Justin Newcombe comes up with a novel way to cook your winter roast.
It comes as no surprise that, in winter, the roast dinner takes pride of place on the on the wishlist of many New Zealand families. Knowing that next Sunday, August 7, is Selaks' Roast Day, and in the spirit of not wanting to be the odd man out I thought I'd build a roasting oven in a wine barrel.
I'd done my research - there are plenty of ideas about - and decided to use the wine barrel oven as a slow cooker which smokes the food as much as it cooks it, giving it a smoky flavour with a hint of years of red wine released from the oak. This oven gets up to about 150C, powered by a little gas cylinder which is perched on some bricks and sand on the bottom of the barrel.
The bricks keep the cylinder off the bottom of the barrel and the sand lines the bottom to protect the barrel from stray embers and provide insulation. From a safety perspective it's really important to make sure the gas element is on the inside of the barrel (obviously) but that all the valves and rubber tubing are on the exterior (anything other than this needs to be fitted by a professional gas-fitter). For cold smoking the element goes on the outside and the smoke is piped in, but I wanted to hot smoke.
To get all the components, the easiest thing was to buy a $65 kettle-type barbecue oven from Bunnings plus a separate temperature gauge, which you can also buy at Bunnings. The one I used is designed for a thin metal barbecue so I cut in a slot with my router and mounted it on a piece of metal, then fixed it with heat-proof sealer.
Then I fired up the cooker, added some smoking chips to a tray over the gas element and closed the lid. The gas went out, I realised, because there was not enough oxygen, so I drilled a series of holes near the bottom of the barrel which did the trick. Drill them the same diameter as a cork so you can plug them up if need be.
All in all, this project took only half an hour to build, is easy to use, produced great results (meat purists might care to look away at the photos; I like my beef well done). A glass of red wine, smoky oak flavours and it sure looks a whole lot more appealing than a barbecue.
Mark and cut the top off the barrel oven with a skillsaw to make the lid - I cut mine between the two top hoops. Attach the lid to the barrel using a big strong hinge.
Attach four 90-degree brackets approximately 100mm from the top of the barrel to hold the grill rack.
Place two bricks in the bottom of the barrel, well surrounded with 50mm of pumice or sand. Position the gas element on the bricks with the valve end against the barrel wall.
Mark out and drill a hole big enough to put the metal end of the gas cylinder through, so the valve is mounted on the outside of the barrel.
Place the little chrome ash collector tray from the barbecue on the element. Drill half a dozen small cork-sized holes at the bottom of the barrel then place smoking materials in the tray and light the oven. Test it to see if the gas goes out. Keep doing this until the gas runs continuously and the barrel has smoke pouring out of the gap between the barrel and the lid.
Place the round grill rack on top of the brackets, put on the meat, pour a glass of wine and wait.