The General has been asked this question several times in the past week….guess this comes up with the advent of Spring! There is some basic criteria you need to follow in your decision to purchase a grill/smoker.
- First is that it should be able to serve as a grill and a smoker…where you can do both direct and indirect cooking.
- Second, it must have a cover or grill lid.
- Third is the most important…you must be able to control the temperature. (The General made that mistake a year ago when attending a Hearth and Patio Show. I bought the cheapest Cook Shack Smoker in order to save a few pennies… and it was the only model that one could not control the temperature. Guess what? I have used it only three times and never plan on using it again. Not that they don’t build a good product, but without temperature controls it is worthless.) Temperature control also means that you can maintain a steady, level temperature.
- Number four is the use of the equipment. Are you going to cater with it or is it strictly backyard/home entertaining.
- Five is the budget and what you are willing to spend.
Now let’s discuss what The General uses both at home, on the competition circuit, and in catering.
For home and competition, I still use a Weber. A Weber is a very versatile and low budget piece of equipment. I always can tell when someone has a bad case of the BBQ disease by the number of Webers in their backyard. If you purchase a Weber, be sure to purchase a couple of their cookbooks and cook those books from the front all the way to the back. Why? Because this is where you are going to build your skill set. You have to remember one thing. No tennis racquet ever won a tennis match. No set of golf clubs ever won a golf match. No ‘super deluxe Model 2000 shiny stainless steel gas grill’ has ever won a competition, nor will it make you a better cook…contrary to American marketing. (I call these “ego” grills.) Even if you have one of these, you need a “closet Weber” to practice on.
There is nothing wrong with a gas grill other than that The General has never experienced such intense heat. He clearly recognizes the fact that people like the convenience of gas grills for the sake of being able to go out and turn it on without any prep time. In fact, the little woman owned one when we met. When we got married, it was demoted to a corner of our basement. Many of the Webers now have a gas igniter that allows you to quickly light your charcoal…and The General would highly recommend that convenience. In fact, the next Weber I buy…and you will never know how many I own…will have that igniter feature.
Also don’t overlook the Weber “Bullet.” I think they call them Smokey Mountain Cooker…but on the competition circuit we call them “bullets” because of their shape. These are strictly for smoking hams, turkeys, etc. They come with a water pan to separate the meat from the fire and they add moisture to the cooking process.
Another consideration might be the “Big Green Egg.” Although The General has never used one, we have friends on the circuit who swear by them. However, this advice comes with a small bit of caution. It takes a little longer to perfect cooking on it.
Let’s go to the other side of the coin and look at the commercial products. The General owns two SPK-700 Southern Prides. Both of which are capable of cooking 700 pounds of meat at one time. The General has had a long relationship with Southern Pride and they really build a very substantial product. Why do I like it? It is propane assisted. This means I can keep a level temperature indefinitely without varying a degree. It is all indirect cooking with the firebox on the side (in the front). I only use two sticks of wood, unlike some of the smokers we see in Savannah that burn a whole forest. It has a convection fan that in essence turns the pit into a convection oven, and it is a rotisserie…self basting oven.
Following this criteria, you should be able to make a very intelligent decision about what to purchase. But remember, there are no shortcuts to success. The thing that we say in all the seminars we give is that you can be a little off on your food in the beginning, but you must remain consistent. How do you remain consistent?…by keeping notes on what you did. Don’t tell yourself you will write your notes later, because later never comes. What good is it if you hit a home run one time, and you cannot duplicate it another time?
If you have particular questions about other types of smokers/grills, or specific models, please feel free to comment and The General will be happy to give his two cents worth!