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How to Make a Charcoal Grill From a 55-Gallon Drum

February 2nd, 2010 · Cooking, Home & Garden

How to Make a Charcoal Grill Out of a 55-Gallon Drum

Nothing says summer like an afternoon spent grilling in the backyard.  If you’re the type to entertain large crowds, you may want to think about building your own grill out of a 55-gallon drum.  This grill will be sufficient for any large gathering.

The first thing you’ll need is the right drum.  Choose a 55-gallon drum that is sealed (not one with a lid).  It’s best to use a food-grade drum rather than one that has previously contained oil or chemicals.

To cut the drum, you’ll need a cutting torch (even a small one will suffice), a jigsaw or sawzall with metal cutting blades, or even (if you’re desperate or looking to save a few bucks), a hacksaw.  You’ll need stainless steel door hinges and bolts to connect the lid of the drum to the rest of the grill.  Finally, a small welder will help to attach legs to support the grill.

  1. Start by standing the drum up and cutting it in half from top to bottom so that it is divided into two halves resembling clam shells (see the image above).  Choose one of these to be the top half and the other to be the bottom.
  2. Attach three stainless steel hinges to the inside of the drum to allow the grill to be opened and closed.
  3. You will need three handles on the grill, ideally made of stainless steel with wooden handles.  These handles can be purchased at any large home improvement store.  Two of the handles will attach to the ends of the bottom half of the grill.  This will allow you to move the grill when necessary, either by dragging or by lifting with the help of a friend.  The third handle will attach to the middle of the top half of the grill to allow you to open/close the grill.
  4. Use several stainless steel brackets inside the bottom half of the grill to hold the grilling grate in place.  L-shaped steel brackets work best.
  5. You can use just about any grate that you can find to serve as your grilling surface, as long as it’s stainless steel. Freezer racks, old oven racks, or old grill racks will work well if they’re made of stainless steel and unpainted.
  6. Tack weld steel or iron legs (angle iron works well) to the bottom of the grill.  If you don’t have a welder or don’t know how to use one, bolting can also work well.
  7. Paint the grill with flat black heat resistant grill paint.  You can find this in most large hardware stores in aerosol cans.  You’ll need about three cans to cover a 55-gallon drum well.
  8. Fill the bottom section of the grill with charcoal and lighter fluid and fire it up.  You’re going to want to go through one load of charcoal without grilling any food.  This will burn off impurities inside the barrel and release fumes from your grill paint.  After letting this burn for an hour or so, your grill will be safe to use for food.

Enjoy, and make sure to send any photos of completed grills to info@howtodostuffblog.com and I’ll publish them here.

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How to Prepare Hamburger Patties

February 1st, 2010 · Cooking

How to Prepare Hamburger Patties

flickr - VirtualErn

Nothing identifies you as a master of the grill like a perfectly formed, perfectly cooked hamburger.  The preparation of the perfect burger starts with the perfect patty.  Here’s how to make a great hamburger patty, ready for grilling or broiling.

You’ll need:

Start with some nice, fatty ground beef.  20% is great, although 15% is also fine.  If you’re going for a healthy burger, use leaner beef or even mix in some ground turkey.  Put the ground beef in a large mixing bowl and mix in some of your favorite seasonings with an electric mixer.  I like a bit of chili powder, a splash of A-1 sauce, and some black pepper.  Some people will add an egg, a packet of onion soup mix, or Tabasco.  It’s really up to you.

Decide how large you want your burgers to be.  1/4 lb will give you a relatively small burger.  1/3 lb is pretty typical, and some people will go as large as 1/2 lb per burger.  Let’s say you want to go with 1/3 lb.  If you bought a 3 lb. tube of ground beef, you would divide it into (3×3) 9 equal sections.  Use your kitchen scale to measure these balls of beef to make sure they’re equal in size.

Now the fun part.  You’re going to need a hamburger press here.  Only a press will get you perfectly-formed patties.  Most presses will also put a dimple in the center of the patty that will allow the patty to shrink correctly on the grill, rather than swelling up into a big ball of grease.  Start by spraying your press with nonstick cooking spray.  Put a 1/3rd lb. lump of ground meat into your hamburger press.  Press gently and evenly to form a perfect patty.  Invert the mold and tap gently or use a butter knife to remove the patty from the mold.  Set the patty on a cutting board.  If you’re ready to grill or broil the hamburgers, you’re all set.  If you want to freeze these for future use, keep reading.

