Wondering how to smoke meat in the wild? We’ve built a primitive smoker that is perfect for smoking meat wherever you are; in the wild, in your backyard, or on a camping trip.
This is a step-by-step DIY tutorial that could come in handy for survival too – if you’re without power or lost in the woods – you’ll still be able to smoke meat.
Life-saving, I know!
- How to Smoke Meat in the Wild With Your Homemade Smoker
- What Smoked Meat Is All About
- Principles Behind a Homemade Meat Smoker
- How to Build a Primitive Smoker to Smoke Meat in the Wild
- How to Use Your Homemade Primitive Smoker
- Homemade Smoker #2 – DIY Smoker for $5
How to Smoke Meat in the Wild With Your Homemade Smoker
Living and traveling in an RV has its ups and downs. I love that I can follow fish and game to where they are and explore different species, spaces, and seasons.
But, I don’t have freezer space or gadget space.
Also, I’ve always been more interested in primitive skills and bushcraft than any kind of industrialized system. So, I decided to kick it primitive style and build a primitive meat smoker, so I can show you how to smoke meat in the wild.
It worked phenomenally, so I had to share it with the world. Before we cut into the meat of the project, let’s talk shop.
What Smoked Meat Is All About
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you have had bacon, and probably beef jerky, before.
Those are some simple examples of smoked meat, but you’ve probably had smoked BBQ somewhere in your life also, since it’s amazing!
To put it simply, smoking meat is a cold or hot process that imparts robust flavors and colors to meat.
Cold smoking, when combined with curing, can preserve meat. You would cold smoke after curing. The curing process is a dry rub or a brining process, usually with a lot of salt and often more seasonings to impart flavors.
If you prefer to buy a smoker rather than build your own primitive smoker, the Weber Smokey Mountain is a great smoker I can highly recommend.
Hot smoking is more of a slow cooking process. Most of our smoked meats today are done so for the flavor factor and less so for the preservation.
Sometimes, the preservation method has produced something so delicious it’s still done today, like bacon, which is still amazing!
If you ever try a cut of bacon that hasn’t been smoked, you’ll see it’s just pork.
Hot Smoking vs Cold Smoking
- Hot smoking is probably the most common process used today and is primarily used to add flavors to produce a slow-cooked savory product. Hot smoking is usually in the 160-275 degree range.
- Cold smoking is mostly used to preserve meat and is usually in the 68-89 degree range. When meat is cured, then cold smoked, the smoke adds phenols and other chemicals that have an antimicrobial effect on the meat.
Cold smoked preserved meat is not cooked so it is recommended that the meat is cured before smoking or cooked after smoking.
Read More – 11 Ways of Preserving Meat Without Electricity!
Some will argue there is another method of smoking: liquid smoke.
OK, liquid smoke can impart some lovely flavors but isn’t smoke and, in my opinion, is just another consumable product that waters down the authenticity of really doing things yourself.
That being said, I have used liquid smoke before when making jerky in the oven and not having a proper smoking method on hand.
Principles Behind a Homemade Meat Smoker
The primary purpose of a smoker is to provide a chambered area where smoke can be concentrated, and meat or other products can be hung or shelved. This is one of the basic principles of how to smoke meat in the wild.
The more efficiently the smoker operates, the better and more consistent a product can be produced. The smoker’s efficiency is in heat regulation and the ability to hold smoke.
The smoker I built here isn’t manufactured to 100% efficiency perfection, but it did a great job!
Even a smoker you get off the shelf isn’t able to regulate heat perfectly and also has to allow for draw and smoke to get out.
The smoker I built is more like something indigenous folks around the world used. It worked for them and it worked well for me and it’ll work for you too!
Know Your Wood
Of course, we’ve all heard using apple, hickory, and mesquite as being prime wood choices for smoking meats, but there are plenty of others that do a great job.
The only real absolute is to use a deciduous or hardwood and not a coniferous or softwood. Conifers often have a long-lasting resin in the wood that, when burned, creates soot that can blacken pots, pans, and your meat. It’s also toxic and tastes horrible.
Hardwoods also burn hotter and longer than softwoods. Knowing how each wood burns is great information to acquire, but not necessary for our project here. I would not recommend green, unseasoned wood.
I also wouldn’t recommend rotten punk wood, unless you can identify what species it is. (Punk wood refers to rotten or softwood. We talk about punk wood when smoking buckskins or as a fire carrier.)
