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November 2022

Condensed Soup Battle: Campbell's vs. store brand vs. discount brand

20221128_175537By Mike Thayer

Condensed soup, it's a staple in so many American households.

There are all kinds of soup options to choose from, from classic chicken noodle to split pea with ham and bacon. Some soups are great as is, just add some water or milk per the instructions and viola, you've got a good bowl of soup.  Other varieties are better suited for recipes, such as cream of mushroom for a Thanksgiving green bean casserole.

Without question, Campbell's is the King of the Condensed Soup Hill with the largest selection of soups available.  But when it comes to the pantry basics of condensed soups, is Campbell's really any better than a store or discount brand?

Condensed Soup Ingredient Review
For the most part, the list of ingredients for all soups were essentially the same.

I pondered that question when making a green bean casserole for Thanksgiving.  Regular readers know I usually don't get hung up on name brands.  But there are folks out there and you know who you are, that swear by Campbell's because it's "higher quality and tastes better."

Really?

So a debate turned into a challenge.  I went out and shopped for some condensed soup basics.  Some soups I ate in a side-by-side comparison, like chicken noodle and tomato (grilled cheese & tomato soup - comfort food YUM!).  Other soups, I used in a side dish preparation to see if there's any noticeable difference in the dish.

Classic comfort food meal, tomato soup and grilled cheese
Chef's Cupboard Tomato Soup made with milk and a grilled ham & cheese.

In purchasing soups for the Bachelor on the Cheap Condensed Soup Battle, I ran into this inconsistency: The mainstream grocery store, Dillon's (Kroger) on Harry & Edgemoor, was having a sale on Campbell's soups, 4 for $5. I mistakenly grabbed the wrong variety of Campbell's tomato soup, so in running errands I stopped at another Dillon's store, Harry & Webb, same day... they weren't running the same Campbell's soup sale, they were doing 3 cans for $5. I found that a bit inconsistent, store Manager's discretion I guess.

Here's a snapshot of the price differences...

Cream of Mushroom

  • Campbell's:  $1.25 for a 10.75 ounce can
  • Kroger:  $1 for a 10.5 ounce can
  • Chef's Cupboard (Aldi):  $0.49 for a 10.5 ounce can
Chicken Noodle Soup Comparison
No, Campbell's doesn't have any more noodles than the other brands reviewed.

Cream of Chicken

  • Campbell's: $1.25
  • Kroger:  $1
  • Chef's Cupboard:  0.49

Tomato

  • Campbell's: $1.67
  • Kroger:  $1
  • Chef's Cupboard:  $0.68

Chicken Noodle

  • Campbell's: $1.29
  • Kroger:  $0.89
  • Chef's Cupboard: $0.68

With Campbell's being a negligible 0.25 ounces heavier, look at how much cheaper the store brand (Kroger) and discount brand (Aldi) soups are than Campbell's.  So aren't you curious?  Is Campbell's really any better than Kroger or Chef's Cupboard?  Or are you paying more than you should for a name?

Side-by-Side Comparison

Chicken Noodle Soup Comparison
Kroger has the shortest noodle... (there is a joke to be made here, but this is a family blog)

Are the mushroom pieces in Campbell's bigger, chunkier?  Does Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup have more noodles?  Which tomato soup is the more robust?  Does one Cream of Chicken Soup have more meat than another?

Ingredients

In a review of the ingredient lists for all soups, they were for the most part essentially the same.  Using the mushroom soup as an example, all soups contained the obvious base ingredients of water, mushrooms, some kind of vegetable oil, corn starch, flour, salt, cream, whey, yeast extract, garlic, and nuances down the list making each recipe unique.  So on paper, three very similar recipes.  Next up, a visual and taste review.

