Some of Shane’s Favorites From Our Most Recent KC Trip

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I don’t often recommend products from other companies.  Its not that I don’t recommend other products or that I don’t find products that I like.  It’s just rare that it occurs to me to do so and when it does I don’t have the forum available to do it adequately.  Thanks to our new blog, where members of the DBQ Crew (name for the members of Draper’s BBQ) can post their thoughts, findings and musings, I do in fact have the ability to make those recommendations.

This past weekend Mike Owings and I took a competition BBQ class out in Kansas City.  It was a great experience, but I will save the actual details of that for Mike to write about from his perspective before I give too many details away.  During the course of this class we tried about 10 different sauces and rubs.  We also made a stop by The KC BBQ Store in Kansas City and tried another handful of products.  Note that all the links are to The KC BBQ Store….yeah they are our newest store so I got to support those that support us.

During the trip I found some products that I really liked.  So what better way to say I like them than to tell you about them so you may add them to your competition or backyard flavor arsenal.  I won’t go too in depth on each product, as this is more to alert you to adding them to your list of “really should give a try” products.

Product 1 – The Slabs Birds & Bones “Stephy Style” Rub
I am a rub and sauce snob, so let’s start there.  I find few if any rubs / manufacturers are taking the time to develop balanced flavors that are more than salt and sugar.  What I mean by that is that many products are developed based on a single flavor or ingredient and then other ingredients are thrown in the mix in a effort to flesh out the rub into something use-able.  I think The Slabs have struck a great balance with this rub and it is a great offering.  Not too salty, too sweet, too savory or too hot.  Just a solid rub that will work in almost any setting.  Very solid chemistry going on with it and I can promise you it is winning on the competition circuit.

Product 2 – The Roasterie Coffee Barbecue Rub
Some coffee rubs I have tried are just too heavy on the coffee and it comes off as almost left over or stale coffee.  That is not the case here.  The coffee is a real, balanced ingredient. In short it was used properly as an ingredient to add an “Earthiness” to the flavor profile.  I can see where it would have been so easy to say “hey let’s add some coffee to our rub” and then proceed to have a rub that just tasted like it had coffee added to it.  This rub is much more than that.  You can tell there was process of testing that netted a formula where the coffee added was just enough to make a difference…but not so much to make it bitter or off putting in anyway.  In the flavor profile you first get savory with a hint of coffee, then you get the typical barbecue mix of paprika, chili, garlic and onion and it finishes with a touch of sweet.  Very solid and unique rub, give it a try on brisket.

Product 3 – The Salt Lick’s Original Sauce
I have tried literally hundreds of sauces.  To the point I am nearly ok with the disappointment that is associated with the process.  So few sauces try to add anything more to the game other than just trying to get their brand on a shelf.  Most are so down the middle that its disappointing.  Those that do try to do more than that typically fumble the ball and end up with something that ends up being flavored molasses.  I like sweet as much as the next guy, but never at the sacrifice of balance and other flavors.  If you built your sauce to compete with or as a homage to Blues Hog Original I probably don’t like it.  I know that is very blunt and not very nice, but its true.  In fairness to those sauces and especially to Mr. Arnold of Blues Hog I do like his two other flavors quite a bit more than the Original as they accomplish more than just being sickeningly sweet.

Enter The Salt Lick from Texas.  I have read several articles about The Salt Lick and their sauce.  I have wanted to try it for such a long time but never ordered any.  Finally I had my chance at The KC BBQ Store and I was NOT disappointed.  This sauce is fantastic.  Its very much a mustard sort of sauce.  You can tell this sauce would be AMAZING on some brats.  It is different, in a good way.  My only criticism is that the first ingredient is Soy Bean oil (I think it was Soy Bean anyway, but I know it was an oil) and while that coats the tongue I can see where it might strike some as odd.  Aside from that though, seriously one of the best sauces I’ve ever had and will be a mainstay at my house from here on out.

Product 4 – Oklahoma Joe’s Restaurant
I know its not actually a product, but they deserve some props.  I have never been to a restaurant where I thought they were doing literally everything well.  I’m not talking competition barbecue, but just plain old good barbecue.  Most restaurants fail at this miserably.  The good ones manage to have 3 or 4 good things on the menu surrounded by 10 other mediocre offerings.  The great ones manage to be good across the board.  Well let me tell you Oklahoma Joe’s is one of the great ones.  I had the pulled pork, the brisket, the sausage, the ribs and the onion rings.  Yeah…I was hungry but hey I was there to see if it was as good as everyone said.

The pulled pork was done KC style.  Meaning it was pork tossed in a tomato based sauce.  Not my favorite way, but there was nothing wrong with the meat.  It was tender, moist and smokey so I have no complaints because most don’t get that much right.

