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Morgan_Weber

Texas BBQ-ing Methods

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So I realize that even considering this equates to some sort of BBQ-ing sacrilege, but has a thread ever objectively covered the differences (good and bad) of using a traditional wood-burning smoker, versus a gas smoker, versus an electric smoker (ie. Bradley Smokers)?

I grew up in South-Central Texas and I know that a majority of traditional BBQ-ers would shun a Bradley-type Smoker, but I am wondering if it is just because it is "new-fangled" technology? I do a considerable amount of BBQ-ing at home and I must say that after tending a fire throughout a night for an extra-long smoke on a brisket, can be a pain in the butt.

Bradley's website claims that their wood 'bisquettes' smoke much cleaner and more concentrated than a fire--not to mention, less carcinogens (not that I care). Plus, one can keep the heat at an even temperature, which is no easy feat on a tradtional wood-burning smoker.

Can anyone make a reasonable argument for a traditional wood-burning smoker over a Bradley? (and don't give me any bullshit about its not what the "top-joints" do). I'm looking for real reasons why I shouldn't click "buy now".

I've got visions of smoking a brisket for as long as my heart desires, without tending a fire and checking temperatures every half hour.

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My first question, respect to the Bradley is, how cost effective is it. Do those little briquets raise the cost to do barbecue significantly?

Here is my method. I have a Brinkman electric smoker. Sorry to see that it got only one star at the Amazon site, I'm very happy with my brisket.

I use pecan wood, soaked at least 24 hours that I lay on top of the electric grid. I smoke my brisket for the three hours or so that the wood lasts and then typically transfer it inside, to wrap in aluminum foil and continue a slow cook in the oven at 300 F for several hours to break down the protein and make the brisket pull apart tender. I would have no problem using my electric smoker for the entire process, and would continue to feed wood as needed, perhaps even turning off the electricity once the wood had started burning on its own.

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Our own Dave the Cook debunked the Bradley cost myth here. I'm a devoted and happy Bradley user, having ditched a Brinkman years ago and finding the constant attention of a Weber kettle to be too much of a pita given my interest in smoking stuff.

One of the benefits of using a Bradley for things like brisket is that you can stop the puck feeding, turn up the oven, and leave the brisket right in the unit to finish. That's what I do with pork butts, for example: no need to transfer them into an oven to finish. However, the one I have peaks near 250F, so one requires a bit more patience than one needs in a 300F oven.

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Just to reinforce the cost lesson, today I smoked a 5-pound brisket, two full baby-back racks and 18 large chicken wings. Spreading the dollar-an-hour cost over that much food just makes it inconsequential. I should also point out the price of the basic Bradley has dropped dramatically in the last six months or so. I've seen it advertised at well below $300. So the capital investment is getting smaller, too.

There's a point to which Chris alluded that explains why I like the Bradley so much: it simplifies the creation of good product by separating the cooking from the smoking. This lets me concentrate on one aspect or the other -- control my variables, in other words. I know there's an old-school mentality about all-night smoking over a low fire, but I think that speaks more to tradition, camaraderie and expressions of machismo than to good food. I'm all for staying up all night and drinking beer, but that doesn't lead to good culinary judgments, in my experience.

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these little "Bisquettes" that the Bradley smokers use. Are they only made/sold by Bradley, or do third party companies make them?

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As far as I know, only Bradley makes them. But you know, Jeff, if you and a few thousand of your closest friends bought Bradleys, we could create a market . . .

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There's a point to which Chris alluded that explains why I like the Bradley so much: it simplifies the creation of good product by separating the cooking from the smoking. This lets me concentrate on one aspect or the other -- control my variables, in other words. I know there's an old-school mentality about all-night smoking over a low fire, but I think that speaks more to tradition, camaraderie and expressions of machismo than to good food. I'm all for staying up all night and drinking beer, but that doesn't lead to good culinary judgments, in my experience.

See, this is along the lines of what I was thinking. It seems like there is soooo much more control with the Bradley. I think it just makes more sense. I know some people live and die by tradition, but man, when it just seems like it makes so much obvious sense at such an easier conenience, I'm willing to give it a try.

Is it worth the price jump to get the digital Bradley over the entry level one?


Edited by Morgan_Weber (log)

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As far as I know, only Bradley makes them. But you know, Jeff, if you and a few thousand of your closest friends bought Bradleys, we could create a market . . .

Once I start living in a place where I can actually keep a smoker, grill, etc., I would seriously consider something like this. It would be nice to be able to do both hot and cold smoking, and I don't think that's really possible using just a grill. Seems like some sort of dedicated smoker would be best. Like Morgan, the idea of simplicity/automation is very appealing to me. Even if there are slightly higher operating costs involved, I think it would be worth it.

