maked my smoker found the bowl at swansons as others have wrote.For the grill I made it from heavy one inch mesh and 1/4 square stock around the edges and handels that rise above the adges to keep the lid on and for the pan I cut the bottom off of a 6 inch pressur tank its 1/4 inch thick !
    works great thanks 4 the page

  • GaryR

    I also bought a fiberglass fireplace gasket, but decided against installing it because I didn't like the possibility of microscopic fibers getting on the food items in the smoker. I'm going with a gasket made from a roll of inert silicone foam adhered with high-temp silicone adhesive (if it ever warms up here).

  • GaryR

    Wow. Clever idea. I'd like to see some photos of that project! The problem I have found is that you want a slow smolder for proper smoking. But with my 20" bottom pot, when I set the dimmer high enough to get the cooking temp up to 220* the wood smoke billows out of the smoker. What you want is a thin line of smoke coming out of the smoker. So I have to smoke at 170-180 until I have applied enough smoke to the meat, then raise the temp to 220 to finish cooking. If you live in warm climate the Walgreen's 1000watt may be sufficient.

  • GaryR

    Wow! What an interesting project. I don’t know how big your smoker will be, but the problem with the heat source will be this: when you smoke meat/poultry/fish you want a thin line of smoke. Just a smolder. If you turn the heat up on the hotplate high enough to get the heat up in the pot up to, say, 220 degrees, the smoke is going to billow out of the smoker. What I do is apply smoke to the meat/poultry/fish at 170 degrees, then finish the cooking at 220 degrees. Usually I only apply one pan’s worth of smoke for poultry or fish, and as many as three for pork butts. In AB’s “Gear For Your Kitchen” he lists the dimensions for the flower pot smoker as: a 16 ½ inch base (outside diameter at the top), with a 19 inch cover (outside diameter at the top). My pots are 20” OD. Good luck and let’s see some photos of the finished project!

  • GaryR

    I bought a fiberglass fireplace gasket for my flower pot smoker, but I never installed it. I was concerned about microscopic fiberglass particles getting on the food. What I bought for gasket material is a 6' length of 3/8 x 3/4 closed cell silicone foam that I will install with high-temp silicone caulk. Silicone is inert and have excellent thermal transfer properties.

  • GaryR

    For the coming BBQ season I have purchased a PID controller from Auber Instruments:

    With up to six time/temp programs, this will allow me to "set it, and forget it". I can load up the smoker and go play golf then come home to a properly cooked BBQ meal. Gotta love technology!

  • DocFox

    I tried the flower pot smoker. I too had trouble maintaining a hot enough temperature.I think the hot plate unit has a temperature shut off mechanism. So after a few trials I found that if i put a (600 W) dimmer switch in the electrical cord and wired directly to the poles of the element..I now have an adjustable heat source for control and plenty of heat .

  • Peter De smidt

    Going to add an Auber PID temperature controller tonight. I'm hoping to keep the temp swings under 5 degrees. I added some reflective bubble wrap insulation on the top and bottom. This has helped quite a bit.

  • Chris

    Great page, I look to this page many times for reference! Well I've got a quick, and probably dumb question. I have a drip pan hanging from the grate. Without the direct smoke hitting the meat will this slow or doing anything to the smoking process?

  • MW_BBQ

    hi all…i am looking into doing this. i have only found a few things so far. I found an 18" pot for the bottom at lowes, but nothign that would serve as a top…except for another pot, which seems like way too much area, not to mention pricey. i found the weber charcoal replacement grate, but it seems to sit just on top of the pot. i'd really like something that went further down into the pot. I did find a hot plate at walgreens, but its not black. its the white kitchen gourmet deal. has anyone removed the controls for one of these? the one above looks to be the black one I have seen on the web. any ideas on how/if i need to remove teh controls. i'd really like them outside just for ease of temp cnotrol. I took all of the screws out I could find and the control section seems stuck on pretty good…i didnt wanna press too hard and break it incase i needed to return it. anyone else removed these?


  • MW_BBQ

    hi all…i am looking into doing this. i have only found a few things so far. I found an 18" pot for the bottom at lowes, but nothign that would serve as a top…except for another pot, which seems like way too much area, not to mention pricey. i found the weber charcoal replacement grate, but it seems to sit just on top of the pot. i'd really like something that went further down into the pot. I did find a hot plate at walgreens, but its not black. its the white kitchen gourmet deal. has anyone removed the controls for one of these? the one above looks to be the black one I have seen on the web. any ideas on how/if i need to remove teh controls. i'd really like them outside just for ease of temp cnotrol. I took all of the screws out I could find and the control section seems stuck on pretty good…i didnt wanna press too hard and break it incase i needed to return it. anyone else removed these?

  • John

    So Ive got my smoker assembled and made a test run with it. A couple of problems I have encountered I have taken the burner off of the hot plate base to make for easier temp control. I bought the walgreens model but have had a real problem getting to 220 degrees. i have the control knob almost to high to get there! is this a normal thing? Second I noticed when I went to turn the temperature down after having it up for a while it would just turn off half way between med and low. Kind of like the on off portion of the knob was set at that area. any ideas there? Ive had fun making the smoker but also became somewhat frustrated with how many problems i would come across. putting the wires through the pot and trying to get them to reach the burner was an absolute pain! anyhow any help would be a huggggggggeeee help!!! Thank you!!

  • kingnari

    where did you find the wood in Vegas? I live in Henderson and cannot find anything but mesquite and hickory..

  • Brent

    I made mine yesterday and bought walgreens 1000w burner $9.99, 18.5" pot-16" drip plate for $29, hickory chunks $4, 12" grate $9 and was ready. Used a small cast iron skillet for smoke pan and test burned it last night. Took hot plate totally apart from plastic housing and reassembled burner and unit in pot. Set burner on some 1" brick pieces in pot and temp. control underneath pot set up on three normal height bricks as well. Turned burner on closed lid and in 15 min. unit was up to 400 deg with burner on medium set !!!!! To make long story short…temp is not a problem. To reach a set point of 225 deg, I wound up tuning burner on lowest point when light first comes on that shows burner is working, then placed soaked chunks in cast iron skillet on top of burner, then folded a piece of heavy foil placed it loosely over skillet with 2" gaps on the four sides open for heat and smoke, then the grate. wound up leaving slid open about an inch to keep temp at 225. If i closed lid it would climb to 300 deg. cooked country style ribs for 3 hours used soaked wood to prevent flame ups that will crack pot quickly ( it happened) replaced wood chunks after 1.5 hours and cooked till meat was 180 deg..they turned out great. Just control flame ups and it was a snap..doing some chickens tomorrow

  • Serge

    Hi Brent,
    I'm assembling mine this weekend–essentially identical to your configuration except my pot is a 16.5" coupled with a 16" drip terra cotta plate. The plate seems to fit the pot perfectly. I also purchased some hi-temp silicone to ensure a tight seal and protection from impact and eventual chipping/cracking where the top plate meets the pot. (but after reading your writeup…I may not need it if the temps climb that high…)

    Question: Given your 18.5" pot and 16" drip plate, does the plate rest 'inset' in the inner lip of the pot?
    If so, did you drill and mount pull handles so you can easily lift the lid?

