The Elusive Trashcan Smoker

As I mentioned yesterday, building a trashcan smoker was one of those lofty dreams, something I could one day recount as a kitchen accomplishment, along with making my own yogurt or putting up jam. This of course is a long tradition in my family — both sides really, whether it being my father’s graduate school days of grinding his own flour and making bread (there’s always a comment about how in those days in West Virginia, the only decent bread one could get was Pepperidge Farm, which was quite gourmet and expensive, my father insisted to us unbelieving kids; of course, my brothers and I saw these stories as being a way to talk about how lucky we had it compared to my dad and started spinning our own elaborations in which my dad had also grown and harvested the wheat, sometimes illegally in our imaginations. Poor dad.) to my great-grandfather’s various hunting bounties from the San Gabriel mountains, quail and venison included along with the watercress that would grow in the stream there.

With this competition lurking in the background and enough time to waste building backyard contraptions, I did my research, put together a list of needed objects, and told my brother we would meet up the following mid-day. The most involved part would be buying the various objects, the hour putting the trashcan smoker together, and then the following hours we would have to wait as it built up the necessary tar deposits before smoking meat.

Of course when something sounds that easy, it probably isn’t and it turned out our biggest problem was time. Due to a few scheduling Snafus, my brother still had to pack for his upcoming camping trip and I hadn’t realized how much time we would actually need to run smoke through the trashcan (12 hours) before cooking on it. Things were looking pretty grim as the day slowly rolled around to 2pm.

What I hadn’t anticipated though was that in our project loving family, it had been a long dream of my father’s to have some sort of smoker in addition to his bbq. Having long lived in the South, his longing for good smoked meat had only increased as he become a California resident. For all the culinary wonders of Southern California, barbecue is not one of them; and yes, some will try to refute this, but there is no way it comes close. Awesome Korean bbq: Yes. Amazing carne asada and carnitas: Yes. Good Southern bbq: No. [I will further back this up with my recent stop in Kansas City, where bbq is king, and while some places will help satisfy a craving, they can never compete. I also have enough Texan friends to believe that LA is the wasteland when it comes to meat.]

So my dad and I trekked out to Home Depot, one of his all-time favorite stores, where we roamed the various aisles for the items we needed. We loaded up the cart with cherry and pecan woodchips, a metal grate to fit in the trashcan, some aluminum drip pans for the chips, and then we ran out of luck. They did not have a 20 gallon galvanized steel trashcan nor a hot plate. Back to square one.

Well, now it was time to be creative — looking at the various parts, why couldn’t we just rig up our gas grill so it would be a smoker? Running around we grabbed a few different things and set on home.

Here’s what we did:

 

Modified Gas Grill Smoker

 

 

First we took out the metal grates and then put the two bricks on either side of the bottom of the grill. Then we took one large drip pan and put it between them, and two small ones towards the top. We then rotated one of the grates so it was resting on the bricks (this was where we would place the meat).

Modified Grill

 

We then filled the two small drip pans in the back with the woodchips we’d soaked for about an hour. Because smoking relies on indirect heat, we only turned on the very back burner, which would then get the chips to smoke, but not “grill” the meat. (You can see the grate we took out underneath the grill in the picture above.)

So after all this work, we had no idea if it would work. I had defrosted a pork butt, so now it was time to see. To be continued…

 

 

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