I just wonder if enough people had the Bradely, would other companies make the special "bisquettes" just like multiple companies make those coffee pod things for all of the various cup at a time pod coffee machines.

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As far as I know, only Bradley makes them. But you know, Jeff, if you and a few thousand of your closest friends bought Bradleys, we could create a market . . .

Like Morgan, the idea of simplicity/automation is very appealing to me. Even if there are slightly higher operating costs involved, I think it would be worth it.

I have a Weber Smoker, which gets the job done I suppose, but man...it is a pain to keep the temperature controlled. Keeping the fire going too, is no day of leisure. I might run down to Bass Pro Shops and pick one of these puppies up.

My grandpa would probably roll over in his grave..."an electric smoker? not in my day..."

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As far as I know, only Bradley makes them. But you know, Jeff, if you and a few thousand of your closest friends bought Bradleys, we could create a market . . .

Like Morgan, the idea of simplicity/automation is very appealing to me. Even if there are slightly higher operating costs involved, I think it would be worth it.

I have a Weber Smoker, which gets the job done I suppose, but man...it is a pain to keep the temperature controlled. Keeping the fire going too, is no day of leisure. I might run down to Bass Pro Shops and pick one of these puppies up.

My grandpa would probably roll over in his grave..."an electric smoker? not in my day..."

Yeah.. I mean, if I am going to be smoking/cooking a lot of stuff in one, it would probably mean that I was having a party or something. And that would mean I would probably be making OTHER stuff, too. Having to constantly fiddle with a more conventional smoker (especially one fueld by wood/charcoal) would be a lot of work. Also, for someone NEW to the world of smoking (that would be me), how bad would it suck if you spent a lot of money on briskets and spent time making a rub and all that, only to screw up the cooking of it because you stuggled with more conventional smoking methods.

Just think how cool it would be if they really tricked out the digital smoker and added an 802.11 WiFi interface to it. You could monitor the thing and control it from inside the house using your computer. Or, you could have a little app running on your iPhone. :rolleyes::cool::wub:

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Consider me a traditionalist who prefers to get a good night's sleep. I used a charcoal Brinkman for several years and lost a lot of sleep tending briskets overnight, and have been using a Weber kettle more recently for pulled pork and for grilling. But a Bradley is appealing for the 12 plus hours usually required for smoking a brisket properly. I would be interested in hearing more about the newer digital version. I saw it at Cabella's a year or so ago, but am not sure how much of an advantage it provides.

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Consider me a traditionalist who prefers to get a good night's sleep. I used a charcoal Brinkman for several years and lost a lot of sleep tending briskets overnight, and have been using a Weber kettle more recently for pulled pork and for grilling. But a Bradley is appealing for the 12 plus hours usually required for smoking a brisket properly. I would be interested in hearing more about the newer digital version. I saw it at Cabella's a year or so ago, but am not sure how much of an advantage it provides.

Just bumping this up to ask if anyone has the digital version of the Bradley and what you think of it.

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I have a Weber Smokey Mountain aka WSM. I've had it run for 18 hours without much attention for the 1st 12 hours. My question is what is the difference in flavor between the electric and a more traditional rig. I have an offset, a bullet (WSM) and a gas "Afterburner" that I used to use with a Brinkman water smoker. Between the three, they all smoked meat but the flavor is different for each. The offset is more time intensive but you can use all wood and really load it up with meat. The WSM is "set it and forget it" and more versatile because I can cook direct & indirect. It's so well made that when I shut it down, it will leave me with charcoal that can be reused. The Afterburner worked as advertised but I got tired of replacing wood chunks in the coffee can you use to generate smoke.

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I think Mesquite is a traditional fuel for smokers and grills here in Texas, but I have come to prefer milder woods such as apple, especially for pork.

What do you all use? Different wood for different meat, fish and foul?

Briquettes or chunk charcoal? I have been using chunk, but find a lot of unusable small grains in some brands.

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Can anyone make a reasonable argument for a traditional wood-burning smoker over a Bradley? (and don't give me any bullshit about its not what the "top-joints" do). I'm looking for real reasons why I shouldn't click "buy now".

Count me as one who won't argue against your way of thinking. After many years of using a variety of traditional smokers such as a WSM, a large Klose offset, etc, I made the jump to electric and have never regretted it. Life is simplified, and the final product is consistently delicious.

BTW, after reviewing a number of electric smokers, I narrowed my search down to 2 units - Bradley and Cookshack. Though more expensive, I chose the latter for a number of reasons. Much better build quality, super insulated, no moving parts to break, and no proprietary pucks to be tied to. I have had the unit for nearly 6 years and it has been used weekly in all manner of weather without a single problem. There was a thread comparing the 2 smokers awhile back that you may want to review before making your decision. Click here.

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I almost bought one, but I will probably get the Big Green Egg XL instead. costs a lot more, but is a lot more versatile, from gill to pizza oven to high heat searing to easy to use smoker etc.

