Constructing My Culvert Cooker – Part 2, by J.P.

(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)

Start Cooking!

Stage III. Build the deck (Two Days)

Since adding a deck to your outdoor kitchen is optional I offer no plan or directives for you to follow. Again there are expert builders – even average builders – who are capable of producing a fine deck for these purposes. Likewise big box stores and most book dealers are a source of good plans for your deck. Here a few things for you to consider:
* Craigslist and other on-line postings are likely to turn up trex and other similar used materials that will last a long time.
* Consider building your deck floor in 2’ wide removable panels that will allow you access to spaces where you may want to install plumbing, hide your nickels etc.
* Keep in mind floor height in relationship to height of culvert cooker surface. This relationship may be a calculation you want to make in the early stages of laying out the base for the cooker, elevation of ground prep, etc.

Stage IV. Build the Pavilion Roof (Three Days)

Although you can always come back and build this later I encourage you to work it into the original construction plan. Having the roof in inclement weather will greatly increase the value of the outdoor kitchen; I would say by as much as 40%. Not only will it allow you to dodge raindrops, consider the importance of getting out of the sun, maybe more than you may think. Here are more specifics to consider:
* 7’ is a good height for the top of your 4”x4” timber-framed walls. Allows for plenty of airflow to dissipate smoke from the cooker.
* A 16” overhang of the eves is good for rain and sun protection. Two feet is better.
* Leave a 16” or 18” wide by 30” – 36” long opening at the midpoint of the roof ridgeline, to allow the escape of smoke from the fire. Shield this opening from the rain with a cupola roof that is supported by 4 sturdy posts, and which overhangs all sides of the vent hole by 6”. A steady wind or breeze will blow the smoke out the high ends of the pavilion, and no wind at all will let smoke escape through the cupola.
* I highly recommend metal roofing.
If you can afford it your entire roof project will be enhanced by an underlayment of ¼” or ½” plywood.
* If you are going without plywood underlayment, then consider lining the underneath of the roof with rolled ½” foil back bubble insulation to buffer the sound during heavy rain.
* Wind bracing. Give serious consideration to your roof’s vulnerability to the wind. A roof, without enclosed walls and a well-rooted foundation, can be picked up, in a moment, and be completely turned over and destroyed. An important part of the structural stability must come from extensive angle bracing between horizontal and vertical frame members.
* Sink vertical posts into the ground and/or incorporate cable anchors to each vertical post to resist strong winds. Because of mountainous terrain our cabin compound is vulnerable to regular winter winds of 40 to 60 mph during any winter. Depending on your location my recommendation – OVERKILL!

Smoke ISSuance

With every location, weather pattern, and building compound being different, I’m not going to guarantee anything about your experience with smoke. My personal experience with the culvert cooker, built under an open roof, has not been negative in any way. For yours to work well be sure to, 1. make sure your sidewall height is a minimum of 7’, 2. leave the ends of your shelter completely open, 3. be sure your cupola opening leaves room for good airflow. Without any wind the smoke should gently rise and escape through the cupola. A gentle to steady wind will take the smoke out the end of your kitchen. Note: the better your firewood the less likely it will smoke!

Rock and Stone Surround – Optional- (1 – 2 days)

“Rock is the beauty that gently blends the earth with structure”

When it comes to incorporating rock and stone into your final outdoor kitchen I have an admitted bias – use as much stone as you can put your hands on. The value of stone is beyond quantifiable.
* Natural stone is heavy and as such serves as a ballast, even an anchor for other parts that are vulnerable to wind or being dislodged by vehicular or human traffic. Be generous and pile it on. You’ll learn quickly how to do it in a stable and visually attractive manner. A wonderful factor about dry-laid stone is you can redo all or part of it at any time.
* When gathering your stone be sure to accumulate a wide variety of sizes, shapes, flat and round, etc. Our kitchen is located on a gentle hillside and in a 12’ width the drop averages 2’. That elevation change gave us lots of need for multiple step areas, stabilizing exposed cut banks, diverting surface runoff, and stabilizing concrete bases for our framing posts.

