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I know people have indoor wood-fired pizza ovens. I also know that in general people cannot have barbecues or smokers indoors, presumably because of the potential for leakage of dangerous or deadly gasses. I am confused because both of these methods involve burning wood indoors, but only the pizza oven is considered appropriate or safe.

My guess at this time is that pizza ovens have sufficient ventilation to let out bad gasses and such, while barbecues and smokers traditionally do not have good ventilation.

  1. Why can I have an indoor pizza/wood oven, but not a BBQ or smoker?

  2. Would having a valve that partly closes the ventilation of a pizza oven "turn" the pizza oven into a smoker? And if so, would this also be considered dangerous?

I want to make it clear that I don’t plan on poisoning my family and won’t be building something unless if is deemed safe by professionals.

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    I think you are working from a faulty premise. Who do you think (besides those you live with) is going to STOP you from having a smoker or bbq inside. Yes, it is a bad idea but if you want to do it. On another note: there are a number of gas ranges that do include an open flame grilling area as well as a small portable smokers that can be used indoors. kitchens.com/blog/kitchenology/pro-style-cooktops-with-grills amazon.com/Gourmia-GSM160-Portable-Convenient-Cookbook/dp/… – Cos Callis Oct 25 '17 at 20:06
  • Things like Jenn-Air hibachi grills and several competitors are not uncommon. These are gas/electric for quick on convenience, but the key is always ventilation control. I even knew someone with a spit in their fireplace straight out of the 17th century or so. – dlb Oct 25 '17 at 20:32
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    There might be local by-laws for safety and fire hazard in play, better ask around (fire-dept, city, ... ) also, there might be insurance issues. – Max Oct 25 '17 at 20:32
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    I'm not allowed to have either where I live. Commercial restaurants can have both in my area, because they are able to build the proper heat containment and ventilation systems. It might make more sense to include your jurisdiction and living situation in the question. – Todd Wilcox Oct 25 '17 at 23:04
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    To all those in comments and answers saying that carbon monoxide accumulates in low places, sinks, is heavier than air, no it isn't, doesn't etc. "Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air" [emphasis added] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_monoxide – Shannon Severance Oct 27 '17 at 16:19
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Why pizza/wood ovens, but not BBQ/smoker?

Fire is not fundamentally a problem indoors; there are certainly safe ways to do it, like fireplaces.

The things that make fire dangerous are lack of containment and lack of ventilation coupled with significant size. If it's at all uncontained, it's a fire hazard, and if there's not enough ventilation then you can get a smoke-filled home, carbon monoxide poisoning, and all manner of unpleasant/deadly things.

Wood-fired pizza ovens are much more like fireplaces than anything else. The fire is well-contained. They have chimneys, so that all of the byproducts of the fire are safely sent outside, and new fresh air is pulled in.

Standard barbecues/grills/smokers usually fail on the ventilation aspect. They don't have a way to attach a chimney so that you can reliably send all the nasty stuff outside. They may also be insufficiently well-contained. For example, a lot of charcoal grills make it relatively easy to throw sparks outside the grill, which is pretty bad indoors.

Indoor smokers do exist, though. Generally they're either large, with serious ventilation, or they're small stovetop things that just burn a tiny amount of wood chips in a tiny volume, so it's safe without ventilation but not exactly comparable to a full smoker.

The reason the big ones need serious ventilation is that you're deliberately holding smoke (and associated gases) inside, and you can't let that slowly build up in your home. On top of that, it's at a much lower temperature, probably 225-250F compared to a wood-fired oven at probably 600-900F, so a chimney won't even be as effective because you don't have as strong convection from all that hot air trying to rise.

Can I just seal off an oven and turn it into a smoker?

No. If you don't send the smoke out through the ventilation system, it'll be going into your home. (You might have experienced this yourself, if you've ever started a fire in a fireplace and accidentally left the flue closed. It can fill the room with smoke impressively quickly.)

