mankitchen.org

Hunger is an excuse for a project

Archive for December, 2011

Road trip turkey

It’s crazy, the extent to which we take electricity for granted. I read about the average hours that Baghdad has power every day, or just about any other major city outside the developed world, and it blows me away. “I didn’t return your email yesterday because we didn’t have any power” is a legit excuse. Admittedly, I don’t live in one of those places.

So it felt a little 3rd wordlish when OPALCO sent us an email telling us that our power would be out for 7 hours the other night. This is an island problem. There is only one extension cord over here, so if they have to jigger the outlet, they have to unplug it. It’s kind of cool when it happens, actually. 30 miles from the nearest city, with no cars on the road, it gets fucking dark. I kind of like looking over the water and watching the darkness flick on like someone hit the dark-switch.

Kind of a bummer, though, if you’re running  a big experiment with 200 mussels depending on pumps, air compressors, chillers and controllers to hold their experimental conditions just so. Shutting all that down took a few hours to make sure everything failed gracefully and didn’t get hosed if the power bounced when it was restored. But, with 50 minutes to spare, I was done, and turned my thoughts to other bummers of a power outage.

Kind of a bummer, too, if you’ve got a freezer full of meat. And another fridge full of cheese and stuff. 7 hours isn’t forever, but it’s long enough to ruin shit. I had some time to think about it, so I went to check the meat freezer. There was a frozen turkey on the top. It wasn’t like a special turkey. It was the one that I bought for $0.49 / pound the day after thanksgiving last year. I’ve been meaning to cook it, but for tonight, it’s an ice pack. I drag it over to the fridge and toss it in. Lot of thermal inertia there. But about that freezer… I look down the hill and what do I see but a diesel generator for a mission critical piece of equipment down the road. Awww… isn’t that sweet. I’m not gonna rewire it or anything, but I stroll down, just to look and all. And there’s an outlet, sticking out the side of the crossover panel. I pace back to the freezer; 150′ . Done and done. I briefly consider the load, and reckon that they must have oversized the genset for busy summer months when they had to run more pumps than on this quiet fall night. I round up some extension cords, crack another beer and wait for someone to hit the dark switch. Which OPALCO does 58 seconds after 11:00.

They finish work, or at least get around to turning on the power, 15 minutes early. I know because all the lights come on at 05:45. I get up and restart the experiment, pretty pleased with how everything rode it out.

The freezer was fine, too. Then I go check the fridge. Cool. Ooh… but the turkey is getting soft. This bird was dead a year ago. Only one thing to do. Mankitchen this meat.

I’ve been wanting to build a bunk bed, too. Tessa’s too big for a crib, even without the guard rail. And their room is so full of shit, that something has to happen.Loft bed. Big kid over, little under. Lots of floor space. There was a time when I would have just gone to the hardware store and gotten busy. I probably left 4 such beds behind in college. But now I’ve got so much going on that I need to get it right on the first try. I hit the interwebs looking for plans. I’m a little disturbed by building my 6-year old girl a bed that’s guaranteed orgy-proof, but damn if these guys aren’t the shit. The $10 on plans was the best value of the bed project.

Now I needed to build it. And cook this bird, don’t forget that. I live in a 900 sq ft cottage with no garage. Plenty big for a turkey, but cutting the bed in the kitchen was going to be a problem. I needed help. Obviously, Adam. For one thing, he’s got the sweet workshop, and I’ve got a lot to learn about how to follow woodworking plans. And he likes turkey.

So I load up the smoker and the well thawed turkey and head over.

I mean, I stopped to brine the turkey in a bucket of salt (2 cu) and brown sugar (2 cu) water. 12 hours in the brine, then 24 hours out of the brine to let the salt distribute.  Meanwhile, I went lumber shopping. Browne’s had really nice 2×6′s and really shitty 2×4′s. I felt like a douche sorting through a whole palette of lumber for the one that won’t give me a splinter, but this is for a 6 year old. I bought all the hardware from those orgy-proof guys who sell nuts and bots at crazy-cheap prices. Though next time I’d skip the wing nuts and use nylocks instead. In fact, I later replaced them.

I bust out the smoker. I should have written about this by now, since it’s the inspiration for this damn blog, but I haven’t. And now it’s too late because I’m 900 words in. So go to the master, and read his idea of what a smoker should look like. Honestly, I copied shamelessly, though I’ll detail my system in a different post someday.

Anyway, I drag the smoker out of the car and set it up on Adam’s patio. Fire it up, get the computer connected to his network and toss the bird in. Usual data inputs: Air temp, one in the breast, one in the thigh or wherever I think I’m sticking it in the thigh. Handful of woodchips on the heater. In nothing flat, we’re in the shop, working on the bed.

