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Ghetto Smoker Redux

The Ghetto Smoker Redux: Bacon FTW


Ghetto Smoker v1.0 ened in flames, a sacrifice to the Bacon Gods. Its product, while not strictly bacon, was tasty none-the-less, and lent its smoky goodness to a Tuscan style bean dish, among some others. But it also offered several important lessons, all of which were deliciously implemented in Ghetto Smoker v2.0. To review, the first attempt was based on Doing & Making's modern day classic, consisting of two boxes: a small cardboard hot box where the smoke is generated, a duct, and a larger cardboard cold box where the meaty magic happens. The upgrade, pictured below, is significantly more reliable and less flammable.

Ghetto Smoker 2.0 in action

Ingredients

  • Pork bellies. 6 pounds. Ranch 99.
  • Dry cure (From Ruhlman's Charcuterie)
  • Maple syrup. 1/2 cup.
  • Applewood sawdust. About 2.5 pounds.
  • Applewood chips, from the BBQ aisle at Home Depot. Used about half a bag this time, in addition to the sawdust.

Equipment

  • 1000W electric hot plate. Walgreens. Hacked as described here
  • Cast iron skillet, larger than necessary. My kitchen.
  • 8' of flexible aluminum duct. Home Depot.
  • Small drawer metal filing cabinet. Weird Stuff.
  • Large box, for the meat. Shorty Wardrobe Box, from local U-Haul.
  • CPU Cooling Fan. Harvested from an abandoned PC at work.
  • AC/DC transformer to power the fan. From some long forgotten electronics thing.
  • Strap for holding the box closed. 15' tie-down strap, or something like this.

Assembly

  1. Cut a hole in a box.
  2. For the metal box, a dremel isn't quite the right tool, but it will do the job.
  3. Attach the duct from one box to the other. Some aluminum foil is useful to form a gasket if necessary.
  4. Attach the fan to a vent hole in the cold box using some screws or hooks.
  5. Wrap the tie-down strap around the cold box.

Procedure

  1. Mix together the dry cure and maple syrup.
  2. Lovingly coat the pork bellies in the syrupy goo.
  3. Place in zip-lock or vacuum sealed bags. 
  4. Refrigerate for a week, turning occasionally.
  5. Rinse and thoroughly dry the bellies. A hairdryer will hasten this important step.
  6. Some advise to cut off a bit, cook and taste. I didn't bother. If it is too salty at this time, you can soak in water for a while to draw out some of the salt. Mine wasn't salty at all, so this would have been an interesting but unnecessary step.
  7. Assemble the Ghetto Smoker. 
  8. Install meat.
  9. Smoke for a few hours. 11 in this case.
  10. Stir the hardwood chips or sawdust every 15-30 minutes. Replace burnt out hardwood when necessary (30-45 minutes). You can tell its time when it starts smelling bad.
  11. Remove from smoker; freeze for a while to make slicing easier
  12. Remove the rind (a.k.a. skin). This isn't very easy for an amateur. Requires a sharp knife and some patience.
  13. Slice as desired. I have a handy ham knife that looks something like this, and is useful for such tasks. Also good for slicing into a finger.
  14. Cook and enjoy.
  15. Freeze the weird trimmings and rinds for soups, stews, and such.

Result

Delicious bacon. The materials and method described here resulted in very respectable bacon, less salty than the usual stuff you can buy. Contrary to reports that I have seen elsewhere, it does shrink when cooked - a result of the fat rendering out as you would expect. Hand cutting results in slices of various thicknesses, but cooking everything slowly at about 300-325°F resulted in nicely finished bacon that was golden browned, and crispy while retaining a satisfyingly bacon-y chewiness. 

Ghetto Smoker Redux


Lessons Learned

  1. PORK BELLY: Don't attempt to butcher your own (unless, of course, you are a Foodwhisperer). It can be found in abundance at Ranch 99, and probably any other Asian supermarket. I bought three slabs, totaling about 6 pounds. In retrospect, two of them were a bit thin. Go for thicker slabs if you can get them, preferably all about the same. And it would probably be best to have the rind removed. Considering the substantial effort required for Home Baconing, next time it would be worth the effort to find a good source for fresh-from-the-farm local pig parts.
  2. HOT BOX: Don't make it out of cardboard, for reasons that were equally obvious before v1.0 caught on fire. I first considered using our trusty Weber kettle BBQ, but it wasn't obvious how to do so without trashing the grill. Solution: a small two-drawer metal filing cabinet procured with great delight for $10 at Weird Stuff in Sunnyvale. Any suitably sized metal box would work. This one has the advantage of doubling as a hot smoker: with the hot plate and wood chips in the bottom drawer, the top drawer is a perfect 200°F hot smoker.
  3. ELECTRIC HOT PLATE: These things can be found for cheap at Walgreens or other drug/junk stores. While it claims to offer 1000 watts of wood chip smoldering power, in reality, just when it starts to get smoking, it stops working. The problem is the little bimetal knob/switch that controls the temperature. When the ambient temperature gets to around 500°F, it turns off the heat. Lame! The solution, detailed over on Google+, was to move the switch out into its own enclosure. Now, the hot plate can be adjusted to keep the skillet at 600-700°F. Or it can rage over 1000°F or more, if you plan to do some home smelting, generate plasma, or trigger regional brownouts.
  4. HARDWOOD: Before I figured out that the overheated switch was the root cause of fail-smoke, I (wrongly) suspected that maybe the problem was the form factor of the wood chips I had been using. So I ordered 5 pounds of applewood sawdust from Butcher & Packer. It worked fine. But I found that the wood chips lasted longer, so they didn't have to be changed as often. And they are easier to find (supermarkets, BBQ stores, etc).
  5. FAN: The fan I used this time was salvaged from an old PC power supply. It ran on 12V, so I found an old transformer that ran at 12V, and wired it up. I think it was too powerful, something smaller would have been better. In any case, this should be considered a disposable item: after 11 hours of service, it was coated with a sticky layer of smokey grease.

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