Product Review: Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker

Putting the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker to work by smoking some pork shoulders for this product review.

When I first got into barbecue, my very first smoker was an Oklahoma Joe’s Higlander. It’s considered a “stick burner” because you can feed it smoking wood logs for your heat source (I would use a mix of charcoal and wood chunks). Fast forward to 2019 when I was approached with the opportunity to use the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker and write an honest product review, gotta say I was pretty excited! Kinda comes full circle. Here’s my breakdown:

The features

  • Unique airflow control system and sealed lid allows for precise temperature management
  • Cooking grate and meat hangers enable a custom smoking setup
  • Oversized, eight-pound charcoal basket holds enough fuel for over 10 hours of smoking time
  • Removable ash pan and porcelain-coated components make clean-up easy
  • Heavy-gauge steel construction ensures durability you can trust
  • Rubber handle grip is easy to grab and stays cool to the touch
  • Professional temperature gauge with glow-in-the-dark accents
  • Large, wagon-style wheels for easy mobility
  • Easily converts to a charcoal grill for added versatility
The airflow control has a simple numbered dial on both dampers to help keep temps consistent.

(FYI- I totally did a copy and paste here. But I saved you from going back and forth between their website and mine. Yep.)

What I love about the Bronco

The Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker stands about 43 inches tall and has a grill surface diameter of 18 inches.

I’ve used some barrel cookers in the past and liked them, but I gotta say this Bronco blows those other drums away! First off, I love the heavy-gauge steel construction of this thing. Helps with the insulation and makes it a durable smoke to use for years to come.

Second, I love the quality of the cooks that I get on this drum smoker. The flavor it imparts to the meat lets the smoking wood shine. If you follow me on social media, you know I love to smoke tri tip. If you don’t know, it is a triangular cut of beef from the lower sirloin of the cow and packs so much flavor and is fairly tender. Anyways, the first cook I did on the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker was hanging tri-tip. I smoked it using charcoal briquettes and hickory wood chunks. Smoked it at about 250F for an hour before reverse searing in a cast iron skillet. I’ve done this method many times before and folks love it. But this time cooking it on the Bronco it tasted so good that my wife told me it was one of, if not THE best tri-tip I’ve done to date! The meat had that hint of hard wood smoke smell and it added to the effect. This is a smell and a flavor that I don’t get on my pellet grills or ceramic grills.

Hanging tri-tip in the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco yielded some smoky, savory results.

Third, the versatility of being able to hang meats is awesome! You can hang meat such as steaks, roasts, and ribs in this thing and let the juices roll down the length of the meat and baste in it’s goodness during the cooking process.

Finally, the price point. At a retail price of $299.99 (US dollar), the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker makes for a great first smoker or even an excellent addition for those who want to try something different that the pellet grill or kettle they’ve been using.

If I had a magic wand…

That’s basically my way of saying, “what I would change” or even “cons”. To be honest, the two things I wish I could change aren’t too big of a deal. If this drum smoker had was easier access to adding more coals/wood during a longer cook. I did a couple of pork shoulders on it and was able to use the handles on the grill grate to remove the pork, then remove the deflector plate, and add more fuel to the fire. It can kind of be a hassle, but it’s worth it for the flavor.

The heat control is good, but the temperature gauge isn’t always accurate…but it does glow in the dark.

The other thing is the temperature gauge on the outside isn’t completely accurate, especially if you are hanging steaks or roasts in there. I used my digital thermometer probe for ambient temp and placed it at the same level of the gauge. I had a discrepancy of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you are cooking things on the grill surface, which sits above that gauge, then the temp is pretty close to accurate because the heat lessens the further you get from the coals/wood at the bottom of the drum.

The final verdict…

Truth be told, I love this thing! It is my favorite drum I have used to date and I love doing short to mid-range cooks on them. The flavor I get on the food I cook in the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker is outstanding and produces that authentic barbecue taste you find in the better BBQ joints out there. With the price point of only $299, the Oklahoma Joe’s Bronco drum smoker is definitely one to add to your collection!

BBQ Essentials 2.0!

Another year, another BBQ essentials list! Not to say that the items I shared last time are completely obsolete, but I want to add to the previous list. Consider it an addendum to the previous BBQ Essentials list. Check out more products that I love to use when grilling and BBQing!

Thermapen Mk4

Don’t overcook food again!

For those of you that follow me either here on this website or on Instagram, you’ll know how much I swear by using a digital thermometer. I like to cook by temp, not time. Every animal has lived a different life, meaning the meat off of one animal may be tougher than another, which can lead to the same cut of meat cooking longer than another. With that said, I use my Thermapen Mk4 from Thermoworks on every cook I do. I get fast, accurate temps and backlit, rotating display that changes with the various angles I use to probe. And with how frequent I have used it over the past couple of years, I haven’t even had to change the battery.

