Murray Shaw has tried expensive smokers at his cottage on Lac Heney, Que., but he keeps coming back to the one that cost almost nothing. “A jerry-rigged thing,” he says, describing the pit smoker he built more than a decade ago. First, he dug the pit—about 30 inches wide, 40 inches long, and 15 inches deep—in well-drained, gravelly soil. Then he surrounded the hole with concrete blocks, stacked two courses high, and covered it with a lid of aluminum flashing.
At one end of the pit, there’s a simple hearth for charcoal; the meat goes at the other end, suspended in a cage of rebar, baling wire, and radiator clamps. “You never want the meat directly over the heat,” Murray says. A trough of bent flashing below channels meat drippings to a basin. “Otherwise, you’d have a mess at the bottom. Maybe even a flash fire right under the meat.”
Although smoking in the pit takes up to 10 hours, once the charcoal is smouldering, the hearth only needs an hourly top-up with fresh briquettes and some apple twigs soaked in water (trimmings from trees at home). Other essentials include two thermometers—one for the meat, one for the pit—some beer, and usually a few friends to hang out. “They help with the beer,” Murray explains.
It’s been a few years since he and his wife, Aileen, have been able to host a crowd at the lake. In 2013, they smoked three pork shoulders to feed 24 guests. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy-themed party celebrated the couple’s anniversary. How many years were they marking? “Forty-two, of course,” says Murray. “The meaning of life, the universe, and everything.”
This article was originally published in the May 2022 issue of Cottage Life magazine.