Chrome Wheels and Offset Smokers

A 1965 Chevy pickup, manual transmission, white over red. Other than our old gray Ford tractor, that is the vehicle my dad used to teach me to drive. That old pickup kind of looked like this, but without the fancy wheels.

Just like the pickup my dad used to teach me driving lessons.

Oh sure, we had another car — automatic transmission and all — he could have used for the driving lesson, but my dad’s main idea was this; if you could learn to drive a crappy old truck with a four-on-the-floor manual transmission, you could pretty much drive anything after that.

A couple of years ago, when the mere thought of trying to smoke meat scared the living bejeebers out of me, I wanted to make sure I could tackle this new pastime without ruining too much meat in the process. I know, I know, our fine farm and ranch families will produce more…but stilll. I also did not want to make a big investment in equipment, just in case smoking meat did not turn out to be my weekend calling.

So…I started out small. You have likely seen my Charcoal Chucker posts about my cheapo offset smoker($89 at Walmart).

Charbroil American Gourmet smoker, aka the cheapo offset firebox smoker.

It served me well for about three years. The price was certainly right. And it

Two pork butts on the cheapo.

Two pork butts on the cheapo.

allowed me to try my luck at the art of meat smoking without making a big investment. Well, the cheapo finally started rusting and I wanted something that could hold heat better, and something that perhaps I would not have to reload with charcoal every two or three hours.

Well, my Charcoal Chucker brothers certainly would recommend to me that I go whole hog and purchase one of the coveted Big Green Egg ceramic cookers. Truth be told, I would have loved to have been able to do this, but I am but a simple Kansas farm boy (with three kids in college to boot) and I just could not get over the mental hurdle of plunking down a stack of greenbacks for a smoker that would leave me unable to buy meat for such a nice smoker (I exaggerate).

So…in the process of scouting out a possible replacement smoker, I was checking out the stock at our local Lowe’s store. A very nice new Char Griller offset firebox smoker caught my eye in the $299 price range. Nice. Very nice. Metal was much thicker than the cheapo and the cooking area was nearly double the size.

The grill of my dreams…well, kind of.

It was almost love at first sight. Almost.

Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a wink. I did. Off to the side sat a flirty little number that looked very much like the coveted Big Green Egg of my dreams. I strolled up nonchalantly and said in a deep manly voice. “Is your Dad an astronaut? Because someone took the stars from the sky and put them in your eyes.” I fumbled as I reached for her price tag, thinking she was very much out of my league and expecting very bad news. Then, BOOM, a cascade of fireworks. My eyes could not believe what I was seeing. $299. Holy cow. This had the earmarks of a long, lasting relationship. (OK, that’s enough of the creepy old man stuff.)

So…after a bit of research (mainly from John Setzer).  He has a number of videos and blogs devoted to the Char Griller Akorn. I also sought out other feedback, but mostly after my mind was made up. Not long after, I brought her home to meet the family.

Her maiden voyage…after a quick 400 degree heat-up to cure the grate, was two slabs of pork spare ribs and two chickens. I wasn’t sure it was all going to fit, but it did due to the warming basket, which can double as a second tier cooking basket during low-and-slow smoking.

I would have to conclude that overall, the results were very good.

The maiden voyage of the Char Griller Akorn Kooker. Chicken and pork spare ribs.

And judging by the reactions of the consumers of the first yield off the iron grate kamado, this could turn into a great decision. I am so pleased that I have exited the offset firebox highway for a turn down the road toward kamado-style cooking.  And my Charcoal Chucker brothers have led me down that path. the only difference is that I will continue to truck down the road in a triple layer steel and porcelain smoker instead of a ceramic one.  But since I learned how to drive with an offset firebox smoker, I feel like I am riding in style. But you know that if I could find a 1965 white over red, four speed Chevy pickup today, and if I could afford it, I would add some of those fancy chrome wheels to go with it.


Roadkill on the Grill?

It was a fairytale ending; just not the one Bambi had expected.

Slicing tthe smoked venison.

Here in Virginia, like in a lot of other states, there are deer everywhere. They eat our crops, eat our gardens, threaten human life when they jump out in front of our cars.

Well, the latest visitor to a Charcoal Chucker smoker/grill was literally caught off guard — like a deer in headlights. And, quite frankly, it was a delicious way to get even with these garden marauders.

As it turns out, my neighbor Michael is on the call list in our community when deer are killed when they attempt to take on automobiles. Sitting around the evening firepit several weeks ago, the call came. Michael, another neighbor (Gene) and I hopped into Michael’s truck to retrieve the unfortunate victim. Michael is an Air Force guy and Gene is a retired Marine helicopter pilot, so you just know this was going to turn into a quick, but productive mission.

We found the little fella, as directed by our local law enforcement personnel, in a roadside ditch, where he had lost a battle with a passing automobile. We loaded the little guy into the pickup and brought him home, with the pride of hunter gatherers who had dispatched the quarry with our own wile, rather than a passing car’s wheel well.

Now, Michael is one of those guys who could survive in the woods on instinct alone. He’s a hardy Minnesotan and has a wealth of practical knowledge and the ambition to tackle anything and succeed. He dressed and skinned the fawn…and vital to our story today…reserved one of the wee venison hindquarters for my smoker.

The delicious fairytale started by a quick Google search of “how to smoke venison.” The key tips that stuck out to me were these:

  • Venison has very little fat content and can dry out if the heat is too high.
  • Try to stay away from too much salt.
  • And…everything is better with BACON.

Covered with bacon.

I started off by generously rubbing the meat with Mrs. Dash garlic and herb (lots of flavor, no salt). It worked great.