You can get your very own Thermapen at the Thermoworks website.

Gloveworks HD Nitrile Gloves

The unique texture on these nitrile gloves helps provide a better grip, even when handling greasy food.

I’m constantly asked what kind of gloves I use in my video posts on social media. In my previous BBQ Essentials post, I mentioned nitrile gloves as a must-have. I still believe this and I have found a brand I have grown to love in Gloveworks HD. They have a great grip and have had some great customer service from these folks, which goes a long way in my book. I love using the black gloves, but they also have other colors such as blue, orange, and neon green.

Check out these Gloveworks HD nitrile gloves on Amazon.

Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

Smoked tri-tip reverse seared in a cast iron skillet is my favorite way to cook this cut of beef.

I love to reverse sear steaks and roasts. While the flame-kissed sear you get directly on the grill grates makes for some beautiful culinary aesthetics, I prefer to sear in a cast iron skillet for two reasons:

  1. I get that seared crust over more of the meat surface in a skillet as compared to only where the grill grates touch
  2. I can add other ingredients such as butter, rosemary, and garlic for the meat to sear in and capture that extra flavor

My Lodge cast iron skillet has been used plenty over the flames and has gotten better with each cook. And for that, I give them my super-duper-important seal of approval! I recommend the 12″ skillet because it can accommodate my tri-tips and other big hunks of meat. I have other sizes of these skillets for cooking other dishes in and love them.

This is the best price I could find a cast iron skillet at online.

Chef Shamy Garlic Butter

That garlic butter from Chef Shamy making these NY Strip steaks more flavorful!

Remember how I talked about using ingredients to throw in the cast iron skillet when searing? I consolidate the butter, herbs, garlic, and parmesan all into one with the Chef Shamy Garlic Butter (wow, that sentence sounded like a paid endorsement. Don’t worry, it’s not). I have made my own compound butter and while it’s fun to do, I also like to how this blend is done and having it readily available at the last minute. The flavors lend themselves great to searing steaks, spreading on poultry, making garlic bread, and other good stuff.

Check out the Chef Shamy butter online at Amazon.

Anova Precision Cooker

Sous vide cooking your steaks before searing on the grill is an excellent way to make your steaks! (pic courtesy of PCmag.com)

One look at this device and you’re probably thinking to yourself: what on Earth does this indoor device have to do with BBQing outside? Well, the sous vide method of cooking is great for getting the food evenly cooked before searing on the grill. There. Tied it in. Seriously though, the Anova Precision Cooker with WiFi (there’s also a Bluetooth version available) will take you from a really good cook to a great one! Wondering what sous vide is? To summarize, its a method of cooking food in a tightly sealed bag submerged in temperature controlled water. The Anova Precision Cooker lets you control the temp of the water it cooks in, so you don’t overcook it.

A few months back I cooked a steak sous vide using the Anova and then seared on the grill afterward. Have you heard of “fork tender” steak before? Try “spoon tender” for this one! That’s right, I straight up cut this one with a spoon!

Check out the Anova Precision Cooker at a great price.

Product Review: Pit Hawg BBQ Ash Vacuum

The Pit Hawg BBQ Ash Vacuum from Dustless Tools.

Barbecue is a hobby that provides some good times and even better food. These are the things that drive most of us. But when we think of BBQ, cleaning is the last thing to comes to most of our minds. However, the upkeep is necessary to get the maximum performance out of your grills and yield the best food you can. That’s why when I was offered a Pit Hawg to demo, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Pit Hawg BBQ Ash Vacuum is made by Dustless Tools and is a lightweight, handy vacuum that is made with barbecue grills in mind. Also, it can also be used indoors for fireplaces and wood stoves. It is less than two feet tall and only 13 inches wide. It comes with a handle for easy carrying and the hose is about five feet long, so you can have your vacuum up next to you and reach all angles of your grill with the hose (as you may know, grills come in different shapes and sizes). Just a heads-up that the cord is 10 feet long, you may need to plug in an extension for outdoor use.

The Pit Hawg in action. Also, look at me with a picture on the internet! I’m famous (…is what the 1998 version of me would think)!

I usually clean my grills prior to using them (usually because I’m too lazy to do it the same day or the day after). That means I end up vacuuming up cold ash. Some of you may be eager beavers and like to clean soon after. You need to be careful of hot ashes and the air inside the vacuum creating a bellowing effect, which can cause a fire. If you can’t tell the difference between warm and hot ashes (as sometimes that is difficult), the Pit Hawg has a thermal shutdown feature that will turn off the vacuum if it gets too hot. Speaking of the inside, the Pit Hawg is easy to clean out. Simply undo the three latches on the rim of the vacuum, remove the lid, and dispose of the ash inside.

