The Paleo Table: 6 DIY food projects to try in 2011

The holiday rush is over, and January 1 is right around the corner. For me, January always seems like a good time to start fresh and broaden my horizons. Even if you’re not a resolution-making type, the new year is always a fun time to try something new. Maybe your big project will be staying gluten-free for a month, or just cooking at home a few times a week rather than eating out. But for the more adventurous among us, I’d like to propose a few food-geeky projects to try this year.

6 DIY food projects

Julia's Orange Marinated Dried Beef

Make your own jerky. This is the number one project on my list! I am investing in a food dehydrator with some Christmas cash I got, and I can’t wait to make my own. Diane of Balanced Bites explains how easy it is to make your own jerky, WikiHow has an illustrated guide, and there are even more tips at Mark’s Daily Apple.

Build a meat smoker for ah-maze-ing barbecue. Buying a smoker is expensive for a single-use appliance, and you probably don’t have a tin-roof shack you can convert into your own authentic barbecue smoker. But never fear – you can build your own ceramic smoker for under $50. Watch Alton Brown do just that and make pulled pork with a flower pot, a trashcan, hardwood smoke and a lot of patience.

Beer Can Chicken

Cook a chicken standing up. You’ve probably heard of beer can chicken, but if you haven’t cooked a chicken this way, you’re missing out. The skin gets super crispy and yummy, but the meat inside stays moist thanks to the steam coming from the can of beer. Now, I wouldn’t go for beer can chicken anymore because beer is filled with nasty gluten. However, there are countless other options. A can of fruit juice or coconut milk would do just fine, or use a pint mason jar filled with chicken stock, wine, apple juice, or any liquid of your choice. Get directions for making a stand-up chicken on the grill or watch Christopher Walken make a chicken with pears (it’s kind of awesome).

Pickle something. Making Jalapenos en Escabeche is super easy and here’s a video on how to do it. You can also make fridge pickles with cucumbers (no canning equipment or boiling jars or any of that). This recipe has jalapenos in it too, but leave them out for regular ol’ tasty pickles.

Pot Garden

Grow your own fresh herbs. This spring I dug a hole in the backyard, put in some compost, planted some baby herbs that I got from the hardware store, and then pretty much neglected them all summer besides watering them every now and then. For all that effort (ha!) they repaid me by growing huge and providing me with fresh herbs to use in my cooking. Rosemary for roasting lamb, thyme for stews, basil for curries, and parsley for everything else. I love my herb garden – it almost makes me feel like a real farmer or something. Herbs do great in container pots too, and CHOW has a pretty good guide about growing them indoors too if you don’t have the space outside.

Grilled burger macro

Grind your own meat for killer burgers or meatloaf. Grinding your own meat sounds a little scary but you don’t need some medieval-looking contraption to make this happen. If you have a Kitchenaid mixer like I do, there’s a meat grinder attachment for it, but you can also make ground meat in batches in a food processor. Whenever I can, I do my best not to buy pre-packaged meat. Mark Bittman’s piece on making great burgers does a good job of explaining why. He also gives tips on selecting cuts of meat as well as seasoning.

What will you make?

Are you into the DIY foodie thing? Like experimenting in the kitchen and getting your hands dirty? Tell us which of these projects you’re likely to try, or give us more ideas for some DIY kitchen fun in the comments!

Categories: Cooking, Recipes, The Paleo Table


Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation

Have you heard about the Paleo diet and were curious about how to get started? Or maybe you’ve been trying Paleo for a while but have questions or aren’t sure what the right exercise program is for you? Or maybe you just want a 30-day meal plan and shopping list to make things easier? Then Robb Wolf’s 30 Day Paleo Transformation is for you.


  1. says

    Awesome post. I have done em all already except the ceramic smoker. I am fortunate I have a local friend who has 2 smokers. He uses one for meat/chicken and the other for fish. I supply the bounty and he smokes!! Great give and take.