I know you said partially close, but if the oven hasn't been designed for it, you're just asking for trouble. You don't really have a good way to make sure that smoke (and probably carbon monoxide) is held within the oven enough to make it a good smoker, but is not pushed out into your home. This is fire/home safety. You really don't want to be asking for trouble here, and depending on where you live, it may well be illegal.

So it's really unlikely that you can even make this conversion, and if you're doing it yourself you can't trust it anyway, and the absolute best case is that you manage to somehow build yourself an indoor smoker and you've probably had to make compromises that make it not work as well as a pizza oven. So you might as well just buy an indoor smoker. (But you still might not be as happy with it as with a regular outdoor smoker - see dlb's answer.)

  • You say "You don't really have a good way to make sure that smoke (and probably carbon monoxide) is held within the oven enough to make it a good smoker". Would there be a reasonable way to build it this way? If I have a custom-made wood oven in the house, I am wondering if I could also make it into an indoor smoker sometimes. If I have a good chimney and all that. – Behacad Oct 25 '17 at 21:07
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    It might be possible to build, but it would be a very custom thing - it sounds pretty difficult to get it right so that when in "smoker mode" it retains sufficient smoke inside but no smoke (or CO) goes out the air intake, only the chimney. You'd have to ask the people who are custom-building it for you if they know how. I don't think I've ever seen one. – Cascabel Oct 25 '17 at 21:19
  • There are big, commercial indoor smokers, but you are looking at room sized systems there. I love smoking meats, even and planning a full smokehouse, but still would not even consider indoors a real option in my mind. CO, CO2, airborn oils and particulates, dripping oils. I use water smoking so add the certainty that there will be spills. So many drawbacks that it would have to be complete custom job other than the lesser options, and might be a major liability issue. – dlb Oct 25 '17 at 22:32
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    @Behacad Primarily, yes, the gases and such. In smoking especially, you want food exposed to things which are not good for breathing, and really not especially good for your house, drapes, etc. Smoking food and air quality in a confine area are two opposing goals. If you have used smokers much, you should have seen some of the soot build up that tends to occur, which tends to be flammable, another hazard indoors. – dlb Oct 26 '17 at 4:37
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    @Behacad, one of the problems with holding the smoke is you are also holding the really dangerous stuff, like carbon monoxide and some nasty particulates. Carbon monoxide is heavier than air and if not drawn out by the convection action of a normal chimney, it will pool at the lowest possible point. at best it will snuff the fire, at worst, it leech out of your smoker and fill your house with a suffocating gas until it kills you. You need air to carry on the combustion required for smoking, and that means the box cannot be sealed. so the CO won't stay contained. DANGEROUS! – Paul TIKI Oct 26 '17 at 13:51
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Please, Please, Please do not try to do indoor smoking without equipment made for it. It is Dangerous! DANGEROUS

Devices that use open flame inside your house take advantage of a chimney to let the smoke out. Pizza ovens are just funky shaped fireplaces. In a fireplace, the hot fire causes the smoke and nasty gasses to rise up the chimney, drawing in fresh air from the front. This creates a one way flow. It is similar for just about any combustion driven heat device. Block that flow out of the chimney, and the smoke and Carbon Monoxide stay around. Since they are heavier than air, they will settle at the lowest point as they mix with cooler air and cool down.

Smoking meats requires lower heat than is normally found in a fireplace. A lot lower. At this point the smoke is not going to rise as readily or quickly. Here is where you face a second problem: A column of cool air blocking your chimney. If this happens, NONE of the nasty stuff escapes and your house fills with particulates and CO and CO2. THIS CAN KILL YOU!

I love smoked meats too, but I would not put yourself or loved ones at risk for it. It may be inconvenient to use an outdoor smoker, but its a lot more convenient than suffocating on Carbon Monoxide.

Please don't attempt to smoke meats indoors unless you have a specifically designed indoor use smoker that has stuff to help clear the nasty stuff out and not kill you.

