At first glance, the little 12-by-20-foot building nestled in the trees behind the house might look like it’s used to house lawn equipment and stuff that will eventually wind up donated to a resale store. But once inside my little cooking shack, the casual observer might wonder how in the world the tight space is used as an outdoorsman’s culinary headquarters.
I’ll admit, I have packed a lot of cooking equipment into the shack, but I also have become quite adept at using the quarters to prepare everything from sugar-cured hams to blackberry cobblers. There is even a homemade wooden table that quickly converts into a dining table to accommodate my buddies who come over for an early morning breakfast of homemade ham or sausage, eggs and hash brown potatoes or in the wintertime, a steaming bowl of venison or wild pork chili.
As you walk inside, you’ll note a very sturdy table that houses an antique meat grinder given to me by my longtime friend, the late Bob Hood, who wrote about the outdoors in Texas for almost half a century. The old meat grinder still works perfectly and weighs a solid 80 pounds. Bob used to joke it could grind up a Volkswagen. I use it to grind wild game meat for my sausages each fall and winter.
The next item encountered, adjacent the table, is a little stand-up freezer in which I store fish and game. It is usually well stocked at the close of hunting season. As my supply of meat decreases, fish fillets are added. The small, wooden table in the back of the structure has my hand-crank sausage stuffer mounted on one end, leaving plenty of room for my guests to dine. When I have company coming, I simply move items around to best put the space to use. The wooden table also is home for my pressure cooker I use to can everything from venison to salsa.
Centered on the left wall is a heavy duty table made from 2-by-6s that sports a cooktop where my two-burner propane stove sets. There are a couple of shelves below the stove to store pots and pans. I keep my big cast-iron skillet with lid and a smaller skillet on top of the burner at all times, ready for action — one never knows when an impromptu fish fry might be in order. That cast iron skillet has many uses, and it always accompanies me on hunting trips in the fall. I use it for making everything from chicken fried venison steak and gravy to roasts with carrots, onions and potatoes. Cast iron holds heat exceptionally well and is great for either frying or slow cooking over low heat.
Next to my propane burner sits a very handy refrigerator. In past years, I have worn out a couple of those little dorm-sized units, but they never worked well for me. My sister recently gave me a down-sized RV type refrigerator that is big enough to serve my needs perfectly. There is plenty of room to fit the plastic tub I use for brining wild pork hams or cooling freshly smoked sausages. Before, when brining meats for up to seven days, I took up space in our inside refrigerator, which always caused a bit of friction with the wife.
Adjacent the refrigerator is my SmokinTex electric smoker. I’ve used these smokers for the past 12 or so years and consider it the one item in my outdoor cooking arsenal that I would hate to live without. I’ve used it so much through the years that the inside of the little building smells just like a smokehouse.
A couple years ago, I saw the need for two more items. One was a small chest freezer to keep the sausages and hams I prepare; the other was an oven I could use for baking. I solved my space problem by setting the little freezer at the end of the dining/sausage making table. On top of the freezer I placed a big wooden cutting board and on top of that, I set my new portable oven that does a great job baking biscuits, cobblers or even wild game enchiladas. The oven is fueled by the small propane bottles. The addition of an oven opened up new culinary worlds for me and proved to be a very handy addition.
Outside my little cooking shack and around the corner, I have my little cabin with bunks for what I refer to as “visiting dignitaries,” buddies who occasionally need a spot to sleep while in transit to and from outdoor destinations. In front of this cabin I build a fire pit and have a cooking grill made from heavy duty expanded metal. Yep, I’ve got things set up just about like I want them, but on second thought, I might be able to squeeze one more useful item into the shack.