Just add some smoke…

With all public gatherings banned this summer, there are no BBQ competitions this season. And of course, Adrian and I cannot get together for practice sessions either. Up to now, we’ve used Adrian’s Green Mountain Grill pellet smoker together with my homemade barrel smoker. With the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, that’s not going to be an option this summer.

Some extra work over the past few months meant a bit of unexpected money and I managed to convince my wife to let me use part of the money to invest in a new smoker. We agreed a budget of £1,500.

There are a lot of great smokers out there. I’ve used a Bradley smoker for years and have been very happy with the results. Unfortunately, we can’t use the Bradley for competition because it has an electric heat element. So my choice is a pellet smoker or a stick burner (one that uses just wood logs). The good stick burners are way out of reach of my budget, costing well over £4,000. So given the budget, and the competition requirements, it’s going to be a pellet smoker.

The range of smokers available today is immense ranging from simple units of under £500 to commercial products costing thousands. The £1,500 budget reduces the choices significantly. I’m after competition quality and features so the top brands available in the UK came down to these:

We’ve been using a Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone smoker with good success taking 10th place on brisket and 1st in bread in our first competition. So first thought was to get the latest version of the GMG. Adrian and I talked it over and spent weeks looking at the options. A good mate of ours, Stretch, from Kansas City who is a regular on the BBQ competition circuit suggested we look at Traeger. After sizing up all the options in my budget, I decided to go with the Traeger.

Joe Traeger is credited with creating the first pellet smoker back in 1985. It was an offshoot of his family-owned heating company in Oregon, USA. Patented in 1986, it would be 20 years before anyone else would make a pellet smoker.

I selected the Traeger Ironwood 885. It features 885 square inches of cooking space over two racks. It has a 20-pound pellet hopper giving more than 15 hours of cooking time (depending upon conditions). The digital controller makes it easy to set a temperature and be confident it will held steady.

I got the order placed in mid-March hoping for delivery before it any lockdown hit the UK. But coming from a European distribution facility meant shipping delays, so it didn’t arrive in two days as expected. Finally I got notice it was arriving on April 1st — would this be an April Fool’s joke??

But arrive it did — though social distancing requirements made the delivery a bit more challenging than expected.

The delivery truck arrived and dropped the pallet on the pavement in front of the house. And they delivered a new gas grill we had ordered at the same time quite unexpectedly!

Unfortunately, it was delivered about 3:00 pm so I was still working! Given the massive size of the packaging and the fact it was strapped to a pallet, I wasn’t too concerned. But Angela, a Glasgow native, spent the next two hours looking out the window at every sound! She was convinced someone would come along and carry it off.

Finally about 5:00 pm I got the chance to get it off the street. I got it unpackaged and unstrapped from the pallet and got Angela down to help me carry it inside. But at just under 200 lbs, that just wasn’t happening. So on to Plan B — assemble it on the pavement and roll it inside!

It took about 30 minutes to get it assembled — mostly due to the time it took to unpackage it; Traeger REALLY like cardboard! Assembly itself was less than 15 minutes. We got it inside and parked it in the kitchen so I could get back to work. A couple of hours later and it’s in place on the deck along with the new gas grill.

The next challenge is to get some meat to smoke! That’s proving a bit more challenging than usual!

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