Now for BBQ: There are ways to do BBQ indoors. so long as you are not trying to trap combustion by products, and follow safety rules, you can do some pretty tasty stuff. I use an induction cooktop and a cast iron grill to sear the meat and get the lovely hash marks, then finish it off in the oven broiler. That's just me though. There are gas ranges with grills, there are oven BBQ recipes and techniques. You can spend hours on allrecipes looking at different techniques for this meat or that. That said, ALL of them need adequate kitchen ventilation. Not as much as my prior apocalyptic ramblings, but you do need to ventilate the kitchen.

TL:DR Smoke meats outside and stay safe!...oh, and enjoy

  • I like that you added a detail regarding the impact of burning at lower temperatures, thank you. – Behacad Oct 27 '17 at 13:04
  • I learned a great many things about how chimneys work the hard way with a wood stove in my house. Fill your basement with smoke once and you be come a keen student :) Be careful and have fun cooking :) – Paul TIKI Oct 27 '17 at 13:38
  • Indeed. If you search for 'carbon monoxide tent' you will see an endless list of tragic stories where famiies have been killed by bringing their bbq inside the tent because it's raining or to keep warm. – worthwords Nov 1 '17 at 0:37
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Opinion, but there are multiple indoor options, like stove top and oven smokers, gas and electric grills with stove top ventilation systems such as those by Jenn-Air and other makers. These are not really that uncommon.

They do however come with drawbacks such as better ventilation requirements and many are relatively expensive. They are limited use items that are space eaters, you give up space for something which often is not actually used enough to justify. I owned one, and the result was I had a stove-top the size of an 8 burner stove, with a very loud exhaust which was always oily, and could only use either the burners or the grill, not both at the same time due to power draw and the grill top always seemed to cause burns. I an not sure why it was easier for people to understand not to touch burners, but they could not understand the grill might also be hot, but that was the case. When you add in the mess, for most people, the outdoor option is simply cheaper and more convenient.

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There's no reason you couldn't have an indoor BBQ or smoker, but you're going to have to either design it for such use, or buy one of the (rather expensive) commercial options.

A pizza oven is basically a wood stove where the exhaust gasses go around a box on their way out the chimney and heat it up. You can find a wide variety of wood-fired oven and stovetop designs over the last few hundred years that were fine to use indoors, they all work pretty much the same way.

A barbecue has the difficulty that it's not sealed. As such it has a few problems for using it indoors, none of which are insurmountable, but they do need to be taken into account. Firstly a barbecue can throw sparks. You don't want sparks landing in your shag carpet. Your indoor barbecue will need to have a hearth of brick, stone, concrete, metal, or some other non-combustible substance out to beyond the maximum range it might throw a spark. You can reduce the amount somewhat by putting a shield or spark curtains like you see on open fireplaces around it, but you're going to need at least a little bit. Secondly, a barbecue indoors will need a chimney. Said chimney will need to be designed to draw properly with the amount of heat your barbecue produces. Depending on where you want the barbecue and what the venting options are, this can prove quite a challenge. But, never fear, modern technology to the rescue! Rather than relying on natural convection, you can install a high-temperature exhaust fan. You can test that it's actually pulling all the exhaust gasses out of the room with a little powdered chalk. Needless to say, unless you're an experienced tinkerer who's got a lot of practice with fires and fans, by the time you get it right it will probably have been quicker and cheaper to just buy one of the models designed for indoor use.

An indoor smoker is rather easier, you just need one that seals up air-tight. Have it draw its fresh air from outside and have its chimney go outside. Get one of the models that uses a fan to control the airflow anyway and it should work fine. The only issue is going to be the smoke escaping into your house when you open the door to check on the cooking process. There are two solutions. Either don't open the door until the cooking process is done and the fire is out. (Difficult, but likely not completely impossible) Or install the smoker in an enclosed room with a good exhaust fan so that the smoke can be cleared out quickly before it leaks into the rest of your house. Once again, unless you really know what you're doing, building this will likely cost you more than just getting one of the units designed for indoor use...

For either type, you're definitely going to want a Carbon Monoxide detector nearby. But then, it's usually good to have those anyway if you ever burn anything indoors... Or even if you don't.

