Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Coolness,Rambling | Wednesday 9 December 2009 9:00 am

Our jalapeño plants have just about reached the end of their pepper production for the year, and we found ourselves with a nice collection of peppers to do something with.  All told, we ended up with somewhere in the neighborhood of 165 – 175 peppers from five plants that didn’t start producing until late in the season.  We anticipate more next year.

After having used 30 or so while cooking, we were left with about 135 peppers to do something with before they went off.  I have a dehydrator, and that is the best choice for preserving the peppers long term… you can store them in an airtight container almost indefinitely, they can be re-hydrated for use in recipes, or ground up and sprinkled on like salt.  But what about making chipotles?

I used this as an opportunity to experiment with a little project I’ve wanted to work on for a little bit.  I have a gas grill with lots of acreage, and it’s everything I need for most of my outdoor cooking needs.  I’ve never desired a full-blown smoker as I don’t feel I’d get as much use out of it as I’d spend on it, and storing it is another consideration.  What I wanted was something that was cheap, I could store in a small space, and could easily pull out on the few times I wanted to smoke something.

Enter the “ghetto smoker”.  It’s a concept I first discovered while watching Good Eats, and I’ve seen a lot of different adaptations around the web as well.  Basically you take a hot plate and a cast-iron skillet and put it in a “something” (garbage can, large box, a large terracotta pot with another pot inverted over it, etc), and add wood chunks/chips/sawdust to it and turn it on, then place a rack over it and close the whole thing up and go, occasionally adding more wood to it as it runs out.  That’s the gist.

I wanted to spend as little as possible on the whole shebang, otherwise it wasn’t worth my time or money.  I have a large grill, so there is my smoking chamber already accounted for, and it’s now a multitasker.  I picked up a cheap-ass hot plate at the grocery store for $7, and an 8″ cast-iron skillet at Goodwill for $4.  Done and done.  Wood for smoking can be had at Home Depot year round.

A few notes on making and using a ghetto smoker:

  • Whatever you’re smoking must be at an elevation above the smoke/heat source or you’ll get no love.  This elevation cannot be too close to the heat/smoke source or you’ll cook too quickly.
  • Wood chips soaked in water for 30 minutes or so will start smoking quickly, generate more heat, but will be exhausted in less than an hour… wood chunks however will last considerably longer — soaked will last up to 3 hours but are slower to catch and start smoking, dry will catch and smoke right away, but only last about 60 – 90 minutes.  The trick is to refuel with soaked wood before the old wood is completely used up.
  • Eliminate as many air-drafts as you can to keep heat and smoke in, but make sure there are some small holes to let some smoke out.
  • Keep a probe thermometer near whatever you’re smoking to monitor the ambient temperature.  You want this to be between 170 and 200 degrees (depending on what you’re smoking).  Adjust the wood, or the location of the smoked goods to change this.
  • If you’re smoking meat, put a second probe thermometer into the meat to monitor the internal temperature.  There are no set times to follow, temperature is the only way to get it right.
  • Anything that is in the smoke will get smoked.  Thermometers, grills, etc will get covered and stained by a layer of smoke.

So, armed with all this I smoked about a third of my red, ripe jalapeños.  It took about 8 hours, and lots of fiddling to figure things out, but it worked, and worked well.  I pronounce the grill as a ghetto smoker a success… with the caveats being that I cannot get the smoked material directly over the smoke as it’s too close, but to one side and just above, and I now have a very old towel that is dedicated to the task of draping over the back of my grill to close off the gaps that are there by design to let smoke out.

I’ll continue to use this as I see fit to try out some other smoker projects, and if I find myself enjoying it more and more, I’ll make the minimal investment in a $40 smoker from Home Depot.  Now that I have muddled through discovering the basics of what is involved in the process, I have found that I don’t need anything elaborate or huge, just something that satisfies the needs.

Even so, it’s been a fun and cheap project.


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