Clay Pot Smoker – part 1

One of the great debates in outdoor cooking is between the proponents of gas and charcoal. I’m a charcoal guy myself. I’ve made do for many years (decades, actually) with a charcoal grill and for the last 15 years it has been a Weber kettle. For grilling a steak or chicken, it does great. However, for anything that takes longer than 45 minutes, you have to remove the food and the grill to add more coals. It’s a nuisance. (Yeah, yeah, I know – gas doesn’t have that problem…)

A few years ago, I bought a replacement food grate that had hinged sections that allowed you to add fuel without removing the food. This was much better, but you still had to hang around and keep an eye on it. I thought about getting a Weber Smoky Mountain, but the $300 price tag made me pause. We don’t have a lot of money and as bad as I wanted the smoker, I wasn’t sure this was the best use of our money.

Now, if you really want to get crazy, there’s the Big Green Egg, a ceramic grill/smoker made by a company here in the Metro Atlanta area. It is widely praised as being a great way to slow cook or smoke food. It was also very expensive – somewhere north of $700. The Egg is a modern reinterpretation of the ancient Japanese Kamado. (Interestingly enough, there are companies that still make the traditional Kamado and you can find them online – also very expensive.) The advantages are that the thick ceramic walls hold in heat, making it easy to cook for long periods with less fuel than my kettle.

And then I saw an episode of “Good Eats” in which the host, Alton Brown, devises a smoker out of a couple of large terra cotta pots, an electric hotplate, a small grill and a small metal pan. (Another time, he made a salmon smoker out of a cardboard box – but that’s another show.) The basic design was as follows:

  • Put the hotplate in the bottom of a large terra cotta flower pot and run the cord out through the drainhole.
  • Put a small metal pan (say, a cake pan) on the burner, fill the pan with soaked chunks of wood – apple, mesquite, pecan, etc..
  • You put a metal grill just inside the rim of the pot.
  • Cover the whole contraption with a terra cotta bowl turned upside down to act as a lid.

Looking at his contraption I thought, “I can do that.” That idea stayed in the back of my mind for a long while. Then I ran across a blog posting on a web site talking about the author’s experience actually making one of these. I later found out that there are many such postings on the the Internet where people have made their own (Google “clay pot smoker”). I finally decided that I was going to make one as well.

The great thing about Alton’s design is that it used an electric hotplate as the heat source instead of charcoal. That meant you didn’t have to worry about adding vent holes. It also meant that the temperature was easier to control and that you didn’t have to disassemble the whole rig just to feed the fire.


Links:

Clay Pot Smoker – part 2

Clay Pot Smoker – part 3

Clay Pot Smoker wrap-up

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