Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Cold smoker update

I had mentioned a while ago that I wanted to try using my smoker as an offset firebox, feeding a cold smoking cabinet.  Well, a while ago I got around to giving it a shot.

I built a cabinet out of old wood paneling that used to be in my living room  I drilled a bunch of ~1.5" holes in the bottom, and then layered a couple sheets of aluminum foil over the outside of the bottom, to protect it from the heat of the smoker.  After the first tests, I had to drill a few more holes, but otherwise it works great!  Only current downside is that it's very hard to refill the wood chunk bowl, so you have to make sure you load it up enough for your full smoke run at the beginning (which isn't a huge issue, really).

Here are a couple pics of the setup in action:

and here are some deer and hog sausages I made and smoked (for about 8 hours at 120*F)



Also on that topic, here is the sausage stuffing plunger I made to replace the one that came with my kitchenaid meat grinder:

It works MUCH better than the stock version.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Smoker controller + crock pot = sous vide?

So, for the last year or 2, I've been hearing a lot about "sous vide", which is essentially the process of vacuum sealing raw food, then immersing it in a temperature-controlled water bath at the desired final temperature of the food, for long periods of time (from 20 minutes to 3+ days).  The idea is that you get the meat to the temperature you want for the reactions you desire to take place, and you just leave it there.  It's a bit of an overly french thing, but it always sounded interesting, and shares some DNA with smoking (low quality cuts of meat, cooked low and slow, etc).

anyway, I kind of figured that my smoker controller could totally make a crock pot into a sous vide system.  So I thought I'd give it a try:

I have an aquarium air pump ($13 or so) to help circulate the water and avoid hot and cold spots. 

My first attempt, unseasoned beef shortribs, was delicious!  Tender without being mushy at all, I though the texture was somewhat akin to a good prime rib, pink, flavorful, and generally really good.  It was good enough that I forgot to take pictures...

I've got some beef shanks in there now with some salt and cracked pepper, and I have a bunch of beef chuck with various herbs ready to go in next.  Also, I am excited to try making gravy out of the meat juices left in the bags.

Anyway, I'll update when I have some results pictures, but for something tossed together from parts I more or less already had lying around, I'm really happy with the ease of use and results.

Edit:  here's a nice blurry pic of my delicious beef shanks:

For a cut of meat that's often nearly inedibly tough, this was delicious.  The gravy made from the captured meat juice was great too.  The marrow was the icing on the cake. Very happy with this setup, from both a tastyness-of-results perspective, as well as a ease-of-setup one.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Piano Bar 2: Harpectomy

My friend Josh and I like to play this game we call "good idea bad idea".  It's not really a game so much as it's me proposing a perfectly reasonable if slightly outside-the-box solution for a problem, and Josh rolling his eyes at me and saying "ok, let's play good idea/bad idea".  I think I may have permanently won that game based on this particular adventure.

My previous record was probably removing a motorcycle from a truck bed alone with no ramps by tying it to a porch and driving the truck out from under it.  This particular plan beats that, I think.

Anyway, I had the 600+lb piano, with the 400-450lb cast iron harp in it, more or less ready to remove.  I had removed all of the bolts and giant lag screws and everything else I could get my tools on.  I had 2.5 hours before needing to meet some friend for dinner, and nobody around to A: help, or B: say "Matt, this is a really bad idea".

So I decided I'd use some 1" pvc pipe as rollers to push the piano down my driveway under a tree, and then use an 8000lb capacity come-a-long hooked to a big tree limb to winch the harp up out of the piano.  I honestly should never have even tried to move the piano alone, let alone the rest of this hare-brained scheme.  It had vanishingly small odds of ending well.  But like Han, I don't want to know the odds, so away I went!


And here it is, a massive cast iron structure, outside of its piano home for the first time in over 100 years, hanging from a tree in my front yard:

And the remarkably un-destroyed piano:

Seriously, this had NO right working out as well as it did.  I even managed to lower the harp safely onto a dolly and roll it all back into the garage in time for dinner.  I'm very pleased with progress so far, and I'm excited to start laying out the structure of what comes next, and working on the refinishing.  Some of the wood in this piano is really beautiful, under the severely deteriorated finish.  There's some really neat burled stuff, and inlays, and all kinds of cool details, so as that part of the project slowly comes along, it will be really fun to see it develop.  There are also a lot of really interesting chromed steel and cast brass and bronze parts inside that I want to reuse as parts of the bar, so while the disassembly has gone pleasantly fast, the slower but more creative re-assembly phase is going to be a lot of fun.