Just a quick Thank You! to those of you who have hit the Paypal link on the right and made a donation to this site. You have collectively bought a BBQ Smoker. You’ve also bought an electric food dryer, but that’s not as flashy for a picture ;-) Oh, and remember the Banana Boat from the Florida trip? Well, you paid for the next year’s registration on it, too.
Just thought I ought to let y’all know what your donations are doing. The food dryer arrives this week and the Smoker sometime after the 11th. Expect product reviews and recipes when the time comes!
Why a smoker? Well, that patio kitchen…
I’d cobbled up a sort of an ersatz smoker from an old portable BBQ and, frankly, the food was so good that the spouse and I both just knew we’d be making more of this for years to come…
The ersatz rig is working well. It is a “knock off” of the Weber Smokey Joe 14 inch diameter portable. It is a gas grill that runs on a single 1 lb propane can. It has a lower grate that holds cinder ‘rocks’ and a proper grate above that for food. I’d put a small tin pan (like for a small pot pie) full of water in one side, and set a couple of chunks of hickory where the flames could char them, then added the meat. It wasn’t quite slow enough to be a real “smoker” (that ought to be under 250 F and take about 5 hours+ for chicken); more like a smokey BBQ (which is what it is) running about 275 F to 300 F. I’d start it on high, then crank it back to the lowest setting for about 40 minutes to an hour. The grill is a tendency to be hottest on the side away from the regulator, so that’s where the wood and water go.
It also has a vent on the kettle top that I’d set at 3/4 closed. Pretty soon the whole thing would be smoking pretty good. Partly the wood. Partly the “drippings” hitting the burner. (What didn’t burn or smoke eventually drained out the bottom into a catch pie tin.)
I think I paid all of $15 for it several years ago on a prior trip to Florida and used it once or twice while “camping” there. Then about a dozen times over the years here just for straight grilling. It worked well enough for that (though it gets a bit messy inside as the drippings hit the rocks and burner).
I just wish now that I’d thought of trying it as a smoker years ago. I’ll post pictures of it in a day or two. It rained today, and while I did cook a chicken in it (that we just finished… Yum!) With the rain I didn’t have decent lighting for a photo. It deserves a bit of a commemorative… The Little BBQ That Could. And did.
But two things.
1) It can’t take a whole chicken, pork butt, ham, or other large pieces.
2) It can’t act as an oven.
The new BBQ / Smoker can also act as an oven. It runs up to about 400 F and has a thermometer. Leaving out the smoke chips pan, it can just be a propane oven. Solves my oven problem AND it lets me do real smoked meats low and slow.
Yes, I know I ought to have gotten a side box charcoal smoker or at least a vertical charcoal smoker. I thought about it a long time. I decided that would be a ‘stage two’. For now I am the limiting factor. I need some months under the chefs hat at a proper smoker to justify the next stage. I also decided that the stable heat of propane would help in that learning curve. Later I can add the whole ‘keeping a steady fire’ process. As it is, I get a decent oven and a stable heat smoker that lets me learn the rest of the art first.
Once I’m seeing the smoker as the limiting factor, I’ll upgrade. If it REALLY bugs you, donate a few $Hundred and I’ll buy whatever you demand! ;-) Heck, you buy it, I’ll review anything you like!
This smoker also has the feature that it is fairly small and vertical. I have some “junk” to clear out of the patio before I have room for a large super duper double deluxe side box grill / smoker / BBQ pit on wheels… (Like a large motorcycle roll around repair station tool box and an old rabbit hutch and … )
If you remember when I “did the math”, charcoal was about $1 to $1/2 / lb and had less BTU / lb than propane. Here propane runs a bit under $1 a lb. All in all it’s about the same cost, and a lot less effort than schlepping bags of charcoal; especially when just starting out. Propane is also instant on / off, so more efficiently used when in oven mode. ( In smoker mode, a few minutes of start up time as the coals light, or over run at the end, get lost in the several hours of smoking.)
