Category Archives: Grilling, BBQ and Smoking

At last! Good hardwood charcoal is Pittsburgh!!!

Another BBQ post…

Pittsburghers rejoice!  GFS Marketplace in Robinson Town Center (next to Costco)  is carrying the USA-made version of Royal Oak brand hardwood lump charcoal!  Royal Oak is rated "highly recommeded" by the charcoal guru the Nakedwhiz.

I have not been able to find half-way decent hardwood charcoal in Pittsburgh anywhere till now.  All that we could get here is Kingsford (no thanks) and Cowboy (burns too hot for me, but OK for grilling – not smoking).  I was actually mail-ordering charcoal, which I think is ridiculous.

Everyone run out to GFS and buy the Royal Oak so that they continue to carry it.  I bought three 20 lb bags yesterday to get me through the next couple of months.

Building a Cold-Smoker for Cheese with a “Primo-Brand” Grill

This post will be a short departure from woodworking, and will be about my ongoing experiments with my “Primo-brand” smoker.

Last winter my son and I watched an Alton Brown “Good Eats” episode on Food Network TV that showed him making both a “hot” smoker and a “cold” smoker out of hardware-store parts and other misc junk.

A “cold” smoker is used to smoke things like cheese that cannot get hot during the smoking process or they will melt.  You want to smoke without cooking the food.  The temp needs to stay somewhere below 90-degrees (F)  while still providing a lot of smoke to the cheese.

We wanted to try to build a cold-smoker by creating something that would mount on my Primo “hot” smoker rather than starting from scratch as Alton did in the show.   The goal is to pull the smoke away from the grill that has the fire and heat in it, while letting the heat escape elsewhere.

So, based on Alton’s principals…this is what we came up with:

Our contraption  consists of a typical hardwood charcoal fire in the Primo grill (the large black thing built into the tabletop) with a quantity of apple wood on top of the coals to generate the smoke.   The internal temp of the Primo is stable at around 300-degrees for this experiment.

I then attached a 6 foot length of flexible aluminum dryer vent pipe to the top vent of the Primo’s lid and roughly sealed the connection with some aluminum foil.

The dryer vent pipe then runs through a cooler that is full of water and ice to keep the pipe cool.  See below:

I used my charcoal chimney with a brick on it to weigh down the pipe into the water.

The dryer-vent pipe then terminates between the lid and base of my small tabletop Weber grill that we use when we go to a park or somewhere that requires grill portability.  I then filled the rest of the gap between the base of the Weber grill and the lid of the Weber with a bent piece of aluminum roofing-flashing (the gold colored stuff).   It is plain aluminum on the inside so as to not contaminate the food with any chemicals.

The lid then sits on the aluminum gap filler as shown below.

There is no fire or charcoal of any type in the Weber grill.   The cheese (or other food for cold smoking) sits on the Weber’s grate as normal, but the only thing happening inside of that grill is the delivery of smoke from the dryer vent-pipe.  The grill is otherwise empty (I forgot to take photos of this).

You can see the yellow thermometer on the lid of the Weber in the photo above.  It reads 63-degrees (F).  We never broke 71-degrees through the entire smoke!   The contraption worked great.

You can see the back of my son’s head in this photo pushing air into the Primo with a small set of fireplace bellows.   Not sure that this was necessary, but it did increase the smoke volume from time to time (although there was plenty of smoke anyway).

For the first batch of cheese we smoke pieces of cheddar, provolone and mozzarella (all at the same time) for 45 minutes.  Wow, were they smoky!!  I think that 45 minutes was a bit too long and the cheese was a little harsh for me, but some tasters quite liked it.  Next run will be less than 30 minutes.

Note that cheese smoked in this way hardly changes color at all unlike the “smoked” cheese you get in the grocery store.  I am told that the color on the store bought smoked cheese is artificial.

All-in-all, this was a fun, easy and cheap (less than $20) experiment that mostly succeeded.  I would say that the device works well, and we just need to work on smoking time, recipe, etc.

Great Grill Covers

I bought a "custom-made" grill cover for my home-built Primo grill table project from Mel’s BBQ Covers a couple of months back. I called her with the dimensions of my table, and the cover arrived in a little more than a week.  Excellent.

They are made-to-order (in the USA), are well-priced and are made of thicker, tougher material than any other grill cover that I have seen.


Highly recommended.


This past weekend I experienced a "flashback" with my Primo grill.  I now have no eyebrows to prove it…

See for an explanation of flashback.

If you have a ceramic grill, be careful out there!

BBQ Tools – Thermometers

I’ve been experimenting with my new Primo grill, and I love it.

But, I’ve learned a thing or two already, and bought a couple of "BBQ tools" (hey, any excuse to buy a tool).

First, I noticed that the built in analog thermometer in the lid of the Primo seemed to
read about 25 degrees lower than my digital Polder probe thermometer when I hung the Polder’s probe down through the top vent to a similar
height as the built-in one.  The discrepancy had been causing me some problems in keeping an accurate temperature for "low and slow" cooking.