Some woods that are easy to find and that also produce a pleasant smoked flavor are:
- Mulberry, and
For this primitive smoker project, I was able to find maple that was starting to get punky on the outside. This turned out to be a great choice. It smoldered most of the time with only a few flare-ups.
Know Your Fire
Knowing how fire operates at top efficiency will help with a primitive smoker project like this. Creating smoke, and the type of smoke, does come from the fuel itself but that’s not all there is to it.
Fire needs three things to burn and to burn efficiently:
- Fuel, and
Altering any, or all, of those three can improve your fire’s heat and efficiency, giving you a smokeless fire, but could also give you a nice smoky fire.
- For oxygen, the fire needs to draw cleanly from the bottom of the fire and into the fuel area. The fuel should be stacked neatly so the draw is nice and smooth in and then up. That is for a fire that burns smokeless and clean.
- The fuel is, of course, whatever you have found to burn. You don’t need to use the same fuel wood to start the fire that you want to use for the smoke. I often use fatwood, found in pines, to start a fire.
- Heat in a fire may seem obvious; there’s heat in fire after all. It’s the concentration of the heat that gives the fire its rage.
If you have a nicely burning campfire; hot, smokeless, nice draw, and you scatter all the fuel, you have displaced the concentration of that heat. Now you have a smoky fire that’s struggling to regain its rage, but is still smoldering.
Read More – Survival Ovens That You Can Build Yourself!
Tools For the Job
Building a primitive meat smoker in your backyard is a ton of work – even if you have a handy guide to follow!
So – we put together a list of the best DIY smoker tools to help get your meat smoker started.
We hope these tools help!
- Morakniv 4.3-Inch Bushcraft Stainless Steel Survival Knife with Sharpener & Fire Starter
- Mossy Oak 3 in 1 Folding Hand Saw with Soft Grip and Pouch
- BENGKU Outdoor Paracord 100-Feet, 550-Pound
The Morakniv Bushcraft series has an ergonomic handle and a thick rubber grip that feels good in your hand. The blade is stainless steel - and strong. It also has a fire starter with 7,000 strikes.
The fire starter produces heat that's 3,000-degrees Fahrenheit. The spark gets the fire going - even in damp conditions. Perfect for backyard fires, hunting, emergencies, outdoor, survival, off-grid, and DIY meat smokers!
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
The Mossy Oak has three blades - one for wood, one for hard plastic, and one for metal. The three different blade materials range from 5 TPI to 18 TPI and provide an excellent application for cutting around the campsite and as a utility knife or saw.
The grip is ergonomic and anti-slip. The knife blades also lock in two positions so you can adjust to your grip when cutting or sawing. The knife is also tremendously well-built and has a stellar reputation.
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
550 paracord is perfect for all homesteaders! It's great for hiking, crafting, clothing, camping, off-grid, and survival. Use it to build a DIY backyard smoker, carry your kayak, or tie fishing poles to the back of your four-wheeler!
The paracord is about 100 feet long and has a breaking strength of about 550 pounds. Not bad for nylon! (You can also get the paracord in 50-foot or 500-foot intervals.)
We may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
How to Build a Primitive Smoker to Smoke Meat in the Wild
First things first is a manageable burn area. If there are other combustibles near your burn area, you will need a good fire ring.
If you aren’t using a fire ring, you’ll need to clear the area of anything that will burn. Not only is this a necessity for safety’s sake, but also to minimize unintentional flair-ups.
Plus, it would be a shame to see your project go up in smoke!
After the fire ring is put together I would suggest a pre-burn to double-check combustibles and to see if anything needs adjusting.
Now comes the fun part! We need to build a tripod that will support our meat racks, as well as any cover you decide to use, if you decide to use any.
To make a tripod, find three saplings, branches, or other suitable wood that is straight-ish, doesn’t need to be perfect, and about wrist thickness.
Cut a four-foot length off of your hank of paracord and pull the insides out, you’ll use the inside strings later.
Now, lash them together with the paracord skin using a figure-eight lashing, or you can go a little more primitive, like I did, and find branches that have a crotch or “Y” in them.
If you follow this method, you’ll have to do some tinkering and figure out the most secure way to situate them together. It doesn’t have to be too solid as there will be two or three or more horizontal sections lashed to the poles that will help secure them all in place.
Next, you’ll need to find horizontal sticks to support your racks. Decide how many supports you want to use and get sticks in that length in sets of three. These only need to be about thumb thickness.
Read More – 58 Practical Homesteading Skills to Learn Today!
You will need to consider how much space you will need for meat, but you will also need to be able to raise and lower your meat depending on the varying temperature, wind, heat, etc.
