For the past several weeks, readers have tolerated my relentless whining
about barbeque—or rather, the lack thereof here in Spain.“Boo hoo hoo…I can’t find a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker® in Spain!”
“Boo hoo hoo…I don’t want to pay $150 to ship one from the US!”
“Boo hoo hoo…why can’t my biceps be as large and bulbous as my calves!”
Oh, wait…that was last year’s rant.
So, after spending several sleepless nights obsessing over the matter…and even considering such ludicrous options as taking welding lessons so that I could build my own “Sally Mountain Cooker” out of an oil drum (a plan that was as hilarious to my family as it was terrifying to my local Fire Department), a sensible reader named “Ironporer” stepped in with the solution that my meager brain couldn’t formulate on its own: “Hey Sal, why don’t you build a smoker out of terra cotta flower pots.” Then he pointed me to a website.
Well…it turns out that there’s a show called “Good Eats” on US television’s Food Network that recently showed how to build such a BBQ smoker. It looked idiot-proof and inexpensive. And—most importantly—it would keep dangerous tools out of my hands. I therefore rushed to my local home improvement store and returned with 75€ worth of components. Here’s how the smoker is constructed:
1 large terra cotta flower pot (approx. 17-20” tall with a 17” diameter).
1 rounded terra cotta flower pot with a diameter that’s a little larger or smaller than that of the other pot.
1 electric hotplate
1 metal pie plate or other shallow pan.
Hardwood chunks or chips
1 round grate with a diameter that’s a little less than that of the first flower pot.
A base on which to rest the smoker (I used a wrought iron tri-pod; alternatively, you can use bricks or 2x4’s)
Step 1: Place the “normal” flower pot on the base so that it’s elevated off the ground.
Step 2: Plate the hotplate at the bottom of the pot, and drop its electrical cord through the pot’s bottom hole.
Step 3: Place the pie plate with wood chunks on the hotplate.
Step 4: Wedge the round grate into the pot and place the meat on top of it.
Step 5: Invert the rounded flower pot and place it over the bottom pot. This will be the smoker’s lid.
Step 6: Drop the thermometer into the top pot’s hole (Duh! Be sure that the thermometer’s diameter is greater than that of the hole).
Fire-up the hotplate so that the wood chunks smoke and the internal temperature hovers between 210º and 220ºF. Then twiddle your thumbs for the next 7-10 hours.
That’s the theory. Now, here’s the reality.
During the first hour, I neither saw nor smelled any bloody smoke! Worse yet, the internal temperature of this ill-conceived contraption was frozen at 150ºF. Now, 150ºF is the perfect temperature for cooking a piece of meat if, and only if, you like your BBQ with a side-order of salmonella. I found this obstacle especially irksome, given that I had paid a premium for the most powerful hotplate that Boulanger had in stock—a 1500 watt German-built model that should’ve generated enough heat to smelt pig-iron.
Immediately reverting to my natural tendency to panic when faced with adversity, my initial reaction was to launch the entire overgrown, earthenware piece of crap over the wall surrounding my house. But thanks, perhaps, to my prior three months of intensive yoga practice, I discarded violence as a cooking technique and calmly hypothesized that the source of the problem was, in fact, the wood chunks. They must be too large. So I removed those chunks from the pan and replaced them with a heaping handful of much smaller grapevine clippings. These, I was confident, would soon have the pot awash in a dense cloud of fragrant 210ºF smoke.
I returned an hour later to find that the temperature in my still-smokeless smoker had indeed risen— but only an additional 10ºF. After two frustrating hours, it was still 50ºF lower than my target. Fortunately, I faced this latest set-back with a much cooler head than I had an hour earlier. Unfortunately, however, “much cooler head” is a relative concept—as I soon found myself scouring the garage for a can of gasoline with which to inundate this maddening piece of fantasy cookery.
Finding no arson-worthy accelerant on the premises, I had an idea that was—far and away—my most brilliant of the day. I would smoke the brisket on my trusty Weber gas grill, and use the flower-pot smoker for a task which, perhaps, it could handle (i.e., growing flowers!).
So…I fired up the Weber and placed the pan of woodchips on the burner. Within fifteen minutes, I had enough smoke to barbeque Dom DeLouise. I then turned off one burner, set the other to low, dropped the temperature down to 250ºF, and slapped the brisket onto the grill. Ninety minutes later, I wrapped the brisket tightly in heavy-duty foil and popped it into a 300ºF oven for another two hours.
And at the end of the day, I had my friggin’ barbequed brisket. Perhaps a bona-fide pit-master from the back-woods of Alabama wouldn’t be impressed, but then again…I’m a helluva long way from Alabama.
Besides, why should I care about what a pit-master thinks. As of tomorrow, I am a vegetarian.