A Practical Guide to the Construction and Introduction of the Chorkor Smoker by J. Zinsou and W. Wentholt


The chorkor is made up of two parts; the smoker and the smoking trays on which the fishes are laid out.

2.1 Materials

What building materials do you need?

To construct the chorkor you can use:

  • Kneaded clay (clayballs)
  • Cement bricks
  • Clay or stabilized earth bricks
  • Baked clay bricks

What are the advantages and drawbacks of each of these materials?

Clay: clay is available everywhere and is a cheap material. The construction of a clayball smoker is not a difficult task but it has a few drawbacks:

  • It will take you several days to construct and bring the clay smoker into service; at least a week, because clay will dry slowly. Hence construction should take place during the dry season (a clay smoker can last about three years)

Cement bricks: a brick smoker can last longer than a clay smoker and it has a nice look. It can be built within a short time; not more than two days, however.

  • Construction costs are higher because cement is relatively expensive. In addition, the help of a professional bricklayer is necessary.
  • Maintenance is costly: as cement hardly supports heat, the smoker starts cracking after a few weeks. Repair is expensive and not always successful for the cracks can appear again with heat.

Stabilized earth bricks: they are made from a mixture of cement and clay. The smoker is less costly than a cement smoker as less cement is required. The assistance of a bricklayer is also needed.

Clay bricks: this smoker has the same advantages and drawbacks as the clayball smoker. However the assistance of a bricklayer is very often required to construct it, which makes it a little bit expensive.

Baked clay bricks: this material is by far the best. It offers a better resistance to heat and can last longer if properly maintained. Unfortunately, baked clay bricks are very expensive and are not available everywhere.

2.2 Constructing a clay smoker

We have selected this smoker because it is the least expensive and does not require the help of a bricklayer. As a model, we are going to construct a two-part-smoker (figure 1).

Figure 1
FIGURE 1: A chorkor smoker with two compartments

It should be noted that the number of compartments for each smoker may vary according to local needs. For example, if the usual practice of women is to process more than 200 kg at a time, a three or four compartment smoker will be more suitable (see figure 2).

Figure 2
FIGURE 2: A smoker with four compartments

On the other hand, no compartment can be enough with small quantities of fish. In constructing the smoker, the same principles can be followed regardless of the number of compartments.

Where to build the smoker?

The smoker can be constructed on a site of your own choosing.

Preparing the clay:

Construction starts with the preparation of the clay. For a two compartment smoker you need approximately 1m3 of clay, that is 90 basins. You pour freshwater (salt free) on the clay. You knead it with your feet until it becomes malleable and sticky. You can then make the balls.

How to lay out the smoker?


  • Prepare the site where the smoker will be constructed
  • Even it up to make it perfectly flat (remove tree roots, stones, etc. if need be)

Figure 3 shows the inner and outer dimensions of the smoker. This plan must be drawn on the selected site.

Figure 3
FIGURE 3: Internal and external dimensions

You can achieve a good drawing in two ways:

1. The first method consists in pegging out the 4 corners of the section so as to form a one metre square.

Having done so, you should make sure that the figure you have is really a square. To that effect, you can compare the diagonal lines of the square using a thread. The two lines should have the same length.

Use a thread to mark out the perimeter of the first section of the smoker; next to the first section, measure and mark out the second section following the same procedure.

Thus, you obtain two adjacent sections of one metre each.

With the help of a 16 cm piece of wood, mark the thickness of the wall inside the perimeter. Note that the median wall, also 16 cm thick, belongs to the two sections.

You can ask the joiner to make a model whose inner and outer dimensions are those of the smoker.

The model is laid on the ground and with the help of a piece of wood you can trace the inner and outer perimeter of the smoker.

This method enables a fast drawing but it is more costly since the model has to be made by a joiner.

How to erect the walls?

Day one:

To start with, dig a foundation following the drawing. It should be about 6 to 8 cm deep.

The foundation should be watered for the clay to be able to stick up.

Erect the wall by placing the balls one by one. On the first day, the weight of the wall should not exceed 30 cm. To conclude this first phase, make sure that the angles are right, the thickness is the same all over and the top is evened up.

Day two and three:

Leave the walls to dry.

Day four:

First check whether the clay is consistent enough and if necessary add water to knead again.

Wet the top surface of the wall before putting new layers of clay. Now you must reach a maximum height of 60 cm.

Are the angles still right? Is the initial thickness preserved? Is the top properly levelled up? These are things you have got to check and a model can help if you have prepared one.

Day five and six:

Leave the walls to dry another two days.

Day seven:

Your smoker will be completed this day. To begin with, create the fire inlets. These openings should be located on the smokerís side which is against the prevailing winds.

How to make a hole in the smoker:

The opening shall have a width of 35 cm at the bottom and 35 cm as the height. Draw its shape on the wall following a model (see figure 4). It must be adequately centred in the middle of each section of the smoker.

Figure 4
FIGURE 4: Openings for insertion and withdrawal of the firewood

In order to enable easy opening, humidify the area concerned and cut with a machete.

The fire bed:

This is used to increase the distance between the fire and the first tray of fish. In each compartment, dig a semi-oval hole from the mouth of the opening in the following dimensions: length 30 cm, width side 35 cm and depth 5 to 10 cm.

It is necessary to level up the top of the wall for adequate laying of the first tray. This will considerably reduce heat lost through the openings.

Day eight and nine:

Leave the whole to dry another one or two days depending on the season, before use.

2.3. Constructing smoking trays

As a general rule, trays are made by joiner, therefore we shall limit ourselves to a few principles relating to their construction.

The tray is a wood frame with handles on which the wire-netting is fixed. The traysí dimensions should correspond to those of the smoker for the frame to fit well on top of the walls. Thus the frame is protected against the risks of burning.

To construct the tray, you will need a dry piece of wood to limit, to the maximum, strains due to heat. Also refrain from using a piece of wood which is too heavy.

Figure 5
FIGURE 5: The smoking tray

The figure above shows a tray with its dimensions (figure 5).

For a frame, you need strips of wood with the following dimensions:

Number Length Thickness Height
2 102 cm (including the handles) 2 cm 5 to 7 cm (select height according to the size of the species to be smoked)
2 78 cm 2 cm 5 to 7 cm

The four right angles should be exact.

The wire-netting

To be able to smoke smaller and bigger species of fish, the meshes of the wire-netting should not have a diameter of more than 1 to 2 cm (chicken wire). If the processing women often smoke bigger species of fish, they can also choose a wire-netting with larger meshes; it has a longer life.

The pieces of wire-netting have the same dimensions as the frame (82 x 82 cm). They are fastened to the wood with tacks of 4 to 6 cm.

Small wide struts of 2 cm are used to cover joints. After fixing them the sharp edges of the wire-netting must be folded over the frame.

You can fix a metal strip on the joint-covers if you so desire. It provides the wood with greater protection against fire. This will surely increase the price of the tray but it has the advantage of lasting longer.

Figure 6
FIGURE 6: The trays should fit over each other

Contact Us:  greenlight2015@gmail.com Last updated: August 2006
This manual was obtained from the FAO library in Rome, Italy.