The following is written by my husband, Scott Key. I thought his rendition of this tale would far surpass any attempt that I might describe.
The idea started with a phone call from an Idahoian, we'll call him Brandon Duncan for our purposes (plus that's his name). He wanted to smoke a brisket with me. Little did he know that what I really heard was "Scott, help me become a Texan."
We decided to do it right. We enlisted the help of a local architect, one recently married Eric Hughes, to ensure that the necessary aesthetic qualities would be maintained. So there we were, a builder, an engineer, and an architect ready to concur the infamous - smoked brisket.
None of us own a smoker, but no barrier was too great for this lot. My dad, a lover of food and master of all things grill, pointed me to an Alton Brown video in which the Good Eats mastermind smokes a salmon using an oven rack, two dowels, a heat source, and a cardboard box. Perfect, we thought.
We knew the box wouldn't melt because we all know that the burning temperature of paper products is Fahrenheit 451.
We made a few modifications to the design. Firstly, and maybe most importantly, we nixed the salmon in lieu of a nice 7 lb brisket. I am an active member Fish Belong in the Sea, Not On Your Plate Movement. Cruelty to fish is a problem I just won't stand for, so I chose to stick to beef.
Secondly, and most detrimentally, we opted for my mighty mini Weber instead of the pithy little hot plate Alton used, in order to give our soaked mesquite chips the glorious end they deserved.
Here's the gear:
What is the tarp for you ask? Well friend, there was a 40% chance of rain the day we were to smoke. As this was a 8-hour process, we felt that it was likely it would precipitate.
To start with, we made a rub for the brisket and coated it liberally. As I am not a detail person, I'm going to let you Google your way into a dry rub recipe.
You'll notice the fan (for convection) and the thermometer (to help us maintain a constant 250). So we got it all set up. We settled back for a great day of shirtless, beer-drinking, N.T. Wright discussing goodness on Eric's front porch. As the cultured, rubber-neck neighbors strolled by, we gloried in our redneck demeanor.
All went well - for two hours.
Then our temperatures spiked - 300, 350, 400 - no matter how many flaps we opened, we couldn't control the heat gain. Brandon frantically tried everything to cool the box down as I supervised from the porch (this allowed me to get a better grasp on the situation).
Brandon: My leg is hot ... HOLY SMOKES the box is on fire!
Fortunately we had a plan. We wisely placed the box on the concrete walk of Eric's front yard a good 10 yards from the eaves of the house. Also, we pulled the garden hose out so that it would be accessible, and it was except we didn't realize that it was kinked.
I will skip to script mode for the next seen:
Me: Well get the hose! (still in my supervisory role)
Brandon: (runs and twists the ball valve) It's not turning on!
Me: (runs over to spicket, turns opposite direction to no avail) ERIC WE NEED WATER!
Cardboard box: (ranging 15' flames)
Me: (runs inside to grab two cups worth of water - never was meant to be a fire-fighter)
Neighbor across the street: (runs to his front door) COME OUTSIDE!
Someone from within neighbor's house: Wait a minute!
Neighbor across the street: COME OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW!
Brandon, me, Eric
Fortunately, the brisket was saved and had developed a nice smokey exterior in its short two hours inside our faulty smoker. We finished it off in the oven for the next 6 hours and then feasted on corn on the cob (expertly chosen by the Nebraskian, Eric Hughes), sweet potato salad, and of course, our cardboard flake infested brisket.
Though we failed miserably, no disappointments were found. A terrible day is always salvageable by the story you get to tell afterwards.