Not just book reports. Let’s talk Barbecue!

Saturday July 24, 2010

I’ve been keeping my resolution to read at least 8 books a year. I’ve finished 10 so far this year. But I’m more interested in barbecue this time of year. I’ve smoked pork shoulders in my Alton Brown clay pot / electric hot plate setup for a few years with spectacular results; but it is limited to one shoulder, it’s not nearly big enough for racks of ribs. I’ve tried using my Weber Genesis to do ribs. The results are good but not great. It’s hard to get much smoke from the usual techniques of putting wood chips in foil.

So, this winter, spring and early summer I had my heart set on a pellet smoker for doing some barbecue. I even went so far as renting a Mak 2 Star General for Father’s Day

Too bad it was so damn wet and cool that weekend. For whatever reason I had a moment of clarity and realized it was too expensive. Instead I bought a Weber 26.75″ kettle grill and a “Smokenator” attachment. This is a piece of bent steel which fits along 1 side of the Weber. You fill it with charcoal briquettes and wood and you get a few hours of nice controlled heat and smoke. Every few hours you add some more water and/or briquettes. I’ve used it twice so far. Once for two HUGE pork shoulders and then today for 3 racks of baby back ribs. I was happy, but not delighted, with the pork shoulders; there were a couple of spots that were tough as leather and definitely could not be considered “pulled pork”. I think this was because I wasn’t measuring the temperature properly. The trick to barbecue is low and slow; you want to maintain about 225* for about 8 hours for a small pork shoulder.

The instructions call for measuring the temperature at the upper vent. Reading up on the process, I’ve found many people think that the differential between the grate and the vent is too much. So, I thought I’d measure at the grate. I have a Maverick ET-73 remote thermometer which has two temperature probes that connect to a transmitter so I can monitor the temperature from my armchair in the house while I’m watching the Dodgers.

My problem was that I didn’t want to snake the probe cables under the lid of the Weber where they might get crimped or disrupt the seal the lid has on the ket

tle. Maintaining airflow is critical for the Smokenator. So, I though a modification was in order.

I am not a handy man by any stretch of the imagination; but once in a while I get brave. I messed up a bit but overall I think it came out okay.

First I gathered my tools (well not all of them; I’d have to make 2 trips back to the garage)
  • Drill
  • Gauge for measuring the probes and drill bits
  • Center punch and hammer (with protective glasses)
  • A block of wood and a clamp
  • A round file (not in picture)
  • Dremel moto tool with grinder to file off the burrs (not in picture)
  • Some high temp paint.
Then I picked a spot under the rim, but over grate.

Next, I laid 3 strips of masking tape over the spot (I had hoped that the masking tape would help protect the enamel). Then I clamped a piece of wood to the inside and made an indentation with a center punch.

Next, I used my newly purchased bolt gauge to measure the size of the probes, realizing that the crimped end near the cable makes it a bit wider. I picked a matching drill bit and drilled a hole.

The hole was just a smidge too small, so I went back to the garage to find a small round file in my old model railroad toolkit. I filed out the hole until the probe fit through. One hole down

I repeated the process for the second hole. I didn’t need as much space for this probe so I had less filing to do.

The holes had some sharp burrs on the inside of the kettle; so back into the garage to get my Dremel tool to put on a little grinder to clean things up.

Now for the unveiling. Off came the masking tape. Uh oh. I must have done something wrong on the 2nd hole because a big chunk of enamel came off on the back of the tape.


Good thing I live in western Oregon where it hardly rains so rust won’t be a problem. Oh wait, DANG – rust just might be a problem. Oh well, that’s why they invented paint, right? I masked the spot and painted inside and out with some Rustoleum high temperature black spray paint.

Before following my lead, you might want to see if it was worth while and see if there are any hints from some real handy men and women out there.

I put rubbed down 3 racks of ribs and let them sit overnight for the big test Sunday.

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