    Also, given that I'm using the same $9.99 Walgreens burner, was there enough slack in the wire on the temp. control when you mounted outside of the pot? (Just need to know if I'll need to get some extra wire before hand because I won't have access to hardware stores where I'll be when assembling…)

    By the way, I also have a 14" potter I had contemplated using for a dome cover…but it just seems like a lot of extra space and I worried about the temp. struggling to hear the larger area. It's just that I do like the idea of the 'headroom' for the smoke to sort of rise up in fear that the drip plate scenario may impart a bitter smoke flavor because of the smaller area and stagnant/intense smoke inside the unit near the meat/fish when using the plate rather than than a bowl or upside down potter–your thoughts based on experience?

    Thank you kindly–

  • Andrew Smith

    As for gasket materiel,, you can buy the felt gasket they use on the green eggs for less than 20$ at a BBQ store.

  • praztitute

    How do you know when to replace the wood chips/chunks? I am assuming you have to check, and doing this would remove heat from the smoker.

  • Michael

    I know this goes against the whole "do it yourself" idea here, but anybody tries just putting the burner inside a standard kettle BBQ grill?

    I have a barrell style BBQ grill that I use for standard weekend grilling. I've actually used it for smoking pork shoulders and briskets via the firebox on the side. But it's just so labor intensive trying to manage the fire at a consistent temperature. I'm going to buy this $9.99 burner from Walgreens and put it inside my BBQ and see if I can get a steady even low temp out of it.

  • Heidi Roberts

    I am SOO completely not mechanically inclined – I could never successfully take apart a hotplate like y'all have been talking about – and it certainly didn't look like Alton took his apart either.

    I love to BBQ and grill, and have not found any smokers in my price range that do any sort of a decent job – this sounds like a great idea and I want to try it, but money being tight, don't want to spend money only to find I can't make it work.

    I have a Menards, a Walmart, a Walgreens, a KMart and various hardware stores, garden centers, etc. from where to procure the items I need.

    HELP would be VERY welcome!! 8-)

    The Grillin' Lady
    Heidi Roberts
    E-Mail: [email protected]

  • Gomezwade

    I just built one of these this week. Found the pots at a local flower shop for around $40 and got the hot plate from WalGreens as suggested. I found the grill at Academy Sports as a replacement charcoal grill for $2. The only thing I did differently is that I cut the bottom of the pot to let the prongs from the hot plate stick through the bottom and placed a longer bolt through the hot plate than the original. Now the smoker sits on the base for the hot plate and the is no need for the feet I purchased. Wouldve saved about $8 if i had thought of this earlier. Looking forward to smoking some chicken tomorrow

  • rich

    Have a brinkmann electric smoker, my 2nd, and the element went out. due to watching good eats got the ides to replace the element with a hot plate and was having a huge problem finding one. googled alton brown smoker and found this page, and what a resource. tried my local walgreens and for $9.99 got a hot plate. it is a square white kitchen collections one but upon taking it apart all connections are made with spades so it came apart in a snap. will be rewiring it this weekend to extend the control outside the smoker. will probably mount the burner to a sheet metal base as some have suggested. couldn't have done it without the help of everyone here and wanted to say think you!

  • PieForBreakfast

    Has anyone tried using the Meco 1519 Charcoal To Electric Smoker Accessory Kit (at instead of the hot plate for the heating element?

  • link dump › Daily Blog Post 06/19/2010 (a.m.)

    [...] The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker [...]

  • Smoker Hack

    I just tried using a 1000W hotplate in a Weber 22.5" One Touch. I took the hot plate apart and ran the wires through the bottom. 225 degrees in less than 10 min and it holds it within a 2-3 degree range (depending on the wind and clouds). Was originally going to go for Auber PID, but the bimetal switch in the knob control that came with the cheap hot plate seems to be doing the trick so for now I'll leave it as is. Good luck.

  • Smoker Hack

    I don't see why it wouldn't work, but it seems rather silly to spend $49 for teh Meco, when a hot plates average around 15-20.

  • Chris

    You might check any local orchards – they are always trimming their trees every fall/spring, and you might be in luck if they know you want them they can hold onto them or call you…

  • Kirby

    How did your disassembly go with the Kitchens Collection hotplate?

  • Will McBurnett

    I finally did this this weekend. Here is what I did:

    Grate – I got the Weber 7441 from HD. I carried this thing around with me for a week looking for the pots.
    Pots – I found a 18 inch pots in a lot of places, but not with anything that could be used as a lid. I finally got the pot and a "patio pot", both 18", at Emerald Garden Nursery in Austin. Total – $70
    Hot Plate – I got the square one at Walgreens for $10. I took it completely apart, removed the LED from the circuit, and was able to move the controls to the outside of the pot. The plate sits on two pieces of brick in the bottom of the pot.
    Pan – I used a heavy cake pan I had lying around.
    Thermometer – My grill thermometer was horrible innacurate and not adjustable, so I sprung for a Taylor Digital with external probe and timer for $17 at Amazon. I will use this in other places.
    Wood – I got a bag of Apple chunks and a bag of Oak chunks at BBQ Galore for $5 each.

    Use: I did three meats in 24 hours.

    First, I did some pork ribs I had laying around. I removed the membrane, rubbed them, and threw them on. This was my test meat, and I was worried about temperature. I should not have been. With 4 chunks of wood, and the plate on low, I got smoke immediately, and had no trouble dialing in 220. I waited about 3 hours, and checked the ribs for doneness (170). I let them rest a bit – and they were incredible. A little spicy, since I was over zealous with the rub, but even the wimpy teenager couldn't stop eating them.

    Second, I did Alton's pulled pork for a party. Brined overnight, started early, easy temp control, added wood every 2 hours or so, then finished it in a 350 oven so we could eat before we shot fireworks. Rested it, pulled it, AWESOME. My daughter said it was better than the Salt Lick!

