How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker for Direct Heat Smoking

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Article Image

This article will show you how to build a wood-fired cinder block smoker. This smoker can be made in a single day with materials from your local hardware store if you have some help. The smoker is a direct heat style smoker fueled by burning coals down in a separate pile or burn barrel and shoveling the coals under the meat. Temperatures are maintained by shoveling additional coals in when the temperature drops. Direct heat smoking is the only way to get the flavor from the grease that drops down on the coals and burns off into gases that flavor the meat.

Most of the direct heat style smokers are built with the grate two blocks high from the coal bed, but I wouldn't say I like bending over that much and wanted to give myself more room from the coal bed to the grate. I built the pit with the grate three blocks high so that I can smoke at higher temps. Before you build anything, make sure you contact your local utility to come out to your property and mark the utility lines. My Brother and I built the first smoker. The day after we made the smoker, we received a visit from Piedmont Gas letting us know that there was an unmarked petroleum line running in the backyard. Unfortunately, we had to move it, but we got lucky and did not explode. This situation allowed me to take pictures of the second build.

Materials List

  • 43 - 8 in x 8 in x 16 in Concrete Blocks
  • 14 - 4 in x 8 in x 16 in Concrete Cap Blocks
  • 1   - 1 1/2 in x 1 1/2 in Aluminum Angle 8ft 
  • 2   - 3.5ft x 7ft Steel Remesh Sheet
  • 2   - 4ft x 8ft Plywood Sheathing for Door and Top
  • 2   - 8 in Fish Fry Thermometer


  • Shovel
  • Garden Rake
  • Rubber Mallet
  • 2 x 4
  • Level
  • Angle Grinder
  • A strong back


Step 1. Start by locating an area in your yard that is at least 10 feet from any structure or flammable materials. Remove all grass and level the site where the block pit will be. I would recommend orienting the block pit so that the rear faces the prevailing wind to prevent temperature spikes when the wind is blowing. If you use sand or gravel to level the base, it is a lot easier, but I was broke, and the dirt was free.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker 1

Step 2. The cooking area is two blocks wide, and the first blocks are laid on their side to allow for air to flow across the hot coals. Place the next two blocks perpendicular to the airflow blocks.

Step 3. Create the opening by using two half blocks for the front. The half blocks keep the hot coals from touching the front door.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker 2

Step 4. Lay the remainder of the first course. Use your level and rubber mallet to ensure the first course of blocks is even as you can get it. 

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Completed Base

Step 5. Stack the 2nd course of blocks and make sure the blocks rest over the middle of the two blocks underneath them. Two blocks will need to either be cut in half or turned sideways to form the block pits opening correctly.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Second Level

Step 6. Stack the 3rd course of blocks.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker second level opening

Step 7. Stack the 4th-course using half-sized blocks. Use the aluminum angle to create a bridge over the opening and lay the final course of half blocks. This level will have the cooking grate approximately 32 inches above the coals.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Cooking Base Level Completed

Step 8. Place the cooking grate on the pit. The expanded metal mesh works excellent, but I used concrete reinforcing mesh to keep our budget low. I purchased two sheets and laid them on top of each other until they formed a grid. Then I used an angle grinder to cut off the excess portions. It worked great and was way cheaper. I eventually found grates from old BBQ grills people set out for scrap on the way home from work and laid them over my home-made grates. This picture was from the first build but I needed a picture to show how the grate was made.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Uncle Bird cutting the cooking grate.

Step 9. I used full-sized concrete blocks for the final course of blocks.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Cooking grate on final
How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker completed front view

Step 10. I used plywood I had laying around for the top and the door, so they were free. If you had to purchase, that would add about $60 to your costs. Cut the first plywood sheet for the top to final dimensions of 4ft x6ft. Drill two ΒΌ holes in the plywood top. Cut the 2nd sheet of plywood to final dimensions of 4ft x 3ft. Place the fish fryer thermometers in the holes to keep track of your temperature. Since they are about 8 inches long and they can read the temperatures at grate level. Since we are using burned-down coals to fuel the pit, you do not have to worry about the top catching fire.

How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Smoked Turkeys
How to Build a Cinder Block Smoker Burn Pit

Lessons I learned from the Cinder Block Pit.

  • I would recommend using roofing tin for the top because it is lightweight and non-flammable. The plywood gets heavy, and shoveling coals is already enough physical work. May God help you if it rains because the plywood will seem to weigh twice as much.
  • I built the pit Kentucky style, which means it has a dirt floor. It would be best if you periodically replaced the floor with fresh dirt, or you can build a big fire with the top off to burn the grease off. I would use pavers on the bottom if you wanted an easier cleanup.
  • Using green wood is okay because we burn the wood down to coals before placing them into the pit. Be aware the block smoker will eat wood. I was getting free firewood when I built this pit so that did not factor into my operating costs. If you have a source of Free wood, this smoker is the best thing since sliced bread. If not hope you can get it cheap.
    You can fill the block's bottom rows with sand or dirt to add mass and aid in heat retention.
  • It's not a lot of fun in the rain. The pit area turned into a muddy mess when it rained. To smoke in the rain, you will need to have a shelter built over the pit or use a tent. You will also need a covered burn barrel to protect the burning coals used for fuel. I avoided cooking in the rain and dug a hole to burn my coals down before going into the pit. I filled the hole in after I cooked.
  • I experimented with moving the grate level for headroom. Ultimately, the best cooking came from having the available cooking space above the cooking grate one block high.
  • Don't use any mortar for the blocks. The mortar and concrete expand at different rates, and this causes the blocks to break. Just dry stack them.


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