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Posted on Jul 6, 2007 | 24 comments

Burgers in flowerpot smoker, recipes

Burgers in flowerpot smoker, recipes

Last year for Father’s Day I made my husband a claypot “flowerpot smoker” as shown on Alton Brown’s TV show “Good Eats”. It’s basically a makeshift insulated smoker that could easily cost US$1000 if you bought a Kamado or Big Green Egg ceramic smoker– the benefits of this general type of smoker are the heat retention and ability to cook at low temperatures for extended periods of time (think pork butt) or super-high temperatures. We pulled it out for that classic Fourth of July meal: hot dogs and hamburgers, with a smoky twist.

Smoked burger lunch

Contents: Tuna and bean salad with vinaigrette (recipe below), marinated cucumber and tomatoes in ponzu-sanbaizu dressing (recipe below), tangerine teriyaki tofu, smoked hamburger and barbecue sauce in container, and hot dog bun. I wound up putting the burger pieces, lettuce and barbecue sauce in the hot dog bun, and eating it like a sandwich.

Morning prep time: 8 minutes, using leftover smoked hamburgers and tuna/bean salad. The tofu (leftover from grilling) was already prepped and marinating in the refrigerator; I just quickly pan-fried it to give it a nice sear. While that was on the stove I quickly sliced and dressed an English cucumber and some cherry tomatoes, and filled the sauce container.

Packing: I used lettuce as an edible divider around the smoked hamburger, and cut both hamburger and tofu into bite-sized pieces as it’s difficult to cut things already packed up in a lunch. A reusable silicone mini muffin cup holds the tuna & bean salad, keeping the vinaigrette from mingling with the tofu. Packed in my 500ml Leaflet box, there’s also a little pick for the tofu and cucumber/tomatoes, and a little clear spoon for the tuna/bean salad.

Cooking: Both hamburgers and hot dogs were wood-smoked for an hour in our flowerpot smoker (details below), with guidance from recipes in the informative barbecue cookbook Smoke & Spice: Cooking with Smoke, the Real Way to Barbecue by James Beard Award-winning authors Cheryl and Bill Jamison. This is the fastest thing we’ve ever smoked; the pork butts below took 15 hours last year! The smoked hamburger was a standout, with seasoning mixed in, a dry rub on the outside, and a mop sauce during cooking. My lord, they were tasty!

Flowerpot smoker Pork butt BBQ

Click for recipes for quick bean salad and salad dressing, flowerpot smoker details/review, and kid + husband meals

Equipment: After watching the Q episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats analytic cooking show last year, I got out my tape measure and went to the hardware store to duplicate his flowerpot smoker setup. It consists of two large terra cotta flowerpots (one for the base, one for the lid), three bricks to mount it on, an electric coil burner in the bottom, a metal pie pan on the burner, a circular grill set inside the main pot, a grill thermometer set in a drainage hole in the top, little dishes to cover (or vent) the additional drainage holes, and a probe thermometer snaking in the top to measure the internal temperature of the meat. You throw some dry wood chips onto the pie plate set on the electric coil burner, put in your meat, and monitor the temperature. We’ve also used it for pork butt, chicken, and maybe ribs (have to ask my husband the BBQ authority if we actually used the smoker or just smoked it on the grill).

Advantage: Price! I put this together for about US$70, so it’s a cheap entry point to insulated smoking. Because it retains heat, it can barbecue at low temperatures (200-230 deg. C) over long periods of time.

Disadvantages: The $10 electric coil burners tend to die after a few extended uses, and lifting the lid to add more wood chips is unwieldy when hot. With the coil burner control being inside the pot, temperature can be challenging to regulate. The smoke residue builds up over time, so the insides of the pot should either be treated for easy cleaning or lined with aluminum foil. We haven’t done either and our burner just died, so we’re now considering next steps (replace the burner and clean the insides, smoke in our charcoal grill, look for a ceramic smoker, get a regular smoker?). One thing’s for sure, though: we love the results of low and slow smoking over wood.

Smoked burger lunch for preschooler

Contents of Bug’s meal: Same as mine, but with the addition of smoked hot dogs. These were okay, but nowhere near the flavor heights of the smoked hamburgers, which were fantastic and worth doing again. Packed in a 600ml two-tier Basis 1 box with a deep bottom tier for the hot dog bun. This lunch was too big for two-year-old Bug; he left one of the buns and half of the hamburger (which I then ate).