    Third, I threw a store bought, pre-cooked Elgin sausage on the smoker for 45 minutes – and it was also awesome.

    So, this thing was a hit. Everyone was interested – the guys at the HD, the women at the nursery, and the dudes at BBQ Galore. The family loved it. Best $100 I have spent since my beer keg setup.

    Next steps – $10 worth of fireplace gaskets for the seal.

    Oh, and later that night, my lungs felt terrible. It felt like I had smoked a pack of cigarettes. I need to be more careful when I open the thing. Also, sitting around, drinking beer, and watching the smoker for 8 hours can take a toll….

  • Dave Naffziger

    Awesome, awesome writeup.

    Sounds like a fantastic experience, and it sure puts my simple pork
    smoking over the 4th to shame!

  • rys

    Thanks for a great website! Got all my parts at HD. Found a thick rim 16" pot and a 15" wide rim bowl (it is glazed on the outside). I did this July 4th weekend and smoked a bone in 8# pork butt. Soaked the wood chips in water overnight (1/2 Jack Daniels oak chips, 1/2 hickory), filled the pan with dry wood chips with the wet chips on top to get a "staged burn". Held temp between 210 and 220 using an electronic thermometer with probe. Opened her up after 15hrs and it was PERFECT! I never replaced the wood, never opened the lid the whole time and it was still smoking. Wrapped in foil for an hour. It literally fell off the bone and pulled apart…moist as could be. Made the house smell like a BBQ joint. I also bought self adhesive fireplace gasket online for $12 and will use this next time to seal the lid, instead of the kid's Playdooh that I used this time….it works really well to seal those small gaps between the lid and pot. It's also non-toxic.

  • Eric

    Having some difficulty with temperature regulation – I'm having the opposite problem from most folks, mine's getting too hot! I have the standard 1,000 watt plate from Walgreens. Dismantled it, put the element on two bricks in the bottom of the pot with the controls on the outside. On the lowest possible setting – just at the point where the two strips click together to start power flowing – the pot will get north of 300 degrees before I shut it down. There's no "lower" setting I can try on the plate except "off." I even tried leaving the lid open an inch and a half or so, with no dice. I may try to splice a dimmer into things to keep the heat down.

  • Alex

    Hi, so I just built one of these with two 19" pots, with the controls outside and everything, but my problem is that it gets too hot. even with the hotplate on the lowest setting it soars past 250 almost immediately. Did I just get a ridiculous hot plate? Its a 1000W.

  • Peter Rauch

    Some of you may be interested in this.,.
    This smoker text messages you when meat is done…

  • niki

    Love this smoker!! I was very excited to make it and even more excited about the delicious results from it. I smoked some ribs on it and my dad said they were the best he's ever had! That means a lot because my dad is a rib connosuier!

    Unfortunately my burner went out in the middle of smoking some chicken the other day. I got the walgreen's special and even disassembled it so the controls were on the outside. Anyway, I'm thinking of springing for the Leviton 1000w dimmer and was wondering, do I just disconnect the thermostat and original controls and connect the burner straight to the hot and neutral and then plug it into the dimmer? in other words, source –> dimmer –> hot and neutral –> hot plate

  • Jimmy McNulty

    I've been thinking and planning about this for such a long time, and looking for the top bowl in the Boston area. Checked many Home Depots and several other stores but the biggest pot of that shape ("azalea" it's apparently called) is 12". Today at a Home Depot I finally found a decent one that fits nicely on top of a 16" pot, but it's glazed/painted on the outside. It's not glazed on the inside, which makes me think it should be fine, but I can't be sure whether there is some other chemicals (lead?) or whatever in the material. The label on it says it's made in Malaysia, and apparently imported by New England Pottery. I'll ask them whether they know if this is pure clay, but in the meanwhile I took some pictures, to see what everybody thinks — help would be appreciated if anybody used something similar. If I can't find conclusive info on this, I'll just have to go return this, and then maybe buy a saucer and borrow a drill from someone for the hole. Anyhow, here are the pics:

    Thanks in advance, and congrats to everyone who made this work.

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Edit: I located it on Home Depot's website, here it is:

    Do y'all think I'm in the clear? It says glazed to the rim only, and material is listed as clay, nothing else.

  • Build Your Own Smoker on The Cheap…. « Chittenango Creek Chapter of Ducks Unlimited

    [...] A written description and break down of the project can be found at Dave Naffziger’s Blog.  One thing that is mentioned in the blog is that you should be careful as to where your terracotta pots come from.  Some pots are made with trace amounts of lead. [...]

  • Jimmy McNulty

    Well, no love huh? Anyhow, I decided to use it last weekend, and for a first try I made a lamb leg's upper half, about 3lbs. I had the bottom pot from craigslist for free (it apparently came from Ikea), it's on the smaller side and my stupid Proctor-Silex hot plate didn't sit low enough. It took tons of tinkering because the temperature was rarely stable, but the results were still great. You can find several pics here:

    After hours of work today, I got the heat element into the pot and the controls out of it. Tested, it works. I think I'll try a large point cut of brisket next. I'll report back.

  • tshine

    Has anyone ever thought of building the terracotta smoker into a table similar to that used for the small Green EGG? I would thin kit would be nice to have it up higher off the ground.
    Here is a link, i think I'm gonna build the smoker and the table, I'll keep you posted…

  • G. Marceil

    Built this about a month ago for a total of ~$69. Was lucky enough to get almost everything on sale & find the top pot like the one Alton used (at the 4th store I went to). Used 13.5" weber grate to hold drip pans, used heavy cake pan from W-mart for wood chips. Had a 15.5" grate from my old smoker for top grate. Used 2 sets of 3 clay feet- one outside to elevate off ground – one inside to raise hot plate off bottom. I am using a router speed control on hot plate & a Digital temp probe (both of which I already had) to moniter temp. So far have done a small brisket & some center cut pork chops & am quite pleased with results.

  • Dave Naffziger

    Awesome, that sounds like a great setup!

  • niki

    wow, Peter, I am in awe!!! That is sooooo awesome! As a mechanical engineer, I am thorougly impressed and blown-away. Wish I had the resources to put together those controls and put some of the stuff I learned in controls class to good use!

    On another note, I am still trying to get my flowerpot smoker running again without having to send the hubs over to walgreen's to get me a new burner every month (as he is doing for me tonight, we want to smoke some meat tomorrow!). At some point when I can afford it, I want to get the Lutron dimmer and skip the crappy built-in t-stat alltogether, but for now it is new burners every so-often. One dilemma I am having is when I reconnect wires after re-wiring everything, what do I insulate them with? I got some high-heat electrical tape (only rated to 200 F though), and it melted, leaving the connection exposed, which then corroded, and no more smoky meat. Any suggestions?????