Step two: I took a pound of smoked, unsalted bacon and covered every inch of the little deer ham with bacon held in place with wooden toothpicks. After coating the meat with olive oil, this baby was ready for the smoker.

I took the cooking temperature up to about 250-270 and put the meat on, mopping every 30 minutes with some rose′ wine.

In spite of directions that said to take the internal temp up to a range of 145 to 160, I really did not feel comfortable with that low of a temp for wild game, regardless of how young or tender the meat might be. However, after about four and a half hours on the smoker, and the bacon drippings doing their job, I was surprised to see that the internal temperature had spiked to 180 degrees. I knew I had to act fast or risk a dry outcome.

Bambi came off the smoker with a fine dressing of deep golden bacon. After letting the meat rest for an hour, it was ready to serve around the firepit. The meat carried a moist, smoky flavor, and due to Bambi’s age, was extremely tender.

This fairytale did not have a Disney-esque ending for our furry friend, but for those who had a chance to taste the results, it was an evening with a happily-ever-after ending.

Monster Beef Brisket

This Monster Beef Brisket was purchased in the spring…just waiting for the right weekend. Well, as it turns out, this is the right weekend. As you can see, this 13-pound monster just barely fit on the grate of my cheapo offset firebox smoker, but it did fit, and man, oh man, did the cheapo smoker come through in flying colors.

My Charcoal Chucker colleague “SmokeMan” offered me his favorite rub recipe to try on it. Unfortunately, the rub recipe arrived in my in-box at a time when I really did not feel like going out and hitting the grocery store. So, as usual in the life of an idiot who perseveres through life with a cheapo offset firebox smoker, I improvised. My rub ended up being a thick coating of brown sugar rubbed in on both sides of the beef brisket, with the fat side scored in about two-inch-by-two-inch squares. That way, the rub gets into the grooves and soaks in. Atop the rub layer of brown sugar, I used Montreal Steak rub, which I had on hand.

After a generous rubdown, the brisket went into the fridge overnight.

This morning, I fired up the cheapo at about 8:45 a.m. It was up to temp…around 250 or so by about 10 a.m. I wedged the monster brisket onto the grate of the cheapo. Yes, yes, yes. Another problem. I thought I had a bag of chunk charcoal in the garage, but noooooooooooo. Again, did not feel like going to the store, and fighting traffic on my day off, so — sorry purists — briquettes had to due.  But, I did have some nice mesquite chips with which to inspire some smoke…and I used some hickory too for good measure.

Started out this bad boy at about 225-230 degrees for the first four hours. Fat side up. I mopped every hour with a blush wine. Not too much since I did not want to wash off all the tasty effects of the rub.

After four hours, I pulled the monster off the smoker, wrapped it tightly in aluminum foil and slapped it back down on the grate of the cheapo. Because briskets tend to shrink, it fit perfectly this time around.

After fueling up my offset firebox for the last marathon haul, I fired up a nice cigar and babysat the monster for about an hour.  At roughly 5:30…a little ahead of time…I checked the internal temp and it shot right up to 200-205. I knew I had to act fast because I usually like to stay around 190 degrees.

I took if off the grate of my cheapo offset firebox smoker and carried it in the house. Of course, I know it is always best to keep the meat wrapped in foil and let it rest for a half hour or so, but I simply could not resist cutting into it for a nibble or two.

OMG. It melted in my mouth. I have had good brisket, including some primo stuff from both “SmokeMan” and “PorkPusher,” but this is probably my best  brisket ever. Soon it will be cut and much of it saved for tomorrow, when friends and neighbors — weather permitting — will be invited to the firepit for an evening of drinks, brisket, cigars and clever conversation about the issues of the day.

And here is how it looked right before it became wrapped up in foil for the final four hours on the cheapo smoker. Wish the other Charcoal Chuckers could have shared in my personal glory of conquering this monster brisket…if they had, I am quite sure I would have basked in the genteel applause of their faithful support. Charcoal Chuckers rock. Next time, I will use “SmokeMan’s” special rub recipe.

Three Smokin’ Chicks

Weekends are busy around our house, so this past weekend’s smoking activity had to be squeeeeeezed in. But the old Cheapo Charbroil had room for three smokin’ chicks on a crisp late summer evening in northern Virginia. My premier entry in the BBQ blogosphere focuses on three Purdue Roasters I picked up this afternoon at the local Wally World. I like the roasters because they are meaty and moist.

Three plump chickens held down the grate of the cheapo smoker over Labor Day weekend.

I had no time to do an overnight marinade, so I simple rubbed each down with a combo of Montreal Steak Seasoning, generic Cajun salt and onion powder. I put all three of these ladies on the grill at about 4:30 p.m. Used chunk charcoal with hickory chips in the offset firebox of my cheapo smoker. Kept the temp at about 210 for most of the duration, but bumped it up to around 250 to finish them off up to an internal breast temp of 190 degrees.

My two sons were home from college for the weekend, so one was immediately ripped into…no time for resting the smoked meat at this house. The other two were wrapped in foil to rest a bit before going into the fridge for a party tomorrow afternoon.

If the first one is any indication, the two remaining birds should be the belles of the ball…moist, tender and a subtle, but not overpowering smoke finish.

The beverage pairing for the evening of bird smoking was red beer — a favorite among folks hailing from Kansas. A splash of bloody Mary mix in the bottom of the glass, followed by a pour of your favorite beer and a swift stir. All-in-all, a nice way to enjoy an extended weekend…and an evening by the smoker.

Will try to do better with pics the next time through, but I did not have much light to work with and currently shooting with the not-so-advanced optics of my Blackberry. Hope you all had as nice of a weekend as I did. Read more of this post

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