You will also need to think about if you want to skewer and hang your meat, or make racks to shelve them on. My preference was to skewer the meat. That let me move them easier and also took up less space since they hung in place.
Now, with the inner strings of the paracord, use a square lashing to lash the horizontal supports to your tripod.
After you’re all lashed up, you will need to find sticks to lie across the horizontal supports. You could either lay sticks down like a grill top and put your meat right on top of that, or you could put sticks down to support your meat skewers.
If you decide to skewer the meat and hang it, I would suggest not making them too long or the weight will make the skewer sag in the middle and you might lose it in the fire.
If you lay the meat on top of a shelf make sure it doesn’t shrink in the process and fall through the gaps and into the fire.
At this point, you have a perfectly serviceable, cold primitive smoker to smoke meat in the wild!
I used mine just like this to make goose breast jerky and smoke some catfish. It is archery deer season now so I wanted something to hot smoke some deer haunch, so I did add a cover.
You can cover it with anything you have at hand, but I wouldn’t use anything you’d consider harmful if it was in you. Don’t use organics that are highly combustible, such as dry grass, pine needles, river birch bark, etc.
I usually carry a canvas drop cloth for a groundsheet or emergency “A” frame shelter that I put to good use as my cover. I would have preferred to use bark or leaves but my camping location was a bit sparse on either of those.
The principle here is to make the primitive smoker more chambered and efficient, keeping smoke and heat in. It doesn’t need to be factory sealed, it just needs to be closed up as best you can to make it more efficient.
Orient your opening on the opposite side of the wind!
If you’re having a gusty day and it is blowing one way one minute and another the next minute, orient your opening parallel to that if you can. If it is a bit windy and you have flair-ups or other struggles, go ahead and build a little door or cover for the opening.
If you do decide to put a cover over it, I would suggest making sure you can move it away from your fire ring and then back again. Otherwise, you may run the risk of seeing the whole project go up in smoke.
How to Use Your Homemade Primitive Smoker
If you put a cover over your primitive smoker, move it off of, and away from, the fire ring.
If you did not cover it, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you want to move it or not. If any wood is low or close to where you think the flames or core of the fire will be I would suggest moving it.
Now get a nice hot raging fire going. The rest of the process will be a lot easier if you start with a nice hot bed of coals. Hard hardwoods are going to be preferred for this. I was able to use Osage orange and black locust, nice and HOT!
After the fire dies down and you have a nice bed of coals still burning, move your smoker back over your fire ring.
Now, situate your meat at the heat and height you want. When you add your smoking wood, you may get some flair-up at some point so consider that when hanging.
Spread the coal bed around so the core heat is distributed over the whole fire ring. This will now make a once-happy fire into a suffering, choking, smoky fire, but it’s still hot.
Add your smoke wood on top of that. I only add two or three chunks at a time. My chunks were about wrist thickness and a foot long. It should be smoking now and will smoke at least thirty minutes or more.
Ideally, your smoke wood will smolder, not burn. If you have small flair-ups that’s OK. If you get a lot, maybe soak some of the next chunks before putting them in the smoker.
You can also try to minimize the airflow, choke the fire area so there is less oxygen. This could be as simple as moving the wood perpendicular to the wind instead of parallel, or vice versa.
Tricks and Tips for Smoking Meat in the Wild
- When looking for dry wood, stick out your bottom lip, where it’s wet, and put it on the wood. If it sticks, then the wood is good and dry. If it doesn’t stick, the wood hasn’t seasoned yet.
- Maple and oak are probably two easy trees to identify, after that, maybe branch out to hickory.
- If you have tree identification trouble, cut it and smell it. If it smells kind of sweet then it’ll probably smoke nicely. If it smells like a mess you probably won’t like the flavor of it either.
- Folks often struggle with fire craft, especially when they have to do it in a small, confined space. Sticking with dry, seasoned wood is largely overlooked. If it came off the ground, make sure it snaps when you break it. If it’s larger wood, it should burn smooth and silently in the fire, no hissing or wet ends.
- Wood that is wrist thickness or more will give you better coals than smaller selections. Anything less than wrist thickness tends to burn down faster and turns to ash too fast.
- Pay attention to your wind direction and use it to help or hinder the fire or smoke.
- Hot smoking meat’s internal temperature should reach 165 degrees and 145 for fish.
Storage and Preservation
The meat could last for years, depending on how it’s stored after smoking in your homemade primitive smoker. It also depends on what kind of meat.