  • Building a BBQ Smoker

    [...] is Anton Brown’s flower pot smoker, which takes a couple of terra cotta pots and a 16 inch grill.  This is electric powered using [...]

  • Jordan

    I built this and smoked a 3.5 lb boston butt for 6 hours 34 minutes. Unlike Altons, it's pretty tough and not at all tender. I've wrapped it for an hour's rest, but is it possible my BBQ thermometer is off? I cooked it between 225-245 the entire time.

    I've done it before on a kettle grill and it came out great….is it possible the dry cooking dried it out? I didn't use a mop sauce….I did brine it for and good 24 hours.

  • Jordan

    I built this and smoked a 3.5 lb boston butt for 6 hours 34 minutes. Unlike Altons, it's pretty tough and not at all tender. I've wrapped it for an hour's rest, but is it possible my BBQ thermometer is off? I cooked it between 225-245 the entire time.

  • Tony


    Wherever you are there should be an appliance repair shop around. You should be able to purchase some wire with high temperature insulation like what is used in an oven from them or find out where they purchase it from. I have also seen appliance wire being sold on ebay, so you can obtain it there as well.

  • UF Jim

    Im a big smoker fan, and a poor college student. when I found out about this a few weeks ago, I was really excited to get everything going and try it out. However, encountered a few problems.

    Here in Gainesville Fl we have a lot of Lowes's and few other hardware/garden stores.Dont even bother at walmart. Lowes carries an 18 inch bottom pot that would work great and it fits the weber standard grill grids they sell there. However, it is only the bottom pot and its $30, the grate is 15, and there is no lid.

    Went to home depot WAY out of town, found a great (and huge) bottom pot for $24, a lid for 20 as well with a predrilled hole in it (and some legs sticking out from the top) rather than use a plate with no hole. Finding the terra cotta pots was a huge hassle, took 2 weeks, but I'm glad i finally found them.

    Also, home depot and lowes carry the thermometer. Its in the grill section

    The good news with my pots, I can fit the burner, smoke box, and TWO grids (the small 12 inch weber size) and the bigger 15.5 inch size in there, doubling my meat output per smoke. Bigger is better, so if you want to smoke for the week (or for a big family) it might be worth it to spend the extra $20-30 on the bigger pot and the extra grate.

    Unfortunately, finding a hot plate is a pain in the butt. They dont sell the "burner" style anymore at any major store: walgreens, cvs, walmart, target, homedepot… IF i find one, it is a double burner that have the flat-style plate, which apparently isnt good for this project. I found this online for $13 plus shipping, along with some others that are in the $20 range.… but one reviewer complained about the ability to get the burner hot. I am still in the process of picking up the 15.5 inch grate online.

    Other than that, Ill check back in when i get the last parts together

  • Nick

    Do you have any pictures of your setup or could you share how your smoking experience has been going? I have your exact grill and I'm interested in trying what you did as it seems like if I only had to buy a hotplate that would be easier than buying the terra cotta pot. Thanks.

  • Gary Robbins

    Refer to my photos to see how I wired the hotplate for dimmer use. Good luck.

  • Gary Robbins

    I installed a Big Green Egg Nomex gasket. Works great and not that hard to install.

  • gary r

    Jordan, get yourself a meat thermometer and cook the boston butt to an internal temperature of 195-200 degrees and it'll be nice and tender.

  • JimJ3

    I just wanted folks to know that I found the BBQ thermometers at Home Depot in Issaquah for about $7.

    I found the smaller Weber grates ($20) to fit one of the Home Depot pots ($20). HD didn't have any round flower pots (this was in the late fall).

  • JimJ3

    Do you bring your smoker in after you're done, or leave it out? In Seattle, we get a fair amount of rain in the winter, so this is an issue. I am wondering if it is OK to smoke in the rain, then bring it in when it cools.

  • Dave Naffziger

    I bring in the electrical components and leave the flower pot outside (I\’m in Seattle also).

  • Dave Naffziger

    What did you do for the heating element. Mine recently burned through a wire at the connection joint, so I\’m trying to decide whether I should repair or replace it…

  • JimJ3

    Hi Dave,

    Actually, I am still looking for a good heating element. That Walgreen's one was a bust. I found a small one at Ace hardware in Bellevue, WA that was a protor silex. It is still square. the measurements are 10" x 11". I was planning to take it apart to see if I can reduce the footprint and put the control outside. It was only $16.99.

    I was hoping to do it for Thanksgiving, but the storm messed up that plan. Let me know if you found something better.


  • gary r

    I cover mine with a Weber kettle grill cover and leave it out for the entire smoking season April-October here in Maine. Works great!

  • Any pot smokers here? – SVTPerformance

    [...] pot smokers here? The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker Now that everyone is in here ready to me, I wanted to know if anyone had ever built one of these [...]

  • David Hartman

    Grand idea for a firesafe location.
    I would not do it on a wooden deck as shown in the photo

    When that bottom clay pot breaks,
    spilling the charcoal pan
    dropping burning charcoal on a wooden deck
    more is going to get smoked than a turkey

  • Dave Naffziger

    Good point about fire safety. No charcoal anywhere though.

  • Bill

    I don’t find the heating element at walgreens, can you give me more info on it? I’m converting a commercial propane cooker for jerky and sausage.

  • Bill

    oops, Ive figured it out about the element, thats what I get for for trying to be specific…as Gilda Radner would say “never mind”.

  • want to build an electric smoker – Home Brew Forums

    [...] if not a little ghetto… Here is a write-up on it with instructions and some empirical data: __________________ On Deck A Chill Pill… Primary All-Citra Pale Ale, IPA split between four [...]

  • smoker – gas or electric? – Page 3

    [...] a way to do it that's cheap, simple, and uses goo ol' hardwood: The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker __________________ Now evading regular internet access (IE I'm doing more of this: and less of [...]

  • Incuubus2112

    I’m having troubles as well. I had to go with a 20″ pot and bowl as my heating element I wasn’t comfortable getting out of its housing. So I left it intact. It rests just off the bottom of the smoker. Everything else is exactly the way it should be as far as I can tell apart from the heat. I have my hot plate maxed out and I can’t get above 175 degrees per my roof top bbq thermometer. No idea what to do.

