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May 4, 2006 09:17 PM

Is Smoking Safe? (in a galvanized garbage can)

  • c

I'm hoping there is a scientist out there who can answer this. This is my question:

I've been smoking meat and fish on occasion for the last 35 years. My favorite smoker was a full sized galvanized metal garbage can with an inch or so of beach sand in the bottom, a few holes for air near the bottom, and 4 stove bolts about 4 or 5 inches from the top which held up a cheap BBQ grate. I'd light about 4 briquettes, and then when they were going but hickory blocks on top of them; put the grate on top sprayed with Pam and put the meat or fish on top of that--Usually blue fish. After a while the interior had like a black glaze on it.

I had another one that was electric (I think Meco, or something Cooks (yuk) recommended) but the electric element burned out the day it went out of warranty.
Does anyone hae thoughts on the safety of using a galvanized metal garbage can? It doesn't really get that hot as the heat is on the sand? Aren't some of those Tamale buckets galvanized?

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  1. I work in the area of assessment of human health risk from exposure to unregulated hazardous waste sites. Galvanized products are coated with pure zinc, which is not one of the metals that we generally pay a lot of attention to because it's unusual to find health risks in the general population from exposure to zinc. Zinc is one of a number of metals that the body requires in trace quantities but which can become toxic if consumed in sufficient amounts. Excess zinc in the body can also be detrimental because it has the effect of stripping other beneficial trace metals (e.g., copper and calcium) before it itself becomes toxic.

    Zinc melts at a relatively low temperature and I suspect that in your galvanized trash can smoker some zinc is vaporized and ends up on the surface of your food. This probably occurs at a much smaller rate after the smoker acquires the black coating you describe, which would have the effect of isolating the zinc coating.

    All of that said, I strongly doubt you are exposing yourself to enough zinc to be concerned. As you may be aware, some people believe that relatively large doses of zinc protect against and/or cure the rhinoviruses that cause the common cold and similar diseases. If you regularly take zinc supplements for that or some other reason (and eat a lot of your own barbeque) there may be a small chance that the additional zinc from the smoker could be detrimental. Otherwise, I personally wouldn't be worried about it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: FlyFish

      Thanks a lot! That means for less than $30 and an hours time you can build yourself a pretty great smoker. Of course it will look like a trash can and not a $699 yard decor item.

      1. re: Curmudgeon

        Yep - just don't be tempted to save even more by using old metal refrigerator shelves as racks - many (maybe all) are cadmium plated and cadmium is something you really want to stay away from.

        1. re: FlyFish

          Oh, that is very interesting! People used to convert old refrigerators and use them for smokers, racks and all. Thanks Curmudgeon for bringing this up. I've always wondered about those tamale steamers too. Your trash can smoker sounds cool and wouldn't be out of line with my backyard decor! I wonder if one of those tiny ones sold for compost would work?

    2. My research on the web and several MSDS sites, plus information gleaned from Raku glazers using Galvanized trash cans, indicates you would have to heat the Zinc above it's Boiling point to generate fumes. Not likely to happen in a smoker.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Robert G

        If you want to make one, here's an easy and economical method:

      2. The Frugal Gourmet made one on tv and it was in one of his books...