An “aerial view” of the vacuum.

Sometimes when I’m vacuuming with this, the suction isn’t the best. Thankfully the Pit Hawg has a button you can smash when you need more sucking power. It’s a big, yellow button on the top of the device that is fun to pound. Kids and adults in my house have fun smashing this button (the adults more so than the kids…and by “adults” I mean myself). The aluminum nozzle also has a couple of attachments to help better clean your grill, including a rectangular wire brush for grilling grates.

Not enough suction? Smash the big, yellow button!

Do I like this thing? Let me tell you that I bought a standard shop vac a couple of months prior to getting this Pit Hawg and my shop vac has sat in storage ever since. I like that this Pit Hawg is lightweight to carry, has good suction, and is easy to clean. The attachments to the hose help get the best clean you can. I like using this and think you would too!

Product Review: Joetisserie

The Joetisserie fits the Kamado Joe Classic 18” grill (and other similar sized grills) as seen here. Also seen here, meat not included.

I’ve been cooking in a ceramic grill religiously for the past 18 months, mostly going low and slow for barbecue. I’ve been using the Kamado Joe Classic, Classic II, and Joe Jr. I love how these things hold the heat for hours and hours (especially in the wintertime) and how they capture the moisture in at the same time. I’ve used the regular grill grates, cast iron grates, and the half moon griddle. While I recommend using all of these, my favorite accessory to use is the Joetisserie.

What’s in the box?

What comes in the box.

The Joetisserie works like a regular rotisserie and is fitted for the 18” Classic. The packaging includes a steel spit rod (or skewer), two adjustable forks (or claws) to keep the food firmly in place for spinning, a large, wedge-shaped ring to keep the skewer in place, and the motor for spinning the steel spit rod. The motor comes with a plug because it requires electricity, so you’ll want to make sure your grill is close to a power source. Also worth noting is that the motor is strong enough to spin up to 40 lbs. of food.

Assembly

To help attach the food to the skewer, one side has a dull point on the end to help move the food down the stick (but not too sharp as to impale…unless you are running full force with it at someone/something). Make sure to first put one claw on the skewer facing the food, then the food itself, and finally the other claw to keep things in place whilst spinning.

Here’s a video of the unboxing (a re-enactment if you will) and assembly of the Joetisserie:

Using the Joetisserie

You can cook a variety of meats, veggies, and fruits rotisserie style. Two of my personal favorites are chicken and pineapple. I’ve also attempted al pastor and have had some success with it. The advantage to cooking food this way is that as it’s internal temp starts to rise, the juices don’t usually drip off. They keep rolling around as the food spins, meaning the food is basting in its own juices. In fact, the best, most juiciest whole chickens I’ve made have been rotisserie style using my Joetisserie.

Chicken spinning on the rotisserie…or should I say, Joetisserie.

One tip I’ve learned after charring the skin on a few of my birds is when lighting the coals, try to keep your hottest ones to the outer portions as opposed to directly under the meat. That way, you can get a more even cook for both the outside and inside of your food. Another option for those with more patience is to let the coals burn past their peak and then use those cooler coals to cook with.

Some al pastor being sliced to put into tacos!

While the Joetisserie is great to use, one super minor issue of how to store it comes after you are finished using it. You could always try to put it back in the original box it came in, but the custom cut styrofoam will eventually come apart. No custom bags or storage bins are available, so you’ll either have to find the right size of box to put it in or be like me and put some parts one place and the rest on top of your fridge in the garage.

With that said, here’s my pros and cons:

Pros

* Simple to assemble
* Food becomes self-basting
* Fits most round, 18” ceramic grills (including large Big Green Egg)
* Easy to use

Cons

* Limited availability to purchase
* No storage kit available

Conclusion

I could watch the rotisserie spin around all day. It’s a bit hypnotic in a way. If you check my social media posts, you will occasionally see me sharing videos of spinning chickens and other foods. I can’t help it. I could watch those videos on repeat! Even though there are no storage bags available (at the moment), I highly recommend the Joetisserie to add yet another style of cooking to your kamado!

 

Product Review: Looftlighter

🎵This coal is on fire🎵

If you use charcoal like I do, then you’re lighting up batches of them as frequently as Netflix adds and drops shows from their lineup. I’ve used newspaper, paraffin wax squares, and, I confess, even lighter fluid* (but only once, I swear). Newspaper burns out quick and you need to stuff enough under the coals in the chimney starter to keep a quick fire burning long enough to get the coals lit. Paraffin wax, while easier to use, can take a while to light the coals and you may need two or three at a time to get the fire going.

