Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I poked around on the Internet, looking for a digital thermometer. I found one that had features and a price I liked, and sent the site to my wife. I was just suggesting that we needed something like the one I had found. It happened to be offered by Target in conjunction with

A few days later I came home from work, and there was a package sitting by my computer. Cool! A digital thermometer. It was a bit over twenty bucks. Not bad.

Of course, we happened to be in the southern part of Santa Cruz county about a week later, and after lunch went to.... Target. The thermometer was there, and not surprisingly a bit cheaper. No shipping charges. Ahem.

The price of these things makes them very practical for most beginning barbecue cooks. From the stuff I have watched on YouTube (and I recommend studying barbecue on YouTube) lots of serious barbecue cooks with considerable experience also rely on these things.

Other forms of thermometers are also available, and for very little money. I will work with what I have right now, but may try other models from time to time. I currently have a small dial thermometer that gives me a reading of chamber temperature, but it is graduated rather generally. I think I might go for a larger dial and more accurate graduations in the not too distant future. At only five or six bucks, it seems a good investment.

Grillin' steaks-

The steaks were still in the freezer when my wife called. I got them out, but it looked like a lot of meat to thaw. When she got home, they were still ice cubes. I couldn't find the old defrosting plate we had somewhere. It was starting to get late.

I popped the steaks into the oven at 200 degrees. After an hour I could separate the pieces. I spread them around on the baking sheet to defrost a bit more while I got the coals going. They were big slabs of meat, but rather thin. They would cook fast on a hot fire. I wanted to get the temperature right so that I could cook without burning.

Using my chimney I got some lump charcoal going. Cowboy brand, from Home Depot. That stuff starts easily and gives a good initial heat. Since the meat was big (each of the three pieces were dinner plate sized slabs) I used the smoking chamber to grill. I spread the coals, and put biscuit charcoal in to add to the fuel. Once the heat seemed about right I spread the coals out and closed everything up to even out.

When I returned with the meat, I noticed a strange odor. The heat was warming the pipe frame that holds the whole barbecue together. These parts had not been heated this much during the burn-in of the Char-Broil Silver Smoker. I let the thing cook itself for about fifteen minutes, and the stench went away. I didn't know if the burn-in smell would impact the cooking, but I could wait to avoid the problem.

Steaks on. I didn't keep track of the time. I just put them in, and closed the lid. When it felt right, I opened up and checked. Just the time to turn. A little longer on the second side, as the coals had cooled a bit. I found that I could boost the heat by opening the fire box door with the smoke chamber lid closed. That way the heat and smoke in the chamber were not released, and the added oxygen stoked the coals.

I have been pleased with the Safeway Select meats. So far the cuts have been flavorful, and had just the right amount of fat. These were no exception. Tender and flavorful.

So, my Silver Smoker makes a good grill. I would recommend burning in the whole unit, and not just the fire box. Hot enough to burn off the stuff inside those frame pipes that is a bit unpleasant in the smoke department. On the whole, I really like this barbecue, and expect to enjoy it a great deal over the coming years.

I have seen some modifications on other units, and will consider some over time. Ways to regulate the heat, and ways to protect the metal to prevent untimely wear. So far, it has been great.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Chicken, thighs and legs

Before I get to the chicken, I must describe what I am eating at this moment. I was planning on writing this, but a bit hungry. I went to the kitchen, and the last piece of chicken was sitting there. However, it is for my son, so I refrained from touching it.

Oh, but what's this? The last piece of that nice roast beef I did up on the barbecue! Yeah! I chopped it up and put it in a pan. Let's see. Rice wine vinegar, just a splash. OK, another splash. Some soy sauce. A dollop of A-1 sesame steak sauce. A bit of olive oil. Heat it up.

How to eat it? On toast! Two slices of whole grain bread, toasted firm and brown. A bit of olive oil. Now, spread the chopped meat on, thick. Too thick for a closed sandwich, so I have two open faced beauties to snack on. Fabulous!

