By Mike Thayer
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:
- 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
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.
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.
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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!