If you can find a surplus laboratory fume hood somewhere and have that installed, that would likely provide adequate ventilation for a barbecue or small smoker, plus whatever other projects you might have that could produce unsavory gasses. It would probably cost you as much as an indoor smoker, but would give you more flexibility in terms of how it could be used.

  • "An indoor smoker is rather easier" and "fresh air...chimney...outside...fan... should work fine" -- well, maybe it's easier than a barbecue, but the obstacles are pretty serious, and summarizing it as just a few things to do to make it all fine is a bit of an understatement. Fresh air from outside, chimney to outside, and a perfect seal is already not trivial. And it takes more than just an exhaust fan to effectively clear a room of carbon monoxide (it sinks to the floor). I know you eventually say it's difficult in the last sentence, but I might try to put those cautions more up front. – Cascabel Oct 26 '17 at 19:25
  • Carbon monoxide sinks about as much as carbon dioxide does. I'm guessing you've never had a problem with CO2 settling in your basement and suffocating you. If you dump a mass of pure CO gas out of a bucket it'll sink to the floor, sure. But it doesn't take much agitation to mix it around. Walking into the room is more than enough. As for the difficulty, it would be about as difficult as installing a wood stove. In fact, if I were going to build one from scratch for myself, I'd probably do it by retrofitting a wood stove since those tend to be easy to find on the used market. – Perkins Oct 26 '17 at 21:43
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    I think that the nature of the (larger) commercial ones is plenty of evidence. They have ridiculous ventilation systems because they need them. They are substantially more complicated than a wood stove, because they need to solve all these problems. And the CO2 comparison doesn't really make much sense to me. We're talking about adding a large source of CO (and CO2 and other things) to a room. We don't get CO2 build-up in our basements because we don't normally pump a bunch of it into our houses, not because it wouldn't be possible if we did. – Cascabel Oct 27 '17 at 0:25
  • Upvoted for being the only answer to mention a CO detector. – Mathieu Guindon Oct 27 '17 at 13:22
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    I just went through one of the worst fire seasons on modern record in my area, with most days having to breath air that was orders of magnitude worse than US air quality standards. I cannot honestly imagine subjecting myself to the risks of an indoor smoker beyond the level used for stove top or oven tea smoking. It just my opinion, buy no, it would seem a horrible idea to subject myself and family to the risks and liability and hope that a AAA battery and $20 detector would warn me if something was going wrong. – dlb Oct 27 '17 at 14:33
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Cooking fires are set up to achieve complete combustion of the fuel, producing the maximum amount of heat from the minimum fuel, by burning efficiently at high temperature and supplied with plentiful or even excessive oxygen. Complete combustion of carbon-based fuel is effectively smokeless and produces mostly carbon dioxide and steam. Too much CO2 indoors will displace the oxygen in a room and asphyxiate you to death, but small amounts leaking into an otherwise reasonably ventilated room will just make you feel drowsy, so a properly managed cooking or heating fire can tolerate a "good enough" but imperfect chimney and hearth that are open to the room.

To produce smoke, on the other hand, you need deliberately imperfect combustion, at lower temperatures and with insufficient oxygen. This will tend to produce carbon monoxide, which is not just an asphyxiant like CO2, but is highly toxic, and the nasty thing about toxic effects is that they build up over time. Any attempt to run a process that produces it in an enclosed space, where gas can collect*, is thus inherently very dangerous. Carbon monoxide is a silent killer and any amount of leakage back into the room, no matter how small, can gradually build up and poison you to death, and you won't even be able to tell whether or not it's happening until it's too late and you doze off forever.

In a reasonably ventilated room with a proper chimney, a well-built fire producing CO2 that hasn't killed you within twenty minutes likely won't ever. On the other hand, a smoky fire producing CO that hasn't killed you in twenty minutes might very well do it in twenty-five.

*Forget anything you've heard about being lighter- or heavier-than-air. This is technically true but, in practice, gases also mix.)

  • Imperfect combusion is indeed the key difference between the two kinds of fires. – Dave Tweed Oct 28 '17 at 19:01

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