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My New Bradley Digital Smoker – A Review

December 27th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
This entry is part 1 of 6 in the series Bradley Digital Smoker
Bradley 4-Rack Digital Smoker

Bradley 4-Rack Digital Smoker (from bradleysmoker.com)

Santa Claus was good to me this year. Several family members contributed some cash to my gift (or maybe to their future free dinners here) to help me get the next tool in my bar-b-que arsenal: a Bradley Digital Smoker (BDS). Over the years, I’ve smoked ribs and things on all sorts of equipment, from Weber Kettles to Weber Smokey Mountain and Brinkmann Smoke-N-Pit bullet smokers, to my New Braunfels Black Diamond horizontal smoker, and even my CharBroil RED gas grill. The one thing I’ve never used was an electric smoker like the Bradley or the Masterbuilt.

This is why I wanted to add one to my stable of cookers this Christmas. So, one trip to Bass Pro Shops later, I walked out with the last Digital Smoker they had (the floor model) for 10% off the sticker price.

This was not a rash decision either. Weeks of research went into this … And here is how I finally ended up with a Bradley Digital Smoker in my breezeway, waiting for the first rack of ribs which are absorbing their rub in my refrigerator right now.

Convenience

I am writing this right up front. My buying decision was not driven by economy. If you’re looking for an explanation of how to get great bar-b-que on the cheap, this isn’t it. Startup costs to bring the Bradley home are going to be greater than $500 in most cases. I could buy two full size CharBroil Silver Smokers for that price and still have money left over to buy enough pork to feed 50 people. No, this purchase is more akin to a mid-life crisis purchase: it’s about convenience. I’ve tended fires all night long and hand-cranked a whole pig on a spit over an open pit more than once. Every year I throw a summertime party where I bar-b-que shoulder for 18 hours tending the fire every 45 minutes, then catch a few hours sleep so I can wake up and start the fire again for spare ribs. I understand what it takes to make “real” bar-b-que. And I decided that I would like to enjoy the flavor of smoked food once in a while without the hassle of dragging my pit out and tending the charcoal fire for hours. The main driver of the decision to buy an electric smoker was the desire for “set it and forget it™” convenience 1. I want to put some meat in the box, set timers and temperatures, then go in the house and watch TV for a few hours while something else worries about the bar-b-que pit temperature for me.

The Options

If you want convenience, electric or propane are your main options. Some companies like Traeger make wood pellet grills that have a pellet feed mechanism, but they can be really expensive, and they haven’t really perfected the digital controls which offer the highest level of convenience. Besides, they are all much larger than the Bradley, and I didn’t want to have to roll out the grill from the shed every time. I like something I can carry out, use, then carry back in the basement.

Within the reasonably priced electric smoker world, there are two main manufacturers: Masterbuilt and Bradley. After that decision, there is the manual or automatic (digital) control to decide. How did I decide between them? Here are some factors which put the Bradley Digital on top.

What the Hell is a PID?
What is a PID? If you search online smoker message boards, you will find many references to something called a PID. A PID or PID Controller is an acronym for “Proportional – Integral – Derivitive” controller. PID refers to the types of mathematical equations which can be used by a process controller. In this case, a temperature controller.

A simple temperature controller (like the bi-metallic strip used in many window air conditioners or mechanical thermostats) simply changes shape as the ambient temperature changes and mechanically opens or closes a relay to activate a heater or cooler. As similar simple electronic controller can be made which simply turns on when the measured temperature falls below the setpoint, and turns off when the temperature raises above the setpoint. But this is an imprecise method and temperatures may fluctuate over 10 or more degrees. A PID controller uses the three types of equations to analyze not only how far ambient temperature is from the desired temperature, but also how rapidly the temperature is changing, and how it changed when heat was last applied to the system. This results in more accurate control. Inexpensive PID controllers built specially for smokers can maintain a temperature within +/- 1 degree F.