*SIDE NOTE: using lighter fluid for coals is discouraged due to the flavor it can impart on the food you’re cooking and is an ABSOLUTE NO-NO for use in ceramic grills because the fluid can seep into the ceramics and infuse its chemicals into the taste of everything cooked in them going forward.

The product in the package.

I started looking into electric lighters and came across the Looftlighter, which is known to be the original electric lighter of it’s kind. With it’s patented hot airstream process, it essentially blows hot air onto the coals without the use of CO2 or other hazardous chemicals. With temps getting up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, think of the Looftlighter as a blow dryer on steroids.

No assembly required.

The coals start to get hot in about a minute, flames start showing soon after. I light them up in my ceramic grill and usually do two spots in the pit, three if I need a fire fast. My favorite part of using the Looftlighter? Watching the embers fly!

Fly embers fly!

The button on the handle of the Looftlighter is conveniently placed where the thumb can easily hold down for long periods of time. The heat starts immediately, so no need to repeatedly push on the button to get it to start. I should also mention that the cord is about 10 feet long, so depending out how close you barbecue to your house, you may need an extension cord.

The heating element is in the middle and the exterior casing helps it get cool to the touch quickly.

After you are done using the device (which only takes about a minute to cool), you can rest it on the side with the hook which helps prevent the hot end from tipping over and touching the surface. Having a bottle opener on this hook is a clever touch which comes in handy for us barbecuers.

I’ve used the Looftlighter at least a dozen times now and here’s my perception:

PROs

  • Gets coals hot faster than traditional methods
  • Button starts heat immediately
  • Exterior safety casing cools fast
  • Hook allows for device to rest while cooling AND doubles as a bottle opener

CONs

  • Need to be nearby power outlet/plug in
  • Exterior casing prone to bend during and soon after use, especially if dropped (not that I did that or anything…)

CONCLUSION

After using this device for a few months, I refuse to go back to newspaper and matches. The Looftlighter is a quick and easy way to light a fire. No flames emitted from the device and with the exterior casing around the heat source allowing for a fast cool down after use, it is a safe way to ignite those coals.

Product Review: Flame Boss 300

The Flame Boss 300 will revolutionize the way you smoke on your grill!
The Flame Boss 300 will revolutionize the way you smoke on your grill!

Usually with product reviews, I like to hold my opinion to the end. But I’m gonna be forthright with you now: I love the Flame Boss 300! Now I’m gonna spend the rest of the article telling you why.

To start off, the contents of the package include the following:

Photo courtesy of flameboss.com
Photo courtesy of flameboss.com
  • Flame Boss controller
  • Power adapter
  • Pit temperature probe
  • Meat temperature probe
  • Blower
  • Mounting adapters for Kamado-style grill/smoker
  • Product manual
  • Flame Boss sticker!
When using a ceramic grill, make sure the holes in the daisy wheel are slightly opened to best control temps.
When using a ceramic grill, make sure the holes in the daisy wheel are slightly opened to best control temps.

This device not only monitors the temp in my Kamado Joe, but it also lets me adjust it. This is possible by the blower/fan you put in the bottom vent that will either increase or shut off air flow to keep your temperature right where you want it. For example, I originally had my brisket go on the Kamado Joe at 275F at 8:00 p.m. When I went to bed, I decided to adjust the temp to 250F while I was asleep.

Screenshots showing the progress of the smoking process. Click on the pencil icon next to the temps to edit.
Screenshots showing the progress of the smoking process. Click on the pencil icon next to the temps to edit.

IMG_3006

 With other Flame Boss devices, you can adjust the temp from the device itself. With the Flame Boss 300 (and 200), you can use website or mobile app (which I’m beta testing right now) and adjust from wherever you are. So when I lowered the temp, I didn’t even have to go outside: I was able to do this from my bed.

This is the brisket being discussed. The Flame Boss 300 let me sleep easily while this was smoking.
This is the brisket being discussed. The Flame Boss 300 let me sleep easily while this was smoking.

You can also receive text notifications when the meat is done, and even set a warming temp for the grill to keep it steady!

My text alert informing me the meat is done!
My text alert informing me the meat is done!

The Flame Boss 300 allows you to monitor up to four different temps at the same time! This is possible due to the splitter adapter plug ins and software that measures three meat temps and the grill temp.

With any product we buy, we are also paying for customer service. Jeff, the owner, will occasionally handle customer service issues directly and his company is overall quick to make sure your Flame Boss is working right and that you are completely satisfied.

