Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to tell you the latest trend in the MacDonald household is the electric smoker. The traditional smoker I have been using has served its purpose for over a decade. It was exactly as you are imagining it. Rounded off, bullet shaped, I won’t say the brand name but you can narrow that down to two or three.
I’ve threatened to purchase some heat-tolerant paint and artistically create my own R2D2 smoker, but I have neither the patience nor the artistic ability to do so.
My love affair with my old smoker began about 13 years ago. It’s doubled as a quick-cooking barbecue grill with the charcoal pan at the second level most of the time, but as a smoker it filled the romantic notion of an all-day cooking device that held the heat at the right temperature — that is, if you tended the fire for hours on end.
I loved that. I still do. Having a cut of meat that requires attention from sunup to sundown feels a bit caveman, or at the very least pioneer. But yeah, read that last part again. It takes a day’s worth of attention away from you.
This is great if you need to get away from the household responsibilities, as in, “Honey, watch the kids all day. I’ve got a brisket and two chickens taking on the hickory.” But we all know that isn’t always plausible.
Enter the electric smoker.
This is one of God’s inventions that all but does the work for you. It’s indirect heat at its finest, warming the wood chips at a constant temperature for even cooking. There are low, medium and high settings, which is more than you could ever hope for with a plain ol’ fire. Who wants the pains of a flame that is either too hot or too cold? Notice I didn’t say, “just right.”
Anything you do with a conventional smoker has the tendency to be a draft away from too hot to too cold.
My bandmate and ancient friend Kelley McKee and I have a longstanding argument about this. He fancies himself a purist of the barbecue world, but don’t let him fool you. Yes, Kelley is a man of principles when it comes to grilling and smoking, but he’s also lazy as all get out. I’m certain I can convince him Muddy Waters invented electricity and barbecue aficionados from the Mississippi Delta soon followed suit.
My eye-opening moment was when everyone’s favorite barrister, Pete Mackey, set forth to buy a new house. It was my good fortune and close proximity to the Mackey home that enabled me to procure the Old Smokey Electric Smoker in the move. Delighted to find not only all of the trays, grills and drip pans intact, the owner’s manual and recipe book were neatly stowed under the lid of this almost-immaculate cooker.
My first foray into the world of electric smoking was with a deer ham of fairly good size. No less than 14 pounds, this chunk of venison was sure to take me an entire day just to reach an edible temp. I allotted 10.5 hours (at 45 minutes per pound) beginning on a high setting and then knocked down to a more tolerable medium temperature.
Here’s the good part: I didn’t lift a finger. I didn’t add charcoal or wood chips. I didn’t baste or fuss with the meat. But at the 10-hour mark the meat was falling off the bone in the best kind of way. I could shake the knuckle and pick up the pieces.
Here is the part that impressed me the most: The flavor that day came from a little more than a handful of woodchips. I didn’t soak them. I used zero charcoal. A little hot plate with a couple of cups of chopped oak (in this case Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrels) was enough to make me look like a pro.
I was nervous enough that I invited no one over to try the gamey attempt on the maiden voyage. By the time we started eating, though, I called in Rob and anyone else available for the giant feast. The kids were crazy about it and it all seemed a great success.
Yes, the deer meat was perfect. Succulent. Tender. But what really caught the attention of Lucas and Graham was everything else we smoked. While the bottom grill was busy smoking a venison ham, most of the daylight hours the top grill was purposed for the side items in the last couple of hours of cooking.
With a tightly fitting lid we were able to smoke a whole onion half-wrapped in aluminum foil, several large carrots (washed but not peeled), a sizable bowl of new potatoes and four ears of sweet corn. I don’t recall ever having smoked corn or potatoes but everything on here was worth me writing about.
Just today Graham remarked, “Those carrots are the best I’ve ever had.” High praise. In his 7 years he has had a massive amount of carrots. It’s given him vision that is unmatched. If you don’t believe me, just challenge him to a game of “Where’s Waldo.”
So tonight, here is where we stand. We are roughly halfway to the Thanksgiving mark in the 2017 calendar year. I’m making a quick rough draft of my favorite holiday with two chickens (in a brine as we speak) and all the trimmings, including dressing and casseroles.
The electric smoker will be used to its full potential as a warm up for November’s festivities. Chickens, carrots, tomatoes and other rabbit food will be exposed to the moderately low temps of the Old Smokey while the dressing hits the oven. I can’t believe how easy this is!
Pete, thanks for lending me the smoker. If you want it back, you may have to pry it from my cold, smoky, dead hands.