Melvin teen turns file cabinet into smoker

SIBLEY, Iowa -- With ideas galore on internet sites like Pinterest, people are finding all sorts of things to repurpose, transforming junk into treasures and finding new uses for otherwise unwanted items.

Alex McDougall stands next to the four-drawer file cabinet she converted into a meat smoker. The creation took champion at the Osceola County Fair in Sibley, Iowa, and earned her a trip to the Iowa State Fair. The fair in Sibley continues through Saturday. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)
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SIBLEY, Iowa -- With ideas galore on internet sites like Pinterest, people are finding all sorts of things to repurpose, transforming junk into treasures and finding new uses for otherwise unwanted items.

That is exactly what 15-year-old Alex McDougall did with a four-drawer file cabinet taking up space in her dad’s work place. She transformed an item no longer needed and repurposed it into a meat smoker her family plans to use to smoke hams and other tasty treats. The project, started in February and finished just days before the start of the Osceola County Fair in Sibley, earned McDougall a purple ribbon and a trip to the Iowa State Fair later this summer to compete in the home improvement project area.

A member of the Baker Roadrunners 4-H Club, McDougall enlisted the help of her dad, John, to complete the transformation from storage piece to smoker.

Though the exterior still looks like a file cabinet -- except for the vent attached to its top -- the interior includes a basket in the bottom drawer to hold wood and wood chips necessary for smoking. The next drawer up now features a built-in heavy duty bowl that McDougall found at a flea market for $8. The bowl holds water to create the steam needed for meat smoking.

The top two drawers were reconstructed to include grates for smoking meat. Even there, McDougall found a bargain, reusing grill grates she removed from her home improvement project she crafted last year for the fair -- repurposing an old grill into a flower planter.


And the chimney attached to the top of the cabinet? Well, if one looks closely, it might be recognized as a dryer vent.

“We kind of just winged it,” McDougall said of the complete design. “We decided things as we went.”

Though the idea of transforming a file cabinet into a smoker may have originally come from Pinterest, McDougall assures this is an original design. Throughout the design and construction process, she had some challenges, such as using an air saw for the first time, but overall, she said it was a fun experience.

McDougall hasn’t had a chance to use the smoker yet -- the first time she and her family do so, it will need to be heated to an extremely high temperature to burn out the paint fumes and prevent the potential for paint chipping.

The specialty paint used to coat the file cabinet in its new black color was the most expensive part of the entire project. The paint, which cost approximately $60, is made to endure temperatures up to 1,000 degrees.

The overall cost to build the smoker was $89, with the file cabinet given to her for free.

“Smokers are not cheap,” McDougall said. “They can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars if they use electric or propane.”

To have been able to make a wood-fired smoker for such a bargain price pleased McDougall, who is looking forward to the first smoked ham her dad makes with the creation.


McDougall plans to exhibit the project at the Iowa State Fair next month, though the smoker itself won’t be going to Des Moines.

“We don’t want to get it scratched and dented,” she said, adding that the project book she compiled detailing the project will go instead.

The Osceola County Fair continues through Saturday.

Related Topics: 4-H
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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