Visual

  • Side dish idea using Cream of Chicken soup
    A side dish idea (In my case, dinner...), Cream of Chicken Soup over noodles, topped with a bit of parsley.  Just off the stove, it's steaming hot!
    Cream of Mushroom:  No distinguishable difference for any soup in a visual.  Color essentially the same, mushroom bits and pieces all pretty much the same, with varying small sizes, some pieces bigger than others in all cans.
  • Cream of Chicken: Variations of yellow color, with Campbell's being the brightest.  Nothing to distinguish one soup over another when it comes to the chicken meat. 
  • Tomato:  Not much of a visual competition here, it's tomato soup.  Slight variations of red tomato color.
  • Chicken Noodle:  Campbell's and Chef's Cupboard look pretty much the same.  Kroger color is lighter, pale in comparison.  The bits of chicken meat were essentially the same in all three soups.  On the noodle front, I don't know if you're familiar with the Campbell's claim that each can of their soup is made with over 32 feet of fresh egg noodles. And no, I didn't take the time to lay all the noodles out to measure...  But all soups weighed out about the same in noodles.  Campbell's did have the longer noodles, Kroger, the shortest on average.  
Cream of Mushroom Soup Idea
A change of pace baked potato, topped with mushroom soup.

Taste

  • Cream of Mushroom:  I couldn't distinguish any difference between the Campbell's and Chef's Cupboard brands, both were equally good.  The Kroger brand however was a bit 'off' in the flavor department.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad, but it had kind of an oily feel to it which was a bit off putting.  Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation:  Chef's Cupboard.  It tastes as good as Campbell's at less than half the price!  And when it comes time again to make another green bean casserole, I will NOT be buying the Kroger brand of mushroom soup, 'jus say'n.
  • Cream of Chicken: I have to give the nod to Campbell's here.  It has a more robust flavor, with notes of celery, garlic and onion in the finish, ingredients not found in the other brands.  Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation:  Campbell's.  It's the best tasting and will add a more robust flavor to whatever recipe that calls for Cream of Chicken soup.
  • Tomato: I like to heat up my tomato soup with milk, sometimes heavy cream for an even richer flavor.  I also like to add onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and red pepper flake, but I didn't do the normal doctoring with this review in mind.  Keeping it simple, I added the canful of milk and nothing else.  I enjoyed all soups served with a grilled cheese sandwich and of course, I dipped.  All soups delivered on the comfort food factor, with Campbell's having and ever-so-slight edge in taste over the store and discount brands.  Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation:  Chef's Cupboard based on price.  While Campbell's did edge out Chef's Cupboard in flavor by a thin margin, the flavor factor isn't enough to overlook the price difference.
  • Chicken Noodle:   For me, canned chicken noodle soup doesn't really need any doctoring, short of a few dashes of black pepper.  I like the broth flavor of canned chicken noodle soup and all three of these were tasty, with no soup being any tastier than the other.  The chunks of chicken were about the same as well.  The noodles were all similar in taste and texture.  It would be fun to do a blind taste test, I don't think there would be a clear winner here.  Bachelor on the Cheap Recommendation:  Chef's Cupboard, based on price.

Campbell's makes a reliably good product and there are so many tasty varieties to choose from, but overall, you are paying extra for a name.  Chef's Cupboard soups are also good, they just don't have the variety.  Stacking up well vs. Campbell's in a soup basics flavor and price comparison, I'll go with Chef's Cupboard every time with exception to Cream of Chicken, where Campbell's stands out.  Campbell's is also the way to go if you're looking for something a little different or a new flavor to try given the choices they provide.  As for the Kroger brand, I rate it a Plan B purchase.  And as for the Name Brand proponent claim that Campbell's uses higher quality ingredients?...  Nothing was found to be inferior in the store or discount brands during the review.  When it comes to the "Campbell's Tastes Better" claim, that holds true with a better recipe when it comes to the Cream of Chicken Soup, it's a negligible factor with the Tomato Soup but doesn't pan out with Chicken Noodle soup and only beats out Kroger with Cream of Mushroom.

Recipes

This post wouldn't be complete without adding a few easy meal/side dish recipes.

Green Bean CasseroleGreen Bean Casserole - You can't have Thanksgiving without green bean casserole, you just can't.  That's like getting a new pair of gloves but they're both 'lefts,' which on the one hand is great, but on the other hand, it's just not right.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
  • 2 cans of French cut style green beans, drained (French cut makes for a nicer presentation and hangs on to the mushroom soup better)
  • 1 can water chestnuts, drained and halved
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 1/3 cups French Fried Onions (amount divided in directions below)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F.  Stir all ingredients and 2/3 cup of the French Fried onions in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper.  Bake for 25 minutes or until hot.  Give the casserole a quick stir and sprinkle with the remaining 2/3 cup onions.  Bake for another 5 minutes or until the onions are golden, brown and delicious.

