Kitchen Hacks

Your Best Kitchen Hacks: Bronze Medal

August  8, 2012

For the next two weeks, we're hosting our own Summer Food Fights on FOOD52 -- come play along! Big prizes await.

bronze le creuset   

We're always looking for ways to get better in the kitchen -- to do things more efficiently, to try something crazy, to make something out of nothing. Last week, in honor of the Summer Food Fights we asked you to send in Your Best Kitchen Hack -- and we promised you some glorious, drool-worthy prizes.

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Today, we're presenting our bronze medal to the one and only hardlikearmour. Her award-winning entry: How to Hack a Cold Smoker. Check back tomorrow and Friday to see the silver and the gold!

Cold smoker supplies:  New 30 watt soldering iron, "tin" can w/o BPA in the lining (I used Native Forest coconut milk), keyhole opener, safe edge can opener, pliers, wood chips, and a grill with a lid.  You may also need a screwdriver to change the tip of the soldering iron, and an extension cord to plug the soldering iron in.  A new soldering iron and a bag of chips will cost in the ballpark of $15, and I suspect if you're embarking on this endeavor you'll already have the rest of the supplies.   

Step 1

Shiny new soldering iron, with tip that looks like a flathead screwdriver.  This tip has a larger contact area than the pointy one that was originally attached.  Note the screw that holds the tip in; it can be a little tricky to fit it through the keyhole you'll be making in the can later.

Step 2

Cut a large keyhole in the can.  The business end of the soldering iron needs to fit through the hole.

Step 3

Use can opener to open the can, and the pliers to pry the lid outward.  Imagine the top of the can as a clock face.  If the keyhole is at 6 o'clock, the opening should extend clockwise from 8ish to 4ish.  You need to be able to easily get the wood chips into the can once the lid is pried open.

Step 4

Empty and rinse can, then make a small ventilation keyhole in the bottom.  The hole should be a bit up from the bottom, say the 5 or 7 o'clock area.  A little cross breeze seems to help generate more smoke.

Step 5

Partially fill the can with wood chips.  1/3 full will produce about 30 to 40 minutes of smoke.  You can also add some spices to the wood chips - broken star anise and bits of cinnamon stick are especially nice.

Step 6

Insert the tip of the soldering iron into the large keyhole.  The screw will most likely need to be pointed toward a lower corner to fit.  Lay the can sideways on the grill with the keyhole at the bottom.  Make sure the tip of the soldering iron is buried in the wood chips.

Step 7

Get ready to smoke!  Here I've got olives, ice cubes, and blue cheese.  It's best to keep the grill in the shade to help keep the chamber cool.  Melted smoked cheese is not the goal!

Plug the soldering iron in, and wait.  It will take about 5 or 6 minutes for the chips to start smoking.  If you're not getting smoke within 10 minutes you probably don't have good soldering iron to wood chip contact.  Carefully wiggle the soldering iron, making sure to grasp only the plastic base and not the metal parts or the can.

Step 10

Close the grill lid, and set a timer for 30 to 40 minutes (a good amount of time for adding some smoky flavor.)  Buckley is in charge of keeping interlopers away from the grill.

Step 10

After a short while you will see smoke wafting out from the grill.  It can get pretty smoky, so if you live in an apartment you may need to warn your neighbors or cover your grill.  If it's not breezy you may want to use a box fan to help direct the smoke in the least objectionable direction.

Step 11

Here I've just finished smoking some country pork ribs with wood chips and broken star anise pods.

Step 12

When you've finished, unplug the soldering iron.  Let the can and iron cool fully before handling them.  The christened soldering iron; no longer bright and shiny!

Step 13

Enjoy the smoky fruits of your labor!

Step 14

Grab your copy

It's here: Our game-changing guide to everyone's favorite room in the house. Your Do-Anything Kitchen gathers the smartest ideas and savviest tricks—from our community, test kitchen, and cooks we love—to help transform your space into its best self.

Grab your copy

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Androcles
  • Jim Rain
    Jim Rain
  • lorigoldsby
  • Boomdog02
  • hardlikearmour
Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.


