WASHINGTON, DC, March 13, 2013 – My husband didn’t want me to write this review- he’d like to keep our smoker a secret- that’s how much he loves it. I love it too, but my husband is a bit obsessed with it.
The Bradley Smoker is a perfect introduction to smoking foods if you have never done it before. After a few smoking experiments, you will never buy bacon, ham, or cold cuts from the supermarket again.
We contemplated buying a smoker for about a year until we finally got one about 18 months ago. When choosing a smoker, there are all kinds depending on what you want to do with it, how involved you want to be, and how much smoking you want to do.
A home smoker may not be for everyone. My husband and I are serious foodies; I went to cooking school many years ago and his family has always been in the restaurant business. We cook a lot and are very adventurous about what we try in our kitchen. We also love to entertain and have our siblings over at least once a week for a meal. We also have a decent-sized deck and our neighbors don’t seem to mind the smoke.
Since we were completely new to smoking, we decided to go with the “lazy-Q” smoker, which is basically a gas or electric unit that you set and it does the smoking without you having to add wood or tend to it in any way.
We went with the Bradley 4-rack digital smoker, an electric “lazy-Q” unit, which allows you to hot and cold smoke. It takes hard wood bisquettes (disks). Cold smoking is especially nice if you want to cold smoke some fish or bacon. We also got the digital instead of the base model because the digital allows you to set the timer for the smoke and heat separately and just walk away without worrying that you are going to burn or over-smoke the food.
In the last year and a half, we have smoked literally hundreds of pounds of pork chops and loins for ourselves as well as for friends and family members. We have also smoked a turkey, several chickens, chicken wings, chicken pieces, jalapeños, cheese, nuts, and everything else we’ve been able to think of.
Most of our experiments have been resounding successes, while a few have gone hopelessly wrong. Our first few items were not as delicious as our last few, but I chalk that up to experience and seasoning (more on seasoning below).
-Versatility: The Bradley Smoker is extremely versatile, since you can hot and cold smoke. You can also hot smoke for part of the time, then set the heating element to shut off at a set time and continue smoking cold. The digital display allows you to set the exact cooking temperature and smoking time. With this unit you can smoke an entire chicken that comes out beautiful and ready to eat, but you can also cold-smoke bacon and pork chops that you can store in your refrigerator and cook at a later time.
-Ease of use: If you are a beginner to smoking, the Bradley smoker is a great way to start. Unlike other types of smokers, some of which you have to tend every 30 to 60 minutes for up to 12 hours, the Bradley smoker is set at the beginning and shuts itself off at the designated time. All you have to do is make sure you have enough bisquettes in the feeder and water in the bowl.
- Easy storage: The Bradley Smoker is about the size of a small dorm refrigerator. It has an all-weather cover, and most owners say that they leave theirs outside throughout the year in extreme temperatures. We have had ours for two winters on our deck and it seems to be doing fine.
-The Bradley Smoker Community: It is so funny how people with the same interest come together online. There is a huge online community of Bradley Smoker- aficionados, and the Internet is full of advice, tips, ideas and fantastic recipes. Bradley also has a user blog and a huge archive of recipes and tips.
-Healthy-er? I feel a little like a hypocrite because I recently wrote an article about the dangers of processed meats, including smoked meats. However, even though you cannot eliminate the potential carcinogen involved in the smoking process, as opposed to commercial processed meats, meats in the Bradley smoker do not have added nitrites and you control the amount of sodium or salt that you want to add to it.
-The bisquettes: Bradley Smokers only take bisquettes made by Bradley. They are not inexpensive, and when you run out, you basically cannot use the smoker until you get more. Make sure you count how many bisquettes you’ll need and how many you have before starting a smoking project. Bisquettes are about $15 for 48, and you use about three per hour of smoking. Considering some recipes require up to eight hours of smoking, it can really add up. In their defense, Bradley offers a wide variety of flavors for their bisquettes, including apple, hickory, maple, pecan, cherry, etc. The bisquette packs also come with fabulous recipes made specifically for Bradley smokers.
- Cleaning (or lack thereof): While you can clean the racks and bowl, you should not clean the walls of the smoker itself until it starts to flake, and then only with a brush or rag to remove the flakes. The gunk on the walls is the “seasoning” and should stay in the smoker. Some compare it to the seasoned skillet that you never clean. Even though it undoubtedly gives the food better flavor, I’m not very comfortable with never cleaning something that just hangs out on my deck. However, if I were to clean it, my husband would probably go into deep depression- and smoke in it non-stop to re-season it.
- Price: the Bradley Smoker is expensive, running between $350 and $600, so it is a big investment. You can find better prices than the ones listed on the Bradley website if you do a little online searching. However, if you are serious about smoking, you can offer to smoke a friend’s bacon or chops and take a small portion for yourself as a fee. I don’t know about anyone else, but an appliance that gets me free pork is a winner in my book.
-Smoked foods and cancer: Several studies have found a link between high consumption of smoked foods and some types of cancers.
Should you buy it?
Between $350 to $600, the Bradley Smoker is an investment and if you are just a sporadic smoker, this may not be the appliance for you. You need enough room outside (the smoker is the size of a small refrigerator), and al place where you won’t inconvenience your neighbors with the smoke. On the other hand, if you love smoked foods, but don’t know too much about it, this smoker is the way to go.
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