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Writing and Photography by Mark Masker
About two years ago, I shelled out twenty bucks for a brand new electric smoker that a friend of mine used as a dust attractor in his garage. I cut my culinary teeth it and it lasted through two good years of ribs, briskets, and a lot of other cool dead animal flesh. Then, one day, part of the heating element melted. Buying a comparable new smoker would’ve set me back $60-$70 but I knew you could build one for about the same amount out of a metal garbage can, so I did. And who doesn't want to see their friends eat out of a trash can? If I was going to get a new smoker, I might as well custom build it so it could double as a conversation piece.
The grill rests on a set of hooks about a foot above a metal plate resting on a hot plate. I used a cheap hot plate that doesn't generate a ton of heat. That's fine by me. I use it for cold smoking; it'll provide steady smoke for a long time without fully cooking the food. Cold smoking is where you provide enough heat to burn the chips but not enough to fully cook the meat (typically, under 100 degrees F). It's a great way to add a smoked flavor to meat before grilling. My Toastmaster 6420 hot plate is a 750 Watt model. It doesn't generate enough heat to fully cook meat unless it's in the sun on a hot summer day. However, it does a great job of adding a deep smoky flavor to food without actually cooking it. I'm not a fan of food poisoning, so I'm a paranoid wimp when it comes to cold smoking. I usually only run food in the trash can for two hours, maximum.
Here's how the finished garbage cooker works. I take a cup of whatever wood chips I'm using, soak them in water for a half hour, drain them, and put them on a pizza pan. With the hot plate plugged in and turned to High, I set the pizza pan atop the plate. Then, I add the grill rack with the food on it, put the lid on, and smoke the food. I'll also change the chips every half hour to keep a continuous smoke going. Other than that, removing the lid is a serious offense because it lets all that yummy smoke escape. After a couple of hours in the trash can, I move the contents over to a charcoal grill to finish cooking.
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