Cooking on the Orion Cooker
Way back in February, I picked up an Orion Cooker for an amazingly low price of $37 when the list price was $139. I didn't think too much about why the price was so low, it being February and all. I just figured they were clearing out last year's "summer" inventory. Un-boxing the cooker, I discovered that this was a used cooker. It had a dent and some paint stains on the lid. It really wasn't a problem as some manly bending easily fixed the dent and the paint came off with a quick swipe with a Brillo pad. Shame on Lowes of West Islip, New York for passing this off as new.
I assembled the cooker in less than 5 minutes; all you need to do is attach the four legs and set it up in the backyard for its inaugural run. I placed the drip pan in the bottom of the main cooking chamber and added some maple chips and a little mesquite, making sure to keep them out of the drip pan and close to the exterior walls of the cooker to get that smoky flavor I love.
The more I set this up, the more I was reminded of the traditional Dutch Oven cooking I've played with in the past. Orion claims that their cooker is using a unique process, but I've cooked this way for many a years and it wasn't new to me!
I then added some chicken stock to the drip pan, put in the cooking grate and was ready for the bird. You could try all sorts of liquids to flavor the bird, many people use beer, but I prefer the simple flavor of stock.
I rubbed the turkey with seasoned butter both under and over the skin. The bird is impaled on the same type of "throne" you would use when you are deep frying a turkey and lowered into the cooking chamber. It made me wonder why I need the cooking grate at all. The throne, for lack of a better term, held the turkey above the stock.
I put the lid on and built the fire using Matchlight as directed by the manufacturer of the Orion Cooker. You are directed to use an entire 13.5lb bag of charcoal, reserving 10-12 coals for the top. I found that the charcoal ring didn't hold all that and I was left with about two pounds of charcoal after I filled it up.
I lit the fire, using matches taken from my last visit to Duke's BBQ. I can't remember the last time I used Matchlight, but the smell of lighter fluid was overwhelming. I can't believe people actually use this stuff and expose food to these toxic fumes.
Now there was nothing to do but wait. The Orion manual claims "Remember – Fill it, Fire it and Forget it!" I don't think that's very wise advice. All this open fire needs to be watched carefully. I kept my animals and children in the house while this fire was raging.
The instructions claim that a turkey cooks at an astounding rate of 7 minutes a pound and boy were they right. I got caught up in reading She-Smoke by Julie Reinhardt, review coming soon, and let the turkey cook for 80 minutes.
Taking the cover off led to an interesting dilemma. Where do I put the hot lid? I had to walk to the sidewalk as it's the only place near the yard that's not covered in grass. As you can see, the turkey was a bit over cooked. It was a beautiful shade of copper. Getting the cooked turkey off the throne proved to be very difficult. Next time I'll remember to spray it with PAM prior to using.
So how did the turkey taste? It was moist and very flavorful. I've never seen the meat retract so much on a turkey leg before. I expected it to be tough since it was so compact. I don't know if you can see it in the picture of the breast, but it was very tender and moist, which surprised me as the bird was just short of being overcooked. The skin was pure rubber, odd considering how much butter I put on it, usually this causes it to crisp.
Cleanup of this machine was a real pain in the ass. Getting the now grease covered drip pan out was difficult and cleaning the narrow channel of all the ash was time consuming.
Do I recommend this cooker? For the most part. It cooks exactly as advertised and produces moist tender meat. For what I paid, I'm very happy; for full price - ah, not so much. It uses a great deal of fuel which makes it expensive to operate, compared to smoking a turkey in one of my traditional cookers. I'm also not too thrilled with the exposed fire. Fire safety is an important issue to me and my family. We've been down that road before.