Like a lot of blokes, I tent to rate myself when it comes to outdoor cooking, whether that’s barbequing at home or cooking while camping with family – usually on the BBQ or, on occasion, the open fire. For our family, the BBQ season runs all year … as I hate extra dishes.
We’re lucky enough in NZ to have the ability to hunt year-round, and that usually equates to most hunters having freezers full of meat. It doesn’t take long to get the urge to try some new dishes, as backstrap on the BBQ can – dare I say it – get a bit repetitive … and the longing for new recipes and techniques takes hold.
Smoking meat is nothing new – people have been doing it for centuries; the same can be said for cooking on the open flame. Maybe what draws us to the BBQ is some innate ancestral drive to harness one of the human race’s greatest discoveries … FIRE!
There are so many options available to us in this day and age from the gas-powered outdoor cooking appliance designed for the time-poor, electric-based wood smokers and grills, through to the multiple offset wood-fired beasts that you need three days to cook something on plus a degree in engineering and blacksmithing to use!
With this in mind, I was searching for a product that was affordable, didn’t take up a bunch of room on my patio and, if possible, was portable – just in case I wanted to take it on a trip. The final criterion was that it should be something I’d readily use on the weekend with minimum fuss.
After a quick internet search, the OZPig looked like it would fit the bill – plus they’d just launched a new oven smoker… Yes! A few emails later, the manufacturer agreed to ship over the latest model with the new oven smoker for a review. To say I was excited when it arrived a few days later was an understatement!
There’s a clue in the name … yes, OZPig is designed in Australia. Named after its robust appearance and squat shape, the OZPig was designed as a portable multipurpose wood-fire/charcoal cooker, whilst at the same time offering a 360-degree heat source with the good ol’ ‘bush TV’ ambience that only an open fire can give.
It becomes clear very quickly that the OZPig delivers on the multipurpose front with the ability to BBQ, chargrill, slow cook, rotisserie (with an attachment), wok cook, boil the kettle, wood-fire pizza and … bake cakes or bread. Add to this the optional extra of the oven smoker – it was clear this testfire was going to take some time!
The legs and chimney sections all fit inside the cooker body for easy stowage during transport in the customised carry bag – this is ideal for the hunter looking to do the base camp/vehicle type of hunting. And at only 17kg, the ability for the heli-hunter to take the OZPig on an extended multi-day fly camp would be a valuable addition.
Once out of the box, it’s clear the OZPig is well-constructed from solid steel with neat welds and no corners cut. Some well-thought-out design options give you the ability to cook directly above the heat source on the hotplate and, at the same time, slow cook via a camp oven pot on the side plate; you can even set the chimney up in two different configurations for either minimising external moisture ingress or to stop sap residue from running down the sides of the chimney pipes.
There’s minimum assembly required to get your ‘Pig’ ready for the first burn. Simply attach the chimney (don’t forget the spark arrestor) then screw on the legs and it’s ready to use.
I’d recommend reading the handbook prior to firing up the Pig for the first time, and if using in the open, check with your local authority about open flames. There are some steps to take like burning in the paint – which is required to keep the paint finish in top condition – and seasoning the hotplates for optimal longevity. I’d allow a good 2-3 hours to do this … as the comprehensive handbook states. So, keep those refreshments handy! The handbook has some good tips on optimising the fire-making, cooking tips, recipes and how to get the most from your Pig … well worth the read even for the staunchest of blokes.
If you’re the gearhead type, then don’t forget to accessorize your Pig … you can purchase everything you need from tool racks, rotisserie kits and chargrill plates through to camp ovens.
Like the OZPig stove, minimal assembly is required for the oven smoker. Just slot in the chimney, attach the door handle, place the shelves and it’s all set up.
The oven smoker has an operating temperature range from 80-400 degrees Celsius with a built-in temperature gauge which is necessary to achieve your optimal range. You can tell some thought has gone into the design with nice touches like the heavy-duty rubber covers over the door clasps, a chimney dampener for heat adjustment, plus a slot for your external food thermometer probes.
