Addictions can motivate us to go to great lengths to get our fix; so can necessity. Take John Letherbarrow, for instance – this Capetonian has a serious thing for chillies. In fact, unless his taste buds are on fire and steam is issuing from his ears, he feels he hasn’t quite cracked it.
Most of us would stop there, happy to just consume our fiery condiment of choice, but not Letherbarrow. He enjoys the hot stuff so much that he makes his own, using smoked chillies because of their distinctive taste. Says Letherbarrow: “I find making chilli sauce quite therapeutic; it’s a fun hobby. But they say you can get addicted to the taste, so I suppose that could be part of it.”
Having conjured up the perfect recipe for a killer smoked-chilli sauce, Letherbarrow soon realised that the only way he was going to secure a ready supply of the primary ingredient was to go the DIY route. More specifically, he would have to design and build his own smoker.
Letherbarrow had a very clear idea of what his ideal smoker should be like. For starters, it had to be weatherproof, since it would live on the balcony of his flat, and sized to allow easy storage. It had to be capable of smoking up to 2 kg of chillies at a time, and shouldn’t cost too much. But most importantly, it had to smoke and partly cook at the same time, which meant that it needed a heat source.
He explains: “Fresh chillies are moist and have quite leathery skins. I found that they needed heat to dry them out and allow them to absorb an adequate amount of smoke. The combination of smoking and roasting also gives them a distinctive flavour that I find particularly pleasing.”
The only problem was that most commercially available smokers he came across were better suited to cold smoking, and one model that almost matched his criteria cost about R2 000 – way over his budget. “In a way, I was glad that I couldn’t find the smoker I wanted because it gave me the perfect excuse to tackle it as a DIY project.”
Because he didn’t own many tools, Letherbarrow was obliged to keep things simple. “My design required a fair bit of thought. I find that it’s often harder to come up with a simple solution than a complicated one. But eventually I came up with a good design that requires only a hand drill, a shifting spanner, locking pliers, hacksaw and a couple of flat screwdrivers to complete.”
He found a round stainless-steel pedal waste bin that suited his needs perfectly – that is, after a few modifications. Coming across a 228 mm-diameter cake tin, he realised that it could work rather well as a rack stand inside the smoker. For the rest, he simply “walked around a large hardware store to see what else I could use”.
Among the items he loaded into the shopping trolley were a 600 mm-long, 8 mm-diameter threaded steel rod, some chicken wire, a roll of 2 mm-diameter fencing wire, various sizes of flat perforated galvanised-steel brackets, four canopy clips, a bunch of differently sized nuts, bolts and washers, plus a lacquered wooden handle.
Letherbarrow has used his smoker on about 10 occasions so far, and he’s very pleased with the results. “I'm keen on trying olives next. I’ve also heard of people smoking vegetables and then pickling them, and I’d like to give that a bash. You can smoke pretty much everything.”
* If you want to make your own smoker and would like to contact John Letherbarrow for any advice, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full article in the August 2010 issue of Popular Mechanics – on sale on 19 July.
* Video: Catch Letherbarrow’s smoker in action as he prepares lunch for PM