Decisions, decisions

I’ve wittered about this to two people on the phone today, and sent one of them a long email because the poor soul sounded vaguely interested in my demented enthusiasm. So I thought I might as well post about it.

tr_BBQ070_500As some of you have gathered, I have been having fun with BBQ. In fact, I have been grilling regularly for about 2 years now, but have only recently tried to do some proper advanced BBQ, like smoking and slow-cooked joints of meat, which I have covered here.

To be sure, it can be done on a mere kettle, but it’s a lot of work, I’ve found. Aside from having to constantly balance the temperature with the vents, you have to refuel the kettle every hour, which for a 12 hour cook is a pain in the Boston Butt. However, I had resolved to perservere, and get skilled at doing it with low-end kit before even thinking of buying anything more sophisticated. Consider it a test of my resolve – my patented “Five-Minute-Wonder Test”.

Except today I heard of an excellent offer. A few months ago I joined the British BBQ Society, which apparenly makes me eligible for a 20% discount from one of the major UK distributors of US kit. On checking out their entry-level product, I saw it was already discounted by 30% on their website. I asked whether the BBBQS discount was in addition to this, and was told yes.

The item in question is a auger-fed wood pellet smoker. This means you put a pile of wood pellets – oak, apple, mequite, hickory – into a hopper, from where a screw arrangement transports them into the burn box as and when they are needed, constantly controlling the temperature. The wood pellets supply the heat and the smoke, allowing you to BBQ, grill or smoke meat, sausages, fish and vegetables. It can also be pressed into use as a wood-burning pizza oven. The pellet hopper holds enough pellets to last for 20 hours of cooking, far longer than any single cook that I can envisage.

This box of tricks normally retails for £699 (working on the normal $1 = £1 exchange rate we are all used to). This is reduced to £495, or – with my discount – £396.

There are some disadvantages. Firstly, it looks like it may not be as portable as some of the alternatives. However, no matter how much I may fantasize about “have BBQ, will travel”, my existing Weber Kettle is very portable, and yet hasn’t ever left the garage/garden. Secondly the pellets are a specialised fuel, currently with only one UK vendor that I know of – the people selling me this unit. However fuel costs are not that unreasonable, working out to about a pound per hour’s cooking. Thirdly, the thing need to plug into an electricity socket, for the electronics, auger and fan. While the practicality of this is easy – I have power in my garage, and it would be trivial to fit an external protected socket (and useful too!) – there is a little part of me that says that we are no longer frontiersmen (if we ever were!).

The alternative, which I had already been looking at as a future purchase, are bullet smokers, kind of like a kettle on steroids, with internal waterbowls to stabilise temperature, and multiple cooking levels. These are, by their nature, more portable; but suffer from the same problem as the kettle in that you will – in a long cook – need to open them all up and refuel them.

So, I must admit I am sorely tempted by the pellet grill. One of the conditions of getting the price so low is that I collect from the company, in Ashford, Kent. With my current diary, it is going to be at least 3 weeks before I can do that, so I am going to use that as a cooling off period, to decide if I really want to go with it.


  1. August 19, 2010

    Thirdly, the thing need[s] to plug into an electricity socket, for the electronics, auger and fan.

    Ah! No problem there. First, find one of those little parafin-fueled model steam engines that used to all the rage a few decades back. Mount an electric motor on it, to function as a dynamo, and attach it to your BBQ device, replacing the little paraffin burner with a heat-pipe leading out from the bowels of your BBQ gadget. Adjust gearings etc. to get the dynamo to output – when the BBQ is running at a lowish but usable heat – a slightly higher voltage than that required by the electronics of the host gizmo (if necessary via a voltage multiplier circuit), and add a suitable combination of rechargable batteries and electrolytic capacitors, diodes and resistors to regulate the voltage and store a bit of charge ready to kick-start the system next time you use it. (As a backup, use traditional Duracells or whatever.)

    …et voila! =:o}

    • chris
      August 19, 2010

      I was hypothesising of a simple 12v to 240v inverter, run it off a battery kept permanently charged up by a solar panel.

      The power requirement is generally 50W, but with 300W on initial switchon (for 3 minutes), as it has an electric ignition for the first lot of pellets – after that, they take care of themselves.

      But I would probably just plug it into the mains.

    • August 19, 2010

      A Stirling engine would be more efficient – maybe something like (but with the fan replaced by a dynamo).
      But a car battery[1] and inverter would be simpler, even if you did need to charge it from the mains beforehand. Add solar panels for charging for frontiersmen. If you only barbeque in fine weather, add solar panels and skip battery 🙂

      [1] Or better, “leisure” (deep cycle) battery

      • August 19, 2010

        > battery … inverter … solar


        • chris
          August 19, 2010

          It’s nice to see people who generally know what they are talking about come up with the same ideas as I have. Kind of gives me confidence in myself.

          Though, no matter how impractical, Paul’s idea does score full marks for elegance, in a Heath Robinson fashion.

          This kind of thing isn’t always as theorectical as it seems, as I read that in some areas of competition BBQ in the US, the need for electrical power – even if not for actually powering the cooking – is a touchy subject.

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