Sunday, June 29, 2008


After the first smoke in the Bandera, I was able to see the Hot Spot mentioned online comming from the fire box. The baffle modification is something I will be embracing soon to disperse the heat a bit better and reduce charring. Today the ribs that were on the lowest rack did get a bit charred on the bone side from the hotspot.

Well how was it?

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the meats on our first try with the converted smoker. The brisket was nicely cooked with a visible smoke ring when sliced the untrimmed fat reduced to a nice cap and the meat was both tender moist with a wonderful aroma and flavor.

The pork ribs were equally tender and with a wonderful flavor from the marinade and smoke. The meat of the ribs made that crunch sound when bitten and came off the bone with little effort, the texture of the meat was soft with a nice sweet outer crust and did not load your teeth up.

The Yukon potatoes were similar to stiff mashed potatoes in the skin much better than oven baked they too had the nice smoke aroma and flavor not near the same as the meat but still noticeable.Kind of liek stiff mashed potatos in skin!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Whistle while you smoke

During our first smoke in the newly converted Bandera she behaved lovely and very predictable. fighting the urge to constantly open the smoker door I waited patently as I could and kept the door opeining to a minimum. The mesquite burned hot and created even smoke till it turned into hot coals. I then added some hickory chips that I soaked in some apple juice just for a bit.

I kept the door temp gauge at 250deg F, learning that the door gauges may not read well from the web I used it as a guide. Note that the gaude is hard mounted to a metal door wich may influence the reading, for example of it is really cold outside the metal may be a bit cooler, the same is true if it is very warm out, today here in central New Mexico it was about 89 degrees outside.

I periodically checked the meat with a pocket thermometer and all progressed well, using the a kitchen timer I had anticipated about a 2 hour cook time at the tempurature & rate the meat was cooking. At just before the 2 hour mark the pork ribs were at 165 degrees and we all know that is the safe tempurature for pork. bout 20 minutes beforehand we added some Yukon Gold potatoes that my wife slathered with butter and a shake of black pepper, kosher salt then she wrapped them in foil with the shinny side in.

The first smoke

The conversion completed and now it's time to smoke. We took a trip to Costco and grabbed up a couple of briskets and a pack of pork ribs.

In the Kitchen I prepared the brisket first by using the Jaccard to tenderise it. If you have never heard of or seen a Jaccard you should get one, it has about 60 or so small piercing mini knives that sever tendon's in meat and can transform a normally tough cut into a very nice piece of meat. Try the Chef's Catalog if you are seeking one they have a website and the Jaccard is one of those tools that is really nice to have around.

Next it was time for the brine/marinade...I used the following
Granulated garlic
Italian seasoning (dried herbs)
black pepper
Cayenne pepper
kosher salt
dark Dijon mustard
Yoshida's Teriyaki Marinade
mesquite BBQ sauce
vegetable oil

I fired the smoker back up and added some mesquite chunks to the cast iron pot. Poof! just like that a beautiful puff of blue smoke and the sweet smell of mesquite. I then put some apple juice in the waterpan and loaded the meats. Checked in on the progress about 20 minutes in and this is what I saw...

The Propane conversion is complete

The conversion to propane is now complete. The new bottle was mounted and the unit lit the first try.

Then I took the opportunity to do some low flame testing and then it was time to season the smoker in preparation of it's first use as a propane smoker.

The smoker came right up to a good tempurature in a short time

next I did a couple quick mods. Added a water drain hole in the bottom pan by drilling a quick hole and tapping the sourrounding area with a chisle to promote proper drainage of any water that may find it's way in the pan

the next quick mod was the addition of a screened chimney cover, we have all sorts of critters out here and the last thing I want to find is a family of critters in the smoker lickin drippings.

Mounting the control panel

With the control fabricated it was now time to mount the new panel to the fire box.

Creating a control panel

With the fire element mounted it was then time to figure out a way to mount the controls to the firebox. We get a decent amount of wind here so the design needed to offer some wind protection as well.
Step one make a template:

Test fitting of the template

While I was out gathering supplies I saw a great price on a large baking pan that seemed thick enough to use as material for a control panel

Template design reproduced in metal

A little old school hand benchwork

Test fitment of the new control panel

Time to get on the Gas!

With the Bandera cleaned up a bit and the cast iron pot modification complete in was then time to start the propane conversion. I had seen a few different approaches online but nothing quite like what I had in mind. So here we go...

Fire element placement:
We all know heat rises so the placement of the element at its lowest point was thought to be best, rather than create some kind of bracket to float the fire element I elected to place it right on the floor of the fire box.

Drilling access holes in firebox:

Test fit of fire element grommet

The day I met the Bandera Smoker

Ok so the day I went to pick up the smoker I did not realize how big a Bandera actual was until seeing one. The wieght listed on some of the websites was like 300lbs, of course I said 300 that MUST be a typo. Well guess what I think the Bandera might actually be near 300lbs. I now this because it took 2 of us to load it in the back of my Toyota 4Runner by laying on it's back. Not the best way to transport a 300lb smoker but what the heck, and yes I did put a tarp down first.

At home I began the inspection, looks like the smoker was left unclean and full of ashes for a maybe the winter season, not so bad but except the location of the smoker was near the eve of the house and it looked like some water found it's way into the smoker as the ashes were still damp. Damp ashes & metal do not mix so the ash tray & the bottom lift rack were rusted beyond use. Next on to the fire box inspection, the fire box on the Bandera is made of thick metal and had some pitting and flaky rust that I removed by chipping at the scale and light grinding with a hand grinder. The smoker box was fine too just dirty so I cleaned her all up and started planning the conversion.

Parts list:
propane BBQ fire element
heat control supply line & regulator
propane bottle
heat control mounting panel
cast iron wood chip box

Having had some of this list from the first attempt to build a smoker the task did not take long. I elected to use a cast iron camping pot for the wood box and modify it.

First, remove the legs as they will get in the way

Now it's time to modify the lid so the smoke can get out but still let the pot retain good heat when in use.

Underside of lid after much drilling

The mods to the cast iron pot finished

And then there was a smoker

To start this off I had been thinking about smoker for some time. The first thought was to make one from a metal drum and actually started the project. My goal was to have a gas smoker for quick starts and less tending to the fire as with traditional charcoal or wood smokers. The use of the drum posed a few fabrication issues so that plan was eventually scratched. Then came the search for a new smoker and while searching I discovered a friend that owned a New Braunfels Bandera that he was interested in parting with.
Enters the Bandera, I quickly began research and discoverd how well built the Bandera was. Addtionally I found a bit a of sub culture and a following for the model. Web fourums like the BBQ Brethren and the Yahoo Group The Bandera Brethren that are closly related. By registering on the Yahoo group and posting my plans I was pleased to see other tips and variations of modifications for the Bandera.So I decided to purchase the used Bandera from my friend and do a Propane conversion to it. And this is where we are...