All great meals start with great inspiration, no? This story begins back in March, when I was on Spring Break in Florida visiting my family. You all may remember my uncle, the creative force behind this incredible Lobster Cream Sauce and his famous jambalaya. We were sitting at dinner one night when he began describing an idea he had seen for a homemade smoker, knowing full well that he would never undertake the making of such a contraption. He described terra-cotta pots and a re-rigged hot plate, and immediately my boyfriend’s attention was captured. It took a few months of research and equipment procurement, but we finally set out to build our smoker on one of the first sunny Boston Saturdays.
Now, I cannot give you the steps to building this big guy, as my boyfriend was the true mastermind. I know generally that it took two unglazed terra-cotta pots so big that you could probably fit me inside one of them, one for the base and one for the lid. We also used a small round grill with charcoal as a heat source instead of messing with the electric source of a hot plate. On top of the charcoal went a tin pan of wood chips soaked in water. We stacked the whole thing on some found bricks in my parking lot to allow for some air circulation. There you have it, the bare bones recollection of our construction project.
What I can more fully detail, however, is the spice rub and the sides. While there are many great pre-mixed beef rubs on the market, we decided to make our own. I mean, if we made our own smoker, might as well make it homemade all the way, right? Pre-made mixes also usually contain a lot of salt, so making your own allows you to control the sodium levels as well as the flavor. We followed this Big Bad Beef Rub recipe, adding a little extra cayenne because we both like the kick. We rubbed that all over our 6 lb brisket and let it sit for about a half hour. Once we got the smoker to the right temperature, we put the meat on, closed the lid and prayed. (We were hungry and a little nervous that our experiment would fail!) We waited, checked the smoker, added some water to the wood chips, and waited some more. The total cooking process took 10 hours, so we did a lot of waiting! To pass the time, we cooked up some delicious southern sides: Ina Garten’s jalapeno cheddar corn bread and my favorite Beer Braised Collard Greens.
We finally sat down to eat around 9pm. The results were well worth the wait! The beef was tender, the smokey flavor permeated each piece, and there was so much flavor and juiciness that nothing else was needed to enjoy the brisket. The cornbread was also great, with a more savory flavor profile than traditional cornbread. The collard greens were great as always!
Of course, we had days of leftovers. To keep meals interesting, we reheated some of the smoked brisket in some BBQ sauce and filled some Portugese rolls with it to make BBQ Beef Paninis. With some asparagus “fries” these were a delicious way to repurpose the leftovers!
The homemade smoker experiment was well worth the effort. It costs way less than buying a smoker ($200 vs. $700+) and is a lot of fun to experiment with the construction process. In the end, meat cooked low and slow is the way to go! Our future experiments include smoked pork ribs and smoked salmon. We look forward to continuing this new adventure!
Question: What else should we try on our new smoker?