Smoked burger lunch

Contents of husband’s meal: Same as ours, with the addition of some leftover sliced onions that acted as gap fillers to stabilize the meal for transport. The onions were for the do-it-yourself sandwich.

Packing: I packed the marinated cucumber and tomatoes in a disposable plastic food cup with lid to contain the dressing (often sold in bulk at restaurant supply stores like Smart & Final). Packed in a 810ml Clex box by Asvel, good for big appetites according to the bento box size guidelines.

Ponzu-Sanbaizu Salad Dressing

  • 2 parts sanbaizu (simple recipes here)
  • 2 parts ponzu
  • 1 part sesame oil
  • 1 part extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • toasted sesame seeds, crushed (optional)

Combine all ingredients, shake.

Tuna and White Bean Salad

SPEED TIP: You can speed this up significantly for rushed mornings by using a bottled vinaigrette or Italian dressing. Just add it to beans and tuna, mix and pack!

  • 1 can (15 oz.) white beans (you can also substitute pinto beans, pink beans, etc.)
  • 2 Tb red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tb balsamic vinegar (optional, but fabulous)
  • 2 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano or 1/2 tsp fresh
  • 1/4 cup red onion or shallots, chopped and rinsed to “deflame”
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can (6.5 oz) tuna fish, drained
  1. Drain and rinse beans in cold water. Drain.
  2. In a medium bowl, make a vinaigrette with the vinegars, oil, garlic, oregano, onion, salt and pepper (mix well).
  3. Add drained beans and rinsed red onion to the vinaigrette, stir to coat.
  4. Break up the tuna into smaller chunks, and toss with the beans. Serve.

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  1. That smoker is awesome! Usually, here in Norway we are notorious for having a lot of smoked food (you can buy almost all sausages smoked, not to mention our famous smoked salmon). I have a mini-smoker for camping trips that I use to smoke fish. It’s made of metal and you just put in pines and wood etc. to give the fish a lovely flavour. However, you just lit up the wood inside soit does not require a grill to heat it up. But this one here I’ll have to try, we have a lot of ceramic pots so that should not be a problem ;)

  2. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog, here and on LiveJournal. I am a HUGE bento fan and your pictures and detailed commentary never fail to inspire. Thanks!

  3. Hi!I’ve been looking at your lunch in a box…it’s really KAWAII!I’m italian, I live in Rome and I’m really fond of japan culture, food and, of course, japanese!!!Let’s keep in touch^^
    ‘Bye!

  4. You made your own smoker?! That’s awesome. I might have to try it out :) You’re always full of great tips, biggie!

  5. @1 from amvn:
    Do you actually put pine in your smoker? We’d been avoiding the more resinous soft woods for the smoker, but I’m curious what you have to say as a Norwegian.

  6. @2 from Jessica:
    You know, we’ve hot-smoked salmon so far, but no other fish (and we haven’t even attempted cold smoking — although Alton Brown of course has a makeshift alternative using a huge cardboard box). What’s your favorite smoked food?

  7. @3 from Aurora:
    Thanks for the kind words, Aurora!

  8. @4 from Ichigo:
    Ciao and thank you, Ichigo! I think we have mutual admiration going on then, because I’m very enamored of authentic, fresh Italian food.

  9. @5 from masami:
    Thanks, masami/mamichan! The flowerpot smoker was a gentle, cheap first step into serious smoking for us. It did take a while in the hardware store and a gardening store to find exactly the right combination of pots/racks to fit together, but it was tremendously rewarding!

  10. @6 – 7 Biggie, I’ve used pine when i’ve made gravlax instead of dill. If you use the pine wood it will scent whatever you are smoking, like hickory or liquid smoke.

    I love hot-smoked salmon too. In all fairness that make up the majority of the smoked foods that I eat, although I am also a smoked sausage fan. I eat alot of them, like salami and other sausages that are available that are slightly smoked and that you cook more before eating.
    You can smoke any fish so if I can get my hands on it I get smoked herring (VERY good), trout (heaven!), or whatever else I can find. I also like gravlax ALOT, I make my own since buying it in the amount that I eat makes it cheaper to make it yourself. If you make gravlax yourself, the thing you have to be careful with is that you stick with the amount of salt and sugar given in the recipe. The seasoning itself is yours yo play around with, but as with making preserves the salt/sugar cannot be switched around.

