Making a maple syrup evaporator to boil down sap doesn’t need to be costly and cause storage issues! Our homemade maple syrup evaporator is inexpensive and breaks down easily.
Maple Syrup Evaporator Year 1:
When we began to make maple syrup the first year, we felt like we had spent money on the taps and on the cinderblocks and stove pipe for the “oven”, so we didn’t want to spend more money on the steam table pans. In the end I don’t think I regretted it, but it definitely made for a unique, smokey flavored maple syrup! Honestly I cried a little the first time I tasted it because I wasn’t expecting that smokiness, but in the end I kind of loved it!
We put old oven grates on the top and built the evaporator to fit the specifications of the grates. That sounds fancy, but really we just laid the first row of cinderblocks down and then made sure the grates fit securely on them before we began to build up the sides. Here’s what our evaporator looked like the first time around.
We tried to choose pans that had a very large surface area in order to allow for the most evaporation. Remember, you’re boiling off 39 gallons of water for every gallon of syrup, so you need to evaporate a TON of water! We used a cast iron pan, a pan from a friend, and another that we found at Salvation Army. It did the job the first year and we were so glad we did it!
Maple Syrup Evaporator Year 2:
The second year, I bit the bullet and bought 4″ deep full size steam pans. I found them on sale for about $15 each, so it was inexpensive to add them. Unfortunately, it looks like the price I see right now is almost double – $28 each. I would probably recommend searching the restaurant supply stores because you may find them less expensive there. They made a HUGE difference in our syrup operation this year!
The biggest difference by adding the pans was that the entire surface area of the oven was completely covered. After feeding the fire, we closed up the feeding hole. This way, every bit of smoke escaped through the stove pipe, completely removing the smokey flavor from the maple syrup. The syrup this past year was unbelievable!!
Supplies to build Maple Syrup Evaporator:
Cinder Blocks (about 25)
6″ Duct Pipe
90 degree Pipe Elbow
Wire to Attach pipe
Extra bricks or blocks to cover opening
How to build a maple syrup evaporator:
This is not a huge engineering feat to build and it really doesn’t even have any sort of plans. This is the way we do the process.
Try to find really level ground. If you’re even off an inch from side to side, you’re going to have boiling sap that is not evenly distributed in the pans. Once you find a fairly level spot, lay your cinder blocks in a U shape that is the width of the pans. Set your pan on top of them to make sure the lip of the pan fits snugly inside the U shape with no extra room.
Now, level that first row of cinderblocks before you begin to build it up. We keep some thin stones from our waterfall feature to help us in the leveling process. Once that bottom row is fully level, you can begin building!
Place the second row of cinderblocks on top of the first. Do you remember when you built with Lego and you had to overlap the bricks so the seams didn’t match up to make the walls of your house strong? You have to do the same thing here. We did purchase some single cinder blocks, as well as doubles so we could do the jigsaw puzzle and see what worked.
Make the second row level before you top it off with the last row. Now add the last row. This is where you’ll place your chimney. I usually try to use a single cement block on this row so I can turn it sideways and make an open hole to place the 90 degree elbow and pipe through. Once I get to this level, I place the empty pans inside to make sure I have a nice tight fit. If it’s even an inch or two too big, the full pans can fall into the fire below and waste all your hard work. So just fit them in snugly and they will be great!
Attach the stove pipe on to the cement block with wire. We’ve done it by just attaching it to the cement blocks the first time around. The second year, my husband found some pieces of metal around our garage that had holes in them where he threaded the wire. This is not necessary if you loop it around the pipe and secure it well to the cement blocks.
Create a way to stop the heat from getting out by placing blocks or bricks by the opening. We just kept heat pads nearby. Then we use them to move the hot bricks each time we needed to feed the fire. That way the opening was blocked off and kept all that heat inside
Stock up on logs and get ready to go! I’ll go over the boiling down method in another post!
We made a YouTube video showing the step by step process as we built this in Feb 2022 for our 3rd year of maple sugaring! Watch it here!
Once you have some screaming hot coals, you can even take your hot dog forks out and make dinner over the fire. Or you can do what we did and roast marshmallows over the fire. What a sweet treat!
How to store the Maple Syrup Evaporator:
We break our evaporator down and pile the cement blocks up on the unseen side of our house, or inside our garage. The 90 degree elbow, the pipe, and the wire are stored all together with it, so it’s ready to go next year!
We wash the steam pans and store those down in our basement with all our food safe collection buckets and taps and tubing. Even though we wash all those before we put them away, we wash everything again before we set it all up just to make sure it doesn’t have any bacteria in it.
Does this ruin the grass?
Yup. Having a fireplace in the middle of your grass definitely kills an entire rectangular spot in the grass. We just raked all the ash out of it and immediately planted grass and it was great by the summer. Of course, we didn’t do it in our main area, but we did want to make sure it was super close to the house so we could go in and out throughout the day as we worked.