Adam Powers and Jeremy Rush know a thing or twelve about barbecuing. As owners of Elsmere BBQ and Wood Grill in South Portland, they smoke, grill and sear meat, chicken and oysters to perfection in what’s become known as “Maine style barbecue.”
On Coffee with Cooks this week, the pair broke down the process.
“Barbecue is a technique not a flavor,” said Powers. “It’s a slow way to cook meat over low temperatures.” Before you craft your own smoker, he suggests getting started with a store-bought Weber Smokey Mountain or an R2D2 from Brinkmann.
“It’s about finding something you are comfortable with and starting simple,” said Powers. “Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
At their restaurant they have a heavyweight smoker named Mama as well as a hardwood grill. At home Powers has fired up a do-it-yourself cooker from castoffs from the dump. A few years ago Powers designed a smoker out of a 1950s refrigerator. And so can you.
Step one: Find an old refrigerator, or insulated metal box, and strip everything out. It can’t be made of plastic.
Step two: Line with food-safe sheet metal.
Step three: Put in three shelves. Two for cooking and one as a grease catcher.
Step four: Drill holes in the bottom for airflow. Make a three-inch hole at the top and add a smokestack. Add a hole where the meat will cook to insert a thermometer.
Step five: Add bricks on the bottom above the holes. Don’t impede air flow.
Step six: Insert a large oven-proof sheet pan with hot coals (ready to go from a hand-held chimney, which you can also make) and wood chunks.
Step seven: After 45 minutes, shift ash from the coals by dumping in a metal basket. Put the good coals back in the pan and add another layer of hot coals.
Temp: Cook between 180 to 250 until you get the desired outcome.
Pro tip: Use oven mitts and wear shoes.
Add meat like pork butts either before or after you bring the box up to temp. “It’s up to you and how much time you have,” said Powers.
Of course you can always pop into Elsmere to see their hardwood grill in action. What you won’t catch at their restaurant or in their backyards is gas. That is one of the many things these pit masters agree on.
”It tastes a little better to put in the extra effort,” said Rush, who calls grilling over hardwood “cowboy cooking at its finest.” He relishes the simplicity and “the flavors are amazing.”