Last weekend my brother Jason came down to work on a cold-smoking smokehouse we’d both decided had to be built before we could slaughter our pigs. Jason is an accomplished builder and architect, and the impetus behind our decision to raise pigs in the first place.

After a few email exchanges discussing some smokehouse plans on the internet and deciding what was going to be feasible for us to build in a couple days and on a budget of under $1,000, we decided on a 4 x 4 foot wide, 8-foot tall stick frame smokehouse with a cast concrete firebox. The firebox is connected to the smokehouse by a section of 6-inch weatherized, stainless steel stove pipe, which runs underground between the smokehouse and the firebox, at a distance of about six feet. This is necessary so that the smoke cools enough that it adds flavor without cooking the meat.

The week before Jason arrived, I ordered the materials, which included all the lumber and plywood we’d need to build the smokehouse and the forms for the firebox, as well as 45 80-pound bags of concrete. We originally looked at building a bigger smokehouse, but that would have involved 88 80-pound bags of concrete, which would have to be moved onsite by - you guessed it - me. Having moved quite a bit of concrete uphill for al kinds of projects, from greenhouse footers to fenceposts, I decided that 50 bags or less was going to be the limit, so we went with a more modestly sized smokehouse.

Before we could build anything, we had to find a site: one not so far from the house that it would be difficult to tend the fire for 3-day smoke sessions, but not so close that there was a risk of catching other buildings on fire. And needless to say, no one was interested in moving building materials from the driveway any further than neccessary. After some consideration, I decided to build it next to the shipping container that houses our solar electric system, which was relatively level, or so I thought, until I began grading it.

As it turned out, there was about a 17-inch difference from the high corner to the low on an 8-foot by 8-foot building site (for the smokhouse pad; I later leveled an adjacent section for the firebox). Getting the smokehouse and firebox sites level took a couple evenings worth of work with a shovel, as well as a few hours to dig the footer trench for the smokehouse. The package of lumber and concrete I had ordered arrived before the weekend, and I spent several hours on an overcast (thank God!) Friday moving the concrete bags up to the site in a badly listing wheelbarrow.

Jason and I got to work digging a drainage trench for the smokehouse as well as the trench for the smoke pipe on Saturday morning. Around 10:00 my friend Ted showed up, just in time to help me mix concrete for the smokehouse footers and slab, while Jason built the forms for the firebox. We got all the concrete poured by early afternoon, when Jason finished work on the forms. After a couple hours’ break, we got back to it and poured concrete for the firebox, with some welcome help from our neighbor Donnie.

Sunday morning we got to work on framing the smokehouse. We set the plates on the anchor bolts in the now-hardened concrete and raised the side, back, and front frames, which included the door opening in the front. We nailed T1-11 plywood to the outside and began framing the roof, where we cut a vent from the plywood gables on either side. This is critical so that there is enough draft for the smokehouse to draw smoke up through the pipe from the firebox. Jason hung the door and trimmed the door frame out with some rough-hewn 1 x 6’s I salvaged from a pallet company in the neighborhood that was going out of business and giving away lumber.

By Sunday afternoon, we’d gotten the whole thing framed and built a form to pour the lid for the firebox. Donnie showed up to help us pour the lid, and before long, we were pretty much there. Still to be done, the roof needed rake boards and the corners needed trim to match the door. I took care of these over the course of the week and added a corrugated metal roof, this weekend.

Next up, painting the smokehouse and removing the forms from the firebox, and lifting the 300-plus pound lid onto the firebox…