Gathering Your stone

If you are blessed with unlimited stone on your property then gather it up and start turning it into something useful and a thing of beauty. If you have to bring your stone from other places then begin scouting farm areas, local sand and gravel pits where, unless there has been a crushing operation, there tend to be piles of usable stone throughout the pit.
Be sure to check out pit ownership; it’s sometimes private, but usually county, state or federal. Obtain permission and check for charges. I have rarely paid more than $5 for whatever my truck can haul. Often the rule of thumb has been, if you can load it by hand then there’s no charge. But that’s Alaska. .
Be nice to your (or your friend’s) truck. Think weight, not volume. Depending on the age and condition of my truck’s suspension I probably average a thousand pound load in my half ton truck, and 1.500 lbs in my ¾ ton pickup. My guess? On the average, you’ll probably use 10,000 lbs of rock for your entire kitchen. If that sounds like a lot of work then locate someone with a 5 yard dump truck and have him meet you at the pit – and bring a few friends. Remember, the lift into a dump truck will be a couple feet higher than your pickup truck.
One more tip, for loading your own pickup: weigh a few rocks till you know the size and feel of a 30 lb and 50 lb rock. As you load count and note the sizes. Stop when you get to your agreed upon limit for a load. You want your truck to survive to haul another day.

Total Days Work for your entire project – Approximately 10 days with Two People

About Wood COOKING FIRES

“An effective cooking fire is functional, and not designed for entertainment”

Principles of a good cooking fire –

1. Get your fuel (wood) right.
* It must be dry. Cut and split your logs, and stack it a season ahead.
* If at all possible use hardwood.
* Match the size of your firewood to the size (length and depth) of your burning chamber. In general, I prefer my fuel for the culvert cooker to be the approximate diameter of a man’s wrist, and 4 – 6 inches in length. Split those chunks down for kindling and add small amounts to the fire to slightly pick up the heat output. For the Solo Cooker I increase the length to 10 -14 inches because of the greater depth of the burning chamber, and the fuel stands on end. .
* Consider making a good firewood stash one of your passions. Cut and split a quantity of your cooking wood (perhaps a half a standard firewood cord – 4’x4’x4’, and keep it ventilated and out of the rain. Keep a plastic tote or wood box of fuel within easy reach of your cooking fire.

2. Minimize the distance from the floor of your fire box to the top of your steel grate.This allows you to focus more on hot coals and minimal flame for cooking. With the Culvert Cooker this will measure 6 – 7 inches. In the case of the Solo cooker it will be 10 – 14 inches.

3. I repeat – Cook primarily with heat from hot coals and minimal flame. This necessitates starting your fire 20 – 30 minutes before “time to cook”, and by that time you should have good control of your heat.

4. Adjust the heat with small changes. Think of the control knob on a gas stove. Up a little/down a little gives you much better cooking results than major fluctuations. Need a little more heat – add a bit of kindling, or a chunk of fuel split in half. Fire too hot – give the hot flame or major coals two or three squirts with the spray bottle.

Practice, practice, practice, and you’ll become a master at the cooking fire.

Final Thoughts

So, construction is complete and it’s time to put your outdoor kitchen to its intended use. Gather your friends, your neighbors, and your family around your new facility and dedicate it to the Lord – it all belongs to him, he just lets us use it.

Prayer of Dedication:
Lord, God, we gather in gratitude around this wonderful gift from you,
* asking you to bless all who come here with gracious fellowship,
nourishing food, and warmth from the fire.
* Please give us a new love for strangers (hospitality) whom you will bring to us. May we also be challenged to share, even beyond what we’ve previously experienced.
* And Father, we long for a deepened sense of gratitude for your amazing provision.
– We pray all of this in the authority, power, and name of our Lord Jesus.




41 Comments

  1. Thank you, J P, for sharing this thorough article on the construction of your conduit cooker. Our most recent BBQ grill is nearing the end of its life, and I think a conduit cooker would be an excellent replacement. Did I see in one of your photos that you place a flat round of steel over the top when the cooker isn’t in use?

    To all, did you notice the Revere Ware cover on J P’s cast iron skillet? Those covers come in various sizes and will fit well on your cast iron cookware. They’re not being made anymore, and are increasingly difficult to find, even at thrift stores. Keep your eyes peeled for them when you’re out shopping.

  2. St. Funogas –

    I’ve given some thought to your two questions from yesterday. They’re great questions and they fit my belief that given enough thought and attention, most things can be factored into the system. I guess we’re calling it personalizing your cooker.

    Canning – Although I’ve put my time into assisting her, my wife is the accomplished canner in our home. Wild berries, picking and turning them into jam, are her favorite, but she’s done considerable meat and fish as well. We have yet to try canning on the culvert cooker but your question is prompting us to give it a try this coming season.

    Two concerns come to mind: Selecting the right canner/pressure cooker (will it hold up under the demands of wood heat, over many repetitions), and can we keep a steady enough hot fire (mostly a good bed of coals) to keep the pressure up for a length of time in the Pressure Cooker? I spent a bit of time toward the end of part 2, of today’s post, focusing on prepping for, and building a good cooking fire.