When the cutting board is full of patties, put it in the freezer.  We want to freeze these patties just enough so that we can stack them later and they won’t mush together into a giant solid lump of frozen meat (trust me – you don’t want that).  Repeat this process until all the meat has been used up.

If you have patty paper, you’re ready for the next step.  No patty paper?  If you bought the ground beef in the deli section of your local supermarket, the butcher probably wrapped it in butcher paper – the tough paper that’s waxed on one side.  You can fold this paper several times and then use a pair of scissors to cut it into squares approximately the size of your patties as a substitute for patty paper.

After the patties have solidified in the freezer (should take several hours), remove them and stack them with patty paper in between each patty.  When you’re done, wrap them in plastic wrap or an empty plastic bread bag.

After wrapping, put your patties back in the freezer, where they can stay for up to 4 months.  Beyond that, they are still safe to eat, but will deteriorate in flavor and potentially get freezer burn.

There you go – perfect patties.

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How to Carve a Pumpkin

January 31st, 2010 · Holidays

How to Carve a Pumpkin

flickr - Just Us 3

Every Halloween kids and the young at heart take to the pumpkin patch looking for that perfect soon-to-be-Jack-’O-lantern.  Here’s a step-by-step on how to carve the perfect pumpkin:

You’re going to need:

  • A round, smooth pumpkin – tall or short are both OK
  • A short sharp knife, or (even better) a pumpkin carving knife
  • A large spoon
  • A fine-tipped felt or permanent marker
  • Vegetable oil
  • A large bowl to collect seeds and pumpkin gunk
  • Candy corn
  1. Start by drawing a hexagon around the stem of the pumpkin that is large enough to fit your hand through with a some room to spare.  Eat some candy corn.
  2. Carefully cut out the hexagon “lid,” angling the handle of the knife slightly away from the center of the pumpkin.  This angle will help to keep the lid in place.  Eat some more candy corn.
  3. Remove the lid and cut away the seeds and gunk that will be attached to the bottom of it.  Save the seeds if you want to roast them later.
  4. Now reach in and scoop out all the gunk and seeds from the inside of the pumpkin.  A large spoon will help with this.  This is the kids’ favorite part.  Wash your hands and – you guessed it – treat yourself to some more candy corn.
  5. When the inside of the pumpkin is clean, carefully draw your pattern on the outside of the pumpkin.  Don’t make the details too fine, or it will be very difficult to carve.
  6. Use your sharp knife to carefully pierce the pumpkin inside of the facial features and carefully cut along the lines you’ve drawn.  This is where a pumpkin carving knife will really help to get the finer details.
  7. Remove the facial features by pressing on them from the inside with your hand or a spoon.  Reward yourself with another handful of candy corn.
  8. When the eyes, mouth, etc. have been removed, rub some vegetable oil on the inside of the carved facial features and inside the pumpkin.  This will help it to stay fresh.
  9. Set a small votive or tea candle inside the pumpkin and light it.  This will create the subtle glow that’s so reminiscent of Halloween.

Stand back and admire your handiwork, then look mournfully at your empty bag of candy corn.  Better get some more before the trick-or-treaters arrive!

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How to Grill a Chicken Breast

January 31st, 2010 · Cooking

How to Grill a Chicken Breast

flickr - Christine

Most people who attempt to grill chicken breasts end up with a tough, dry, flavorless piece of meat.  Here’s a way to guarantee flavorful, moist grilled chicken breasts.

We’ve already talked about the greatness that is brining.  Here you’re going to do a mini-brine.  Put the chicken breasts in a large ziplock bag or other container with 2 cups of cold water, 1/2 tbsp of salt, and 1/2 tbsp of sugar.  Feel free to add other herbs here as well.  Mix well to combine and refrigerate for 3-6 hours.

Remove the chicken breasts, rinse them, and pat them dry with paper towel.  Now you can dust them with your favorite spice blend.  A blend of cinnamon, cayenne pepper, paprika, coriander, or other spices will enhance the flavor of the chicken breast.  Many pre-blended chicken seasonings are also available at any grocery store.

Preheat your grill to medium-high and grill the breasts for 3 minutes on each side.  This is just to seal in the flavor and leave some nice grill marks.  Then (this is the important bit), lower the heat of the grill and/or move the breasts to a cooler part of the grill.

Here it’s important to check the breasts periodically with a meat thermometer.  You have a meat thermometer, don’t you?  While you can guess at the doneness of the breasts by poking them with a knife and checking that the fluids run clear, a meat thermometer will be a much better indicator of when the breasts are done.  You’re looking for an internal temperature of  160°F – not much more and definitely not less.  This should take about 10 minutes on a low setting.

