MacGyver and The Potbelly Stove

Last month we took our first family vacation. Making a conscious decision this year to take a relaxing vacation, we decided to be in one place–for an extended period of time–with little or no agenda. Of course, there are those activities one can’t help but look forward to on vacation (activities like reading, hiking, and cooking). In the weeks leading up to our week away from it all, I was struck by the notion of smoking beef brisket, a cooking method requiring time, the smoke of hickory chips, and low cooking temperatures. This would be a first for me, and the experience led to a startling self-discovery.

The preparations for the experiment began in the days leading up to our departure for the far North: the acquisition of beef brisket and a smoker with which to cook it. When my parents’ next-door neighbor–a retired Army drill Sergent–passed away suddenly, he left a treasure trove of cooking apparatus in his garage. I acquired a rotisserie, and my parents found themselves with a smoker. Our last stop before leaving for Drummond Island, therefore, was to pick up the latter. It, however, didn’t fit in our vehicle, as it was already nearly full. Of course, I had anticipated this and had envisioned creating a natural smoker in the good earth on the shore of Lake Huron. I was reminded, however, that Drummond Island is sheer rock. That is how we left for the island with beef brisket in tote, no way to smoke it, and the starry-eyed optimism that a way would materialize.

Upon arrival at our destination on the southern end of the world’s third largest fresh water island, I went rummaging through an out-building on the property, looking for anything that could be re-purposed as a smoker. There’s a dim memory I have of a picture book where a group of children go into an overstuffed attic to play. The boys find broom sticks that double as swords and horses. The girls wrap themselves in cloth, don lampshades as hats, and hold a beauty pageant. It’s a story of ingenuity and imagination, a power of the mind that I fear I seldom employ in a world where too often video games and television become our sole forms of entertainment. In my search for a make-shift smoker, that part of the brain somehow came back to life, and I found my oven in a dismantled potbelly stove.

Because cooking beef brisket is an all-day affair, I awoke early on a Tuesday morning and began by transporting the stove by wheel barrel from the outbuilding down to the rocky lake shore. There were two grills from the garage that fit perfectly inside the oven, forming two levels. A drip pan was placed on the middle level and coals were kindled below. The brisket slow-cooked over the course of about eight hours on the upper level. Every two hours or so, I added hickory chips drenched in beer to the hot coals, resulting in a sweet smoke that flavored the meat. With the sun dipping low in the western sky, my wife and I savored the thinly cut pieces of hickory-smoked beef around the campfire.

Something really did come to life that day, a part of the mind that lay dormant for quite some time. Call it ingenuity. Call it creativity. Call it dogged determination. I’ll call it the inner MacGyver.

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This Autumn has been incredibly kind to us. It almost beckons us to extend the grilling–and smoking–season. If you find yourself looking to smoke some beef brisket, we just got some in. Click here for product availability.

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