    You must think of maintaining a proper cooking fire as an art, and I believe if you give this enough time and practice you’ll develop the ability to maintain a fire that’s nearly as good as a gas stove, maybe better in some ways. Perhaps a good way to practice would be to fill a medium sized soup pan with water, place it on the cooker, bring it to a rolling boil and maintain that constantly for an hour. I’d say “go for it” and I believe it could work well for canning. Maybe other readers can speak to this from their experience.

    Masonry (stone surround as an alternative to the corrugated culvert) –

    First, a note about finding an appropriate piece of culvert, which can be kind of a spendy item. I went to the culvert supply company and they sent me to their “back 40” where they had a bone yard of different sizes and cutoffs. I ended up finding exactly what I needed for half the price. It’s worth a try.

    I hadn’t considered stone as an alternative to the steel culvert until you brought it up here. I guess that’s because it was the original plan by my brother, and then because it was so quick and easy and could be up and cooking with a couple of day’s work. Since I love doing stone masonry, and without a doubt it can be a more beautiful final product, I’ll talk about this for a minute.

    Stone will obviously result in a thicker wall than the culvert, which will move the person doing the cooking further from the pans and the food. Not a deal breaker, but worth considering. Most modern stone masonry is built as a facade against a wall of brick or cement block for stability. At a minimum that adds 4” – 8” of thickness, and then you add in the stone. Early stone walls rarely had a brick or block backing, but the stone was usually much thicker for stability. Good stone

    1. Hey JP, thanks again for posting this article, this is good stuff.

      I’ll keep my eyes peeled at the local auctions for a piece of culvert. I wish I’d’ve seen this concept a year ago, there were several culvert replacements going on in the area last summer. I wonder if the road department night have some scraps I could talk them out of. Anyway, I’ll try your idea if I can’t find a freebie or one at an auction.

      On using stone instead of culvert, I’ve always loved stone since as far back as I can remember, probably from all the cool stonework where I grew up in New England, lots of 400-year-old houses and building still standing. I’ve never liked the modern idea of a facade so I’d be doing mine the old-fashinoned way. I get my stone by doing my civic duty and cleaning up the rubble along road cuts. There’s a new selection every spring from the freeze-thaw cycles breaking stuff off all winter long. Of course I only take the choice pieces. I collect them every year and had a pretty large pile up until a year ago when I finally terraced most of my garden. I think I’ll try stone and be sure to keep in mind your idea to not let the cooking section get too far away, even though I do have long orangutan arms. Gotta keep up the resale value of the place for my heirs. 🙂

      Thanks again for the article.

    2. Re: managing the cooking temp. Many years ago, I learned the technique of cooking on a 19th century wood-burning stove. One key is moving the pot away from direct heat when that heat is too intense. Attentiveness is a required skill in this situation. A few burned meals become a good teacher.

      Carry on

  3. Thank you for the detailed description and tips!
    I especially liked the dedication.

    JWR, wow driving 50 miles to post! Good job! We had a huge snowstorm, then rain, which left roads very icy. I hope you didn’t encounter the same.

  4. I love the quote of the day. So appropriate for today. I posted it to my facebook timeline with a nice background. Think it touched a cord with folks – got likes and loves immediately. Not looking for likes and loves to get affirmation of myself, but to reach some of my people with a message to wake them up but not get banned from social media. I think I will try to do a small quote like this everyday (if I can find one). Thank so much for this!

  5. Thanks for the article! It wasn’t casually obvious to this painful fool where the:
    * 14 – 16 horseshoes, open hooks, or 2×2 inch steel angles
    Fit into the build. Could you please describe, and/or show in a pic? Thanks!

    1. “Thanks for the article! It wasn’t casually obvious to this painful fool where the:
      * 14 – 16 horseshoes, open hooks, or 2×2 inch steel angles
      Fit into the build. Could you please describe, and/or show in a pic? Thanks!”

      if you click on the picture just under the “Gathering your stone” heading, you should be able to see how he used the horseshoes. They are used as hooks to raise or lower the height of your cooking pot. The hooks or 2×2 angle could be used in place of the horseshoes.

      1. “you should be able to see how he used the horseshoes”

        Here I was thinking they were so the horses could slip into some warm footwear on those frosty mornings just like the rest of us like to do.

      1. Rawles,

        I’m going to give you a bit of a hard time here. This site is called SurvivalBlog. What 1 thing could possibly be more important than Covid and the Lies vs. Truth surrounding it? Covid is the perfect scenario for why a blog like this would exist in the first place. If not a virus, for survival prep, what is there…right now?

        1. Tom, with all due respect, do your own homework, Survival Blog has offered invaluable information to help us prepare for uncertain times. For whatever reason, uncertain times are here, and if you wish to argue about “Covid and the Lies vs. Truth” maybe you should contact your Congressman. Folks are here to learn how to survive difficult times, not to necessarily prevent them. If you need someone to hold your hand, you are possibly at the wrong place.