  2. says

    Oh how I have missed Beer Butt Chicken (hey, my people are from the South and that’s just how we call it there) and I am so happy to have some alternative ideas for this undersung delicacy. Maybe coconut juice, or coconut juice and lime with some tequila? Maybe some sort of Norcal version?

    Okay now I’m hungry. Happy New Year to you and yours Robb and thanks for all your great work and inspiration!

    • Stacey says

      If you really want to make the beer butt chicken, but want to stay away from teh aluminum – check out the chicken plug roaster! I gave a couple out for christmas gifts this year and they were well received! Plus, it makes it easy to come up with your own choice of ‘brew’!

    • Kim says

      I noticed that when the beer butt chicken was mentioned it was said that beer was full of gluten. I’m not sure that is true for ALL beers. Yes, some are made with wheat, like hefewizen, some lagers are made with corn, and other lagers (like Budweiser) are made with RICE. Wouldn’t the ones made with rice be gluten free and somewhat acceptable?

  3. michele says

    Great list! Good tip about the KitchenAid attachment – I’m going to look into that.

    As a New Yorker, my outdoor project options are limited. My goals are:

    1. Take a butchery course.
    2. Learn to cook with organ meats.
    3. Make my own butter (so easy a cavewoman can do it, etc) from grass-fed milk.

  4. Renee says

    Get the 1000 watt dehydrator. You won’t regret it. Rutabaga chips are my favorite! Slice with food processor, simmer in salted water until a bit transparent (10 minutes once it starts simmering), load the trays and salt again.

  5. Justin S says

    Good list. Maybe I’ll finally put my food dehydrator to god use. Another good thing to try is rendering fat from an animal purchased from a local farmer. Consider adding hunting to your list. Although hunting isn’t everybody I think everybody should try it at least once. It gives you a whole new appreciation for where your food comes from.

    • says

      Rendering fat is a great idea (and super easy to do). I agree on the hunting thing. I used to get way too bored when I went as a kid, but maybe as an adult I should try it again now that I can sit still haha.

  6. Jenny L says

    LOVE THE POST! I am not a new year’s resolutioner, but I do like trying new things and Jan 1st is sort of a universal time to do that. On our vacation this last week we borrowed my mom’s food dehydrator and made some jerky of our own for the first time (in a dehydrator…I have just used the oven before). IT IS SO GOOD!! Just seasoned with some cumin, black pepper, and garlic…OH SO GOOD! We also tried veggies, but they turned out REALLY rubbery (any tips anyone?) and the fruit was to die for (strawberries, mangos, pears, and we snuck in some bananas for a treat! :) Off to buy our own dehydrator today!
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  7. Randy says

    I have made my own jerkey for a while and love it. I started with plan meat and dryed it, its as paleo as you can get and not bad at all. From there I added salt a little at a time and in very small batches until I got the flavor I was looking for. I havetryed several combomations of spice and salt and other stuff in small batches and for me the flavor I like and recipe I use is, I cut the meat lay iton the drying racks and sprinkle finley ground seasalt on one side, dry to my liking and eat. It cant get easer than that right. I am going to try making some pemican with my unsalted dryed meat, coconut oil, and some dryed blue berrys, or some other dryed fruit,(any ideas about the ratios would be nice. Good luck with your Jerkey Robb and I hope the new year brings you continued success.

  8. Galen says

    I will definitely be making some deer jerky in the next couple of days–does that mean it doesn’t count for next year since it will be in 2010?–since I hit a deer on my way to work Christmas morning (unfortunately not killing it instantly, causing me to borrow the night-watchman’s pistol once I got to work and drive back to put the poor thing out of it’s misery). Definitely made for an interesting Christmas day at work learning how to gut a deer via youtube.