Bon appétit – Perfectly grilled chicken breasts.

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How to Get Pregnant

January 31st, 2010 · Health

How to Get Pregnant

flickr - CiaoChessa

There are many ways that hopeful mothers can increase their chances of getting pregnant.

  1. Most importantly, time intercourse to happen when you are fertile (ovulating).  Women ovulate about 14 days before their period, and semen can live for up to 72 hours in a woman’s body, so having intercourse up to three days before ovulation greatly increases your chances of getting pregnant.
  2. It is important for men to wear loose-fitting underwear.  The increase in temperature caused by wearing tight-fitting underwear can cause an overheating of the testicles, which reduces the viability and number of sperm.  Hot tubs and saunas can cause the same effect.
  3. Zinc, calcium, and vitamin D have all been linked to increased fertility in men.  Make sure that your man is eating well or taking supplements of these vitamins and minerals.
  4. Use an ovulation predictor kit.  These kits detect a luteinizing hormone in your urine, which indicates that ovulation will happen in 24 to 36 hours.  Having intercourse when your luteinizing hormone is peaking increases the chances of conception.
  5. It’s all about timing.  Most doctors recommend having intercourse every other day when trying to conceive.  Having intercourse every day can actually lower sperm count and decrease the chances of fertilization.
  6. Excessive exercise and very low body fat can cause problems with fertility in some women.
  7. Choose your sexual positions carefully.  Most experts agree that the missionary position is the most likely to result in conception.  Female orgasm is also likely to draw sperm up into the cervix, further improving the chances of pregnancy.
  8. Wait 3 months or more before trying if you’ve just come off of the birth control pill or other hormonal forms of birth control.  This will allow your cycle to recover its regularity.
  9. Relax.  Stress can interfere with fertility, and nothing is more stressful than mechanically having intercourse with the only goal being conception.  Be patient and expect the process to take several months.
  10. Seek help if you go more than 6 months without conceiving.  A consultation with your doc can suggest ways to increase your fertility.  Many doctors recommend trying to conceive for a year or more before looking for alternative methods of conception.
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How to Cook a Turkey

January 31st, 2010 · Cooking

How to Cook a Turkey

flickr - Ann&Ming

There are a few popular ways to cook a turkey, but in my mind, there’s only one: brining and then frying.  I’m going to make this as painless as possible:

What you’ll need:

To brine:

  • 10-14 lb. turkey (chicken also works well)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • Optional herbs: sage, bay leaves, peppercorns, garlic, chili flakes
  • Lots of ice cubes – at least a few trays full
  • Large bucket or cooler
  1. Purchase a smallish thawed turkey: 10-14 pounds is enough for 7-10 people with plenty of leftovers.
  2. Put your turkey in a large bucket or (even better) an insulated cooler and fill with enough water to cover the turkey plus about an inch extra.
  3. Remove the turkey and set aside.  Pour some of the water from the cooler or bucket into a large saucepan.
  4. Prepare a brine by adding one cup of salt, one cup of sugar and whatever herbs and spices you’d like to the saucepan.
  5. Boil for a few minutes, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved.
  6. Pour the contents of the saucepan back into the bucket or cooler (still full of cold water).
  7. Add a few trays of ice and stir the brine to cool it.
  8. Put the turkey back into the container, making sure it’s fully covered with brine.  Weigh it down with an inverted bowl if necessary.
  9. Try to keep the brine cool by refrigerating or keeping in a cool spot.  Keeping the temperature below 40ºF is ideal.
  10. Remove the turkey after 8-12 hours and pat dry.

And that’s it!  A brined turkey (or chicken) is more flavorful and moist, with more tender meat.

Now that you have a great brined turkey, it’s time to fire up the fryer.

To fry you’ll need:

  • Your 10-14 lb. brined turkey (or a whole chicken)
  • An electric or gas turkey fryer
  • Enough frying oil (the best is peanut oil) to cover your bird
  • A cooking thermometer

Directions vary by type of fryer, so I won’t get into that much here.  I find that an electric fryer is the most convenient, safest way to get a great fried turkey.  Fry your turkey at about 325°F for 3 minutes per pound, or until the turkey is a rich golden brown and 170°F or higher at the thickest part of the breast, as measured by your cooking thermometer.

It’s that easy!  Brining is very hard to mess up, so experiment a bit with different herbs and brining times.  While frying takes a bit more preparation, you’ll end up with a great-tasting bird in less than half the time needed to roast.

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