  • davenaff

    Many hotplates have a temperature trigger that shuts off the hotplate
    if it gets too hot. Read through the post and comments, there are
    various approaches to disabling it, but all involve disassembling the

  • Dan

    Is bigger better? I found 20 inch pot that takes a 18.5 Weber grill grate. Will I loose any heat by going bigger?

  • davenaff

    Bigger is generally better. The hotplates put out so much heat,
    you’ll not have any problem heating up a larger pot.

  • Dan

    I found a Black and Decker hot plate at K-Mart has any one used one of these and is it easy to take apart most of the hot plates discussed are Proctor Sliex.

  • Grill Recommendations? – Page 3 – CycloneFanatic

    [...] made flower pot smoker on the internet that costs a fraction of the cost and does a good job too. The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker I'm going to give this bad boy a try this [...]

  • Lilstew34

    I bought a sylvia burner from walgreens and it keeps turning off on me seems to be a result of overheating is anyone else having this problem? if not what burner are you using and where can I get it thanks

  • davenaff

    Did you put the whole burner in the pot or did you separate the element?

    Many hotplates have a temperature-triggered shut off in the case that
    prevents the base from getting too hot…

  • GRob1950

    I have a 20″ Flower Pot Smoker with a 1,000 watt Walgreens hotplate (modified). It will provide sufficient heat if the temperature outside is 55 degrees or above. Below 55, or with a strong wind blowing, the unit doesn’t keep the heat at the level needed to produce good Q. I wrap my FPS with bubble foil insulation if it gets too cold outside.

  • temperature control, geek style | The Kitchen Commons

    [...] to control temperature accurately is in a smoker, and I read that you could use this setup for an Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker.  I’ve been planning on doing some food dehydrating this summer, and again it’s place [...]

  • Smoke ’em if you got ’em! (BBQ!) « goodchefbadchef

    [...] I needed, I started assembling. The best piece of advice I ran across on the Internet was from Dave Naffziger’s blog post regarding getting the heating element OUT of the smoker itself. A little tricky on the reconnect of [...]

  • Beehive Smoker Project | Wade Chi

    [...] friend Arlene and I embarked on the ceramic pot smoker project described on this website, which references the Alton Brown ceramic flower pot smoker video to show how you put it together. [...]

  • Electric Flower Pot Smoker Build – Home Brew Forums

    [...] ago, a la Alton Brown from Good Eats. I just flipped another pot on top of it, something like this: In hindsight, I could have just purchased a cheap electric smoker here in the states for like $80. [...]

  • Dave

    wood chuncks of many varieties, including mesquite are avalable at walmart.

  • Jm98029

    Hi Dave,

    Sorry for the late reply.  I JUST got around to working on this again.  I took the Proctor Silex control and plate apart (wished I had made a wiring diagram!).  The control just has a bracket with the rest exposed once it is free from the 2-piece base.   It is going to take some rigging to get this to work. The PS base was too large and square to fit in the pot low enough. 

    I am trying to figure out some kind of case to put the control in.  I may cobble one from sheet metal somehow.  If I could have found the hot plate you used, this would have been so much easier.

    More info later, but I PLAN to SMOKE SOME MEAT ASAP!


  • davenaff

    Thanks for the response!

    Maybe you can get the base under the pot?

  • Lyle London

    I was up at Lowes the other day looking for parts to make one of these.  I’m thinking of building a form around the terracotta pot and then filling it with concrete so as to provide even more heat retention / insulation.  Plus, this would make the base a lot heavier and thus a lot less likely to get knocked over.  I figure about 3-4″ of concrete around the pot should pretty much guarantee that it will not get knocked over.

    For the heating element, I’m thinking of using one of the 6-coil 8″ burners.  These are supposedly 2600 watts.  Since they go inside a normal cooktop, I believe that they are 220V instead of 110V like the ones that everyone else seems to be using.  Of course, the issue becomes the heat control for it and I did not see one of those for sell, so I’m thinking that the best idea would be to try to find a cheap cooktop on CraigsList and salvage it for all the parts that I will need.  I have a 220V outlet near my outdoor cook area, so it would be a simple matter for me to create a 220V cord for such a unit.

    Of course, that’s assuming that I want to go with an electric unit instead of a gas unit.  There are certain advantages to electric on very windy days in that you are not having to worry about the flame getting blown out.  From a cost of cooking and BTUs achieved standpoint though, it’s difficult to beat going with a gas flame.  It’s easy enough to get a 100,000 BTU gas burner that will fit into one of these pots, but if you went with electric, you would need to be able to achieve 29,287 watts to equal it.  That would take *10* of the 8″ electric coils to equal.  It’s definitely cheaper to buy a single 100K BTU banjo burner than 10 electric coil burners.  Another choice might be to find someone who is throwing out an old gas water heater and salvage the burner out of it.

  • davenaff

    Lyle, this is great stuff! Thanks for sharing the details!

    You might want to consider if you really get a benefit from the larger heat
    source. If you are going to be bbqing you’ll never even need all the heat a
    1000 watt burner will put out. This will be especially true since you are
    going to be encasing it in concrete. All the complaints about under powered
    burners are driven by the autoshutoff built into most burners that needs to
    be disabled.

    Of course if you are going to use the smoker to grill by all means add more

  • Clay

    I made a smoker and used this exact hot plate.  I placed the whole assembled unit into the pot.  It took forever to heat up, and could not get it to consistently hold above 170 degrees.  I assume this is due to the thermostat on the hot plate.  Would separating the burner from the unit really make that much of a difference?  I had to put the butts in the oven, and finish them in the smoker.  The result was good, but I felt like I was cheating.

  • Grobbins1950

    Terra cotta is pourous. That is why it makes such a great cooking medium. If you encase it in concrete, there will be no where for the moisture to go and the food item cooked in such a device may be steamed rather than smoked. That’s just my thinking, I can’t say that it is a fact.

  • davenaff

    Yes, getting the thermostat away from the burner will do wonders. You don’t
    need to seperate the burner from the controls through. Just open up the
    burner and disable the thermostat.

    I have to be careful not to allow temps to exceed 300 with mine.

  • JimJ3

    I have been working on this thing for about a week!  I got the Proctor Silex control out of the hot plate.  Put it in an electrical box and connected ground wires to all of the areas.  Reassembled it and made longer wires to go from the box to the plate. checked continuity to ground and from ground to each plug prong.  Everything checked out, but when I plugged it in, the breaker blew! 

    What a pain!  I have 8 pounds of Boston Butt in the brine ready to smoke, but can’t get the damn thing to work. I may have to put it on the gas grill for smoking, then put it in the oven at 210 to tenderize. 

