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Sunday, April 15, 2012


I've wanted to get a smoker for a long time. I had a crappy Brinkman Smoke & Grill back in the mid 90s that was so frustrating to use it soured me on doing my own barbecue. At the time, I recall that the offset, side-by-side design that seemed to be the thing to get, but I didn't see any affordable ones at the time. I don't think they'd really started mass marketing that design through Wal-Mart and whatnot.

I was ready to pop for one, cruising Craigslist for a used one and got curious about what serious barbecue people use. I know you can throw crazy amounts of cash into anything, but surely there was a sweet spot as far as value goes.

Two different people who do the competition circuit told me to get a Weber Smokey Mountain bullet smoker, don't bother with an offset design and stay away from Brinkman, CharBroil, Flame, etc.

Those offset smokers, though, they seem to be pretty popular. An online forum actually clarified it for me: vertical smokers use less fuel and require almost no babysitting. You light the fuel, put water in the pan, load meat on the racks and go away for a few hours. The offset smokers, on the other hand, are great for someone who wants to have to feed fuel every 45 minutes to an hour and constantly monitor the temperature and make adjustments.

To tell the truth, I'd really enjoy that. Except I wouldn't use it very often because smoking a brisket would mean being shackled to the house for the day. I could do it on a brew day or something like that, but I'd much rather be in a position to go on the Three O'Clock Ride or take my kids to Worlds of Fun and come home to dinner.

The bullet design looks a lot like that Brinkman Smoke & Grill I hated so much, but scaled way up, coated in Weber's trademark heavy ceramic, with enough room on the racks for two whole briskets and probably six or eight chickens to boot if you were really going to max it out.

But for a start, I'm doing a whole brisket (it's a cheap cut of meat, but when you buy fifteen pounds of it, it's still an investment). I improvised a rub out of brown sugar, paprika, turmeric, black pepper, a little bit of cayenne, garlic powder, salt and coriander, drizzled Worcestershire over the meat first to help the rub stick, then injected the meat with a little rice wine vinegar, Worcestershire and lime juice and let it marinate overnight.

Then I put a ten pound bag of lump charcoal in the base of the Weber and, when it was going good, added four chunks of mesquite. Two hours later, it was still sitting at 220ºF or so, not budging.

At about seven hours, I was back home and by the smoker, and the temperature had dropped alarmingly, to more like 150ºF, which will, of course, never get the meat to an internal temperature of 190ºF.

I added a bunch of fuel, almost as much as I started out with, using my Weber kettle as a starting basin and transferring the lit lump charcoal and mesquite chunks after the starter fluid had burned off in case the fire left in the box wasn't sufficient to ignite the additional charcoal. Then I added a few pounds of unlit lump charcoal on top of that for good measure.

At twelve hours, the temperature was still holding in the cook range, about 230ºF or so. But the internal temperature of the meat was only 167ºF, so I added even more fuel and topped up the water pan for a second time.

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