After we’d completed the processing of the pigs, we had a handful of items on hand for which we no longer had a use. The scrapers come to mind (those ineffectual tools meant to be used for scraping skin and hair, but better used as drum sticks) as do the hanging hooks, but one item was destined for greater things: the 55-gallon drum.
This drum was hard-won. We spent weeks searching Craigslist, Freecycle, and even the neighbors’ yards figuring someone HAD to have a drum they were looking to unload. You see these things everywhere, typically in varying degrees of rusting decomposition. Unless, that is, you are actually looking for one… then they are nowhere to be found.
This was a terrible idea.
The whole operation was poorly engineered (by us) and it took until the third pig for us to realize a much simpler, substantially safer, and immensely quicker method for skin/hair removal. This left us with a drum we really didn’t need and, after what we’d gone through to get it, kind of resented.
Repurposing the drum seemed like the only way to make sense of the expenditure, as well as assuage our irritation. As we butchered the pig that we’d kept for our own personal use, we knew we had several items that would require smoking. An actual smoker is a thing of beauty but, sadly, outside our current financial capacity. Why not, we reasoned, turn the drum into a smoker? From years of working in professional kitchens, we’d seen smokers made from far less substantial items (two deep hotel pans face-to-face, anyone?) and knew it could be done if not easily, at least simply.
Dave set to work on this project by first sanding the inside and outside of the drum to remove any old paint or chemicals that might have come with the drum from the factory. This was a pretty unpleasant and labor-intensive process. Once that was done, he coated the outside of the drum with a high-heat paint to prevent the drum from rusting. When this first stage was done, the drum looked really clean and sleek and actually better than it did new.
Next, he drilled some holes on the sides to insert grill supports. As luck would have it, the grill from our portable Weber fit the drum perfectly! He was able to rest the grill on some bolts installed in the sides. After that, he fashioned a basket of sorts out of some heavy-duty, heat-resistant hog fence. The basket will rest at the bottom and is what will hold the material being burned for smoke.
We intend to use apple wood for smoking. Apple wood is a hard wood that imparts a really nice flavor to the item being smoked. At the moment, we have the bellies on salt (where they’ve been for a couple of weeks).
This salting process cures the belly and is what really turns it into bacon; the smoking process is really just to impart even more deliciousness than there already is.
Once we take them off the salt, they are what is called “green bacon” and can absolutely be eaten just that way. We choose to smoke this green bacon simply because we prefer the smoked flavor. In the picture below, you can see the clear bin with the blue top filled with salt. That’s where our bellies will be for another couple of days until we’re ready to smoke!
We haven’t determined yet whether the bacon will lay on the grill to be smoked or if it will hang down into the smoker. It will likely take a couple of hours to get the bacon to the level of “smokiness” that we want, but time and method are still question marks at this point.