This dish is also quite popular at Christmas time.  Costing about $6, it only takes about 10 minutes to prep for the oven and feeds a bunch. 

Stove Top Chicken & Rice w/broccoli - I like this recipe because it makes use of leftover rice and it's a dinner that can be put together in about 15 minutes without messing up too many dishes.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Healthy pinch of Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups of leftover rice
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh broccoli florets

Directions:  Heat up a large skillet over medium heat.  Dress the chicken with the salt and pepper and once the pan is hot, add the olive oil to the pan.  When the oil starts to shimmer, brown the chicken on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.  Add the water, milk, cream of chicken soup and the remaining seasonings, stir to combine.  Add the rice and broccoli, stir to incorporate.  Re-introduce the chicken to the pan, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until the chicken is done and the broccoli is tender-crisp.

Crock Pot Crack Chicken Sliders - This is SO easy and SO delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 - 2 pounds of boneless/skinless chicken breasts or thighs (I prefer thighs, they have more flavor)
  • 1 packet of dry Ranch seasoning
  • 1 can of Campbell's Cheddar soup
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese
  • 3 slices of cooked and crumbled bacon (leftover from breakfast)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional garnish)
  • Chopped green onion for garnish
  • One bag of King's Hawaiian rolls (or something similar)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:  Place the chicken in a crock pot, sprinkle on the Ranch seasoning, top with the cheddar cheese soup and cream cheese.  Cover.  Set on low this delicious no fuss meal will be ready in 6 - 8 hours, set on high about 4 hours.  Shred the chicken in the crock pot using two forks.  Serve topped with the crumbled bacon, optional shredded cheddar cheese and chopped green onion on the slider buns.  Don't have slider buns?  No worries!  This recipe is also great served on a bed of noodles or rice.

Soup Hacks

Rice:  Traditional rice is typically made using a 2-1 ratio, 1 part rice to 2 parts liquid.  Water is good.  A chicken, beef or fish stock is even better.  But if you want a creamier rice, use 1 part water and 1 part cream of something soup.  Cream of Chicken is excellent.  Cream of Mushroom is a good option.  Make a Spanish rice with tomato soup.  There are really quite a few good options here, Cream of Broccoli, Golden Mushroom, Asparagus, Cheddar and more.  And don't stop at kicking a rice side dish up a notch, see below!

Potatoes:  Potatoes just about any style are complimented by a cream soup.  Top a baked potato with Cream of Mushroom or Cream of Chicken and yes, there is a Cream of Bacon soup!  Top fried potatoes with Cream of Onion soup.  Hit those hash browns with Cheddar soup instead of ketchup.  Have mashed potatoes but no gravy?  Break out a can of condensed soup.

Gravy Replacement:  When you don't feel like whipping up a scratch made gravy... or what you made is lumpy and not all that good...   Break out a can of Cream of Chicken or Cream of Mushroom soup, add a can of water and boom!  You've got gravy.

Noodles:  You've seen those flavored pasta packages made by the likes of Knorr, but why pay $1.50 for a little 4 ounce package of broccoli & cheddar noodles when you can make a whole mess of pasta for WAY cheaper at home?  Use your imagination, pairing your favorite pasta shapes with your favorite cream soup flavors.

Vegetables:  Pair up a veggie side with Cheddar soup, kids that don't typically like veggies will like this!  Other change of pace options to consider are pairing up veggies with their cream soup cousin, Cream of Broccoli, Cream of Asparagus and there's always the 'Jack of all Trades' soup that always adds flavor, Cream of Celery.

Other:  Tomato soup is a great base for an impromptu red enchilada sauce.  TEASER ALERT!  This soup hack section has motivated me to write a Soup Hack Recipe Post.  Stay tuned...

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Enjoy this post?

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If you appreciate the article you just read and want to support more great content on BachelorontheCheap.com, you can help keep this site going with a one-time or a monthly donation.  Thank you so much for your support! ~ Mike

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Easy Peasy Meal: Chunky Soup over Rice

Chunky Beef
A pantry staple in my house

By Mike Thayer

This quick dinner hack - I can't really call it a recipe - hails back to my days growing up, a young teen, when my Mom, then a single Mom, would be at work and it was up to my three sisters and I to fix dinner.  It wouldn't have been right for Mom to come home from work, throw on an apron and cook dinner.  No, it was the kids' responsibility (we took turns) to fix a hot meal so Mom could relax a bit and enjoy the dinner hour after a long day at the office.

