Building a smoker in the wild is very easy because you already have all of the necessary material at your disposal. There are two methods that are commonly used, and each one should produce the same finished product. The hole in the ground option is perfect for small portions of meat at sites that may be windy or rainy. You can also build a tepee smoker if you plan on preparing larger amounts of meat, staying on site for a while or don’t need to worry about the elements.
The first step is to dig a hole that is about three feet deep and 18-24 inches wide at the bottom. You want to also widen the sides of the hole on an angle so that it is about three feet in diameter at the top. This will enable you to put more meat in the smoker while still using a smaller fire. Once the hole has been dug out, you will need to make some grates out of sticks for the pieces of meat.
You want to make two grates, one smaller for the bottom, and one larger for the top. The smaller grate should rest about 18 inches above the fire and the larger one should rest about 6-9 inches from the top. The two grate system will allow you to position more meat in the smoker while also giving you the chance to hang longer pieces from the top.
Fill the bottom of the pit with your fuel and light the fire. Let it burn until most of the wood is glowing red. Add some green sticks, leaves and other moist material to get the smoke going. Remember that the aim is not to cook the meat quickly, but to let the warm smoke cure the items over time. You will need to tend to the fire periodically by adding more fresh, green sticks to keep producing smoke.
Add the grates and the meat once you have started the smoking process, and cover the pit with leaves, brush and other debris so that it traps most of the smoke while providing enough oxygen to maintain the process. As a rule of thumb, thinly sliced meats that have been smoked for one day will be edible for about a week. Smoke meat for two days and they should keep for two to three weeks. The same rule applies to tepee smokers as well.
Build the frame to be about four feet high with three sticks. Tie them together at the top. Next, create two racks by attaching three sticks horizontally between each leg of the tepee. The bottom rack should be high enough so the hanging meat will rest about 18 inches above the fire. The top rack should be high enough so the hanging meat will rest above the bottom one.
Cover the tepee with a poncho, tarp or create walls by building a wood frame and inserting brush, debris and branches. The same principle applies as with the hole method. You want to trap smoke inside while allowing oxygen to move through the system. Make sure to leave a vent hole on top of the tepee.
Dig a fire pit underneath the tepee and place the fuel. Allow it to diminish to a low flame that is predominately composed of hot red embers before adding the greener material to produce the smoke. Close up the tepee and check the fire periodically, adding new material as necessary. This method is great for smoking fish or long cuts of meat that can be hung vertically.
Try to avoid using pine or fur trees for the smoke because the flavor of the meat may not be appealing. Birch, mesquite and cherry are preferable, but any leafy tree will do the trick in the wild. Try this out for yourself and see how easy it is to cure and preserve meat with minimal resources.