Adventures in concrete: the smokehouse begins

I continue to be amazed by concrete.

My first experience with it was last fall, when Kevin and I built the deck of the wood-fired oven (still under construction – don’t ask). Until then, it had been on the (very long) list of Things That Are Way Too Complicated to Mess With. I had thought you needed a proper construction education, carefully controlled conditions, and one of those big trucks. Turns out, all you need is concrete mix and a wheelbarrow, and you can work miracles.

And it is miraculous.  You take dust, you add water, you get stone. In any shape you want.

The series of chemical reactions that creates the dust in the first place, and then creates the stone once you add the water, is enormously complicated, but the end user doesn’t need to understand it. All the end user has to do is empty the bag in the wheelbarrow and add water until the mix has the consistency of peanut butter. Then you just put it in your mold, or your hole, and wait for it to harden.

On top of everything else, concrete is cheap. I didn’t think you could buy 80 pounds of anything for $3.75, let alone something they made the Pantheon out of. Yes, for pocket change, you, too can build something that will last until the world ends. Concrete is the best shot most of us will ever have at timelessness.

Such is our commitment to lox that we are using concrete in the foundation of our smokehouse.

We’ve been planning it for months, but we finally got started this past weekend. The timing isn’t a coincidence; we have a deadline. Our six ducks have their date with destiny this week, and we have to get the smokehouse built, and tested, if there’s going to be smoked tea duck in our future.

Kevin borrowed the basic design from Cowgirl of Cowgirl’s Country Life, and the first step of construction was buying a woodstove made from a 55-gallon drum from a junk dealer in Harwich. That woodstove will be the firebox, and Kevin painted it black and put it next to the woodshed. The flue pipe will go uphill, through a rhododendron, to the smokehouse.

And there’s where the concrete comes in. To build the smokehouse, we leveled the ground and built a foundation out of cinderblocks (made from concrete!). In the holes in each corner, we sunk a length of rebar into the ground and then filled the hole with … concrete! Into the concrete we put a length of strapping so we have a way to attach the house to the foundation. The house itself we’ll make out of two layers of rough-sawn pine with insulation in between.

This is the first smokehouse we’ve built, and the permanence of concrete is a double-edged sword. If we screw it up, we’ll have to look at that foundation every day for the rest of our lives, or at least until we can train the rhododendron to grow over it. If, however, our smokehouse is a success, we’ll be able to smoke things until the world ends.

10 people are having a conversation about “Adventures in concrete: the smokehouse begins

  1. …or at least until the pine rots away. Good for you guys! I just bought a book on building smokehouses (Storey Publications) and it appears you can build a smokehouse out of just about anything. That isn’t flammable or off gasses, that is.

    When I lived in Florida my neighbor across the street used to make the best smoked mullet dip from mullet he caught and smoked. He could have sold it and made a fortune. I have no idea what was in it besides the fish, but man it was delish.

    So yeah. A smoker is on the list. Next year’s list.

  2. SBW – We’ll be cold smoking, primarily. For hot smoking, we use a kettle grill and it seems to work fine. Although, if the smokehouse works, too, we may go with that if we have large quantities. And we’ll regulate the temperature by regulating the airflow in the firebox. We don’t have a good sense of how hot it’ll get in there, so it will be something of an experiment.

    Adam — I’m a newbie leading a newbie, but yes, you definitely want to refrigerate it. For a smoked meat to be safe at room temperature, my understanding is that it has to be dried as well as smoked, a la beef jerky. Love your chicken avatar!

    Paula – I’ve never had mullet, but it should be sort of similar to bluefish or mackerel – high in fat, so good to smoke. We’re planning to try cold-smoking bluefish, and we’ll see if we can’t come up with a dip as good as your neighbor’s.

    Tovar – It’ll be my pleasure to share it with you when you’re here. One of the reasons we do this is to feed our friends.

  3. Margaret Fisher says:

    Very cute stove – looks a bit like a short, black one-eyed pig who is hungry! Be sure you don’t burn the woodshed down, or the rhododendron . . .

  4. Tamar- the smokehouse book says that a thermometer is a must for any smoking. Quote, “an oven thermometer is a must for smokehouse equipment.” What are you guys doing for racks and all that? Or are you just doing hooks? Or some sort of set up for both situations, as they come up?

  5. OMG! I have smokehouse envy! As you know I have been puttering around with my bullet smoker, oh but to have a smokehouse… I can’t wait to see your set up in action!

  6. Dave Proulx says:

    Wow, now that’s cool. And I thought I was in good shape with a couple of charcoal smokers and a new fangled electric jobber.

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