Minute Rice
Always on hand in my childhood home

One of the go-to meals my Mom taught me how to make was some kind of Chunky soup over rice.  It was a really easy meal to put together, using Minute Rice prepared using the box direction which was topped with Chunky Beef, Chicken or Turkey soup.  Taking about 15 minutes to put together, along with lettuce salad and rolls or bread and butter, this meal was tasty and satisfying.  That time frame includes setting the table by the way...

I still eat this meal to this day, but I've kicked things up a notch, replacing the white Minute Rice with traditional rice that's leftover.  It could be Jasmine or Basmati rice, it could be brown rice, a wild rice blend, rice pilaf, heck, I've even used leftover fried rice.  A traditional rice just tastes so much better than Minute Rice.  When it comes to soup, Campbell's only had four varieties of Chunky soup back in the day, the options have multiplied big time since then with more than 40 variations to choose from to include a spicy line.  And you don't have to restrict yourself to Campbell's Chunky soups either.  Just about any kind of soup will do.  

Bombay Basmati Rice
Replacing Minute Rice with a traditional long grain rice = more flavor.

For me this is a childhood comfort food meal.  We ate Chunky Soup over rice frequently and not just because it's quite tasty, hearty, or easy to put together, but because it's economical too.  I eat it for all those reasons today and besides, it's just the ticket after a long day and wanting to simply chill out enjoying a no fuss dinner.

Easy Peasy Chunky Soup Over Rice

In case you don't have any leftover rice, here's a quick recipe using a traditional white rice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 2 cups of chicken stock (WAY tastier than using plain 'ol water!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 can of Campbell's Chunky soup, what kind is up to you.  You can't go wrong with Chunky Beef.

Directions:

Mom
Thanks Mom! Chunky Soup over rice, a dinner tradition.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, then add the rice and dry ingredients.  Saute for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, then lid and turn the heat down to a low simmer.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Do NOT remove the lid, do NOT stir during this time.  While the rice is cooking, warm up the soup, either on the stove or in the microwave.  I prefer the stove top, it gives you the opportunity to doctor it up a bit, perhaps adding some garlic, extra veggies, perhaps some cayenne pepper or Frank's hot sauce.  When the rice is done, top it with the warmed up soup.  Serve immediately.  

Bachelor on the Cheap wallet friendly this meal only costs about $3 to prepare, that's a bargain and if you're a bachelor like yours truly, you'll have leftovers!

$pend Wisely My Friends...

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If you appreciate the article you just read and want to support more great content on BachelorontheCheap.com, you can help keep this site going with a one-time or a monthly donation.  Thank you so much for your support! ~ Mike

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Wendy's New Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich is Pretty Satisfying

Wendy's New Italian Chicken Sandwich
A Chicken Parmesan kind of sandwich

By Mike Thayer

Apparently the Chicken Sandwich War is still going on.

Firing a big salvo, Burger King debuted its new "Royal" Crispy Chicken lineup of chicken sandwiches earlier this month, offering three different varieties:  BK Royal Crispy Chicken, BK Spicy Royal Crispy Chicken and BK Bacon & Swiss Cheese Royal Crispy Chicken.

Not to be out-gunned, Wendy's fired back, announcing a limited-time-only lineup of Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwiches.  Wendy's has three Italian Chicken options, Classic, Spicy, or Grilled.  All the sandwiches feature not just a slice of mozzarella to give you that Chicken Parmesan feel, but a breaded, crispy, melty and THICK, FRIED MOZZARELLA PATTY.  Wendy's also offers an Italian Mozzarella Cheeseburger option, which I'll sample on a later date.

Wendy's New Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich
A look under the lid, typical fast food prep, a bit sloppy and heavier to one side with the marinara.

To maximize the Chicken Parmesan experience, I went with the Classic option, a breaded and fried chicken breast.  Here's the description from the Wendy's website:  A juicy, lightly breaded crispy chicken breast, topped with deep-fried melty mozzarella, Asiago cheese and rich marinara sauce all on a garlic knot bun. 