When it comes to cooking foods like meats, breads and – dare I say it – some vegetables, they just seem to taste better after being wood-fire cooked. It’s like there are some ancient taste buds that get stimulated by that extra flavour only cooking with wood can provide; add to this your favourite specialty hardwood smoke and you have a match made in heaven. With this in mind, I decided I’d jump straight into combining the OZPig with the oven smoker.
For the first testfire, I chose a nice piece of boned out fallow leg steak to smoke up. I simply seasoned it with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper.
After completing the initial burn-in period for the paint and seasoning the plates on the Pig, I soon had a nice bed of coals ready; I used a mix of manuka and some oak hardwood to produce the coals. Attaching the oven smoker is very easy – just slot it into the top opening of the Pig and you’re good to go. Now you’re ready to get the oven smoker up to temperature. Having previously purchased some bags of chicory wood chunks from a hardware store, I placed two fist-size pieces next to the coals.
Tip: Placing the chicory next to the coals allows the smoking timber to smoulder away and produce a consistent amount of flavoured smoke.
For this type of cut, I chose the low-and-slow method of smoking/cooking, which means you place the oven smoker on top of the pig the place the hot plate at the base of the oven smoker producing an indirect heat and a slower smoking process. If you require direct high heat for smoking/cooking, simply place the cven smoker on the OZPig without the hotplate.
Tip: Place the water pan, with water in it, inside the smoker unit – boiling water adds moisture to the environment inside the smoker and aids in moisture retention in your food. If you’ve ever experienced dry meat, then you’ll know how important this is.
It’s at this stage an external digital food thermometer comes in handy for dialling in on your desired meat/food finish – for me, that’s medium rare for venison. Simply slot the thermometer probes through the little side vent and you’re done.
Keeping an even temperature during the smoking process took some fiddling the first time round; a combination of using the chimney dampener and opening the Pig’s door worked. There’s an optional vented door you can buy as an extra – this would help with the temperature adjustment.
I added more smoking wood every 45-60 minutes to keep the smoke/heat constant, and the result spoke for itself … a beautifully cooked piece of venison. And the taste? Heavenly! Talk about melt in the mouth!
The second time round, things were easier, as I now had a good idea of how to dial in the temperature and ensure consistent smoke. This time, pork spare ribs and chicken breasts got the smoker treatment; they certainly didn’t disappoint, turning out succulent and juicy with a good smokey background flavour.
Of course, using the OZPig standalone is a worthwhile option; you can still impart some smokey wood flavour in a more direct way using the chargrill plate as a wood-fired BBQ. Venison eye fillets are a great cut for this type of cooking as they respond well to a high-heat, fast-cook. The ability to boil water and being able to slow cook a pot of stew or some shanks is not to be overlooked either. I can’t wait for those winter nights where I can prepare a slow-cooked meal and enjoy the bush TV whilst keeping the cool night at bay!
If you’re in the market for a wood-fired portable cooker/BBQ, then the OZPig is a serious contender at $390.00 RRP. Combine that with the wood-fired oven smoker at $320 and you have a very versatile wood-fired cooking solution.
The portability of the OZPig makes this unit something that’s more than just another wood-fired cooker. Maybe you’re just into the basics of throwing some snags and steaks on the hotplate over the weekend, but if you want to experiment with more flavour, then include the oven smoker and your favourite flavoured woods like manuka, mesquite and pecan, or fruit woods like cherry, pear and apple and really indulge your inner chef …
the OZPig product works.
Yes, there’s time involved in using this product, but ultimately, cooking is one of those things that – in my opinion – works better when you slow things down and enjoy the process.
$399 (smoker additional)
OZPig package includes:
1 x OZPig steel cooker body
1 x customised carry bag
2 x BBQ plates
4 x zinc-coated legs
3 x chimney sections
1 x spark arrestor
1 x multipurpose tool (wood poker & plate lift handle)
1 x mesh floor fire grate
1 x comprehensive instruction manual
Weight: 17 kg
Dimensions: 41.5cm × 36.5cm × 41cm
Oven Smoker includes:
1 x oven smoker body
1 x chimney with baffle
4 x stainless steel racks
1 x water pan
1 x thermometer
1 x chimney cap
1 x instruction manual