I’d also read a lot of reviews. The low end charcoal smokers were universally criticized for a few points. Maintenance of decent stable temperatures was one of them. Being flimsy was another. Being a pain to load / unload food and fuel was another. This smoker is set up to be easy to load and trivial to control temperatures and manage the fuel. All good things. It’s also about $200 to $300 less than the decent charcoal smokers. So it is at the sweet spot of low cost and high review ratings with good features and function.
At least, “on paper”. We’ll see when it’s set up and running if I feel the same.
I’m certain it will do at least as well as my little Ersatz Friend. (Who will stay “in service” until whenever it gives out. But it will get a good cleaning and some “drippings” hosed out of the insides and the smoking deposits presently coating the inside rinsed off ;-)
If you have a favorite recipe for smokers, feel free to put it up. One I’ve tried that’s pretty trivial is just a Soy Sauce / Lemon marinade. About 1/4 Soy Sauce and about 3/4 jug lemonade. Add about a cup to a plastic tub or baggy, put in chicken parts, squeeze the air out, and let it sit for a couple of hours (or overnight) while getting everything else ready to go.
Thanks again to all who have donated. You can expect a full product review along with some recipe reports and meal plans as they develop. You can also realize that your gift was a ‘gift that keeps on giving’ as I’ll be using this tool for at least a couple of years. In California, things rarely rust, so unlike back east where outdoor grills may expire in a year or two, here it can take decades.
I’m planning on doing a whole chicken first, then a pork shoulder (hoping for decent pulled pork ;-) and eventually, when winter comes and it’s cold, I’m planning to make an adapter to pull smoke out, cool it in some long aluminum tubing, and in a second temporary box try making some bacon. I’m tired of paying $5 to $8 / lb for mediocre stuff, so I’m looking forward to trying my hand at making a better cut.
Maybe even try doing some home made kippers and / or smoked salmon 8-)
UPDATE – Added pictures of “before” old BBQ
This is an image of the old BBQ that I’ve called my Ersatz (smoker) Friend. You can see some smoke leaking out under the lid. In this case I’m just grilling some Kielbasa for Polish Sausage and Sauerkraut (lunch today, Yum!) though it is picking up a little smoke flavor from the prior uses of the grill
In this next picutre, you can see it opened as I’m getting ready to take them off the grill. If you look closely, just below and to the rear left of the sausage, there’s a bit of yellow flame. That’s some drippings that have caught fire with the lid off and more air in. Toward the rear center left you can see a more “ashy” area. That’s where the wood sits for making smoke and where I put the little “pot pie tin” of water on top of the grill to keep moisture up. Makes much more smoke then ;-) This would be fine, really, for everything except large chunks that just don’t fit; were it not for the fact that even on “low”, things cook a bit too fast. I could modulate it on / off / on / off over time, but that’s a pain. Still, as an expedient “learning about smokers” it was a very good experiment.
I bought this on a whim for cheap. I think I got it at a Target store north of Orlando. It works surprisingly well and these pictures are after several years of outdoor use and sitting outside. ( In California, mostly). Don’t know who made it. Don’t know if they are still made. But all in all I’m quite happy with it. I’d owned an old “Scotch Box” grill for years ( like a tool box with a grill in it) and liked it, but could not find one in the store then. Having just another tool box in the car is a convenient way to have a portable grill. This one was a bit big for that, and it drips drippings out the bottom so needs more clean up before tossing it into the car. Still, it’s done great burgers and sausages while sitting near various fishing holes or just in a roadside park. I’d buy another one, if this one ever wears out… At first I thought the cinder rocks thing was a bit hokey. It actually seems to stabilize the temperatures some and catches some drippings, that make some smoke, and improves the flavor.
This one looks very similar, though at $37 it’s gone up in price, and has a drip pan built in along with a fancier lid:
Looks like they have a charcoal one for $19.
IMHO using one of them as a ‘getting started’ experimental charcoal smoker would be a reasonable thing to try. Heck, I could even see getting one just to do some “slow charcoal smoking” when camping or by the river… With real coals, wood chips, and a water pan on the grill, it ought to do everything it needs to do, just for small quantities. I got one chicken, as parts, on the grill (though it was tight). If that doesn’t feed 2 or 3 folks, add some side dishes ;-)