Now, the chicken. Plump thighs and legs, thawed out last night. I want to begin doing meat I go and get just before the barbecue, but these were here and needed to be eaten. I just rubbed them with olive oil, and went to build the fire.

I used lump charcoal as the base. It starts easily, and smokes nicely. Once the bed was started, I built a wall of charcoal biscuits around it. Once I was getting some good heat, I put on the chicken. Just laid them out in the cooking chamber, with a bit of water in the drip pans for moisture.

Now for some smoke. I decided to try chunk mesquite this time. I put on three fist-sized chunks, dry. Partly due to time, I did not soak any before beginning. The chunks did not produce the amount of smoke the soaked-and-dry chips had, but still were satisfactory.

I fed the fire often, and refrained from opening the cooking chamber for forty minutes. At that time I checked temperature (around 350 degrees) and turned the chicken over. The two pieces nearest the firebox were cooking much faster than the rest, so I moved them to the other end.

After an hour and a half, I checked the meat temperature. The chamber had settled to about 250 degrees, and the meat was steady at around 160 degrees. People were hungry (that time thing) so I put the cooking grate into the fire box and grilled these pieces for several minutes with the lid down.

On the whole the end product was pretty good. I should not have grilled the two pieces that had cooked the most, being close to the fire during the early cooking. I got a little burn on these. Still good. Very good, in fact.

The least cooked piece was still done, but I think it could have used just a bit more time. In fact, I think the whole lot could have done no less than two hours and been the better for it.

We are not real wine drinkers, but we had picked up a bottle of Smoking Loon 2005 Viognier on the way home. We had walked by it, it was on sale, and I had no idea what a Viognier was. It came home with us, and proved quite satisfactory to our uneducated palates. Surprisingly sweet for a white wine.

What would I do differently? I think I would plan for a longer cooking time. At least two hours. I would also really like to get a digital thermometer that I can use to read the internal meat temperature remotely, from outside the cooking chamber. Especially for cooking pork and chicken. Something like this.

I do think building the fire a bit hot to start with worked well. I got the temperature up, and it was easier to control this time. I still want to build a fan assembly that can introduce a bit more air when I want to bump up the temperature.

A good cooking experience. With salad and baked beans (canned) the meal was quite satisfying.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I could not find books on real home barbecue. They were all books on grilling. So, where did I go? YouTube!

I have learned a lot from YouTube, watching people share how they barbecue. Various equipment choices. Off-set smoker, upright smoker, Terra cotta smoker (made from planters), and good old Webber Grills used for smoking. Oh, and oil drums.

Dial thermometers. Digital probe thermometers. Remote reading digital probe thermometers. Infra red thermometers. Whew!

One person has a Silver Smoker, which has been modified to help it work better. Lined with fire brick and aluminum foil. New baffles to contain the smoke as long as possible. Good ideas, and I might just try them.

The idea I liked best was a twelve volt computer fan used to aid in temperature control. That is what I needed. I think I shall fabricate something that will help get the heat up. So, perhaps lining the firebox would be a good idea, after all.

Yep, this is fun. Tasty, too.

Smoked Beef Roast-

So, today we did a four pound round top roast from Safeway Select. It was a very nice looking roast, but I was not sure if it might not be too lean for smoking. However, being a novice has its advantages. I rubbed it down with garlic salt, salt, and pepper. I racked it on a v-shaped rack that sat nicely in a drip pan. Ready to go. I put it in the refrigerator for about an hour and a half, since it was too early to begin.

I planned for four hours. I prepped the Silver Smoker and got the fire going. For this one I pulled the food grates and set the roasting pan on the fire grate in the cooking chamber. This placed the racked meat in the center of the cooking chamber; not too high, not too low. I was just guessing that this would make any difference, but it seemed right.

