When I first got close to finishing the smokehouse I knew I wanted shelves in it and when doing my internet research I found most people using small cookie cooling racks or something similar. I didn’t like the limited space that would provide or the lack of using the available space in the smoke house. Someone on the Smoking Meat forum suggested expanded metal and I went off to making my own design.
So I went to Maryland Metal to get my raw materials which were just expanded metal sheet and angle iron. I bought a full sheet of 1/2″ x #13 Flat expanded metal and two ten foot sticks of 3/4″ x 1/8″ angle iron. Get the FLAT expanded metal as the regular kind has high and low points. The angle iron comes in 20′ lengths and it is cheaper the less cuts you get and cut in half fits in my truck well without a roof rack. I also was planning to get just a 2′ x 4’piece of expanded metal to make two trays and see if I wanted to change anything. The cost to cut it in the shear made that small piece as expensive as a full sheet. So, I bought the full sheet and would cut it with the cutting wheel and the angle grinder.
After measuring the inside of the smokehouse I wanted trays that where 21″ wide and 25″ deep. I laid the angle on the work bench and clamped it down. As you can see below I marked it for cutting 45° cuts to make V’s to form the frames for my racks. They are 21″ on the left, then 25″, 21″ and 25″ again. You can see the difference in lengths in the picture below.
Next was the easy part of bending the angle on the driveway to make the frame as you see below. I hit it a few times with a 3# hammer as the joints expanded it to 21.25″ and 25.25″ and I only had 21.5″ clearance the the width. It still fits tight, but be careful of this if you copy this to make your own.
Then the frames had their corners welded closed below. If don’t know, be sure to check it corner to corner for even lengths before welding so you get a rectangle and not a parallelogram.
The expanded metal was cut with a cutting wheel on the angle grinder and dropped into the open frame. It takes a lot more heat on my stick welder to bond to the 1/8″ angle and that much heat will melt the thin expanded metal. So I welded a tack ball between spots where the expanded metal was on the angle and let that ball contact the expanded metal and melt to it.
Now for the good story. I am sitting with my wife on the patio and having a couple beers. She says “You’re putting a drip pan in there, right?” I follow with “No, the ants can clean it out.” It was like the wrong answer on a game show like Family Feud and the red X pops up. Her response is “That’s disgusting, you’re going to have to put a drip pan in it!”
I’ve been married almost 25 years now and you know when you come to one of those moments. You both know where you can push and which things are just not worth pushing and this one was one of those not worth pushing moments. You know that you know you could go forward and do what ever you want, but your going to pay for it over time. There will be comments here and there that you will be saying “Why didn’t I just build the drip pan!” You just know things will be so much easier for you if you just build the drip pan! 😀
So, I went to Home Depot and bought half a piece of duct work to make the drip pan. I also bought a 2 x 3 which I drilled with a 7/8″ Forstner bit and then sawed in half to make the two side supports. I screwed those to the wall and then cut 3/4″ dowels to drop in to support the pan. I spaced the supports up with a 2 x 4 so there was plenty of room for airflow on the sides, back and up the door.
To make the pan I drew the shape out in pencil and the cut marks in sharpie. I had 21″ x 25″ base pan with 1 1/2″ sides and 1″ tabs on the four corners to lock it together. I didn’t take a picture of this. Once cut out, duck work is like a huge razor, so wear gloves! I only bleed twice on this part of the project with little cuts. I took the pan over to my buddy Jerry’s and he put in on his break and folded a 1/4″ of the top sides over to get ride of the sharp edge and bent and sides up for me. Then I brought it home and folded the tabs over and drilled and riveted them to finish the pan. I hammered the tabs flat and tapped the corners to round sharp edges smooth and hit it in a few spots with a file. Below shows the finished pan and it was much stiffer than I figured it would be. It is not water tight, but its not a water pan it is a drip catch only. A smokehouse is for drying and curing, not for cooking like a grill smoker.
While at Home Depot I also bought 2 – 1 x 2 cedar boards to support the racks. Once home I cut them to 24″ to get 4 supports per board. I drilled counter sunk holes and screwed them in with 9″ from the top of one to the next one boards top. This gives me room for 4 and I can add more later if I want to make 8 racks, but I don’t know that I will every use that many. It’s just nice to know I can, if I want to later on. I think I might be able to cure an entire deer at once on 4 racks, so 8 might be too many.
The next two pictures show the air flow under the drip pan for people that are interested. The left picture shows the access to the back wall and the right the side wall openings. There is also 3 inches of air space between any of the racks, or pan, and the door. So there is plenty of space for smoke and heat to move around and up into the smokehouse.
EDIT – Addition
The shelves are a bit heavy and once this thing is fired up, it is quite smokey trying to get things on the shelves. You need to slide them out or pull them out to load them. So I for a board 1″ x 2″ x 4′ and cut ti to 6″ lengths. Drilled it with a 3/16″ bit and made a counter sunk hole with a 1/2″ bit. I also rounded the front edge so sliding in the trays would be easier.
Below you can see one installed. I used a piece of luan plywood as a spacer. That gives me about a 1/8″ gap. This allows the drawer to slide easily and keeps the drawer from falling out when you slide it out 90% of the way for loading. These drawer are about 4 to 5 pound and could easily hurt my foot.