Don Weber is a man of many talents. With his diverse skill set, he truly embodies the self-sufficient lifestyle.
As a bodger and woodworker, he is surrounded by scrap wood. Rather than letting the scrap go to waste, he turns it to charcoal, which he in turn uses to smoke meat for himself and his community using a smoker he assembled from scrap junkyard parts.
COOKING GOOD: I have had the pleasure of eating meat he has cooked in his smoker using his personal rub recipe, and learned from him a simple method for making charcoal. It requires minimal effort and few materials. The main item you will need is a barrel. You can obtain one from a scrap yard or container company. The latter is your best bet since you want to be sure that the barrel hasn’t been used to hold toxic materials and is rust-free. Any weak spots in the barrel will be likely to introduce airflow and it is essential to have the ability to control the flow of air into your barrel.
Other than that, all you need is scrap wood and fire-starting materials. Once you have acquired a barrel, punch several holes in the bottom and around the circumference of the lid to allow for controlled airflow.
Step 1: Gather and cut wood into small chunks. Any non-treated scrap wood will work, but hardwoods will burn better and hotter, producing excellent- burning charcoal.
If you have other types of wood you plan on scrapping anyway, throw it in. You may end up with a bit more ash, but can still get plenty of quality charcoal. Ideal woods are hickory, alder and fruit trees, as they are tight-grained and aren’t likely to produce sparks or off flavors due to resin. While seasoned wood is ideal, green wood can also be used. If you have green wood to burn, try to mix in some seasoned pieces to decrease burning time.
Step 2: Fill the barrel with as much wood as you have, placing higher-quality wood at the top, because the wood at the bottom will be more likely to turn to ash.
Step 3: Set the barrel on some evenly spaced bricks or rocks to allow for airflow. Light your fire by the method you prefer. If you use fuel such as kerosene or diesel, allow the black smoke to burn off before putting the lid on. Either way, make sure you’ve got a good fire going before proceeding with the next step. When you hear lots of crackling and whooshing, you’re good to go.
Step 4: Place the lid on the barrel, cinch it with the clamp that (hopefully) came with your barrel and hammer the lid into place. Most barrels will come with a clamp to hold the lid on. If yours didn’t, you’ll need to get creative (think metal C-clamps). The lid will need to be fitted snug, as the barrel should be as airtight as possible, and you will be flipping the barrel over in the next step.
Step 5: Once you have lots of billowing smoke, you’re ready to shut off the airflow. Lay out some evenly spaced bricks, which you will be using to elevate the barrel; this allows for a controlled airflow, and enables the wood to burn slowly from the bottom up. With the help of an assistant and some heavy gloves, flip the barrel and place the lid end on the bricks. If the fire begins to burn too fiercely, which is usually evident by parts of the barrel turning red, remove the bricks and lower the barrel to the ground, or pile dirt around the bottom.
To reduce ash and produce quality charcoal, you want a slow and even burn. At this point, all you’ll need to do is wait. Check the barrel occasionally for the smoke to clear. The process could take as long as 8 to 10 hours. If the smoke clears sooner than this, you may have lost your fire. If that is the case, flip the barrel to rekindle it and move forward.
Step 6: Once your burn is complete, or if you need to leave the project early, and cut the burn short, pack some mud over the holes until no smoke is visible. Then, pack dirt around the base of the barrel to ensure that all airflow is cut off. You can now leave the barrel to cool and, assuming you didn’t have to cut the burn short, you will have about two-thirds of a barrel’s worth of charcoal. If you filled your barrel, you will end up with approximately 30 pounds of charcoal.