Constructing My Culvert Cooker – Part 2


by by J.P., Survival Blog:

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


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!


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 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.


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


“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.

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