The brisket was great.  Very smokey, nice smoke ring, nice flavor, nice texture and still moist.  Not dripping-ly so, but plenty moist enough.  I’ve turned in competition brisket less moist on a bad day, so it was good.  I had this on a sandwich called the Z-Man which combines brisket, provolone cheese and two onion rings on a nice bun.  Seriously one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.  The super crunchy onion rings were just the ticket on the soft bun and brisket.  Fantastic combo that I will steal and incorporate into our food truck.

The sausage was a nice offering.  Not my overall favorite but nothing wrong with it either.  Nice pepper coming through, good savory notes, but it begged for some of The Salt Lick’s sauce lol.

The ribs were well cooked.  Slightly overdone, but that is to be expected and ok.  They had great smoke which is so rare in restaurant ribs.  They were not overly saucy, but sauced.  Overall very solid offering.  I have had better, but these were in the top 5 of restaurant ribs still.

So if you are ever in KC hit up OK Joe’s.  Its a great joint and when I finally get sucked in to opening our joint I can only hope we can consistently do as many things right as they do.

Product 5 – The KC BBQ Store
I know this is going to sound like I am sucking up since I just mentioned that they picked us up as a new brand for their shelves.  That said, what a great store and great bunch of guys.  Each were knowledgeable about just about every product in the store, and yes Mike and I did test them.  If they didn’t know the answer, they found it.  If they had not tried a particular sauce they said so, more times than not they had and did a good job of figuring out what we liked flavor profile wise and steering us to some new sauces to try.  I can only imagine they do this for everyone that walks through the door as their wall of sauces and rubs is very daunting.  The huge glass refrigerator set right by the check out counter was filled with pretty much every brand they carry and they allow much sampling.  If you are ever in KC be sure to stop in and say “hi,” pick up a case or three of Draper’s while you’re there, because they are the best in KC period.

Overall it was a great trip and even though I came home with a literal bag full of different sauces, rubs and memories these in my opinion were the best in the bag.

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Press Release 2/22/12

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Hey, DBQ fans!  We have a really exciting announcement for you about a change we’ve made in our sauce. Unfortunately, as with any change, there is a little bad news as well. After a lot of research and discussion, I recently made the decision to go with a high-impact, low-weight plastic bottle for our sauce. This was a decision I made with you, our loyal customers, in mind. The reduced weight will reduce shipping costs and the new material will eliminate the danger of breakage  for the competition teams who rely on our products to create winning flavor profiles. I know everyone will be pleased with the change, but that brings me to my next point: timing.

Since winter was apparently postponed for many of us, no one really stopped cooking for any length of time. The resulted in high demand for sauce during what is usually a slow time for all of us. Not that we’re complaining, mind you! It just put us in the position of having no inventory to put aside for the transition into plastic. The Smokin’ Sauce production line will be down for the next two weeks and that means we will be without more inventory for an additional week after that. I know three weeks is a long time and I cannot apologize enough for any inconvenience this may cause. I truly did not expect to be in this position at this time of year! I can, however, direct you to three of our trusted distributors who will have limited amounts of sauce available should you need some immediately: www.bbqaddicts.com, www.bbqproshop.com or www.hawgeyesbbq.com.

I also want to assure you that we have plenty of A.P. Rub available and will soon be offering new package deals featuring our rub shaker and two new rub sizes, so keep an eye out for further announcements!

We will notify everyone via blog post, Twitter, Facebook and on our weekly radio show when the sauce stock is officially replenished.  At that time we will also be launching our new website and our new store.  So please stay tuned and don’t hesitate to email us at info@drapersbbq.com if you have any questions, comments or concerns.

M. Shane Draper
CEO
Draper’s BBQ

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Dancing with a Grilla

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Many of you know the story: I’m a third generation pitmaster and spent my early years in and around my grandfather’s barbecue restaurant.  My grandfather cooked barbecue in a cinder block pit and stick burned mostly oak for his coals. He added those coals one shovel full at time until whatever he was cooking reached perfection.  To me, that  is “real” barbecue.  I know this probably offends some folks already, but I need you to know where I am coming from with this review.  Barbecue for me is something that takes a long time, takes a lot of work and is done with wood.  That is my preferred route to achieve what I consider barbecue nirvana.  This method is archaic, punishing, difficult and the reason many pitmasters don’t last very long.  

A couple of years ago I was forced to have a heart to heart with myself. It’s the same conversation many pitmasters have had with themselves over the years.  The questions when I boiled it down was “is it more important to put in 100% effort, go without sleep and come away with a product that is a 10, or is it more important to put in 50% effort, sleep, have a life and come away with a product that is a 9?”  What I came up with is an answer which allows me to have a life  stay married and see my kids.   When cooking for pure enjoyment, as backwards as it may sound, I still take the purest pursuit of that 10 and do it the hard way.  It is how I share kinship with my grandfather who passed several years ago.  When cooking to sell, for dinner around the house or just to practice, I take the easier path.    

This easier path has led me in search of new ways to cook as well as a new mission.  Obviously the cookers I needed for easier cooking included ones with constant fuel sources and some sort of automated temperature management.  We now have a few of these type of cookers in our arsenal and you know what, I’m glad.  I’m a much happier person overall when I’m not literally killing myself for my craft each time I cook.  These pits have given me a way  to extend what is my livelihood and time in this game.  