  1. Stability. I read that some people felt the Masterbuilt was “tippy.” When the door was opened, a few people in message boards reported that the cabinet had tipped forward dumping their food. I got to see the Bradley and the Masterbuilt next to each other on display and after opening the doors and giving them a little tug, I can understand the difference. The Bradley feels more stable to me.
  2. Heft & Build Quality. The bradley also feels heavier and more solid to me. I equate this to better insulation and therefore better heat retention.
  3. External Smoke Generator. The Bradley has an external smoke generator. The Masterbuilt smoke generator is inside the cabinet. I have always wanted to cold smoke things like salmon and bacon, and this just isn’t possible when the smoke generator is built into the cabinet. Several mods can be found online for separating the Bradley smoke generator from the main cabinet to that truly cold smoking is possible.
  4. Auto Wood Feed. As I said at the beginning, I wanted convenience. And the auto-feed mechanism on the Bradley promised to deliver it. In the Masterbuilt, I would still need to go and add wood chips to the smoker periodically. On the Bradley I can stack 8 hours worth of “bisquettes” (little hockey puck shaped wood discs) and walk away.
  5. Digital Controls. At this time, Masterbuilt doesn’t make a grill with digital controls in a small four or six rack size. You need to move up to the 40 inch Masterbuilt smokers to get digital control. Yes, I know I could add a digital temperature control or “PID” (see sidebar) to a non-digital smoker and get even better digital control than the built-in Bradley control, but I wanted a convenient solution, not another do-it-yourself project.
  6. Usable Space. Again, based on a side-by-side comparison, for nearly equal-sized cabinets, the Bradley had more space for food inside. This is mainly due to the configuration of the drip tray and smoker unit in the bottom of the cabinet.

Downsides

The one thing that stands out in the Bradley design is the use of wood “bisquettes” rather than a traditional chunk or sawdust fuel (Bradley is a Canadian company, and the spelling is a nod to the Francophone population). This is really a concession to the auto-feed mechanism. The problem of course is that one must keep a supply of the special bisquettes around, and if you run out, you’re not smoking. But these things can be mail ordered for an OK price, and the convenience of the auto-feeder overcame the objection for me. To get a sense of how this works, watch the following video. Although the smoker is the “original” version rather than the digital version, the auto-feeder is essentially the same.

I have two full racks of pork ribs in the refrigerator absorbing their rub right now, and I’ll write about my first cooking experience once I get them done tomorrow.

Notes

1 Yes, the Ronco Acquisition Corporation has a trademark on the “set it and forget it” phrase. Search the USTPO for serial number 77476587. I’m not particularly worried about Ron Popeil or whoever bought the assets of Ronco after the latest bankruptcy suing me, rather, I hope you agree with me about the utter absurdity of someone trademarking that phrase.

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Series NavigationFirst Smoke in the Bradley Digital Smoker

Post Revisions:

  1. December 27th, 2009 at 01:25 | #1

    [New Post] My New Bradley Digital Smoker – via @twitoaster http://robsrants.havasy.net/2009/12/my-n

    • FishingWithDad
      December 27th, 2009 at 06:36 | #2

      @rob_havasy nice post on why u went w/the bradley..looking 4ward 2 hearing how u like it..I’ve been on the fence, father’s day is coming 😉

      • December 28th, 2009 at 01:46 | #3

        @FishingWithDad Results are posted. Overall pretty good. Need to experiment to get as good as my normal smoker though.

        • FishingWithDad
          December 28th, 2009 at 08:21 | #4

          @rob_havasy thnx, very informative, a nice change from what I’ve read, ie “it works great” or “it doesn’t work like they stated it would”…

    • December 27th, 2009 at 15:56 | #5

      @rob_havasy Ribs are on the smoker now. At hour 5 (the end of the “2” stage in the 3-2-1 method.

  2. April 21st, 2010 at 16:29 | #6

    I think the only drawback with this product is the price. Still, the Bradley electric smoker delivers more for the money. Compared to its competitors it is lighter in weight, has a digitally controlled cooking atmosphere, can be set and left unattended, has more cooking options, and the unique bisquettes don’t contaminate food with unwanted toxins or taste.

  3. May 25th, 2012 at 19:09 | #7

    @trbft This guy wrote a 6 part review LOL. More info here than you’ll ever need. http://t.co/1DSJXixQ #BradleySmokerVSMasterBuilt

  1. July 31st, 2011 at 14:55 | #1