All the  setup shit took longer than I thought. I set the air temp at 220°F, figuring that if it came down to it, at T-100min and counting, I’d shove it into the oven.

The bed went well. Adam saved me hours of screwing around by having the correct tool hanging right where it’s handy. He’s got the experience to jig it up, too… I’m sitting there with a tape measuring out 10 holes at the same spacing and he’s lining up a plywood block on the drill press. Much better. In a couple of hours, we have most of the pieces laid out, cut, and are drilling the holes. Um. Except we’re short a couple a drillbits. Adam’s got a sweet shop, no doubt. But he’s short a 7/16 bit or 2. For some reason, this makes me feel better about my life. I go to the store.

Now, one of the reasons than smoking is so fun is that the computer does all the work. One dedicated control unit holds the temperature in the smoker while another computer monitors the smoker and the meat. And, provided I have cell service, I know about it. For instance, if a raccoon knocks over the smoker, the air temp will drop and trigger an alarm and a text message. So I head to Ace without worrying about the smoking. And as soon as i get there, my phone buzzes. Text:”Air too low.” Fuck. Probably Adam fucking with me. I keep shopping. Buzz. Apparently, the air is still too low. I call Adam to tell him to knock this shit off. “Hey Raccoon. Get away from the smoker!” Adam has no idea what I’m talking about; he goes to look, but the smoker hasn’t budged. I make for the checkstand and buy the drills. A shitload of programming is earning its keep but I’m shopping and 15 minutes away.

I get home and check the temp curve on the monitoring computer. It’s ugly. It basically went from 200 down to about 160°F. But the temperature controller is smiling like a dope. Seriously, it’s reading 220°F like nothing is happening. I slap the bitch. And burn my hand. WTF? The temperature controller is too hot the touch. I think about this: the temperature controller is reading a Type-K thermocouple mounted in the smoker. Which means that it has a cold junction inside the box somewhere: a precision resistor that tells it what voltage would equal zero. I wonder what that cold junction thinks about hot as shit? My first thought is that the relay inside the box is fucked up, but then I touch the bottom that’s heat-sinked to and realize that’s not the case. Only the top of the box is too hot. It may be October, but what sun there is hits right on the controller. Adam just got a cool new IR temp probe which confirms that the relevant circuits are hot.

In the end, I toss a piece of white tile over the temperature controller. Within minutes, it’s dropped enough to touch. 15 minutes later, the controller starts working again. Moral of the story: don’t stick a temperature controller in the sun and expect it to work. Moral 2: have a backup system to tell you if the control system screws up.

I have no idea how much this put our bird off its game. Before this adventure, I was pretty confident the bird would come off a little early, but now I’m not sure. I punch the smoker temp to 250°F and go back to drilling holes in the bed. It’s going together really well. These OP guys know how to build a bed, and they’ve got all the drill holes laid out so it’s just a matter of following the printouts. Still a lot of work. Then it’s time to bolt it together, which again, is just a matter of following plans.

Every now and then, I go take a look at the bird. At one point, I notice a stick of butter on the counter. A stick of butter that I’d touched while prepping the turkey. Now, I have my own theories on food safety,  but I’m not going to put it back in the fridge. Nor, however, am I going to throw it away. I open the smoker and jam the stick of butter into the turkey cavity. Just for luck.

By 5:00, it’s pretty obvious that the smoker isn’t going to finish dinner on time. Whatever. The smoke flavor is in there already, so I flip the oven to 325 and prepare to get the bird in there. It takes some doing to disentangle all the stupid thermocouples, but I manage. The computer crashes, but I think we’re done with that game anyway. I stick it in at about 5:30 with the meat still at 138°F. Not hopeless, but we won’t be eating at 6:00, either.

The dinner party starts to show up. I’m done using power tools and am slapping a coat of primer on the bed by now, so it’s high time to open a beer. Fortunately, Justin has one handy. Actually, I’m not even doing the slapping; what kid doesn’t like to paint? And here we are outdoors with a primer coat that no one will see. It is true that Eliza had white streaks in her hair for a week, but everyone had a great time. I finally have to take over when I realize we may or may not have enough primer in the can depending on how much ends up on the ground.

I finish the paint in a hurry and run in to check on the bird. It’s up to temp now, so I pull it out, cover it with foil and get things cleaned up. Other folks have taken care of vegetables and stuff that people think goes well with turkey. I stay focused on the meat.

By the time I carve it up, it’s almost 7:00. But the bed is nearly finished. And the turkey is friggin’ awesome. Juicy, smokey and delicious. I can’t wait to try it with a bird that hasn’t been in the freezer a year. Good thing Thanksgiving is just around the corner.