Food & Beverage
How-To: Nellie Bly Smoker

make32 nellie bly smoker

“Food prepared in a smoker is always a treat, so building a backyard smoker is a perfect project for those who love to combine making things and eating things,” reads the intro to William Gurstelle‘s newest project for MAKE, the Nellie Bly Smoker, which appears on the pages of MAKE Volume 32. The body of this unique smoker is an open head 55-gallon drum, said to have been invented by famous adventurer, reporter, and industrialist Nellie Bly. Unlike most traditional drum smokers, this electric smoker features a two-box configuration, which allows for great temperature control and opens up possibilites for either hot or cold smoking. Pictured above is MAKE Projects Editor Keith Hammond and his dog, Gage, getting ready to test the project by hot-smoking tri-tips. Pictured below is the basic smoker diagram.

make32 nellie bly smoker diagram

How does it work? Inside the firebox an electric hot plate heats wood chips in a shallow pan to generate smoke. A louver in the bottom controls airflow. The food box or smoke chamber has two sealed doors for access, a grill to support food, and four eyebolts for hanging food. Two thermometers monitor the temperature inside. A flexible, extensible duct carries smoke from the firebox to the food box. The temperature inside the food box is controlled by shortening or lengthening the smoke duct. To help draw the smoke upward over the food, the food box is raised above the firebox by a stand, and fitted with a chimney.

Check out the full build instructions starting on page 94 of Volume 32, or on Make: Projects.

make 32 nellie bly smoker cold smoke setup

MAKE Volume 32: Design for Makers

Forget duct tape and baling wire — now makers can design and manufacture things as beautiful as Apple and as slick as Dyson. We’ll show you how to conceive and visualize great-looking projects with our speed course in industrial design.

Buy or subscribe today!

7 thoughts on “How-To: Nellie Bly Smoker

  1. One that gets it right! Too many put the fire(Heat source) under the meat, and you get direct heat which ruins a good smoking! Just want the hot smoke coming in.

  2. I think a word of caution should be added about the potential hazards cutting into a metal drum that may appear empty but may contain flammable fumes. A recent fatality in a high school shop class in Ottawa, Ontario was caused by an explosion after sparks were caused by cutting such a drum that had previously contained “Oil of Thyme”

Comments are closed.


I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

View more articles by Goli Mohammadi