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.