The cooking chamber remained at 200 degrees pretty consistently over the four hours. I actually was wanting a bit more heat in the chamber, to get the center of the meat up to temperature. However, even with the vents opened all the way I only got up to 230 degrees at a few points.

I am measuring temperature at the grate, in the center of the cooking chamber. It is a simple dial thermometer, and I think I really will want to replace it one day with something more accurate. However, I think it will do for now. I still have a lot to learn, and going nuts buying equipment will not make me a better cook.

Or maybe it will. What do I know?

Anyway, it came out looking reddish brown, with a rich chocolate brown at the ends. I got it upstairs and we were ready to eat, so I cut into it. It was very nice inside. Juicy, with a bit of a smoke ring. It was done about a medium rare. There was some connective tissue that remained a bit tough to cut, so I cut around it. The dog liked the chewy bits just fine.

Oh, it was really good! The chips I had for smoking were mesquite, introduced from time to time along with a bit more fuel. They added a good flavor. I hope to experiment with other woods, both chips and chunks, over time. The mesquite was quite satisfactory.

As I wrapped up the left overs (about half was left after three people had their fill) I set aside some of the end bits to chop up. I made a mess of chopped beef and put it in a sealed container with a bit of soy sauce. I shall see how this is tomorrow. It is waiting in the refrigerator, hopefully getting better with time.

Thyme. I threw a bit of that in the water at the bottom of the drip pan. I didn't know if it would help, but it seemed a good idea. Just remembered that.

So, my second adventure went well. On the whole, this has been quite satisfying.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

First run-

The Char-Broil Silver Smoker. What we had for our first run were some steaks from the Safeway Select line. I rubbed them with a little salt and pepper, and then got the fire going. My temperature indicator said I was just a bit below 300 degrees, so I laid them on the cooking surface and found a place to sit.

My guess was about two hours, but I planned to play it by ear. I didn't want to be the anxious neophyte and constantly open the cooking chamber, so I used a timer to keep myself in line. My vents were set at 1/4 for the upper and 1/2 for the lower.

After fifteen minutes I checked the temperature. My thermometer is attached to one of the cooking grates, so I have to open the lid a bit to check the temperature. It was good. I then added a handful of soaked hickory chips, and a handful of dry chips. We got smoke in a hurry, and it continued through the next fifteen minutes just fine.

So, I checked things every fifteen minutes, adding a bit of charcoal to provide fuel to keep up the temperature and periodically adding my smoke chips to keep up a good smoke. The Cowboy brand lump charcoal had a good scent, as well.

At an hour and a half I decided that things looked ready to test. The surfaces of the steaks had a nice brownish red patina. I pulled a steak from the box, cut off the end, and had a look. Good smoke ring. I tasted it, and decided that the Silver Smoker had been a great choice.

I called the family to come and get it. Beans, salad, and some very good steaks. I ate mine without any sauce. It was moist, and the fat was rich in flavor. The meat was fabulous. Oh, yeah!

Now these steaks had been about 3/4 inch thick before cooking, and were a bit less after cooking, but they held up well. I was concerned that pieces of meat that thin might not do well in a slow cooker. The were just fine.

Talk during the meal was of what to try next. I am thinking a pork shoulder. There was some talk of turkey. Maybe beer chicken. We shall see. It should be very soon.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Beer is, of course, a common element of barbecue. I prefer full-bodied brews. American style beers are adequate, but I prefer more flavor.

My current favorites are Fat Tire (an amber ale), Blue Moon (a wheat beer), and Prohibition Ale (a most beery beer.) Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing produces a very nice amber, as well. I am also partial to Smithwick's Irish Ale.

I plan to include beer in my recipes, from time to time, as well as keeping a bit in the drip trays for humidification and flavoring. I hope to aid the cook with a brew or two during the cooking process, keeping safety in mind.

Comments on beer and barbecue shall be most welcome.

Perhaps that shall be another adventure, one day. Barbecue and home brewing. Yes.

