Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Narrowing Down My Options

So there I was with this wonderful oportunity to finally get a smoker and to begin my journey to B-B-Q greatness. The only question that was needing to be answered now was which smoker? Well obviously my first thoughts turned to the Weber Smokey Mountain and to be completely honest, I do still plan on one day owning one of these bad boys but at this perticular time, I had a number of factors dictating that there would be no WSM under my tree this year. The first was cost. As mentioned above I reside in Central Ontario and as such, availabilities of certain items is restricted at best. Also, by living in this area, prices are considerably higher due to the added cost of transporting items this far north. And yes, I do know that the WSM can be purchased online through such places as amazon but shipping is only free in the US and since I live in Canada, when all fees and taxes are accounted for, my final cost would run just a hair under $400 and this was beyond the cap my wife and I had set for each other.

So my search went on until I came across a significant amount of info on the web about something called an ECB (which I came to learn stood for "el cheapo brinkmann"). Not only did this info indicate that the cheaper Brinkmann smokers could produce pretty good B-B-Q but that there were ways of modifying them at very little cost to greatly improve their abilities as well as the end resulting smoked meat. Since I very much enjoy tinkering, this to me seemed like my best option while also providing me with the fun and satisfaction of playing Frankenstein with my new toy as I attempted to take this humble bullet water smoker to new heights.

As luck would have it, there is a Bass Pro Shop about 1 hour from where I live just north of Toronto and they happen to carry the Brinkmann Smoke 'N Grill for about $55 Canadian. I would have preferred the Gourmet so that it would have had a fully enclosed bottom but those are no longer available in Canada so I had to settle for the open bottomed version but not to worry for I had grand plans.

Having read countless stories of ECB modifications, I came to a few specific realizations. First and foremost, although keeping my costs down was important, I wanted to maximize my results and if that meant spending a little more to get better B-B-Q then so be it. Second, I knew that a number of changes to my little smoker were going to be needed to acheive the best results. And third, I knew that in order to produce the best smoked meat I could, I was going to need more than just a modified ECB. The end result of all of this research and planning can be seen in my first photo which shows all of my Christmas present purchases with the exception of a new chimney I also bought but for some reason did not make it into the photo (I think my wife had already wrapped it and hid it on me until the big day).

As can be seen in the picture, along with the Brinkmann Smoker, I puchased a Weber Smokey Joe Gold, b-b-q vents (3 in total), fireplace cording and cement, b-b-q paint, b-b-q gloves and the Maverick dual digital thermometer.

So why these perticular items? I chose the smokey joe gold as a replacement bottom charcoal pan for a couple reasons. I didn't like the idea of simply modifying the charcoal pan that came with the smoker as it would have still left a number of limitations such as air flow control and would not have produced the most professional of end products; I wanted to have a portable grill for future camping trips; I liked the gold smokey joe over the silver because of the air vent in the silver being at the very bottom of the bowl which would make it harder to get to and would also lead to ash congestion. The only draw back with the gold is that the air flow vent are located above the charcoal grate which renders them rather useless and so my first modification was required. I simply located two of my extra vents such that 2 of the 4 holes in each would be located on the sides of the bowl but below the level of the grate. This can be seen in photos 2 - 5 below.

Once the new bottom was completed, it was time to assemble the body of the smoker and this was done with the standard ECB mod of attaching the legs on the outside so that the charcoal could be easily accessible by simply lifting the smoker off of the smokey joe. This leg modification can be seen in this next picture. (Note the lack of venting in the dome as well as the more than useless temperature guage standard with the ECB and the lack of air flow control around the dome where it sits on the smoker body...all of which are major problems with this smoker)

The next modifications involved the smoker dome and include the addition of a proper air vent (completed in the exact same manner as adding the vents in the smokey joe charcoal bowl), creating an air tight seal around the base of the lid where it sits into the body, and being able to accurately measure both the temperature of the smoker at grill level as well as that of the meat being smoked. You will see in the next photo how this turned out using the last of my additional air vents, the fireplace cording, and instead of installing a new "reliable" thermometer in the body of the smoker and then still having to purchase a meat thermometer, I opted to spend what would have been just about the same amount and bought a Maverick dual probe thermometer which will accomplish both jobs in one unit.

All that was left now was to fire this baby up and see what she could do. That meant an intial burn to season her and to get used to the air vents and how she would need to be set in order to get that desired 225 degrees. The next 2 pictures show that first burn (getting it going using the minion meathod and then once it was going fully) and the third picture shows my Maverick registering a temp of 378 which was achieved very quickly and then continued rising so I knew I could burn really hot if needed.

I let this temp go for a good 4 hours and then thought to myself what a waste. So I quickly ran to the store and picked up a beautiful pork butt. I threw together a batch of memphis dust (a great pork rub recipe I got from the amazing ribs web site) and got everything ready for my first smoke.

Using my Maverick dual prode thermometer, I was able to maintane a steady 220 - 230 for a full 6 hours before the charcoal needed tending. I simply lifted the entire smoker up and off the smokey joe, scooped out a number of good sized white hot coals, dumped the ash into an ash bucket, reloaded the bowl with fresh lump charcoal and topped it off with the ones that were already white hot a-la minion meathod. I then placed the smoker back on top of the coals and let her continue for another couple hours. It took a total of about 8 1/2 hours for the pork to reach an internal temp of 190 and here is how it looked.

The photo makes it look quite small but in actuality, it was about a 5 pound butt and OMG was it good...probably the best pulled pork I have ever tried. In fact, it was so good and my family gobbled it down so quickly once it was cooked that I totally forgot to take any more pictures of it.

I guess that the bottom line here is that for a grand total of about $180 (which is definitely more than you need to spend if you want to really keep those costs down), there are options out there for those who love real B-B-Q smoked meats. It just takes a little time, effort, and planning. And don't forget that there is plenty of help out there on the web and some wonderful ideas which will help make your smoking ventures a magnificent success.

Monday, 9 January 2012

My ECB Smoker Mods

This is the story of a normal guy and his quest to create awesome B-B-Q. It should first be stated that what we are talking about here is true B-B-Q which is in no way to be confused with "grilling" as is often the case especially up here in the Great White North of Canada. It pains me whenever I hear people say things like "come on over this weekend for a B-B-Q" when I know darn well that what we will be getting is nothing more than a burger or some chicken or heaven forbid some ribs that have given their life only to be "cooked" directly over a propane flame. I got news for you guys...that ain't B-B-Q.

Now I don't claim to be an expert by any means, and I will be the first in line for any expertly grilled steak or a big juicy hamburg, but lets face facts, once you taste true southern style B-B-Q done right, low and slow and smoked to succulent perfection, there just isn't any substitute. And so my quest to be able to create these smokey, meaty masterpeices began.

As luck would have it, my wife approached me this past Christmas and said that if we agreed to set a limit on the amount we would spend on each other, she wanted me to get her something very specific. Well I saw this was my opportunity so I quickly concurred with her plan and when she asked if I had any idea what I might like, I knew exactly what I was going to tell her...I wanted a smoker.

Next...Narrowing Down My Options