Androcles May 4, 2016
It's so simple it's absolutely brilliant! If you're old enough and didn't tho away your old church key! Now for the biggest can of pork and beans I can find at Costco and a replacement for my old soldering stick?
Jim R. July 13, 2013
This worked really well. The smokey flavor is more subtle than overwhelming, which I like. Smoked fresh cherries were particularly different and delicious.
lorigoldsby September 4, 2012
Somehow I missed this before! So glad the hotline had the link when someone asked about smoked salts...I love the alder one I bought at "The Meadow" with you. Congrats...agree with got your macguyver on!
hardlikearmour September 4, 2012
Thank you, Lori! I've not tried smoking salt, since I have easy access to it.
Boomdog02 August 26, 2012
I've tried all manner of methods...foil pouches, stainless trays, foil trays, nothing seems to drives me crazy!
hardlikearmour August 26, 2012
I see no reason not to give it a go, I just don't know how it will work. Do report back if you try it. I'm sure other gas grillers would appreciate the tip if it works well.
hardlikearmour August 26, 2012
The beauty of the soldering iron is that the grill chamber stays cool, allowing for smoking of things like cheese. If you're going to do hot smoking it's probably easier to make a tray with heavy duty aluminum foil and put soaked chips on it.
Boomdog02 August 26, 2012
Could I maybe use this can method, with soaked chips inside, laid on the burner of my gas grill? I figure I could poke holes in the can and close up the need for the soldering iron.
Boomdog02 August 26, 2012
Could I maybe use this can method, with soaked chips inside, laid on the burner of my gas grill? I figure I could poke holes in the can and close up the need for the soldering iron.
scratch August 11, 2012
O.M.G, Smoked Ice Cubes. And bourbon.

My mouth is watering.
ellenl August 11, 2012
Absolutely brilliant! You are so multi-talented. I am in awe of you!! Thanks so much.
boulangere August 10, 2012
Darn clever. I think even I could do this.
calendargirl August 9, 2012
I love this! Do you have favorite cheeses for smoking? I'm thinking Manchego...
hardlikearmour August 9, 2012
I love blue and sharp cheddar the best, but haven't tried Manchego! I bet it would be fabulous. I like smoked Mozz for pizza, too.
lapadia August 9, 2012
Excellent job, Congrats!
lapadia August 9, 2012
PS - Bronze = my favorite color! :)
arielleclementine August 9, 2012
what an awesomely cool hack! you're amazing, HLA! congrats on the win! and yay for buckley!
Fairmount_market August 8, 2012
Congratulations hardlikearmour! Inspiring!
mrslarkin August 8, 2012
Yay hla! Congrats on the Bronze! Silver and Gold better be pretty-darn-good hacks!

Buckley is a cutie pie. What kind of dog is he?
hardlikearmour August 8, 2012
Buckley = 50% Great Pyrenees + 50% Australian Shepherd = 100% Big Galoot!!
DebJ August 8, 2012
This is really neat. Can't wait to try it. I have a couple of questions (forgive me if they are dumb):
1. What is the purpose of the ice cubes?
2. Do you wrap the meat in foil and put in with the smoker, or it's unwrapped.
3. Since there isn't a heat factor, is there anything to worry about by having the meat sit in that environment for 40 minutes.
4. Do different items take different times to get smoked (i.e., chicken with bone vs boneless, etc.)
Thanks a lot. Well done!!!
hardlikearmour August 8, 2012
Thanks, Deb!
1. The ice cubes melt a bit and pick up the smoke flavor. I refroze them for using in cocktails.
2. The meat is unwrapped.
3/4. The meat doesn't cook, it just gains smoke flavor. As long as it's not beastly hot out, 30-40 minutes is not likely to be unsafe. I immediately cooked the pork after smoking it, and have made rillettes several times this way with no detrimental effects. I haven't done chicken, but think I'd smoke it briefly after cooking it rather than before just to infuse it with some nice smokiness. I bet it would be good for making chicken salad after a 30 minute smoke!
gingerroot August 8, 2012
Hooray and congrats! You are amazing, hla.
hardlikearmour August 8, 2012
Wow! What a wonderful surprise. I'm thrilled to have my hack recognized - I thought it might be too wacky to get considered. Thanks all for your kind comments. I had a lot of fun with making the slideshow and playing with the smoker.
fiveandspice August 8, 2012
Holy cow! Move over MacGyver. How on earth did you come up with this? I don't think I would even know how to turn a soldering iron on...
hardlikearmour August 8, 2012
I had some smoked rillettes at a restaurant. They were so delicious I wanted to replicate them, so did some internet research to see if I could come up with a technique. Found a video on youtube. After using the smoker a few times figured out adding spices to the wood made delicious smoke, and that a small ventilation hole in the bottom of the can helped ensure a consistently smoky output from the contraption.
aargersi August 8, 2012
Yay! Congratulations - this is SO COOL. I love Buckley.
hardlikearmour August 8, 2012
I ? Buckley, too! He's a big goofus.