Friday, July 21, 2017


I've started a new blog: Brush Country Farm, and I've copied over the UDS build instructions over there.  It'll cover other things like hobby farming, getting out of the city, and more BBQ.  Will eventually shut this one down since I don't maintain it.  I hope those who are giving the UDS a try are having good luck.

Join me over at

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Cook your steak directly on the coals.  It's worth it.
It's not directly tied to a drum smoker or BBQ, but let's call "caveman steaks" a close cousin.  BBQ writer and critic Daniel Vaughn, aka the BBQ Snob (@BBQsnob on Twitter) was tweeting about this method of cooking a while back, and I decided to check it out.  It is great, and I think you should give it a try.

Cooking a steak caveman style is simple - it's searing your steaks directly on hot coals.  That's it.  The result is a fantastically seared exterior with a nice smoky flavor. 

From what I've read, President Eisenhower liked his steaks cooked this way, thus you will sometimes hear it referred to as an Eisenhower steak.  The other moniker you'll hear is dirty steaks for obvious reasons, although in reality they do not get dirty with ash as the name may imply.

Here's what you'll need:
- Your preferred cut of steak
- Kosher salt
- Coarse ground pepper
- Natural lump charcoal (do not use briquettes)
- An open pit or grill
- Long tongs for handling the steak

Season your steaks liberally with the salt and pepper.  Set them out and let them come to room temperature.  For my cook I used T-bones, about 1 inch (3 cm) thick.

Meanwhile, get your lump charcoal started.  They're ready when they are no longer producing flames, and are ashed over with bright embers throughout.  It'll take 15-30 minutes.  Once the coals are ready, try to spread them out evenly to make as flat and uniform of a surface as you can.

Remember, only use natural lump charcoal.

Nearly ready, just letting those flames die down.
Before putting the steaks onto the coals, fan them off to remove any small embers and lose ash.

Moment of truth - place your steaks directly on the coals.  Don't run off, because you'll need to flip them soon.  For my steaks, I found that about 3 to 3 and 1/2 minutes per side worked perfectly and resulted in medium rare-to-medium cooked steaks.  That said, when you flip your steaks will depend on how hot your coals are and the thickness of your steaks. 

They will not burn or catch on fire.  A little flame here and there is normal.
When flipping, a hot coal may be stuck to your steak.  A gentle shake will dislodge it.  When you're done cooking, you can use a cooking brush to wipe off any lose embers or ash.  Upon inspection, I found none on my steaks.

Let the steaks rest for at least 10 minutes before cutting into them. 

The result was excellent - a salty, seared exterior and a great smoky flavor.

Q: Won't the steaks be covered in ash?
A: No.  If any ash is on your steak, it's minimal and will likely dissolve.  Feel free to have a brush ready to remove any ash or embers you come across after taking the steaks off the coals, but you likely won't find any.

Q: What kind of charcoal do you use?
A: Natural lump charcoal, NO briquettes.  This is about the only hard and fast rule you'll find for cooking this way.  Briquettes have fillers that you may not want coming into direct contact with your food, and they are inherently produce more ash that lump charcoal.  I picked up a bag of lump (a mix of hickory and oak) at Home Depot for about $10.

Q: How thick should the steaks be?
A: I honestly don't think they have to be overly thick.  I've found several videos and articles saying you must use really thick steaks because you need something hearty that can withstand the torturous heat.  When you step back and think about it, all you're doing is searing your steaks.  And because it's such a high heat, if you have a really thick cut, the exterior could get more charred than you'd want while trying to cook the cut through.  In the Alton Brown video in the link below, he cooks skirt steak this way.  Skirt steak is relatively thin, maybe 1/2 inch (1.5 cm) thick.  You will see other examples in the videos below of steaks in the 2 to 3 inch thickness range.

Steve Raichlen's video is the best I found for a start to finish demonstration on cooking caveman steaks.  He also makes a pepper sauce that I want to try in the future.  Raichlen video link.

Alton Brown of 'Good Eats' demonstrates cooking the thinner skirt steak directly on the coals.  He will make you feel reassured about ash on your meat.  Alton Brown video link.

This BBQGuys video is a good demo, especially if you want to get really primal and cook in a hole in the ground.  BBQGuys video.

The chef at Ox Restaurant in Portland demonstrates cooking dirty steak at his restaurant.  Ox video

Tim Byers of Smoke in Plano, TX cooks up a meal centered around a giant cut of meat cooked on the coals.  Smoke video

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Update on my UDS

I've been using this UDS for a few months now, and here's what I've cooked on it thus far.  3 pork shoulders, 2 briskets, 1 rack of ribs, and several links of sausage from the local meat market.  Here are some things I've learned about my UDS and cooking with it.

1.  Sunlight is its friend.  I have learned the cooking temperature will change significantly between being in the shadows and in sunlight.  I cook in my backyard, generally on the east side of my house.  As the sun transitions to the west the shadow from the house will cover the smoker and in a short while the temperature drops about 15 degrees.  The same is true in the morning as the sun rises and sunlight hits it in the morning when I started it early: the temperature will climb.

Here comes the shadow. 

2.  It can hold a temperature pretty darn well.  I'm still not terribly comfortable with "set it and forget it."  But unlike the stick burner I was using where I would check it several times an hour, I'm not afraid to get it going early in the morning, then go back to sleep for a couple of hours because I'm confident the temperature will be at or near where I set it.  With that said, I do need to keep sunlight and shadows in mind.  The most impressive temperature success story was a pork shoulder I cooked when it rained hard for about an hour in cool temperatures (maybe 55 degrees), and the UDS kept trucking once I opened the intake valves a little bit extra.

3.  Getting it fired up.  Using the "minion method" for starting the charcoal, and using about 20-25 briquettes for the starting batch, I can get the temperature up and stabilized in about 30-45 minutes from adding the starting batch of charcoal to the rest of the pile.

4.  Max cooking time.  The longest it has gone on one load of fuel was when I cooked a 10 lb brisket using a 20 lb bag of Kingsford Charcoal and about 2-3 lbs of oak wood.  It went for 15 hours before it no longer had enough fuel to keep it going above 200 degrees.  When I inspected it later, I found maybe 1 lb of fuel remaining, but the ash catcher pan was nearly full.  Even if it had more charcoal, it was struggling to get air with the ash piling up as it had.  To combat this, for my next long cook I will install long bolts attached to the charcoal grate as legs that will raise the grate up a little higher off the ash pan and will hopefully encourage more airflow.

Here are some photos from a few cooks thus far...

2nd cook.  Spilled grease on it.  It's fully "ugly" now.
Nighttime ops.  Running steady a 3:00 AM. 

First pork shoulder.  Excellent.

First thing I cooked was a pork shoulder since it's so forgiving.
Ribs were great.

St Louis cut.  Ribs aren't my favorite, but these were great.  Nice short cook compared to the shoulders & briskets.

I threw these raw deer sausages on with about an hour to go for the ribs. 

This is my 2nd brisket.  Very proud of this one.

I cut a little too thick on the flat side of the brisket, but it was tender and had a nice fat cap.

I've used hickory chunks for the pork shoulder and ribs.
I used oak chunks with my brisket.  Here is my first use of the minion method for starting the charcoal.  It gets hotter much faster this way.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013