    Man, I was hoping this would work. if only we could find hot plates like Altons!  Round, not square!


  • JimJ3

    After screwing with the wiring for 2 days, I finally went and bought a Brinkmann smoker.  Much easier, but finally go the flower pot to work. The temp got up to 300 once, I had to constantly tend it to keep it from getting too hot.  My pork chops were done in about 1 1/2 hours.  Tasted good with apple wood.

    With my Brinkmann, I checked the Boston Butt every 3 hours.  It went form 70 to 150 in 3 hours, 150 – 178 in 6 hours, I am waiting to check it now (12:22 AM). I hope it is finally at 210, so I can let it rest, pull it apart and go to bed!  I spent my entire 4th smoking pork!  I am not sure what the internal temp was on the smoker. 

    After all of the hassle with taking the control out of the Proctor Silex and putting it outside the pot, I ultimately just plugged and unplugged it (actually I used a power strip with a switch).

  • JimJ3

    After smoking the butt for 12 hours, the internal temp never got above 185.  I checked the Brinkmann smoker temp at 250.

    The pork was tender and pulled easily fairly juicy, although I ate it the next day (done at 3 AM!).

    I was surprised at how salty the crust was.  Alton must have high blood pressure, as I also made his best BBW sauce which was way too salty even after I only put in 2 TBS of salt instead of 3 per the recipe.

    All in all a good experience, but not easy.  Next time it will be much easier!

    I just wonder if it didn’t turn out as good as it could have if the internal temp got up to 210. I couldn’t get it there even after 12 hours of smoking at 250.

  • Lyle London

    Which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing… Some of the smokers have
    a water pan in them to add moisture to the spoking process…

    Having said that, I have to wonder how 900F steam would cook
    something… Would it actually char the meat? Maybe one of the old
    Boiler Techs from the Navy would know… I seem to remember talking to
    one *many* years ago and he said that they used a broom in order to
    search for high pressure steam leaks aboard ship…

  • Lyle London

    Anything worth engineering is worth OVER-engineering… If you need even more heat, either go with a gas burner or a 220V 8″ 6-ring burner like you see on range cooktops… When the terra-cotta starts to melt, you’ve achieved enlightenment, grasshopper…

  • Lyle London

    Anything worth engineering is worth OVER-engineering… If you need even more heat, either go with a gas burner or a 220V 8″ 6-ring burner like you see on range cooktops… When the terra-cotta starts to melt, you’ve achieved enlightenment, grasshopper…

  • Lyle London

    If you have chunks of wood in there for the smoking with an electric element heating it up, the chunks of wood are basically going to be the equivalent to the charcoal.  Yeah, they are in a pan, but if the terra-cotta breaks, it is *possible* that they will get dumped over the wooden deck… Having melted a cast aluminum gas grill when I did a bit of re-engineering to make it run on unregulated propane, I always keep a charged water hose with one of the fireman-type spray nozzles right by by grilling area.

  • The Cult of the Big Green Egg.

    [...] Re: The Cult of the Big Green Egg. And Alton Brown is building one for about $50. Compare that to the crazy price of your giant ceramic flower pot. I think its $700! The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker [...]

  • Jridge16

    Anyone have any experience using the newly recommended Maxi-Matic ESB 300X 750W burner?  The originally recommended stove was 1000W.  Does this have enough power to heat up the smoker?

  • JimJ3

    I haven’t used this, but I doubt it would have any problems.  In fact, it might be better than a higher wattage unit.  I have been using the PS 1000 W.  My smoker easliy gets up to 300 in 10 minutes or less.  I plugged it into a power strip and turn it off and on.  I have only cooked ribs so far.  the first time they were dry, the second time they were cooked and smokey, but not tender enough. I could only get the internal temp to 160 F.  I had to tend the smoker and keep checking the temp.  These smokers get hot.  I wish I knew how to regulate the heat.

    Another important thing is to block the air flow at the bottom.  I had a big flame in mine and had to pour water to put it out (unplugging it first!).

    I am thinking about wiring in thermal switch set at about 210 to regulate it better next time.


  • JimJ3

    Hey Dave,

    I found a great place for smoking wood in the Seattle area.  Golden Steer butcher shops sell 2 cu ft bags of various woods for about $24.  The only bad thing is that the pieces are about 18″ wide, so you have to cut them up to fit the smaller pan.  I put some in the table saw and also used a hatchet with a mallet to spit them. 

    They have pecan, hickory, mesquite, cherry, and apple.  I got mine in Bellevue, but they have a few locations. 

    If you have any advice on how to keep the temp in the smoker to 200 ish, I would appreciate it. I had to disable my control because it didn’t work.

  • davenaff


    Thanks for the pointer.

    Your best bet to control the temp is to separate the burner from the
    controls and move the controls out of the pot. If you can’t do it with the
    existing wiring, you would only need a few strands of wire and a connector
    to make it work.

    I’ve seen someone actually drill a large hole in the side of the smoker so
    they could get to the dial without taking off the lid.

    I personally feel that rewiring it is by far the easiest solution…

  • Tim Marshall

    Hi. I recently built one of these from 14 inch Azalea pots and a weber smokey joe grate. I found the burner at HEB grocery store and the pots at Garden ridge. My pots were only 12 dollars each. I remoted the controls outside the cooker and relocated them to a small radio shack project enclosure so I have the knob as well as the “element on” indicator light where I can see them. I also drilled a hole in the top pot for the temp gauge because dropping it in the top hole blocked the entire thing. The only other thing I did differently is I use a small terra cotta pot base to partially block the hole in the top pot to control airflow so I don’t get actual flame in my chip pan. It seems to work great and is big enough for an 8 pound Boston Butt/Pork Shoulder Roast. 
    The one issue I have is the 13.5 inch grate was just a hair too big to fit inside the lip of the pot so I used a drum sander on a drill to camfer the edge of both top and bottom pots to create a space for it that would allow the pots to still seal up well. The issue is that it’s a bit unstable when the lid/top pot is off. Anyone have any idea how to machine more of a 90 degree notch into terra cotta? One busted pot and I might as well start over with bigger pots since I know it works well now. Thanks in advance for any advice.

  • Paul McKenney

    Hi all,

    I have a couple food-safety related questions that I hope somebody might be able to answer.  They of course stem from a lack of availability of some of the parts to the smoker I’m trying to build.

    First of all, I haven’t been able to find a bowl big enough for the lid, *except* for a 15″ bowl with a glaze on the outside (at Home Depot).  Is that ok?