    If I smoked my own foods I would not cold-smoke myself. There has been some food awareness alerts here where it has become apparent that lack of hygiene and in the smoking process can create the foundation for unpleasant things. The “problem” with cold smoked salmon can be helped if you quickly fry the slices in a hot pan before serving. Creates a salty treat. Eat with mashed potatoes.

  11. We only use the pine wood (splinters), not the actual needles. We vary the wood after which taste we want, as it differs. But some people use sligthly softer woods here as well, they only have to have the heat really low so it doesn’t burn.

  12. Hey, you caught me! I linked to you on my brother’s blog (www.xanga.com/fatnation). Since I found your site (via Danielle on Habeas Brulee) on… Monday? I’ve been obsessively going through your old entries and wanting to bento! So on Tuesday night, I went and bought my first bento set and have been plotting my lunches… everyone thinks I’m crazy but at Day 2, I think I’m pretty happy with the results.
    http://xb0.xanga.com/a71d8656d8332133601909/b97676971.jpg
    http://xec.xanga.com/e6dd812001d32133601918/b97676980.jpg
    Thanks for the great site! I am desperately trying to find your blue moon + bunnies bento set (with the lunch jars inside) because of a nickname (moonbunny) of mine… hehe. Thanks again for such a great site!!!

  13. @11 from Jessica:
    Wow, thanks for all the info! We’ve experimented with a bunch of different woods, but not pine — it certainly would be easy to obtain, though! Good point on food safety with cold smoking; I’ll give it a pass in favor of gravlax… Yum.

  14. @12 from amvn:
    Ah, thanks for the info. I’ll start aging some pine and try it out.

  15. @14, Biggie, be a bit careful with the pine in the beginning when using it as a spice the first time in case you don’t like it ;). do half the fish with it and the rest more traditional. You’ll have the perfect treat for a bagel when the fish is done :).

  16. We’ve smoked on the stovetop — it’s a great way to put that old wok to work, but haven’t moved the operation outside yet.

    That flowerpot lid looks awfully heavy. How do you manage to move it when it’s hot?

  17. @13 from Yvo:
    Cool, welcome to the fold! ;-) Your bentos look delicious — I’d eat them! Good luck on the insulated bento case — I haven’t seen the blue ones at Ichiban Kan in quite a while (only the same ones in rose color, and some others from another manufacturer).

  18. @17 from Fiksu:
    The flowerpot lid IS heavy! We’ve got some heavy leather fireplace gloves that we use to move it with when it’s hot. I’ve read about some people jury-rigging a hook system on the top to make that easier. Thanks for the comment on stovetop smoking — one of these days I’ll try tea-smoking on the stove like I’ve seen on Iron Chef and read about in Chinese cookbooks.

  19. Hello-

    I just stumbled across your site, and I thought I would share a little smoking advice. (Good site by the way)

    I have a New Braunfels offset smoker and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s OK, but it uses a lot of fuel and is finicky. The smokey mountain from Weber is rumored to use less fuel and be less finicky. And for around $200 it’s hard to beat.

    However, I’ve seen people use either system in competitions with success so it could just be the cook!

    Good luck!

  20. @20 from Matt:
    Thanks for the kind comment on the site, Matt! Good info on the New Braunfels offset smoker — I have indeed heard good things about the Smokey Mountain from Weber; I’ve passed your info on to my husband (Mr. BBQ in our household).

  21. I kinda had a feeling alton brown had sumthin’ to do with it I love smoked foods

  22. @22 from Tony: Absolutely! Big props to the big AB.

  23. Like the flower pot idea, might have to try that next! For those with a budget constraint…
    I built a “smoker” for about $5 with my BBQ, now it pulls double duty! You have to have a temp gauge on the BBQ, drill a single hole in the upper side corner of the lid, put a standard pipe fitting in with a 90 deg bend, this acts as your chimney to draw smoke through.

    Now turn on one burner on the opposite side of your chimney, set it to low, monitor the temp in the BBQ, get it stable at 225F, fill your metal container with wood chips, cover it with aluminum foil and poke some holes in the top, set it directly over your lit burner, put the food on the opposite side of the BBQ of the bowl (I like to set mine on the upper rack).

    Quick and easy smoker for those interested in trying it without spending much money! You can get a pipe cap for the “chimney” to plug it off when doing traditional BBQ. I painted mine with a high temp BBQ paint so it would match and not look “engineered”.