Char Broil Big Easy Smoker

Today I can very happily announce that my nasty old grill has been put to the curb and I’m now the proud owner of a Char Broil Big Easy Smoker. I haven’t been this excited about grilling and also about blogging in a long time.

Char Broil Big Easy SmokerAre you familiar with the Char Broil Big Easy Smoker? If not then let me introduce it to you. I think the real name of it is the Char Broil The Big Easy Tru Infrared Smoker Roaster Grill. It’s looks like a smoker with that familiar bullet shape but it’s also a grill. There’s a removable circular grill on the top of it. It comes with a roasting/smoker cage that fits inside underneath the grill. I plan on filling that cage up with ribs, brisket, chicken and even a whole turkey.

There’s also a smoker box built into the side of it. Fill the smoker box with wood chips or pellets and you’re smoking. Leave it empty and you’re roasting. It’s easy to use and works great.

steak on the big easy
London Broil, peppers & onions on The Big Easy

That Tru Infrared feature of the Char Broil Big Easy Smoker is what makes it so easy to cook juicy meats. The way it works is that the burner is within a metal wall. So the flame is never near your food. The flame heats up the metal and the hot metal cooks your food with infrared heat. And this keeps the food from drying out. It also prevents flare ups that happen when the fats drip into the flame. These flames are safe behind the metal walls.

My parents have the Big Easy Smoker too. We’ve enjoyed a few Thanksgiving turkey dinners and Easter briskets at their house and that sold me. My mother saw it late one night on the Home Shopping Network and ordered it on it spot. I had a similar experience because I already saw it in person and after I binge watched all of the HSN videos on YouTube, I had to have it too.

I’m not kidding, watch the video I linked to below and you’ll want one too. These HSN hosts are highly skilled salespeople. But come on now. You show someone a bacon wrapped grilled cheese sandwich made on the Char Broil Big Easy Smoker and you’re going to sell a Char Broil Big Easy Smoker. But they don’t stop there. They make a clam bake, brisket, ribs, chickens and even Caesar Salad. This guy just keeps pulling amazing looking meals out of the char broil big easy smokers that he has lined up in the studio. Show me doughnuts on a grill and you’ll get a new customer.

So anyway, my new goal for the summer to is to start blogging about all the awesome things I can make in this smoker roaster grill.

So far I’ve gotten much more use out of the grill features than the smoker and I”ve made burgers, dogs, London Broil, chicken breast, pork chops, grilled vegetables and even a few pizzas.

Smoking meat is an art so I’m taking it slow and not trying to bite off more than I can chew but it was very easy to put a spiral ham in there. There’s ribs and brisket in my future.

Here’s an Amazon link if you’re interested. Enjoy the video!

Char Broil Big Easy on Home Shopping Network

You Can Make Your Own Smartphone Speaker


You may have noticed that the popularity of smartphones has led to an explosion in the home speaker industry. That’s not to say home speakers weren’t popular before. But 15 years ago the very idea of a “home speaker” would have made you think either of a boom box or a bulky surround sound system attached to your television or CD player. Now, a home speaker can be the size of a cucumber (or larger), and can pair with your phone to provide sound that easily fills a room or an entire home.

In some cases, such as with the Beats Pill or Bose SoundLink Mini, these Bluetooth speakers are portable, relatively small and still able to provide strong sound. In others, like the Sonos Playbase, a wireless speaker can sound like a home theater in a box. There’s a lot of variety and plenty of excellent sound to be enjoyed.
Another reason this trend has emerged is that we’re not using our mobile phone speakers for just the occasional playlist. We’re also streaming content, and even playing games with robust audio tracks that are more fun on quality speakers. Indie mobile games are often praised for visual and audio quality, and the popular casino gaming industry has started to make use of characters and stories from pop culture in its game design. And that means there are often fun musical themes. These games, as well as all our favorite streaming shows and movies, all sound better on high quality speakers.