    Second, the replacement charcoal grate for an 18″ (actually about 15″) Weber grill fits perfectly in the flower pot I have, but it’s a charcoal grate, and again I’m not sure whether that’s a safe option.

    Thanks for any suggestions you might have.

    PS: I live in the Pittsburgh area, so if anyone knows of any better options that are available around there, let me know.

  • davenaff

    The charcoal grate is fine, you’ll just have more rust issues to deal with.
    I considered glazed pots, but shared your concerns. I ultimately didn’t use them, and don’t know whether they are safe one way or the other.

  • Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker | The Adventures of Kendall the Cavalier

    [...] a month ago, we followed the instructions here and set out to build one of the flower pot smokers that we’d seen on Alton Brown’s [...]

  • Kingwasabi113

    Jim.  Did you find that unplugging it and plugging it back in helped reset the internal temperature control?

  • Jason W Elliott

    I’m having trouble finding the 17 inch pot and bowl -I m in Seattle – home depot has 18 inch but no bowls to match – if I get the 18 in pot at HD will I b able to find a bowl and where?

  • JimJ3

    I have a pot with 16 1/16″ ID from Home Depot, and found an Azelia bowl from Molbak’s in Woodinville which is 16 5/16″ OD.  It fits snuggly but has a little gap due to roundness.

    The problem with the smaller pot is that it was difficult to find a grate that fit. I used the charcoal grate from a large Weber and made some coat hanger wire hooks.

    Honestly guys, for all of the hassle to find the right hot plate, take it apart, build a box to house the wiring, rewire it, get the bowls and grate, (albeit an adventure), it works fair.  I found it to heat to about 300 degrees too quickly and I had to constantly tend it to keep the temperature down.  I may reconvert mine to a flower pot.  :P  Perhaps the 18″ bowl dissipates heat better.

    I would recommend buying the Brinkmann electric smoker for $59.99 at Home Depot, or the .  I spent about $100 foral of the flower pot stuff and it is taking up space in my garage.

    I have made 4 shoulders and 6 pounds of salmon, all tasted great.

    If you want more control over temp, etc. I suggest looking at this Masterbuilt for $173.  It has meat and box temperature sensors to regulate.

    Buy your wood in small logs from Golden Steer in Bellevue or Seattle and cut them to chunks. $22 for 2 Cu Ft.

    Sorry to be the turncoat but I spent 20 hours trying to get the flower pot thing going.  Too much.

  • JimJ3

    Just replace the wire.  Go to Platt or an electrical supply and get high temp wire (it has a asbestos jacket over it.  Use automotive spade connectors and high temp automotive crimp connections.  I got mine atO’Reilly’s.  They don’t seem to have high temp wire though. Maybe Platt or Grainger would have it all.

  • Landscaping

    Hey its simple and great to use!>>

  • Kolton Stimpert

    Fantastic Smoker! Impressively documented to boot! Out of curiosity though what wattage of hot plate is required to supply enough heat?

  • davenaff

    Mine is 1000W and that generates way more heat than I need…

  • Kolton Stimpert

    Will any unglazed clay pot do or is a terra cotta pot something special that holds heat especially well?

  • davenaff

    I think unglazed clay will do great. It is principally the thermal mass you are looking for.

  • Andrew Gieseke

    you could connect a thermal temp probe with a shutoff switch to your heat element. set it and forget it. I think Johnson controls might make some.

  • Marc

    I’m looking to relocate my hot plate internals to a project box from radio shack as you did. My main concern is, does the thermostat still work once relocated?


  • Foo

    Hm…I wonder if it’s possible to safely de-glaze a pot, maybe with a light pass with a sander (wearing goggles and a respirator, of course?) 

  • Manguiano76

    I had a hard time finding the same components as listed. I used a 22″ bowl and a 14″ grill grate The hot plate is a Proctor Sylex 1000 watt. I used an oven thermometer. I couldn’t find a lid so I used a sheet cake pan an a moving blanket folded over to insulate the top. At half power it ran over 300 degrees. I should add that it is 25 degrees outside today here in lovely rural Ks. I smoke a roast for roughly 2.5 hours. Came out tasting ok for my first ever attempt at smoking anything. Can’t wait to smoke again!

  • Andrew

    Probably too late now, but DO NOT use the Black and Decker hot plate (SB1001B) that K-Mart sells.  Absolute nightmare to take apart (security screws gallore) and the wires appear to be soldered to the heating element – no male/female connectors or anything like that.  Not sure what route I’m going to take now, but I live on an island so my choices are kind of limited.

  • Jm98029

    No.  I did unplug it but it always over heated. 

  • Jm98029

    I found, after separating the control from the unit and putting it at the bottom, externally, that it got way too hot.  It was over 300 degrees and my ribs were cooked in no time. The idea is low and slow. 

  • angus

    I built this, works great.  But it gets too hot (I rewired as you describe) – I have to turn the power off and on every 5 minutes to keep temp around 200.  Any brilliant ways to fix this?  

  • seadad9903

    Steam would not char the meat. Charring is a result of burning with fire. The reason a broom (or another stick, we used mop handles on our ship) is used to check for steam leaks is that the superheated steam in high pressure boilers is invisible. So you need to feel for the leak, but at 600-1200 psi you really don’t want to use a body part. The broom will be knocked out of your hand by the leak.


  • I want a smoker… – Page 3 – Home Brew Forums

    [...] this: The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker I built one and it works amazing! It holds the heat nicely like the egg but without the price tag [...]

  • JeffS

    Just built this yesterday. We are planning on smoking a butt on Wednesday. Any recommendations on amount of wood chips needed initially so we do not have to change them out or is it inevitable that we have to?

  • davenaff


    Use wood chunks instead of wood chips – they will last much longer. Worst case, you’ll only need to add new chunks once. The last few times I’ve smoked a butt, it has been a smaller 2-3 lb butt and I haven’t had to add them again.

  • JeffS

    Thanks for the tips. Any recommendations on wood to use? I have mesquite, but ive been reading that it burns quickly and is not ideal for long smoking..

  • davenaff

    Mequite has too strong a flavor. I’ve had great luck with apple, cherry and pecan woods, but can’t say I can taste the difference.

  • JeffS

    Smoker has been on today for about an hour and only at 150. Any ideas why? The control switch is outside the unit and the outdoor temp is at about 55. 

  • davenaff

    Hmm, sounds like you are triggering the temp shutoff. See if you can measure the temp just above the control unit.

