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Dream Smoker Build Project


Well it’s done. It started with finding an 80 gallon propane refill tank in an old Chevrolet dealership’s basement and obviously snowballed from there. In the discovery phase, it became obvious to me that moving heat and smoke was a science and not just as simple as cutting a door and welding on a smoke stack. From there I focused on meeting the technical requirements for the cook volume I had and tried to solve design problems with flair and an eye towards functionality and durability. The end result was way more than I set out to accomplish. The cost was too, but I’m in at less than a third of what it would have cost me to farm it out in a much simpler form. It was a great project that was tons of fun and a great chance to get to know Ben better. So many of the details we quibbled over during the build, and resulted in a very long list of great features on this smoker. Steel is expensive, perfection takes time and two heads are way better than one are some key takeaways from this project. In the end I’ve got a one-of-a-kind smoker built to last generations that works perfectly. I’d say it was a success. Now to get some meat and get on with the cooking! Continue reading »

Sunday night grilling

Burgers with pablano peppers & provolone, Greek pasta & tomato/avocado salad

La Fiesta

¡Perdone mí, señor, este plato está muy caliente!

Who needs May 5th to have a Fiesta? Not me. With deer season in GA fast approaching, I’m hell bent on cleaning out the freezer. I’m staring a packs of cubed vension thinking, “if i country fry all that, i’m going to need new hunting pants along with my new license.” Yall read the dieting story right?

So I mixed a batch of my secret mojo seasoning, dredged the meat in it, fired up the grill and the iPod boombox and behold: Venado Fajitas, Tres Alubia Nachos con 2006 Garnacha.

The Big Gas Grill

So I waited like a green cat in tall grass to buy my next grill. Stumbling across the Camp Chef lines at the local Sportsman’s Warehouse, I occasionally would look at their site and pine. The biggest obstacle, the price. Their website posts prices that are downright scary, probably to avoid competing with their vendors I suppose.
I started hawking ebay for awhile as they seemed to sport the best pricing, but the shipping was awful on something that heavy. I made up my mind that I wanted the combo Hi(60,000btu)/Lo(30,000btu) Explorer model. I emailed them to see if I could throw a griddle over that much horsepower without melting it, the short answer “no”. The rest of the info I got from the guy there at Camp Chef was that he had a “Big Gas Grill III” and loved it. He said it would do anything I needed for sure.

That made me study hard on the matter, as total changing of plans often does. The pluses were, that it came with a $150 grill box attachment and an additional burner over the Pro 60 and Explorer models for not much more. I revisited Sportsman’s Warehouse to confirm some specs and realized the best deal was right down the street. Their prices were better than even ebay, and tax was way less than shipping. The $352 Big Gas Grill III on the CampChef.com site was $199 at Sportsman’s Warehouse with one problem, they can’t keep it in stock. It’s only $30 more than the 2 burner Pro 60 and as mentioned includes the 2 burner Grill Box and an extra burner (3) over the Pro 60 for those $30. Best I could tell, the deciding time was over. I figured it might only be used a few times a year for ball games, tailgating, races and maybe some event cooking. The bonus is that it can be used for emergency preparedness as well, but good luck selling that to mamma.

In the time I was mustering up the will to go get one, my old faithful gas grill on the deck died. This time repair was no option as the crimped regulator hoses would defeat a $20 repair job and render the old gal officially out of commission. while shopping for a replacement standard gas grill, I couldn’t help comparing the features and versatility of the Camp Chef to similarly priced stationary gas grills. In all cases what you get from Camp Chef was was more interesting and useful than the thin skinned grills you get for $200 at the big box stores. It took some time but I decided I’d try to make the Camp Chef pull the double duty and see how it worked out. Worst case scenario, I have a Camp Chef and eventually buy a stationary grill for the deck too. Win + Win.

Fast forward to two weeks after the purchase. I’ve cooked on it a few times now, fighting off the urge to grill and griddle everyday since I got it. The Grill Box, with its cast iron grates is awesome. Cast iron grates take some getting used to and need some heavy seasoning to get the sticking under control, but they hold heat like nothing else once warm. Covering two burners and with 60,000 BTUs on tap, I’d say you can smash through the family BBQ in record time from what I’ve seen so far.

The griddle is a different story, I love it though. It’s becoming obvious to me that there’s a learning curve to griddle cooking with that much heat available. I bought the 432 sq inch 2 burner model to keep a burner freed up. It makes large stir fry type meals unbelievably easy and fast. It’s only drawback it the incredible heat. You need to really load it down to keep the surface temps in check. Preliminarily, you wouldn’t want to cook smaller amounts of food on this thing as getting the warm-idle temps is tough. Griddling a pound or two of cut up meat and another pound or two of veggies is where this beast is at home. It makes you smile uncontrollably at how quickly the food is done compared to bogging down stove eyes for 20 minutes inside. The griddle attachment is going to be a fun toy down the road for sure. I can tell already there’s a reason for the shape and size of the spatulas at the Japanese steakhouses. Also picking up egg rings will help control wild fried eggs if breakfasts are on the agenda.

After a few test runs, the jury is in, and the Camp Chef is awesome. There are as many uses as there are foods to cook. I’d think the 2 burners are more appropriate stoves, except for the value in getting the Big Gas Grill with its included grill box accessory for a few bucks more will almost force you to get that one. It’s likely that you’ll actually be volunteering to cook at events just so you can tie into really seeing what it can do.