- Pork can be dry-rubbed, cold smoked, and last for ten or more years.
- Fish can last for at least a year, but could just be cured and not even smoked if you really wanted to.
It really depends on how it’s stored. I will hang it in a dry place, put it in a zip lock bag or vacuum bags, or canning jars. The absolute must is to keep moisture away from it.
Primitive Smoker Conclusion
This was a fun and short project that made some pretty amazing jerky and smoked fish. After putting the cover on, I was able to slow cook and smoke legs and whole goose breast.
The build itself only took about half a day and I’ll be able to use it as long as I’m camped here; another two months.
The fish at this stretch of the Potomac are mostly carp and channel catfish so being able to smoke them is a nice boost in flavor. The goose jerky and smoked goose legs were excellent.
Next, I need to get my early archery deer and slice that up for the smoker. I will do this at my next camp spot and it’s easy enough to build in a backyard as well.
You could collect enough material from the forest in a couple of hours to put this together.
So, did this show you how to smoke meat in the wild? Let us know in the comments below!
By Eric Kelly a.k.a Mangy White Bushman
Homemade Smoker #2 – DIY Smoker for $5
This is the second smoker you can build yourself on a real budget – $5! Enjoy!
One of the many hobbies I enjoy in the outdoors is smoking meat. I happen to have a culinary background, but also love hunting, fishing, and trapping. Over the years, I have owned several different types of smokers. I probably smoke over 50 pounds of meat over the course of any given year.
I find it very relaxing, and it makes for some incredible meals. Buying a smoker can be expensive. However, there are several ways to build your own smoker.
For this article, I built a smoker in my backyard and it cost me about $5 in supplies. I will warn you that it was not pretty, but it got the job done well. I smoked a venison roast using the DIY smoker, and anybody could do the same.
There are several different designs you can use. You can smoke just about any type of fish, meat, poultry, or cheese. You can even smoke vegetables or sides like macaroni and cheese.
Whether you’re building your smoker in your backyard or on a camping trip, I will cover how to build it and use several different options to smoke incredible meats for you and your family to enjoy.
Why Smoke Your Meat?
I think most of us that have had really good barbecue food can agree that smoking food makes it taste better. It gives food a richer depth of flavor while cooking the meat at the same time. A really great smoked brisket or hunk of gouda cheese is hard to beat. I probably smoke at least one whole salmon filet per week.
In addition to adding flavor and cooking the meat, smoking foods can accomplish other things.
Historically, people started smoking meat to draw moisture out and preserve the meat. A great deal of the jerky you have eaten was probably smoked.
Smoking the meat accomplishes two things that help to preserve the meat for later consumption. It dehydrates the meat and also kills bacteria on the surface of the meat. If the process is done in a particular way, smoked and dried meats, like jerky, can last for months without going bad. This is particularly helpful if you spend a great amount of time in the wilderness away from refrigeration.
However, smoking and preserving food are not quite the same thing. To smoke a meal for immediate consumption you need to cook it faster and hotter. This keeps the moisture inside, so it stays nice and tender. To preserve meat, you need to dry it out at low temperatures to slowly eliminate the moisture.
I will cover both processes in this article.
The Smoking Process
The process of smoking meat is somewhat simple, but not always easy. You just need a few different elements to be successful. You will need a steady source of heat that produces smoke, such as a campfire burned down to coals or a bed of charcoal with wood chunks or chips added.
You need an enclosure to hold in the smoke so that it penetrates the surface of the meat. You need a way to suspend your meat inside the enclosure but above the heat source. Finally, you need a source of oxygen to keep the fire smoldering. If you have these four elements, you can tweak them to produce the desired results.
Building the Fire
There are two primary ways to create your heat source. If you are at home and have access to charcoal and wood chunks or chips, that is your quickest and easiest option. I like to use lump charcoal with no lighter fluid added. This ensures that the flavor of lighter fluid does not seep into the meat.
As for the type of wood chunks, that depends on the type of meat. I like mesquite or hickory for fish. I like apple or cherry for pork or poultry. I like post oak for beef. The type of wood you use to create smoke will affect the flavor of the finished product.
Start your charcoal in a chimney if you have one. If not, you can just build it up into a pile and light at the base. I like to use newspapers to get it lit. At the same time, I fill a bucket with water to soak the wood chips or chunks. You then want your coals to burn down to the point they are covered in white ash.
If you are using a chimney, you can then dump it on the ground and spread the coals out evenly. If you built up a pile you will want to knock it down at this point. You can then add the soaked wood chunks or chips on top of the coals. You should start seeing white smoke pour out from the pile of coals.