  • JeffS

    Do you any idea what this temp shutoff looks like?

  • davenaff

    It differs by device. Here is a good representation of the one in mine:

  • JeffS

    Thanks for the link. We have the same one and I found the shutoff. It did not trigger. Turns out, the meat was so big that the thermometer we inserted in the top was touching the meat thus not getting an accurate read. We measured down low and the temp was at 250. We turned it down to medium and will monitor from here on out. Meat is now at 170.

  • Building a Clay Smoker Oven using Flower Pots |

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    [...] to be called the "Alton Brown flower pot smoker". I got the majority of the idea from The Alton Brown Flower Pot Smoker . So Saturday I acquired all the parts (the electric burner was definitely the hardest part to find [...]

  • Wildhareperf

    I gave up and went to Costco today. They had the Kamado on sale. I am impressed with the information here.

  • Terracotta smoker | OtterBox Blog

    [...] there is another way to build this smoker I’d like to highlight. Dave Naffziger’s Blog also does a fine job explaining the details, parts list and mods you should read [...]

  • Mike Buettner

    Great article and great discussion. I read a lot but not all of the posts so perhaps this is redundant but here goes.

    It seems that most the hot plates in the price range are bimetal thermostats. A bimetal thermostat has 3 parallel stips of metal. 2 for making contact (turn the knob) and a 3rd that is the bimetal. The bimetal bends with heat and moves one of the contacts away from the other to break the flow of current. When it cools the flow is reestablished. It does indeed cycle on and off.

    Consequently the thermostat works differently whether in, near or away from the pot. I have the same thermostat from a nearly identical hot plate. Most hot plates anywhere near this price range use the same.

    Here is where some folks get frustrated with temp control. The thermostat inside the cooker will get too hot too often and keep cycling off reducing the temp inside. Thermostats that are remote react to heat from proximity or worse reacting to ambient air temperature. Close proximity can create a fortunate situation where the cycling keeps the temp close to desired. Too far away from the smoker and the thermostat never cycles off and the heating coil goes full bore and the internal smoker temp hits 300 degrees and more.

    Right now my thermostat is inside the smoker with the heating element. I did some testing and was able to bend the bimetal strip ever so slightly in order to get it to make the disconnect of current at 240 degrees. A bit high but still testing. The smoker gets to 240 and the thermostat shuts off the current. Temp slowly drops to 220 and the current flows again. Time after time. I can tweak it down pretty easily. Remove coil, make adjustment and plug it in. I put my AC current tester on the power cord and watch both the amps and temps to see when the hot plate unit is off or on.

    I love this smoker.

  • Mike Buettner

    Fully loaded with wood and salmon my smoker heated up to 140 rather quickly and the settled into a slower temp climb. The thermostat is cycling every few minutes with a sort of two steps forward and one back. It rises 5 degrees, shuts off and then drops 2.5 degrees before turning on again. About an hour to get to a steady 210 or so. Perfect.

  • ‘Terracotta Joe’ | Making It Primal

    [...] My first version was pretty much along the lines of the original with some modifications based on Dave Naffzinger’s post.   I had already started improving it right away, or at least trying to.  So I made it bigger.   [...]

  • Anonymous

    Great write-up it was really helpful for me when making my own, but I found the hot plate just wasn’t reliable in the long term. I ended up replacing it with a weber smokey joe and now have a charcoal powered smoker. Works really great.

    I did a write-up of my changes to create a charcoal version here:

  • Jeremy

    Cool contraption! I have a Stok Tower Grill with thermometer built into the lid ( and was wondering if this lid would fit over the terracotta pot as opposed to buying a terracotta bowl for the top. I picked up a 22.5″ Weber hinged grill for the Stok so I’m assuming the lid is about 22.5″ in diameter – I guess it would probably end up being too big? Would a 22″ Terracotta pot be hard to come by?

  • d

    as long as it’s actually a glaze and not paint, 230 degrees isn’t going to do anything. Think about fancy bakeware and crap like that. Glazed pots will just make you look fancy.

  • Hostage

    Big problem! I ran into a problem with the Sylvania burner. I moved the control to the bottom like the OP suggested. At around 180* I heard an explosion and saw flames shoot out where the pots met and the top hole. The meat thermometer went off the scale. The smoke then stopped and the burner light was out. I took it apart and saw the explosion came form inside the burner. Duno what exactly happen though it won’t work. I think I might try a different burner. Luckily I had no meat in there, I was doing a dry run to test to see if I could get it up to temp. I will see if I can get a burner in time, though I have the meat already in the brine, so I might be forced to use my gas as a smoker. Wally world had only a propane single burner and I will not buy another Sylvania. I am going to call some other places as well.

    I spent a total of ~$110: $30 top full size pot (couldn’t find bowl)
    18″, $42 20″ base pot, $5 pan for wood, $10 weber grate, $8 replacement
    thermometer, $15 Sylvania POS 1100W burner from Walgreens.

  • Hostage

    I looked into a bit more and I blew the fuse. When I bypass the fuse it works. I think I might know what happen. The 4 pieces chunks of wood I put in there caused a flare up/explosion, when the flame hit the fuse it popped. This is just a theory.

  • dirk


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    [...] a wine barrel for Christmas: Robert loves Alton Brown. Alton Brown is the inventor of the dreaded Flower Pot Smoker, an egregious sin against humanity that requires a terra cotta pot and bowl, hot plate, grill [...]

  • Lawrence White

    put a dimmer switch inline between the power outlet,,ie;110v outlet,and the burner control switch.This way you can adjust the input current to lower the heat prior to final adjustment with the burner temp control switch.It will require some trial/error to locate best settings to achieve the desired cooking temp you want,remember the unit is now designed differently therefore the manufacturers temp control will undoubtedly become very inaccurate thereby requiring recalibration(trial/error).Just mark your new settings so they’re easily set time after time.

  • Gavage [Tampa, Asheville, AJ's, Heirloom, Calle Latina, Miso Izakaya] — Eat It, Atlanta – Atlanta Restaurant | Cooking | Food Blog

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  • Ben

    Sorry if this is a stupid question but I got the maxi-magic burner today, took it apart, and can’t figure out for the life of me how to din connect the wires. I don’t know where it should be done or where the tab is to press. I am planning on using this Sunday so any advice or suggestions would really be appreciated.

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  • Matt

    For those looking for a little smaller grill grate, I’ve heard of this 12.75″ “steamer grate” working for other people before:

    I am building mine up now, so I will let you know how it worked out

  • anthre

    What setting do you use? medium or high?

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