So, after some advice from the good folks on the Primo users forum, I re-calibrated the Primo’s built in thermometer using the process on their website (click here).   It was, indeed, almost 30 degrees low.

The folks on the forum noted that the calculation on the Primo website did not properly correct for sea-level, so I used a different website this calculation (click here).

Soon after getting the Primo’s thermometer re-calibrated, I "fried" my Polder thermometer (again).  I have killed three Polders in the last couple of years by placing them in environments that are too hot. I have read on the web that temperatures above 400 tend to kill the Polder’s probes, and that seems to be correct from my experience.

So…..I invested in a Thermapen thermometer from ThermoWorks.  Too expensive?  Yes….but it works up to 572 degrees and reads in 4 seconds.  I love it.  Hey, Alton Brown says that it is #1 and I agree.

Polders are good for the kitchen, but don’t work well for me on the grill.

“Primo” Grill/Smoker Cart Complete!

Here it is!  The “Primo” ceramic smoker cart is complete!   The project only took about two afternoons to complete including designing and buying the materials.  I am pleased with the result.

The cart is made from standard pressure-treated lumber from Home Depot for the legs and the horizontal structural components (just 4×4 and 2×4 material) and Trex-brand composite decking for the shelf and top surfaces.  Since Trex cannot support much weight, the pressure-treated lumber was necessary for the structural components.

I basically copied the overall cart design from the photographs of the cart that Primo sells on their website.  I used the dimensions that they listed on their price-sheet as my guide to overall size.   I even copied the “curve” to the front edge of the top surface.

They made their version from Cypress wood, and I considered doing the same….but the cost did not seem to be worth it, and I went with Home-Depot-available materials.

I placed four 12x12x1 concrete pads onto the bottom shelf underneath the grill to protect the Trex shelf from heat.  These were just paving stones from Home Depot at about a dollar each.  I placed them as close to the front edge of the bottom shelf as possible, so that when cleaning ash out of the grill it will fall onto the concrete and not onto the Trex.

The wheels are replacement solid-rubber handcart wheels also purchased from Home Depot.  Since this grill and cart are HEAVY (I’m guessing north of 500 lbs between them), I did not want to use inflatable wheels that could go flat easily.  The front wheels are industrial-rated swiveling casters from Woodcraft.

I cut the opening for the grill and the curve on the cart top with a jig saw after making and tracing a paper template onto the cart top.  After cutting with the jigsaw, I sanded the edges smooth with a palm and a belt-sander and then routed a small radius on the top edge to finish it.  The routed edge really makes a difference in the final look of the cart.

I liked working with the Trex material, it was easy to cut, route and sand.  It is heavy (much heavier than wood) and expensive though. ..about $18 for 1x6x8.   But, since it will last forever with no maintenance, it guess it makes up for the cost in the long-run.

Finally, note my “grill bucket” that is sitting on top of the cart in the first picture.  This is just a 5-gallon bucket with a Bucket Boss placed on it (also from Home Depot).  I have found that this arrangement works great for carrying my grilling tools, etc in and out of the house between grilling sessions.

Experiments with Kamado Cooking

As has often happened with the desk project, a short “intermission” project in the workshop has intervened in progress.

My wonderful family got me a great combination birthday/father’s day gift…  A ceramic grill/smoker from Primo Grills and Smokers.    I have long enjoyed grilling, and as my wife says “The ceramic cooker should allow for many hours of your obsessive experimentation”….she knows me well.

From their website  “Ceramic Cooking has been practiced in Asian countries for over 3,000 years. It remains a popular cooking method. Ceramic allows food to cook evenly with minimal moisture loss.”    The image below is credited from the Primo website explaining how these cookers work.

This is also known as a “Kamado” cooker and I have been wanting to try one out for awhile.    The better known “Big Green Egg” brand ceramic cooker is of the same type as the Primo.  My wife chose the Primo for its larger size, and I think that she made a very good choice (she knows that bigger is usually better in my book!).  Both the Primo and “the Egg” get excellent reviews on-line and I do not think that she could have made a bad choice.

I have found the website “The Naked Whiz” , that provides a great deal of information on the Ceramic Cookers.   The Naked Whiz also provides an interesting review of lump hardwood charcoals. These seem to be hard to find in Pittsburgh, and will require some research.

Unfortunately,  due to demand this time of year and limited distribution, my Primo has still not arrived (they are made in small batches in the US).    But that’s OK, because it will give me time to build a work-stand/cart for the grill prior to its arrival.   Its always great when your hobbies can collide in this manner!

The grills come designed to be free-standing, but it seems that almost all owners either build or buy a stand to raise the grill to a convenient  height, and to allow for work surfaces  (again, see “the Whiz”).  The pre-made stand that Primo sells is made from Cypress, and I briefly considered building one out of Cypress also…..but  I decided to go with less-expensive and easier to find treated-lumber structural components with Trex-brand manufactured decking material as the work surfaces.

I know…..normally I would go with all wood also, but in this case I am being practical…strange but true.

I bought the material yesterday, and will begin construction shortly and post photos.  Once I start work on this, I expect to be able to finish the cart in one long afternoon.  An easy project.