2010
09.25

Alton Brown put together a terra cotta smoker on his show once, and I was dying to replicate it ever since watching it. Andy thought it best we not do it while at the apartment (even though, I would now say it wouldn’t have attracted any attention).

Once we got into the new house, I wanted to get it put together fairly quickly. My parts list (up to now… some mods to come) is as follows:

  • A few bits of 2×4 to support the whole unit
  • 17″ Terra Cotta Flower Pot – Home Depot
  • 17″ Azalea Pot – Pike’s Nursery
  • 1 brick, broken in half – Home Depot
  • 1 small electrical resistance heating coil – Ace Hardware
  • Lamp cord – Ace Hardware
  • Weber replacement charcoal grate – Home Depot
  • Thermometer – Ace Hardware
  • Tin pie pan – Kroger
  • Wood chips – Kroger
  • Outdoor single gang enclosure
  • 1 solid 1 gang metal cover plate
  • 1/2″ Halex Twin Screw Clamp Connector – Home Depot
  • Universal Infinite switch & knob – Fox Appliance Parts of Atlanta
  • 3 ft of 1/8″ metal rod – Home Depot

Assembly is pretty simple and straightforward with the only technical part being the connection of the infinite switch (L is for incoming power, H goes to the element, and P would be for an indicator light, ignore it unless you’re getting creative.)

Here’s some pictures:

The Smoker - controller to right, wood chips to left

Temperature Guage and grate hooks

I found that wrestling a boston butt out of the depth of the smoker was quite difficult, so I bought a length of metal rod (coat hangers would work, we just don’t own any metal ones) & bent it to the shape you see here – two ‘handles’ to lift the grate out with.

Heating Element

A lot of people buy a modular hot plate and take it apart for the heating element – I for one couldn’t even find this style of single burner hot plate anywhere – they were all the new flat, single round plate sytle. I also just thought it would be easier to just buy what I needed – Ace sells replacement heating coils.

I crimped the end of the lamp cord to the end of the element – I need to replace this cable with heat tolerant cable – the insulation has shrunk back dramatically, and after a few more uses I think the insulation will have been compromised enough to cause a short. I’ll just replace it back to the control unit.

Also, a few pieces of 2×4 hold the lower pot off the ground, allowing the cord to run out from under the unit.

Control Knob

This is exactly what is on your kitchen stove, just inside an outdoor electrical enclosure – it’s called an infinite switch, and I got one at a local appliance parts store. The guy at the counter was a total dick and didn’t want to help me because I didn’t have a part number – the unit I got was a ‘universal’ that ran me about $25. I jimmied it into the enclosure by mounting it on a solid faceplate. (One more reason you need a step bit.)

Pie tin of chips

The combustibles I’ve been using are water-soaked Mesquite chips. Kroger sells them as grill additives, but they’re the only thing I’m using here. I’m ready for a new wood type though – Mesquite is a VERY distinct flavor when it comes to smoking. I’m looking forward to smoking with apple wood. (also, I’m curious what the difference between small chips and large chips is like on a long smoking session.)

Smoker Gasket

One page I was reading detailed how a guy had used a replacement gasket from a Big Green Egg (got mine at an Ace – the gasket, not the egg) to seal the two pots better. I did the same here, and it works like a charm – it’s adheared to the lower pot, so I can just lift off the upper pot and set it on the ground without it getting dirty.

Boston Butt 2

Boston Butt 1

First up to bat was Alton’s Boston Butt recipe. It turned out really well, but you have to be expecting smoked pork here. I initially benchmarked it against a crock pot slow cooked Boston Butt, but that’s just not fair – it’s excellent on a whole different scale. It pulled with little effort, and we’ve made everything from pulled pork sandwiches to pulled pork omelets (yeah).

Salmon in salt

Next up was Salmon, but first it spent about 14 hours in a salt/sugar pack; again, Alton’s recipe here, which gets mixed reviews – I believe this to be the case because people end up using table salt where he calls for kosher salt. Yes, it’s all salt, but a cup of kosher salt isn’t as much as a cup of table salt (imagine a barrel of bowling balls [kosher] vs a barrel of sand [table]).

Smoked Salmon

The salmon turned out really well, and did not take long to smoke at all. I probably could have had the temperature control down even more than I did – once the smoker preheats, it takes very little to keep it at temperature.

Flaked Smoked Salmon

I was immediately inspired to flake a good bit of the salmon (one fillet), and make a ‘salmon salad sandwich’ – fantastic.

Overall, I am very pleased with the smoker. I have a turkey brining right now to test out tomorrow on it – a trial run before thanksgiving, where I plan to serve one smoked and one fried turkey.

Other things that I would note would be:

  • The temperature gauge in the top dome tends to be inaccurate – temperatures more towards the middle/bottom are in actuality higher – I plan on mounting a digital thermo at this level.
  • The lamp cord I used is insufficient, and I should have known better. I will likely replace the run into the smoker with heat resistant cable, and the run between the plug and infinite switch with a heavier gauge cable.
  • There are a few hacks around the internet of temperature controllers/notifiers (including one guy that gets a text message when his internal meat temperature hits a preset) for me, the important part was just that I have simple, functional control instead of just on and off… it works.

Anyone have any other suggestions as to what to smoke?

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  1. Yum…everything looks amazing! I can’t wait for Thanksgiving.