Barbecue Beginnings

I love barbecue. I am not alone in this passion, and that is good. That means that multitudes are much more experienced than myself, and I love to learn.

It is said, “Barbecue is a destination.” The essence of this sentiment is to leave the cooking of fine barbecue to the experts with the proper equipment. I can accept that good barbecue is a destination, and I would love to visit more fine institutions and expand my mind, along with my waistline.

However, I presently am at home (or work) most of the time. I can’t explore the art of barbecue at work, so I must confine my experiments and adventures to my own back yard. I plan on plenty of destination barbecue in the coming years, but I also want to explore the art at home.

My birthday was this week. I saw a Pontiac G6 I rather liked, but my wife wisely redirected my focus to a barbecue. So, off to Home Depot.

So many choices! So many lovely choices! However, the budget dictated that I refrain from creating a backyard oasis with an island grill, hot and cold running everything, and copious amounts of beer. So, my eyes slid down the rows and shelves, and landed on what now sits in my back yard.

What I wanted to do was REAL barbecue, not just grilling. I found the necessary tool.

It is a Char-Broil Silver Smoker. (It is actually very black.) Yes! The price was right, at $159. A few extras (charcoal starter chimney, thermometer, charcoal and wood chips) and we were out the door for just a bit over $200. That, and considerable effort. Though packaged nicely, it is quite heavy.

It took several hours to build this thing. I say build, because “assemble” falls quite short of the task. The main chamber and the fire box were welded up, and the doors mounted. Just about everything else is up to the user.

Fortunately, the documentation is clear and adequate. I love the bubble packed nuts and bolts. Very clearly laid out, and easy to keep track of during assembly.

The instructions warn that the assembly should have two people, due to the weight. I am a relatively large person, and strong enough for the task, so I went solo. Exercise caution, if you go this route. To reduce weight I removed the components from the package right from the back of the vehicle, and moved them a bit at a time to the assembly area.

This product is well made, and the design allows the novice ( in this case, me) to build the smoker quite easily. I took my time, and finished in about two hours. The instruction sequence allows for surprisingly easy assembly. The assembler is directed to orient various parts in ways that allows components to sit on the ground, or on each other. No holding up heavy parts while you try to align screws and attach bolts.

The Char-Broil Silver Smoker is a design previously manufactured by the New Braunfels Smoker Company. It is an off-set smoker, having a smoke box attached to the side of the main chamber. Indirect heat and smoke cook the meat in the main chamber.

New Braunfels is a town in Texas. If you would like to see the town, I happen to have a slide show video on YouTube. Check out the mlockridge channel.

So, I finished assembly last night, and today I fired it up. Well, first I cleaned it, rubbing off any residual adhesives from the stick-on label with alcohol. I then oiled the inside with vegetable oil. Then I loaded the starter chimney with charcoal, and two wadded-up pieces of newspaper.

The charcoal I used is a lump charcoal by the brand name of Cowboy. Rather than the ground up and compressed charcoal biscuits, it is still bits of wood charcoal. It started beautifully. Once it was ready, I poured the burning charcoal onto the fire grate in the fire box, and arranged the coals to keep up a good burn.

Most of today I experimented with adjusting the vents to control the heat. This was a break-in burn, so no cooking today. I tossed in some of the hickory chips I had purchased, and was amazed by how much smoke a few chips will generate. None had been soaked in water, so they burned up pretty quickly.

The rate of fuel consumption seemed reasonable. I figure that I will want to start the fire about a half-hour (or a bit more) before introducing the meat to the cooking chamber. My first cooking run should be this Sunday.

This unit has considerable flexibility. If you want to grill just a bit of meat, the fire box can serve as a small grill. A grill grate is included. To grill a large amount of meat, the main chamber can be used as well. Fire grates are included so that the whole unit can be used as a grill.

As a smoker, it has a good capacity. A small turkey could be smoked in this unit, and probably will. However, I plan to work my way up to that.

So, a new adventure has begun. I will share it here.