Working at night.
Working at night.

As with all reviews, I list both pros and cons. While I love this device, there are a couple of downsides. First, the fact that it solely operates on a power adapter and has no option for batteries. Good news is they do offer a portable power source which will power your Flame Boss when you don’t have an outlet available. Second, the cost. The $369 price tag is enough to keep some prospective buyers away, but after one use you will see the long term value of less stress and more free time in your life for many cooks to come (and that you are in good hands if anything goes awry). Finally, the cords. You have a cord for the power adapter, one for the blower, another for the grill temp, and one more for the meat. It can make for a tangled mess, but no wireless probes exist at this point and this is the best technology we have to date for monitoring BBQ temps.

PROS

-Easy setup
-Monitor both grill and meat temps while you are away from home
-Ability to adjust temp inside smoker via the app is HUGE
-Get text alerts when meat is done
-Set warming temps after meat is done
-Track multiple meat temps at once
-Top-notch customer service

CONS

-Lots of cords
-Cost
-Must be plugged in

SUMMARY

I’ve used the Flame Boss 300 a bunch of times and can’t imagine smoking meat without it. With the monitoring of multiple meat temps and the ambient temp on the grill surface simultaneously, as well as an app to adjust grill temps on the go (and not to mention the stellar, personalized customer service) I’m convinced the Flame Boss 300 is a game changer!

Traeger HQ Visit

Outside of Traeger HQ.
Outside of Traeger HQ.

Back in February, I had the opportunity to visit Traeger‘s mothership in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was escorted around by the one and only Chad Ward, who is their Director of Marketing (BBQ) and also has his own shops in Florida called Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply.

Chad was kind enough to show me around, let me check out some Traegers in action, and get a sneak peak at the new Traeger Timberline, which was freshly released today. I waited to post this article for a while, but I made a blood oath gave my word that I would not share pictures until the day the Timberline was officially announced. Since it has been announced, here are a few pictures I took:

Behold: the Timberline in all of its beta testing glory!
Behold: the Timberline in all of its beta testing glory!
See? I wasn't lying.
See? I wasn’t lying.
The built-in Wi-FiRE is gonna be a game changer!
The built-in Wi-FiRE is gonna be a game changer!

I also had a chance to sit down with Chad and do a Q&A, which I have transcribed highlights below.

Dan (Me): When exactly did Traeger begin?

Chad: Traeger began 30 years ago in 1987 by Bob Traeger in his old wooden barn in Oregon. Bob patented all of his designs, which have been used for other wood fire cookers such as Fast Eddie’s pellet cookers. Bob was the innovator in wood fire cooking.

One of the original Traeger grills turned into an art exhibit at HQ.
One of the original Traeger grills turned into an art exhibit at HQ.

D: I know Traeger headquarters recently moved from Oregon to Utah.

C: Traeger moved from Wilsonville, Oregon to Salt Lake City, Utah as part of the ownership change that took place with Jeremy Andrus as CEO. The move to Salt Lake City was announced late 2015. Jeremy was previously the CEO of Skullcandy and became interested in Traeger because he bought one, cooked on it and said, “this is the best brand that no one knows about.” Months later, he and some other investors bought the company, aligned their channel strategy, and have helped the company grow exceptionally.

D: One thing I’ve noticed about your marketing strategy is that it’s all about fun; enjoying the experience instead of trying to be all professional.

C: What’s better than being outdoors, with family and friends, and cooking a great meal? And by doing that on a Traeger, it’s a lot simpler than any other method. You get consistent results, great quality, you’ve always got that flavor and taste off of a great wood fired grill and that’s fun! That’s how we want people to see the brand.

D: I noticed you have your own brand of pellets. Do you actually make them or hire it out?

C: We are the only pellet grill company to own their own pellet mills, meaning we control the quality of wood we bring in, we control the quality of pellet we turn out. It is the only 100% wood based pellet (we do use a food grade soybean oil to bind the wood together). One test I’ll tell people to do: take a glass of water and drop a Traeger pellet in. It immediately dissolves back to sawdust. You do that with another pellet that uses an artificial binder and it just clumps up.

D: It seems like Traeger has this sort of “cult” following, but not in a bad way. As if you have your own brand of loyalists. Why do you think that is?

C: I think it comes back to taste and consistency. People know when they cook on a Traeger what they’re going to get off of it. They’re very loyal to the brand and we appreciate it. We don’t take that lightly. We try to stay in touch (via social media) not only with those who are loyal, but even those who are new to the brand. We love staying in contact. We not only want to be the grill manufacturer, we want to be the subject matter expert. In fact, we have over 1,000 recipes on our website and these are recipes that have all been tried and trued and shot right here in our culinary kitchen. These are recipes either written by employees or Traeger enthusiasts.