          1. TWB, I agree with you on, “do your own homework.”

            I just did a covid search here. Articles and comments for sure started last February, and maybe even before then. I saw so many articles throughout the year on covid, your accusations are baseless.

            We, hear at the blog, have been discussing everything concerning covid for a year.

            If you had been a blog reader, you would have known.

            I’m sorry that you are frustrated and super angry. That sucks.
            I used to bake my boys cookies or brownies and make them laugh their way out of the mood. Hope you find something to assuage your anger, as we are mostly kind here. Blessings to you, Tom, Krissy

          2. TWB,
            I couldn’t agree more, with your both of your comments. I was trying to be restrained with Tome/Tom, but after his responses to my post, I decided to end my interaction with him.

            Seymour Liberty

        1. I’m thinking maybe you should write an article if you think it’s needed. Or at least post comments voicing your own opinions on the subject.

          As always, hoping you…
          Seymour Liberty

          1. Seymour,

            Thank you for your advice. Unfortunately, I am not a writer. I just find it really odd that this site would not take a larger role in either debunking or confirming the response from government. IMO, the biggest survival situation we will face is truth vs. lies. How can a person prepare if they cannot speak about what is and what is not?

            I see your liberty and raise you to…hoping you help expose the truth.

          2. Seymour,

            Btw, I did voice my opinion on Covid and the comment was deleted.

            I have visited this site and have very high regard for Rawles. I believe in what he is doing and admire him for his investing style and intelligence. However, I believe Covid is a HUGE hole in the site.

        2. Tom, I can bring Covid to the “fore” for you…..

          We are in the midst of a pandemic.

          Wear a mask.

          Wash your hands.

          Avoid indoor gatherings.

          If you are uncomfortable with any of the above, please remain secluded at home. Nobody will mind.

          1. You’ve bought into the lies, I see. Newsflash, masks don’t work, washing your hands is 100 year old advice and avoiding others just divides us. Be free and embrace bravery.

  6. If you haven’t looked at making your own charcoal, you should. It sounds like you are old hand at simply using cured wood, but when you want high, clean heat it’s hard to beat charcoal, and big, tinkly homebrewed charcoal is fantastic.

    If you HAVE made your own charcoal, then I would be interested in what your process is.

    1. Phelps – Back in the 90’s my wife and I spent several summers leading mission teams in Africa. Charcoal making was a regular sight in people’s yards. I have a pretty good idea of how its done, but I’ve never done it personally. Sounds like I might be giving it a try. Thanks for the idea.

        1. JRJ
          Went with AIM (Africa Inland Mission). Hmmm, perhaps we’ve even crossed paths in downtown Nairobi! Or some remote location. Wonderful experiences, great memories. Even erected a stone base for a sign in front of a small rural church we built. Stone is good everywhere! A firm foundation, you know.

  7. Sonicman – If you go to the article section titled “gathering your stone” , and expand that picture you will see the horseshoes welded up on each of the stanchions. They are there to set the crossmember in at various levels.

  8. St. Funogas – here’s the rest of my comment that somehow got cut off:
    Good stone selection (flat and relatively thin), along with careful laying, can definitely accomplish the goal. Again, a little practice will go a long way toward the desired end.

    Lastly, the heat of a cooking fire is the bane of stone masonry so you will need to maintain at least a 4” buffer of crushed rock or beach gravel between your stone surround and the 6” or so of the steel ring which contains your fire.

    So, if you have the time, as well as patience, I’d encourage you to go for it. I’d love to see your final product.

    1. Hey J.P. thanks for the extra pointers. I made a rocket oven about 10 years ago and the base was all masonry so that the oven door was about 42″ off the ground. After all that work I wish I could have moved it to the new homestead. At any rate, I can see how a round circle of masonry would have more problems than a solid base so I’ll keep the gravel buffer zone as wide as possible. I’ll keep you posted on how it turns out.

      Thanks again.

  9. Just ran across something from another website, the feds are looking into BItcoin trans actions a month before the capital blowup to see if it is related to the riot. Hmm, good idea, but how about looking in to the funding of BLM and Antifa for the last year and half to three yrs ? I haven’t heard of anybody doing that yet, or is that a no no too?

  10. Dear Survival Blog community. As always, this has been a wonderful time together; so rich, personal, enlightening. I have to say, “this is something only God can do” as the song goes. Reading this unending array of quality articles, day in and day out, is something one can hardly explain, but then all you commenters take over and the blessings just flow. I’d love to meet you all face to face, however, that SB reunion in eternity may be even sweeter.
    Jim and Lilly, your gift to us goes on and on. Bless you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.