    Just thought I’d share this interesting portion of my Holidays

  9. GeeBee says

    Heston Blumenthal’s perfect hamburger is already on my to-do list. I’m going to try his method for making the meat patty and maybe the processed cheese if I feel adventurous enough. For those that are interested it’s on YouTube. ‘In search of perfection (perfect burger)’.

  10. Penny says

    I’ve just started making deer jerky and my best effort so far was slicing it thinly and sprinkling liberally with iodized sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, rosemary and thyme. I layer it into a large glass baking dish, cover with saran and let it rest in the fridge overnight. I’m hoping to be able to add some snappy peppers back into my diet as autoimmune issues improve, but this’ll do for now!

  11. Ed says

    If you really want to geek out (more), use an Erlenmeyer flask for the chicken. It has a wide stable base, narrow neck fits easily into any size chicken, and can preheat the flask and liquid…otherwise, you are not getting steam until midway into cooking.

  12. Matt says

    AB’s terra cotta system is a pretty true smoker, but the good old weber kettle works almost as well. Just set up the lid’s vent over the meat side, with a super low heat and smoke factor (hardwood chips or chunks) on the opposing side. The only open bottom vent should be just underneath the fire, creating a classic ‘smoke pull’ over the meat. A bit more tending to maintain heat, but easy setup.

    Also, on the grinder side, pork sausage is super easy. Just use shoulder, no need to add fat. I like fennel, anise, salt, pepper, cayenne and few allspice in the seasoning mix.

    • says

      Thanks for the advice on the smoker. I’m excited to make some sausage – I got a sausage stuffer for my kitchenaid for xmas. Gotta get some casings from the butcher now!

  13. says

    I can attest that beer can chicken is pretty fantastic. My big project for January is starting to make my own sauerkraut. I’m a big fan of the stuff, cabbage is cheap, and I’m looking forward to adding more bacteria to my diet!

    • Mskatt911 says

      I own the 9 tray excalibur and have used it for years! I dry my own herbs, cranberries, strawberries, cherries, tomatoes, etc. When my kids were really small, I made “yogurt taffy”. They loved it and it had no sugar other than what naturally occurred in the fruit I used.

      I think it’s well worth the money! I take the trays out and I can make 4 quarts of yogurt at a time. I haven’t made jerky in it because my husband smokes it. We own a BBQ catering business and can smoke upwards of 300 lbs of meat at a time.

  14. Troglodyte in Training says

    And here I was all excited over mastering sausage-bacon gravy using coconut milk with powdered arrowroot for consistency.

    I foresee some jerky and Erlenmeyer chicken in my near future. Thanks for the tips!

  15. Brenden says

    This was a great post Robb. Is there any form of food dehydrator I should look for, or can i buy one from a Walmart or a place like that? As well for growing fresh herbs and spices is that something I can buy from a green house(I know that seems like a very begginer question but I am still learning these kinds of things)
    Thanks guys!

    • says

      I think a walmart food dehydrator would serve your purposes just fine. The bigger one you get, the bigger batch you can make, but for starters, why not just get whatever one you can afford. As far as the herbs, absolutely… I have had more luck growing herbs from seedlings/baby herbs than from seeds in most cases. Parsley and cilantro are super easy to grow from seed, but other than that I definitely start with baby plants. You can find herbs at most hardware stores (Lowes or your local place) or any garden center.

  16. Yvie says

    I make my own jerky every week! In fact, I almost live on it. I find that I feel like I’m forcing myself to eat at times; however, that’s not the case when I eat my jerky. This really helps me to get my protein intake and I only use grass-fed beef – either whole roasts sliced thin or ground. I’ll never eat commercially made jerky again. I got a dehydrator that retails for $90 for about $30 during Christmas and it has been the greatest retail purchase I’ve made!

  17. Mark Evans says

    I purchased a Ronco food dehydrator at my thrift store for $2!! I use it to dry fruits, make fruit rollups and make jerky of all types. It is great. If you find one, just plug it in and make sure the element heats. If it does you have yourself a winner.

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