Howdy.
Howdy.

D: Traeger grills are a 6-in-1 cooking device (smoke, sear, bake, roast, braise, and BBQ). What is the difference between baking something like lasagna in the oven as compared to in a Traeger?

C: You’re cooking over 100% wood fire and not a heating element. It’s going to give your lasagna that kiss of smoke.

D: Soemthing that was news to me (since I’ve never used a Traeger before) was that Traegers, like all pellet grills, is that they need to be plugged in. Do you have anything coming out to work around that?

C: You have to have some type of power. We have used solar panels to power a Traeger. We’ve even used marine batteries. There’s ways to get around having an electric receptacle in a building to plug into. FYI- that power is needed to run the auger and the fan to control the temperature and fire.

D: You all have your own line of rubs and sauces.

C: We do. We are really excited to soon be launching a whole new line of rubs and sauces that we have put a year’s worth of R&D (research and development) into. We’re really proud of them. In March, we are dropping around 25 new accessories, such as butcher paper. We also have a 3-piece BBQ set coming. Traditionally, 3-piece sets include a fork, spatula, and tongs. But when was the last time you saw someone use that giant fork?  Instead, we put a pig tail on ours so you can take that steak or tri-tip, scoop it, and flip it over. That’s a much better third tool than a fork.

C: Our customer service we have invested heavily in.  You have a problem with our Traeger and you call our customer service it will get resolved it will be resolved in a timely fashion. That is something we review (with our leadership) every single day: what’s our customer service call volume and what’s our percentage of resolution with in the acceptable time period.

D: For anyone who hasn’t used a Traeger before, what would you advise?

C: Don’t overthink it. We have a great instruction manual on how to put it together. You putting it together helps give you a better idea of why it is structured the way it is. We also have a great cookbook that comes in every grill we sell. And I tell you what: that is where to start. Pick that chicken recipe. Or pork butt recipe. And just follow it to a T. If you’re grilling, start with chicken. If you’re smoking, start with pork butt. They are pretty cheap cuts of meat and are pretty forgiving.  And one thing, not just for Traeger users but for anyone using a grill or smoker, get a good digital thermometer. Everyone wants to say “oh, it’s done after seven hours” or “oh, it’s done after five hours” but time is just a guideEvery animal has lived a different life. Some cuts are more tender, sometimes that same style of cut is more tough. Some will cook quicker than others. You need to be cooking to internal temperatures. Once you start cooking to internal temps, you will become a better cook overnight. Also, don’t forget that when you pull the food out, it will gain another 3-4 degrees in temp, also known as the carryover cook. Don’t forget to estimate that.

Chad and I taking a candid shot in front of a grill. :)
Chad and I taking a candid shot in front of a grill. 🙂

So, there you have it folks! Thanks again to Chad and Traeger for letting me hang out!

Product Review: Cutting Board from Flying Dust Woodworks

My custom cutting board.
My custom cutting board.

Having BBQ’d pretty much weekly for the last two years, one thing that I’ve come to appreciate is a good cutting board. I’d been using a generic cutting board I bought from Walmart and I knew I’d beaten the crap out of it when I noticed the wood splitting apart along the connected pieces. My time for wanting a new cutting board became a necessity and since I am using my board for prepping, slicing, and presenting, I decided to splurge and look into buying a solid, beautiful and unique cutting board.

Through my Instagram account (@learningtosmoke), I found a custom board maker out of Austin, TX called Flying Dust Woodworks (IG: @flyingdustwoodworks). I sent a DM and quickly got a response from David, the owner. I gave him the dimensions and told him which colors I wanted incorporated into the board and quickly received a quote. After agreeing to the price and paying in advance, David got to work on the board. The quality of the customer service provided was top notch. Very transparent: sent me updates every couple of days on the board’s progress, when it shipped and even when he was notified it was delivered. I’ve also had questions since receiving my board and he has been available to help. Customer service definitely adds value to a product.

After a few uses, the board started to lose its color because it was drying out after each wash. To give more background, I live in a high elevation area and have hard water here, which doesn’t help.

Dried out board about to get the conditioner treatment.
Dried out board about to get the conditioner treatment.

Thankfully, David informed me of some board conditioner you can buy at the hardware store to help keep its original color and quality. It was easy to apply and looks great again.

The cutting board after the application.
The cutting board after the application.

If you follow me on Instagram, then you will have noticed this board when I display some of my BBQ. It makes for beautiful presentation and something that will hold up for a long time.

