Saturday, July 27, 2013

Recalibrating the Presto Electric Skillet

While cooking any given meal in a cast iron skillet is my usual preference, I have found that an electric skillet does a fine job of cooking pancakes & hoecakes.  Not just any ole electric skillet, though – it HAS to have a bare-metal surface because the Teflon® coated versions tend to produce a leathery-skinned product.  Since non-Teflon® coated electric skillets are a scarcity nowadays, I was thrilled to find an antique one during a trip to Branson Missouri last year to keep in the Airstream so that the house’s skillet did not have to be loaded for every trip.  But after the last camping trip, I finally decided that the skillet just was not getting hot enough - it was time to recalibrate the skillet’s thermostat.

After opening up the thermostat to locate the calibration screw, I noticed the cover had a removable plug directly over the screw.  That’s something you don’t see on newer models.

So after removing the plug & reassembling the thermostat, the skillet was set up in my shop with an 1/8-inch of peanut oil, a timer, and a temperature probe.  Sure enough, after about five minutes, the skillet cycled off after only reaching 370 degrees instead of the dialed-in 400 degrees.

While hanging out & drinking beer, the thermostat’s screw was gently tweaked until the skillet heated to the requested temperature.

I managed to stretch it in to almost a three beer project.  Of note, the thermostat appears to be designed for a 25 degree differential (the temp difference between cycling ON & OFF).

What an improvement!  The hoecakes cooked that night came out great in a short amount of time, and went well with the pork chops.

It looks like we are going to have perfect pancakes & hash browns on our upcoming trip to Topsail Hill in Florida.  I can hardly wait!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cinder Block BBQ Pit Smoker

One thing I have always wanted to experiment with has been BBQing food in a block pit smoker.  Since my last yard task entailed re-stacking all the concrete block in my brick pile, I decided to seize the opportunity, and restack the block without mortar in the shape of a smoker.

The cool thing was that the project cost nothing out-of-pocket – The brick lintel was left over from building my shop, and the cooking grate was borrowed from my Brinkmann smoker.  The grate is supported on a couple pieces of flat steel fished out of my metal bin.  The stainless steel lid was originally one side if a stove we used to have and the log grate was borrowed from the house’s fireplace.  Its location at the corner of our lot kept it from detracting from the house.

With a cooking temperature between 250 & 275 degrees, the pit did an outstanding job of smoking thighs & kielbasa.

In another experiment for that night’s meal, I made a loaf of bread with French’s® French Fried Onions as the secret ingredient.

While the bread had a good flavor, the size of the onion pieces made it kind of chunky.  Fortunately, the BBQ stood well on its own.

The only problem with the smoker was the small size of the cooking surface.  It was obvious that fitting slabs of ribs on it was going to be just as problematic as it was on my Brinkmann smoker from which the small grate had been borrowed.

Although the flavor always turned out well, I would rather the ribs lay out straight & horizontal.

Since I wanted to get better at both ribs, and cooking with hickory over a block pit, the pit was re-stacked to be a half-block wider.

This yielded a cooking area measuring 16” X 24”

A pork butt was chosen for the inaugural meal because I want to get better at controlling the non-charcoal fire before trying ribs.

Another improvement was adding a thermometer to the middle of the lid to make it easier to monitor the smoke’s temperature.

While I’ve still got a lot to learn about ‘caveman cooking’, it has been a lot of fun so far.