That said, Bluetooth has also gotten us into some unnecessary habits. Streaming content or playing a game is one thing, but if you do just happen to be listening to a playlist (or a podcast, for that matter) at home, you’re usually fine leaving your phone in one place and wandering about. And expensive Bluetooth options can be unnecessary for this. As an alternative, you can actually make your own wireless smartphone speakers out of wood and enjoy surprisingly good sound quality.

All it takes, in addition to basic tools and wood glue, is three identical slabs of wood, preferably 10-12 inches long and about six inches tall. You can find specific measurement recommendations and thorough instructions online, but the basic idea is simple. The first board makes the base and you’ll leave it as is. The second is the front and you’ll cut it in three places: once in the center at the top, and once on each side. The top cut is essentially an indentation where you will set your phone; the side cuts are circles that function as speakers. In the final board you will cut an outline made to fit along the perimeter edges of the second board (with a small hole allowed in the portion under the center cut—this is where your phone’s speakers will be situated). Then you’re all done! The perimeter outline is attached in between the base and front boards to provide a sea
led interior where the sound can be trapped and amplified.

It’s not as functional as a Bluetooth speaker when it comes to movies and games (because you need to dock your phone). But when it comes to a strong home audio experience, you may be shocked at how much this frugal, DIY solution can do for you.

Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights

Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights

Solar Powered Outdoor String LightsI’ve wanted string lights for a few years now and this summer I finally made that happen. There’s something about outdoor string lights that really liven up a yard. It’s makes it feel like you’re having a party every single night. And in fact, I think my kids goal for the summer is to have a party every single night. But lets get back to the string lights. To make the set up much easier I bought solar powered outdoor string lights. No need for outlets or worrying about where to hang them. I just put these solar powered outdoor string lights where I wanted and whammy, instant party atmosphere.

It’s July already and I’m usually knee deep in my yard chores at this point of the summer. But this year is a little different. We actually hired a landscaping company to mow the lawn. That saves me about 6 hours a weekend to work on other projects. The mowing the lawn part only took about an hour but the edging and using the leaf blower and picking up the leaves or other stuff that falls from the trees always took a lot of time.

72 Feet Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights
3 sets of 72 Feet Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights

These are the NJ Burbs so you’ve got to have a nice looking yard. It always seemed like I was working on yard maintenance for hours and hours every weekend instead of working on cool projects. Well now these landscaping guys swarm my yard every week with their high powered jet pack blowers and standing lawn mowers. And they’re out of there is less than 20 minutes. Good for them.

Anyway, one of the projects that I now had some time to work on was the string lights. We live on a little bit more than a 1/2 acre on a corner lot. It’s an odd setup because the side yard is where all the property is. That’s where the pool is and in a better distant time long ago, that’s where we spent thousands of dollars to make it beautiful. We had the pool redone and got pavers and stone walls installed.

cable for Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights
Here’s the supplies needed for hanging the string lights

Our actual backyard is small and neglected. There’s an old concrete patio and overgrown bushes back there. But it’s shady and not a bad place to eat BBQ. I was going to put the string lights in the backyard. Another one of those projects that I haven’t had enough time to do was to build a giant picnic table about 14 feet long. Perfect spot to hang string lights over.

Well I still haven’t built the picnic table and my son said why not put the lights over the pool

Whoa mind blown. What a great idea!

ferrule and stop set
You can use a Ferrule and Stop Set or cable clamps

The backyard span would have only been 25 feet and I could have made three back and forth passes with the solar powered outdoor string lights that I wanted. But the pool area is much bigger. And you can’t hang something made of plastic across a span of 70 plus feet and expect it to stay up. You need a metal cable to attach it to.

So I finally pulled the trigger and I purchased these lights from Amazon. They are LED, solar powered outdoor string lights. No need to worry about putting them near an outlet or installing a new outlet. Another good thing is that they’re always on. The solar panels absorb energy from the sun during the day and when it gets dark they come on automatically. Even when we’ve had overcast days where the sun doesn’t make an appearance these light still come on for a few hours. With a sunny day the lights stay on for longer than I’m outside. And that’s good enough for me.

Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights closeup
Here’s a close up view

The galvanized steel cable is 1/16”. Strong enough to hold up the lights but thin enough not to need any special tools or equipment to hang.

To attach the cables to a wall or tree or whatever you choose you’ll need a way to make a loop at the end. Either use with a cable clamp that you screw to the wire or with a ferrule and stop set that you crimp. These clamps cost $6 each so I opted for the $2/pair for the ferrule and stop set. A special crimping tool is used to affix them to the wire but that tool cost like $20 so I just hit them with a hammer and it did the trick.

Solar Powered Outdoor String Lights At Dusk
Here they are at dusk

I also got some big eye hooks and screwed them into a tree, my house and I put up a 4×4 post too. I’m hanging 3 sets of lights so I needed a few different places to work with. When putting in a post you should dig down at least 2 feet and pour a bag of cement into the hole when setting the post. Let it set for a day before you start screwing into it or hanging the lights. I also painted the post black so it doesn’t attract your eye and kind of blends in. It’s also right behind a giant Diablo Nine Bark bush that’s about 8 feet tall. So it totally blends in.

Here’s my tips for hanging solar powered outdoor string lights:

  • Measure the span carefully and make sure you cut the correct length
  • Test fit the cable and then take them down and attach to something low and stationary (I used some metal patio benches)
  • Wrap the lights around the cable and use zip ties to make sure they stay in place
  • Carefully hang them back up

I have to admit that I am completely psyched that I’m finally getting some cool projects done this summer. And these solar powered outdoor string lights have really made the yard look like there’s a party going on all the time. Now if I can just convince my kids to stop inviting their friends over every night, I’ll get a change to enjoy them myself.

Dark and Stormy Kraken

kraken rum
Dark And Stormy Kraken
Dark And Stormy Kraken

Everywhere you look now a days, you see the Moscow Mule. Seriously, all of a sudden that drink is everywhere. Even when you go shopping, everyone is selling those Moscow Mule copper mugs. I’ve even seen the mugs for sale at Home Depot which make absolutely no sense. DIY store, lumber & copper mugs for a classic cocktail. Nope doesn’t really make sense to me. But anyway, the Moscow Mule is made with ginger beer. Another great drink made with ginger beer is the Dark and Stormy. I like to make mine with Kraken Rum so I guess it would be called a Dark and Stormy Kraken.

Kraken RumFor this cocktail recipe I’m going to use Trader Joe’s ginger beer. Usually I would use Fever-Tree because it’s the standard for ginger beer but Trader Joe’s stuff is usually good so I’ll give it a try.

Next up is the rum. For a Dark and Stormy, no surprise here, you’re going to need a dark rum.  And when I think of dark rum I think of the Kraken. No, not that Gumby looking monster that Harry Hamlin fought in the original Clash of the Titans. I’m talking about the mythical sea monster from tales of old. And one of those old tales is about a shipment of rum that was lost at sea. The ship was loaded with the largest amount of dark rum ever to leave the Caribbean. But it went missing. Also adding to the mystery was the fact that some of the rum barrels washed ashore. It was said that the ship was taken down by a Kraken.

Kraken Rum honors this tale with their name and a really awesome looking Kraken illustration on every bottle. How cool is that to name your company after a giant sea monster.

Trader Joes Ginger BeerThere’s actually has a lot of cool stuff on the Kraken Rum website. They have an iOS game where you have to sail the ocean, deliver a shipment of rum and avoid the Kraken which is actually very hard to do. And there’s also some cool computer wallpapers and even t-shirts and glasses you can buy. Everything has that awesome Kraken on it. Note to self, if I even open a micro brewery, definitely name the beer after a monster. The possibilities are endless with the marketing and merchandising you can do with a good monster.