Here are my pros and cons for this cutting board:

PROS

  • Thick, sturdy feel (1.5 inches thick)
  • Variety of quality woods: walnut, cherry, hard maple, and a couple of woods I haven’t heard of before: padauk and yellow heart
  • Colorful presentation of natural woods
  • Can probably be used in lieu of a folding chair in a bar fight
  • Made to the exact dimensions and looks I wanted
  • Customer service
  • Flat-out beautiful!

CONS

  • Cost for custom board can be high
  • Board dries out (but can be easily conditioned as mentioned above)

CONCLUSION

I love this board. I consider it a piece of art that I only use for special cuts of meat, such brisket and ribeye cap. It was by far the most I’ve spent on a cutting board but I absolutely love it and I look forward to ordering another one soon. I highly recommend each of you get a custom board and if you need an idea of where to go, email David at flyingdustwoodworks@gmail.com.

Ribeye caps displayed on my cutting board.
Ribeye caps displayed on my cutting board.
IMG_1119
Ready to feed my cutting board the juices from this brisket as I slice it.

 

Product Review: Smoke

The Smoke in action.
The Smoke in action.

I love using my digital thermometers. I love the quick, accurate reading I get from the Thermopop and even quicker response from the Thermapen Mk4. So when Thermoworks released a new device that caters to BBQ’ers like myself, I had to pretend my other awesome digital thermometers wouldn’t suffice and that I needed yet another one. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on the Smoke the day before making turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

The total package. See what I did there?
The total package (see what I did there?).

The Smoke is a wireless, dual probe thermometer for BBQ that monitors both the temperature of the food and of the pit. I took pictures of the unboxing so you could see exactly what comes in the package:

Straight out of the box.
Straight outta Compton the box.

 

All of the contents laid out.
All of the contents laid out.

From left to right in the picture above, the contents are as follows:

  • High temp cooking probe
  • Base unit
  • High temp air probe
  • Wireless Smoke receiver
  • Grate clip
  • Lanyard

Assembly is quite easy. Just press the power buttons on both devices and plug in the probes.

Referring to the picture above, I’ll review what each button on the front of the base unit means:

SET: used to set alarms. You can set both high and low alarms for each probe.

VOL: changes the alarm volume setting or sets mute.

UP and DOWN ARROWS: used to adjust the high and low alarms.

LIGHT ICON: turns the backlight on for 20 seconds.

ON/OFF: turns alarm on and off. You can have the alarm off if you just want to monitor temps and not be alerted.

The backsides.
The backsides.

I show this picture of the back of the devices for a few reasons. First, the buttons:

ON/OFF: turns device on. Hold for three seconds to turn off.

°C/°F: changes display between Celcius and Fahrenheit. Device defaults to Fahrenheit.

CAL: this button is used for calibration purposes. The device is pretty accurate, so you may never need to use it. However, it’s nice to have just in case.

TRANSMISSION BUTTON: used to turn the transmission to the receiver on and off. Can be used to connect multiple receivers if buying additional ones.

Next, those silver rectangles are magnets. These come in helpful if you want to stick the base unit to the smoker or its metal appendages (however, I mainly use it to stick to the side of my fridge when not in use). Third, the base unit has a kick stand that folds out to stand on its own. And finally, I post this pic to show the batteries are easy to access and replace if needs be (they take AA batteries).

After you’ve powered on the base unit, turn on the wireless receiver. At first, the receiver will show “con”, which means it is in the process of connecting to the base unit. This may take a few seconds to connect. The connection is strong enough up to 300 feet apart, but is reduced when obstacles such as walls or doors stand between the two devices. With that said, I’ve walked around my house and have had no issues with the connection (with the base unit outside).

It only takes a few seconds to connect to the base unit.
It only takes a few seconds to connect to the base unit.

One thing I’ve noticed with the wireless receiver is that there is some latency between its connection with the base unit. It’s most noticeable when getting your smoker/grill up to temps. The picture I share here shows a small bit of lag between the two devices.

Just a small example of the latency between the base unit and wireless controller.
Just a small example of the latency between the base unit and wireless controller.

The bit of lag should be expected with wireless connections like this and it isn’t even a bother.

PROS & CONS

PROS

  • Accurate, simultaneous temperature readings
  • Wireless receiver works up to 300 feet away from base unit
  • Probes can handle temps up to 572°F (which I don’t recommend cooking your meat to)
  • Can swap out air probe for a different probe (sold separately) spring you can monitor temps of two food items at once
  • Backlight on both base unit and receiver

CONS

  • Wires to the probes can get tangled, especially when storing, and are a little tricky to unwind fully due to their stiff nature
  • If alarm is set, it has to be turned off on both the receiver and the base. You can turn off the one on the receiver, but the base unit outside will continue chirping until you go out there to turn it off.
  • No mobile app to sync up with. However, Thermoworks is planning to release the Smoke Gateway which will be compatible with a smartphone app later this year.