If you are out in the wilderness and have no charcoal, you can just use firewood. The important part of this is that you do not want to work with flames. Flames are too difficult to control the heat. Factors like wind and humidity can greatly affect the temperatures. You want to let the wood burn down into coals and then build the structure over the coals.
I like to have two separate spots for fire. One is for the actual smoking process, and the other is just for burning wood down to coals and then moving them to the other spot. There is typically enough moisture in firewood to get plenty of smoke, but you can also soak a few pieces to put on top of the coals if needed. You still do want to find clean wood and pay attention to the type as it affects the flavor.
This DIY smoker is included in our 58 Useful Homesteading Skills article. Check it out, there are some great skills to have in there!
Prepping the Meat
To get the proper result, you will want to adjust the way you cut the meat as well as how you season it. If you are cooking it for eating that day, I like to keep the cuts thick. This will help keep moisture inside the meat. The only exception would be poultry as it needs to cook all the way through.
You will then need to season the meat aggressively. The flavor of any rub or seasoning will primarily stay on the outer layer of meat.
- For beef and fish, I like to use just salt and pepper.
- For poultry, I add paprika to the mix.
- For pork, I like to add some brown sugar, cumin, and cayenne pepper.
If you want to make a product more like jerky, you will need to make a few changes. You want to cut the meat across the grain in thin strips. This keeps it tender, despite the fact that you are eliminating moisture.
If you have a meat slicer, you can get a much thinner strip by partially freezing the meat before cutting it. No matter what, your strips of meat should be ¼ inch thick or less.
With meat this thin, you do not have to be so aggressive with seasoning. I use the same seasonings for each type of meat except I really don’t like to use sugar. When smoking for jerky, sugar can be a little unpredictable.
If you want a sweet flavor, you need to make a marinade that has some honey in it or something similar. A marinade makes the sugar much less likely to burn as moisture is added.
You can also make jerky in a dehydrator!
Building the Structure
I always like to start the structure for a homemade smoker with a tripod. Just lash three poles together with each about five feet long. Space them out so they are stable and you can attach some weight to them.
You can then suspend the meat from the frame. You can run cordage through the pieces of meat and hang them around the frame. You can also build a grill or net system inside your tripod on which to place the meat.
The height of your meat is very important. You can use an oven thermometer to test various heights. You can also just use your hand. Pick a spot and hold your hand above the coals palm down.
- If you can only hold your hand there for a couple of seconds, it is medium-high heat.
- If you can hold it there for three to five seconds, it is medium heat, great for smoking for an hour or two.
- Six or seven seconds is medium-low heat, good for low and slow smoking for several hours.
- Ten seconds or higher is low heat, good for making jerky.
Keep in mind that jerky can take all day or even a couple of days. Have plenty of coals ready and check the temperature periodically. In this example, I just hung one venison roast from a single piece of cordage and cooked on medium heat.
The final step is to enclose the structure. If you have an old garbage can, clean it out and cut a hole in the top and a few at the base. Then just set it over top of the tripod. You may want to set it up on rocks or bricks to keep it from melting. You can wrap your tripod with a blanket or a small tarp.
You can even wrap it in plastic wrap or aluminum foil like I did in this example. It was not pretty, but it gets the job done. You will notice that there is space for air to come in at the base and for the heat to escape at the top. As long as you do these things and don’t melt your enclosure, it will get the job done.
To cook the meat, just check it periodically. I like to use a meat thermometer, especially with thicker cuts of meat.
Always let the meat rest for 15 to 30 minutes before you cut into it. This will ensure it stays juicy. If you made jerky, let it cool and store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Jerky is done drying if it breaks when bent but does not snap in two.
While you’re on the smoker trail, check out more outdoor cooking articles!
No matter how you build your smoker or where you build it, you can have a lot of fun and make some great food. Just keep in mind that the process takes some practice. Try out different seasonings, different wood types, and different temperatures. Don’t be afraid to try new cuts of meat that you have not smoked before. If you have the patience, you find a hobby that could last a lifetime.
Read More – Best Gas Grill Under $500 – Juicy Burgers and BBQ Chicken on a Budget!
Thursday 3rd of November 2022
How long do you smoke the meat?
Monday 27th of December 2021
Amazing!! In all my adventures I didn't know what to look for to find dry wood. The smoker works and so did the wood info. Thank you Bushman
Wednesday 5th of January 2022
Nice! Glad it worked for you John :D