This is a very satisfying chicken sandwich that hits all the Chicken Parmesan notes.  The chicken breast was nicely fried, juicy and had a nice breaded crunch.  Adding crunch to the party was that fried mozzarella PATTY, which is really what puts this sandwich over the top, going WAY above and beyond what a single slice of melted but 'naked' mozzarella would deliver.  And Wendy's didn't stop there, they include a melted slice of Asiago cheese in this sandwich, putting even more Italian punch in every bite.  Complimented by a decent marinara sauce that leans sour rather than sweet and a soft garlic knot bun, Wendy's has created a Pub Food sandwich before the Pubs have!  It's appetizers on a bun if you will, not only a spin on Chicken Parm, but a spin on fried mozzarella sticks + fried chicken + sauce = YUM!  Too bad Wendy's doesn't serve beer to go with it.  Watch, you'll start seeing this sandwich on Bar/Pub menus...

Wendy's Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich
That's melted Asiago cheese on top of the fried chicken breast, held up by the thumb is a FRIED MOZZARELLA PATTY!

Costing me $6.99 for the sandwich, I'm giving the Wendy's New Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich 4 out of 5 Bachelor on the Cheap stars.  It's reasonably priced and quite satisfying with a good chicken to bun ratio, and a GREAT melted cheese to bun ratio.  The only knock I've got on this sandwich is the marinara which isn't bad, it's certainly not overly sweet like you get at some joints and I'm thankful for that, but it's not a finger kiss off the lips kind of sauce either.  Available for a limited time, this is a repeat buy sandwich.

4 stars

The Wendy's visited on this occasion is located at 160 S Rock Rd, Wichita, KS 67207.  I hit the place at lunch time, there was a long line in the drive thru so I went inside to place a to-go order.  I was in and out in quickly and the service was polite and very efficient. The self service area was clean and well stocked which can be tough to maintain during the lunch rush.  The new building has a nice modern look with a better customer friendly flow to it.  Wendy's has 'upped' their digs and the menu!

Related: Who makes the best chicken sandwich in fast food? They are listed here from worst to first

Related:   Food Review: Burger King Italian Chicken Sandwich

Wendy's New Italian Mozzarella Chicken Sandwich
It's a satisfying Chicken Parm Sandwich mouthful!

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Enjoy this post?

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If you appreciate the article you just read and want to support more great content on BachelorontheCheap.com, you can help keep this site going with a one-time or a monthly donation.  Thank you so much for your support! ~ Mike

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Who has the best Mac & Cheese in fast food?

Fast food mac & cheeseBy Mike Thayer

Mac & Cheese is a trending side dish, rising in consumer demand and more restaurants are putting the classic comfort food on their menus.  It's always been a standard offering in diners, but now you're seeing it in fast food, fast casual and bars.

I've done a breakdown of not just the mac & cheese offerings from fast food restaurants, but I've reviewed some boxed mac & cheese dinners as well.

And then there's the best mac-n-cheese, making your own from scratch for a baked in the oven delight!

Here are the reviews, starting with fast food:

Arby's White Cheddar Mac & Cheese ranked 2 stars

Chick-fil-A's Mac & Cheese ranked 3 stars

Church's Mac & Cheese ranked 3 stars

KFC's Mac & Cheese ranked 3 stars

QT Kitchens Classic Mac & Cheese ranked 3 stars

Popeye's Homestyle Mac & Cheese ranked 4 stars

Related: Food Review: The Mac & Cheese from Church's Fried Chicken

Related:  Fast Food Mac & Cheese Battle: Arby's vs. Chick-fil-A vs. KFC

Related: Food Review: QuikTrip BBQ Sandwich and a Mac & Cheese side

Related: Food Review: Popeyes' Homestyle Mac & Cheese

And the bar offerings (Whiskey Dick's has a stellar Mac-n-Cheese)...

Related: Best in Wichita Metro Burger Challenge 2022: How does Whiskey Dick's rate?

Related: Best in Wichita Metro Burger Challenge 2022: How does Twin Peaks rate?

And then when it comes to boxed mac & cheese...

Related:  Food Review: Cheetos Mac'N Cheese vs. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese - Bachelor on the Cheap

Related: Food Review: Cheese Club Macaroni and Cheese Dinner from Aldi

And the ultimate, making your own from scratch...