What I don't like about the Bradley - not that I've ever even seen one, but from reading smoker/bbq forums:

It seems to leak brown water, so I can't put it on my deck which makes it useless to me.

It only uses the pucks they make, you can't get other wood and I don't like that. I want to smoke some German style things and you need other wood for that.

It does not use "real fire" and that just bothers me on some primal caveman level.

You can't really use it for cold smoking (just as the egg or webber etc) w/o mods. I'm not that interested in cold smoking, but would consider it a worthy option if it were there.

Some of the parts appear to be a bit flimsy and can crack/break (front feet?).

As for the digital one, I'd stay away from it. It seems that you can get much better results with one of those third party PIT (or what they're called) controllers.

All this based on what I read over several days on different sites and forums. Just the reasons for me personally not to get one after all, and I had it in my shopping basket several times already.

Of course, if you don't want to spend that much money, it's a great deal and seems to get the job done just fine. the pucks are not that expensive, I think it comes down to about 1$ per hour or so, not worth worrying about. And they come in all the traditional woods that you'd probably want to use.

I just don't like things that limit me in their use from the get go, I want to decide which wood I can use, not Bradely. Something that's most likely not all that important to most that read this here.

They seem to have great customer service and the message board on their site is lively. Of course, mostly filled by devoted Bradely smokers, keep that in mind :-)

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I think Mesquite is a traditional fuel for smokers and grills here in Texas, but I have come to prefer milder woods such as apple, especially for pork.

What do you all use? Different wood for different meat, fish and foul?

Briquettes or chunk charcoal? I have been using chunk, but find a lot of unusable small grains in some brands.

I don't use much mesquite, what I can find in stores still needs to dry. I've had mesquite sap sputter out of chunks that spent 2 years in my garage. I pretty much stick to pecan and hickory for everything but I haven't smoked fish, so if I were to do that I might try maple, apple or another fruit wood.

As far as fuel is concerned it depends on the smoker I'm using. My offset gets a chimney of charcoal and then just wood splits for the rest of the cook. My WSM gets charcoal for long cooks because of the burn consistency. If I want to grill or cook something under 4 hours then I'll use lump (chunk) charcoal. The problem with lump, is finding good lump. What I've been able to find has ranged from OK to "mostly chips & dust". I just bought a 40 lb bag of Best of the West and when I opened it the the lump on top was in 6" large chunks. I'll have to break them down to a usable size. I've found rocks left in my WSM after burning another brand of lump and still others have had severe popping problems after being lit. If I had the money (read if I wasn't such a tightwad) I would try one of the extruded charcoal products, it would seem to have the advantages of lump and the consistency of charcoal.

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I got the digital Bradley after a few years of using a Brinkman, and I find that especially for long smoke times and large quantities of product, it is a great machine. It does leak "liquid smoke" as the moisture from the water pan and product condenses on the door and drips down, so I have the whole thing in a full sheet pan from a rest. supply store: $10 fixed that issue no problem. Bradley sells all the different woods I care to use, and then some: mesquite, hickory, apple, and maple are all in my arsenal at the moment. In my opinion there is nothing else comparable in terms of ease of use and quality of the finished product, simply because of the level of control you have. Even after a few beers, there's no fear that you will forget to stoke the fire or reload the pucks. Because of the puck-feed mechanism, once the wood has burned down it is automatically ejected into a pan of water, stopping the burning and preventing any acrid buildup, even over very long smoking periods, something that as far as I can tell no other product offers.

This is a device for people who want to EAT and PERFECT barbeque, not for those with the primeval urge to burn things. It gives you a level control unavailable through any other means.

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I am like previous posters regarding experience with a variety of smokers. I have had many WSM's, had a large Texas offset built by David Klose, Kamado #9 (a horrible choice), BGE (a great unit that does it all) and a cookshack FE100. If you want a one unit does it all the BGE is the choice, great for home use. For just smoking the FEC100 by cookshack is the bomb. Computer controlled pellet feeder that is heavily insulated and easy to use. I can do a whole case of ribs at a time or four big briskets. They are not cheap but are great cookers.

I assisted my local country club with their purchase of one as well as a local brew pub. Nice units for restaurants that want the ability to do some smoking but not huge quantities like a regular Q place would have.

With the FE100 I use all hickory pellets, the unit is light on smoke and hickory works well for everything I do.

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About 3 months ago, I simultaneously cooked three essentially identical small pieces of pork butt, about 4lbs each, using three different methods: Big Green Egg with Cowboy charcoal and a couple hunks of hickory at approximately 180F-220F, Bradley with Auber PID temp controller and hickory at 185F, and sous vide at 185F for 6 hours after smoking in Bradley for 2 hours at 185F. With both the Bradley and the Big Green Egg, I had a Thermapen temperature guage with needle probe read 185 for 1 hour before taking the butt out. I recall them both being about 8 hours as well (but I can't recall well). Not exact, but close enough for me.