Dark and Stormy Kraken Recipe

The Dark and Stormy Kraken recipe goes like this. Highball glass, ice, ginger beer and Kraken Rum. Garnish with lime. Very easy cocktail to make. A lot of times you’ll see it layered with the rum on top but the first thing I do when I get a Dark and Stormy is mix it. So you really don’t need the layering although it does look cool. And there’s no need to break out the cocktail shaker or the margarita machine. The Dark and Stormy Kraken is a cocktail that you can offer your guests and you won’t spend your entire night making them. I did this once with mojitos and spent my whole night muddling instead of talking to my guests.

So if you want to spend all your money buying copper mugs so that you can feel all fancy when guests come over, by all means Moscow Mules are for you. But if you want to make drinks that are conversation starters about mythical sea monsters and cool rum companies then Dark and Stormy Kraken is waiting for you. And despite how it was treated in The Clash of the Titans, you can welcome the Kraken into your home.

DIY Wine Bottle Tiki Torch

DIY Wine Bottle Tiki Torch
DIY Wine Bottle Tiki Torch
DIY Wine Bottle Tiki Torch

I think the bugs in my yard have some sort of alarm system that let’s them know when I’m outside. Within a few minutes they swarm me and leave me with tons of little red bites all over my legs and arms. It really isn’t fun to be munched on by insects. Seriously, sometimes when I go to the mailbox and then go right back inside, I’m covered with bites. Citronella torches definitely help the bug situation but I’m not a fan of the Gilligan’s Island looking tiki torches. So taking inspiration from The Professor, I set out to make a DIY wine bottle tiki torch.

You’ve probably seen bottle torches pinned all over your friend’s boards on Pinterest but how many people do you know who have actually made one of these wine bottle tiki torches?  I’ve made a bunch from Patron XO Cafe bottles and they work great. Put one on a picnic table or the bar and the bugs stop annoying you. But I have two black metal tiki torch stands that have been sitting empty around my pool for years. Every time I see them it’s a constant reminder of an unfinished project. So it was time that I filled those stands with something. And luckily enough, an empty wine bottle fit in there perfectly.

The first thing I did was paint two wine bottles red to match my patio umbrellas. Definitely not required but I took a guess that I’d like the way they looked. And I guessed right. The red is a nice pop of color and as I said before, they match the umbrellas.

Next I needed some wicks. They sell these as refills for other torches at most big box home improvement stores. You get two in a pack for like five bucks. The wicks are around 8” long and are 1/4” thick. Perfect for a DIY Wine Bottle Tiki Torch.

Now it was time to visit the plumbing department. I needed copper plumbing pieces and started  searching through all the boxes for the right sized couplings. One end needs to fit inside the wine bottle and the other end should snuggly hold a torch wick. Depending on your bottle you might need a regular coupling but I needed a reduction coupling. The end that fits inside the wine bottle should not fit tightly. It needs to be smaller so that you can wrap it with silicon tape. This rubbery tape creates a seal so that you aren’t leaking citronella torch juice all over the patio. We’re not making molotov cocktails, we’re just trying to repel some bugs.

Wrap the silicon tape around the copper fitting until it’s thick enough to fit snuggly in the bottle.

Most people will tell you that you should use teflon tape but I prefer silicon tape. It’s black and I think it would hold up better near the flame. They make pot holders, bbq gloves and stove to oven pot handles out of silicone now. And I have never ever seen a teflon pot holder. So there you go.

To keep the wick from going into the bottle and to save on torch fuel, use some pea gravel in the bottom of the bottle.

If you plan on leaving your wine bottle torches outside even when it rains then you’ll need some caps. Rain will soak through the wick and dilute the fuel until it eventually won’t light anymore. I drilled some small holes in plumbing end caps and ran a wire though it. The wire is so that I can connect the cap to the bottle and not worry about losing it. Wrap the wire around the bottle and leave enough slack so that you can easily take it on and off.

And that’s how I made some a DIY Wine Bottle Tiki Torch. They repel bugs like regular tiki torches but in my opinion they look much cooler.