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!

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  1. sarena
    December 26, 2010 at 9:15 am

    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. Sean
    December 26, 2010 at 9:28 am

    The Christopher Walken chicken video is classic.

  3. Julie
    December 26, 2010 at 9:59 am

    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
      December 29, 2010 at 1:55 pm

      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
      November 13, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      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?

  4. michele
    December 26, 2010 at 11:04 am

    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.

    • Amber Karnes
      December 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      I’d love to take a butchery course. I’m hoping next week I might learn to field dress a deer.

  5. Renee
    December 26, 2010 at 11:16 am

    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.

    • Amber Karnes
      December 26, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks for the tip!

      • Jon
        December 27, 2010 at 12:19 am

        What do you guys think of the food dehydrator Alton Brown does? I saw him make jerky and dried fruits with it (2 separate episodes).

    • Penny
      December 27, 2010 at 6:17 am

      Thanks…I’m going to try those!

  6. Todd S.
    December 26, 2010 at 11:22 am

    Food and DIY – combining two of my favorite things. I love this post, especially the terra cotta smoker.

  7. Justin S
    December 26, 2010 at 11:52 am

    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.

    • Amber Karnes
      December 28, 2010 at 8:23 am

      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.

  8. Jenny L
    December 26, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    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.

  9. Randy
    December 26, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    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.

    • Randy
      December 26, 2010 at 2:19 pm

      Opps. I just realized this was an Amber post, Good luck Amber K and thanks for the very well constucted posts on this blog, you are doing a fantastic job.

      • Amber Karnes
        December 26, 2010 at 4:15 pm

        Thanks!! I can’t wait to try out drying some blueberries and such as well.

  10. Galen
    December 26, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    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

    • Amber Karnes
      December 28, 2010 at 8:24 am

      Wow! Well at least you have some venison to use. Good luck with the jerky!

  11. GeeBee
    December 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    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)’.

  12. AJP
    December 26, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Great list.

    How about this for a seventh?

    For that beneficial bacteria, try the really easy to make homemade sauerkraut.

    Cabbage + Salt + Patience = Fermentation Goodness

    I do it a bit different, but this is a good place to start to get the general idea.

  13. Betsy
    December 27, 2010 at 4:48 am

    I make this ground beef jerky all the time. Makes a great on-the-go snack.

  14. Penny
    December 27, 2010 at 6:24 am

    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!

  15. Ed
    December 27, 2010 at 8:40 am

    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.

  16. Kyle R
    December 27, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I received a dehydrator for Christmas and making some jerky is at the top of my list. Thanks for the links.

  17. Matt
    December 27, 2010 at 10:51 am

    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.

    • Amber Karnes
      December 28, 2010 at 8:26 am

      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!

  18. Darrin
    December 27, 2010 at 11:21 am

    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!

  19. Jason Sandeman
    December 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm

    Love this post. Have you heard of the excaliber dehydrator? I was drooling over it the other day. I was looking into making sausage as well. Could be fun.

    • Mskatt911
      December 28, 2010 at 4:20 am

      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.

    • Amber Karnes
      December 28, 2010 at 8:26 am

      I’ll have to check that out!

  20. Simon Fellows
    December 27, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    make biltong(bills dong ?) easier and no machine required…

    Merry Chrimble sunbeam

  21. Troglodyte in Training
    December 27, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    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!

  22. Brenden
    December 27, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    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!

    • Amber Karnes
      December 28, 2010 at 8:28 am

      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.

      • Brenden
        December 28, 2010 at 9:55 am

        Thanks so much Amber! I am going to give this a shot!

  23. Steven
    December 27, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Alton Brown made jerky with two cotton AC filters and a portable fan. The guy is the food McGyver.

  24. Yvie
    February 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    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!

  25. Mark Evans
    March 19, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    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.

  26. Kevin Kolk
    June 13, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Well, it’s not 2011, but I built the terracotta smoker. Worked okay with electric like Alton had it for a while but eventually wouldn’t stay hot enough. So like any good primal enthusiast I went back to basics and converted it to work using fire instead of electricity. ;)

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