I only used a little salt and pepper on the outside for seasoning. I ate this myself, and my wife "blind" tested it. There is no question that the Bradley smoked meat had the best texture and taste. The Big Green Egg was next - still very good - but drier, and sous vide last. All we're pretty good, but the sous vide meat just kind of had the wrong texture and much less smoke taste.

I've cooked with a wide variety of charcoal and wood smokers, as well as my oven. I think I'm pretty picky about the results. I also love sous vide for medium rare 33 hour chuck roast and moist fish and chicken - but not for higher heat stuff. The Big Green Egg is much more versatile at the high end - it can get really hot and can really sear a steak. The Bradley is much more versatile at the low end - it can smoke salmon at 140F or lower.

A couple of tips on the Bradley:

1) I originally noticed kind of a "bad metallic smoke taste" when I first got the Bradley. Now, it may be time for the metal to season, but now I also empty the water pan that catches the burnt pucks once an hour or so - not critical.

2) I leave the vent pretty open when smoking so the smoke "flows through" the machine, rather than just sitting on the meat. I close it up after smoking is complete - usually for me, 2-3 hours max, to conserve moisture in the meat.

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aside of the primal urge to burn things (LOL) I do prefer to do things the old fashioned way, which makes electric smokers feel somewhat "wrong" if that makes any sense. I would get an Auger controller for my BGE though, just because there might be quite some money in the smoker that I'd rather not have to go to waste for some medieval experiment :)

One major drawback for me is the selection of woods though. Beech wood is what's used for most smoking in Germany (Austria, etc) and those are the things I miss and crave. And as far as I can tell, there's no beech puck to be had. This lack of the option to use unusual woods or add other flavorings (like juniper needles) to the smoke is to me the main reason not to go with a Bradley or any of the other smokers. But then, I'm German and I want to make some of the things I miss, make them the way they were made for hundreds of years.

A slightly different agenda on my side I guess. Hickory etc don't exist in Germany, not as far as I can tell. I just bought a pile of smoking books over there and they all use beech as the base wood.

FWIW, what I hear and read about the Big Green Egg (BGE) is only good stuff. Some even managed very low temp smokes, though that's not high on my to do list. I love smoked meats of any kind, smoked fish is not so much my thing. I prefer fish raw or from the bbq or seared. Not poached, boiled, or smoked. Again must a personal taste preference, but it plays into the decision making here.

Lots of good stuff about the Bradley too, but if I'd start having sheet pans and smoked water on the deck I'd get into serious trouble, especially since we just spent a gazillion on the new deck ;-)

I don't think you can go wrong with a Bradley if you're mainly interested in American style smoked things. And it's not that expensive that you could not justify something else in addition down the road, if need be.

Good luck and let us know how you decide and what you're making! Always looking for new info on smoked things :-)

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I've been thinking about getting a Bradley for sometime now. However, like many others have noted, I feel there is something lost in plugging in your BBQ machine to make BBQ.

So, I have a question for the Bradley owners. When I'm BBQ'ing a pork shoulder, I just leave the thing in the pit until its done. I'm constantly smoking. This results in a very dark, very smoked out, somewhat dry exterior "crust." (I've heard this crust called by the names "Mr. Brown" and "outside"). The question is, with the Bradley are you still getting the crust? Not just the pink smoke ring, but the actual hard, almost black, crust.

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This is a device for people who want to EAT and PERFECT barbeque, not for those with the primeval urge to burn things. It gives you a level control unavailable through any other means.

OK, perhaps I've gotten a little riled up here! I apologize for the implication that there is anything wrong with Oliver's "primeval urge to burn things" and I'm certainly guilty of it myself. It's amazing how much passion BBQ inspires! Obviously, I like my toy, and I like the BBQ I make with it. I get the same kind of "crust" with the Bradley that I got with the more standard BBQ techniques. (As an aside, for an in-depth discussion of the Smoke Ring phenomenon, check out this topic from the archives).

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Man those Bradley things look nice. Unfortunately, my father builds traditional smokers as a side hobby, and I think he would disown me. :unsure:

I have a smoker that was built for me, with the side fire box and all that, and yeah, it is a PITA. If I want to smoke a rack of ribs for dinner at 7, I have to start FIRST THING in the morning or they won't be done in time. Yes, things taste really good but (and PLEASE PLEASE don't tell anyone I said this :raz:) it is annoyingly complicated. I rarely use it, because you know, what if I want to, like, leave the house during the day?! God it feels so good to come clean here. Anyway, if I could afford one, and if did I didn't fear disownment from my family, I would SO get a Bradley! Then, I'd lie and say I got the fire juuuuusst right!

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