Related: Scratch made Mac-n-Cheese deserves a spot on your Thanksgiving table

$pend Wisely My Friends...

Enjoy this post?

Buy Me a Coffee

If you appreciate the article you just read and want to support more great content on BachelorontheCheap.com, you can help keep this site going with a one-time or a monthly donation.  Thank you so much for your support! ~ Mike

follow me on twitter @Bacheloronthe1

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Grilling Good Eats: How and when to use the snake method for low and slow deliciousness

Snake Method
A Weber Kettle can be used as a smoker

By Mike Thayer

When you hear somebody say they’re going to fire up the BBQ and put some burgers on, chuckle.

Doing up some burgers is grilling, not BBQ. Grilling is hot fire, searing meats, quick cooking tasty morsels over direct heat like, you guessed it, burgers! Hot dogs, kabobs, pork chops and steaks are all excellent fare for grilling.

Real BBQ isn’t about burgers or hot dogs, BBQ is about a method of cooking - low and slow - it’s about infusing smoky flavor into meats over a long period of time. A low and slow method is perfect for larger cuts of meat like beef brisket, pork shoulder, ribs, whole chickens or turkey that are smoked for hours at a time using indirect heat, they‘re not close to the fire.

"But Mike, don't I need a smoker to do that?" you ask...

No!  You can use your grill, heck, I've even repurposed an old roasting pan, turning it into a mini-smoker.  A Weber Kettle grill can crank out some great smoked meats and BBQ using a charcoal set up called the Snake Method.

Going low and slow on a Weber Kettle or similar style grills is easy. To set up the Snake, what you want to do is put a semi-circle of briquettes at least two briquettes across around the inside edge of the grill. Do NOT connect the starting and finish points (head and tail), we‘re building a snake, not a circle. You can also do this with square or rectangular grills, just line the walls with your briquettes and remember - DO NOT connect the head and the tail. After making your ‘snake’ put about 15 briquettes in your charcoal chimney and light. When you see that orange glow, add them to one end of the snake. This is also a great time to add wood chunks, dropping them in spots along your ‘snake’ lined coals. Put on your cooking grate and place your meats in the center of the grill, there shouldn‘t be any coals underneath it. There you go, indirect heat and the grill’s lid is going to do the work for you. Put the lid on and keep it on, only take it off to turn your roast or whatever you decided to smoke about half way through the recommended cooking time for example. Don’t lift the lid to check it after just 30 minutes, don’t lift the lid just to get a better whiff of what’s cooking, you’ll release all the low and slow heat the lid has built up to put that great smokiness into the meat. What you are smoking and how long a cook you need will determine the height and depth of your snake. Pictured, is a standard 2x1 snake (two briquettes, one layer). Without the wood chunks, that snake setup typically gives you cook time of about six hours at 225 degrees. Putting another layer of briquettes on top will extend your cook time, but it will also increase the temperature. Each grill is different, learning the best build for your snake will come with experience. I like to use an aluminum pan filled with water along with the snake, it helps maintain a steady temperature and keeps the meat moist, the result is a better smoke flavor on the meat.

Roast Beef
Roast Beef done on a Weber, using the Snake Method

TIP:  Do NOT soak wood chips in water! You want clean smoke with a slight blue hue flavoring your food. White smoke - which is what you get with wet wood - is a BITTER smoke, which means food with a bitter taste.  Personally, I think wood chips are a waste of money (they're made for gas grills), I buy wood chunks. They have a much longer burn time and deliver a better smoke flavor than chips.

Meats ideally suited for low and slow deliciousness using the Snake Method:

  • Ribs
  • Pork Shoulder, a.k.a., Pork Butt
  • Whole Pork Loin
  • Beef Roast
  • Brisket
  • Whole Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Spiral Ham, Ham Roast
  • Salmon
  • Leg of Lamb, Lamb Roast
  • Meat Loaf (and wrapped in bacon... It's Another Dose of YUM!)

$pend Wisely My Friends...

For more great grilling information to include a boat load of recipes, check out my book, Grilling Good Eats now available in paperback on Amazon!

Grilling Good Eats Book


Repurpose that old roaster pan, turn it into a smoker

By Mike Thayer

Repurpose an old roaster
I use this old roaster more now as a mini-smoker/grill, than I ever did as a traditional roaster.