I’ve used the Smoke many times now and I can honestly say I love it. I can’t imagine BBQ’ing without it. Thermoworks makes high quality digital thermometers and they’ve hit another home run with the Smoke!

Product Review: Thermopop

The Thermopop gives accurate readings in only 5-6 seconds.
The Thermopop gives accurate readings in only 5-6 seconds.

When I ventured into the world of BBQ, I was using a basic “analog” meat thermometer to gauge temps. I was content with this and there’s still no shame in doing that. As I researched BBQ methods, a lot of people, novices and experts alike, seemed to speak highly of the Thermapen Mk 4 from Thermoworks. This is a digital thermometer that gives accurate reading in 2-3 seconds and is used by America’s Test Kitchen. The price tag on this was a bit steep compared to my old meat thermometer ($5 compared to $99), so I looked into a more cost effective model made by Thermoworks called the Thermopop. This one has some similar features to the Thermapen Mk 4 (which is awesome, by the way) and costs only $29.  I’ve spent a few months using this for a more extensive review and I must say I’m quite impressed! You get quick, accurate readings within 5-6 seconds, which is much quicker than other thermometers on the market. This comes in helpful if you are either a BBQ enthusiast like me and don’t want to keep the lid open for too long or a grilling fiend (also like me) who doesn’t want to spend too much time hovering over a hot flame.

One of my favorite things about this is the rotating display. It rotates four ways: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start. Sorry, the old Contra code for 30 guys popped in my mind so I went with it. The directions of the display go up, down, left, and right in 90-degree intervals. It comes in helpful for the different angles I check meat temps.

Grilling burgers to the right temperature for the family. The 90-degree rotating display is helpful.
Grilling burgers to the level of doneness my family prefers. The 90-degree rotating display is helpful.

The button to rotate the display is conveniently located on the top back side, near where your index finger goes. Right next to that is the Fahrenheit/Celcius button to switch between the two (if you’re into that sorta thing).

The rotating display and Fahrenheit/Celcius button are conveniently located on the back.
The rotating display and Fahrenheit/Celcius button are conveniently located on the back.

Another convenient thing about this battery-powered device is that it automatically turns off after five minutes of inactivity. I love that because I tend to forget to turn it off and the battery would likely have died a few times on me by now.

The Thermopop comes with a pen-like holder for convenient storage and carrying.
The Thermopop comes with a pen-like holder for efficient carrying and storage when not in use. It also comes in nine different colors.

The Thermopop can measure extreme cooking temps from -58°F up to 572°F! When measuring food temps, I sure hope your BBQ foods never get up to an internal temp of anywhere near 572°F. With that said, I have noticed this thing is good at measuring ambient heat. Granted, this isn’t what it is meant to do and I wouldn’t take it for precise measurements, but it is good for a general gauge for that sorta thing.

Having a back-lit display sure is nice, especially when BBQ’ing in the dark and/or measuring the food temps in a low light setting, such as the inside of your smoker.

Thanks to the back lit display, the big numbers are easy to read in the dark.
Thanks to the back lit display, the big numbers are easy to read in the dark… even while measuring the temperature inside my fist.

The only thing I don’t like about this is the fact that it isn’t waterproof. I’m being picky here because your non-electronic meat thermometer you buy for less will be just fine if dropped in a puddle or in your favorite beverage. With that said, it is splash proof so using it in the rain will be just fine. And I’m speaking for the top part of the Thermopop, the electronic portion. You can stick the needle in water to measure liquid temps with no problems.

Getting the perfect temperature for your hot chocolate is quick and easy with the Thermopop.
Getting the perfect temperature for your hot chocolate or coffee is quick and easy with the Thermopop.

And in case you were wondering…

The snow temps are accurate.
The snow temps are accurate.

 

Pros: 

-accurate readings in only 5-6 seconds

-rotating display to best read in the direction which you insert

-displays both Fahrenheit and Celcius degrees

-back light for easy reading in low-light settings (especially when meat is still in the dark smoker)

-automatically turns off after minutes of inactivity

Cons:

-digital portion not waterproof (the needle portion is)

Summary: 

-having used this consistently for four months, the Thermopop is simple to use, holds up quite well, and gives consistent, accurate readings. I trust this device and recommend you buy one!

Click here to order your very own in your favorite color right now!