Friday, April 11, 2008

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.

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