So I'm cleaning out the cabinets, downsizing some things I don't need or is little to not used and came across a traditional roasting pan for the oven.  Used perhaps twice a year (if that) and in need of a small patio or impromptu picnic sized smoker/grill, I decided to turn that traditional roasting pan designed for the oven, into a mini-smoker!

This is great for the bachelor such as yours truly or the couple with no kids.  There's no need to buy a brand new smoker when you've got something that's not being used for its intended purpose or a wedding gift collecting dust on hand.  Don't sell the roaster at a garage sale, don't take it to the second hand store, convert it into a smoker!  It's absolutely perfect when smoking meats and more, for one or two people.

Here's what I did, instructions laid out like a recipe:

Ingredients

  • Old roasting pan, with roasting rack and preferably, a lid.  It can't be a roaster with Teflon coating though, that won't work.
  • Drill, drill bits
  • Charcoal
  • Meat

Directions

Turning an old roaster into a mini-smoker or grill
Drill holes for drafting, 2 - 3 per side

Most all roasting pans are either oval or rectangle shaped, so drill four - six holes in the pan using a 3/8, 5/16, or 1/2" bit (depending on the size of the roaster), drill two or three holes per long side of the pan on each side, about a quarter inch from the bottom.  This allows for proper ventilation of the charcoal or wood.  Fire needs to breathe.  The roasting rack, becomes your smoking rack.  If your lid already comes with vents, fantastic, if not, no big deal, drill two sets of two small holes on each end using a 3/8" drill bit.  This allows your 'new' smoker to draft and vent smoke, just like the store bought smokers.  You are now ready to smoke or grill.

One of the best features of this mini-smoker, is that you don't need much charcoal at all to cook up a great meal.  You'll be able to prepare a fine meal with perhaps 18 - 20 briquettes, that's it!  Use the snake method for low and slow cooks using the lid for smoking or use the roaster, no lid, to grill your favorites using skewers.

To smoke

Snake method charcoal set up
Set up for low and slow, add some wood chunks and/or pellets and it's ready to be lit.

This mini-smoker is perfect for using what's called the 'snake method' of laying out your charcoal.  What you're going to do is line the bottom edge of your smoker with charcoal or wood in a semi-oval like as pictured right.  Leave a gap, creating a 'head and tail' of a snake.  You'll be lighting the 'head' end of the snake and it will burn towards the tail, giving you even heat around the meat throughout the smoking process.   To get things rolling, fire up just a small handful of charcoal briquettes and when they are hot, apply to the head of the 'snake.'  Don't let those starter briquettes touch the tail, add wood chunks or pellets if desired.  Pellets work best. Next, put down your grilling rack on top of the snake.  Then place your meat or whatever you're smoking in the center of the rack.  Put the lid on and let that new mini-smoker work it's magic.  This mini-smoker is great for small roasts, steak for two, pork chops and a couple baked potatoes for two, peach cobbler for two using those mini cast iron skillets.  Use your imagination.

To use like a grill....

Skewers come in handy here and you'll need a bit more charcoal...  Just skewer up your grill fare, shrimp, kabobs, hot dogs, whatever, and lay those skewers over the narrow side of the smoker.  Metal skewers work best here.  The long bamboo skewers will work too, just remember to soak them in water for about 30 minutes before you load them up with food.  Meat on a stick doesn't get any better than this!  You can also purchase one of those universal grill grates and just place it on top of the roaster pan for doing something like burgers, just be careful about slippage of the grate.  A grill glove comes in handy in that case.

And as I hinted earlier, this is a great set-up for cooking with a small cast iron skillet.  Again, using the snake method of laying out your charcoal, a small cast iron skillet works great in cooking up burgers with some great smoky flavor, awesome baked beans and absolutely fantastic desserts!  Your little smoker will generate some outstanding deliciousness!  Play with it, add wood chips or pellets for more layers of flavor. 

Enjoy!

Related Story:  Repurposing that old file cabinet - turn it into a grill

Grilling up some meat on a stick.....  Pork loin kabobs and hot dogs

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$pend Wisely My Friends...

For more great grilling information to include a boat load of recipes, check out my book, Grilling Good Eats now available in paperback on Amazon!

Grilling Good Eats Book