My new mission?  Well, that changed from just being able to turn out 9s and 10s to being able to turn out that quality on any type of pit, fired by any fuel in just about any configuration, under nearly any circumstance.  I got this idea from talking to Danielle Dimovski at Memphis in May this past year.  The idea that she can fly in somewhere, borrow gear and do well competing was a revelation of what it means to be a pitmaster today.  I realized that as much as I love the way my grandfather did things, the game has evolved. I realized that I had to lead Draper’s BBQ head long into this new world if we had any chance at longevity.  

Of all the pits we own, we did not have a pellet fired contraption, up until a few weeks ago.  Why?  Well, to be honest I didn’t like them, didn’t want one and never gave one a chance.  I often make the comparison of pellet pits to glam/hair metal back in the 80s/90s and how much the “true” metal heads hated and discounted the genre.  Those of us “real pitmasters” wouldn’t dare to cook on one.  It’s kind of like a true metal fan being caught listening a band like Poison, even though you often found your self singing along in your head to their songs.  Pellet cookers were a lot like that to me.  Yes, I know this is unfair, it’s wrong, it’s unfounded, it’s close minded…it’s..it’s just  the way I felt.  I grudgingly admitted that they had their place and couldn’t discount that many friends had won grand champions on them and love them. I just wasn’t quite ready to give in.

Recently, I stumbled across a new cooker called the Grilla when I noticed their postings in Twitter and read up on them.  Thankfully, not too long after that my good friend Jay Prince did a great review of the pit.  Based on Jay’s write up I contacted Fahrenheit Technologies to get more information because the pit was different and it intrigued me.  I was really more interested in the product from a competition perspective, but thought it might serve as a practice pit as well.  After several emails and phone conversations with Mark Graham I conceded that maybe it was time to try a pellet cooker myself and agreed to review the Grilla.

I don’t want  to completely retread what Jay has already done with his excellent write up from a back yard perspective, so my thoughts will mostly pertain to the competition capabilities of the Grilla.  Go check out his review!

Special Delivery

Since the Grilla is so new to the market there are currently few retail outlets, so you will likely have to order the Grilla direct from Fahrenheit Technologies.The Grilla is shipped via freight.  Shipping arrangements were easy and it shipped very quickly.  I had my unit in two days.  The Grilla came fully assembled, strapped to a pallet.  This evidently is a rare thing among most of their competitors.  The weight of the unit and pallet was right around 165lbs.  Very, very reasonable weight considering the unit is made of a nice thick steel.  

I wish I had pictures of this but unfortunately the SD card I had many of my pictures for this review on failed.  Thankfully Jay Prince allowed me the use of some of his pictures so you get an idea what the the Grilla looks like new.  I owe Jay a beer the next time I see him.

Initial Thoughts

When I first unpacked the Grilla and stood back to take it all in, the first thought I had was “this thing is a pellet powered Big Green Egg.”  That may sound odd at first given that one is steel and one is made of ceramics, but when you stop to consider cooking ability, size and pricing of both cookers you can see where I’m coming from.  I think that both initially strike the average consumer as mildly unattractive.  It’s not until you take a deeper look that you really begin to see the true beauty of each.  This thought hung with me so much that I have decided to do a point by point comparison of the two units that will be released shortly after this article. This should be of interest to those of you who may be trying to decide between the two.

Some Key Features

The Grilla website has a fairly extensive list of the cooker’s features.  I have included most of this list below with my two cents thrown in.  

  • Keep Heat Swing Lid – Makes checking of food faster because you don’t have to remove it completely, when swung all the the way open it allows access to all parts of the Grilla, can be left partially open without propping it. Nothing to lift is great!
  • Even Temp Chamber – The shape of the chamber itself eliminates hot / cold corners.  I found no hot or cold spots on the cooking area which the average cook will appreciate.
  • Never Flare Flavor Disc – prevents grease flare ups, keeps the flame away from food.  This is a nice feature and is included on many pellet cookers and even the Big Green Egg has it as an option.  On the Big Green Egg’s this device is called a “plate setter” and is removable if you want the option of flame grilling.  
  • Lower and Upper Grill Grates – This is something a lot of the Grilla competitors have as an option, but usually not as a standard feature.  Obviously having it is a good thing.  The Upper grate is ideal for large parties or for when you want more smoke and less heat on the bottom of your meat.  It also pops out easily to make room for whole chickens, turkeys, shoulders, etc.
  • Versatile Temp Range – With a range of 180°-550° Fahrenheit (F) and 16 smoke settings the Grilla truly is a pit and a grill.  
  • EZ Fuel Change Out – This feature is huge.  Swapping out one flavor of pellets for another takes less than a minute and is super easy.  You just flip open the door, empty the hopper and refill with new pellets.  I never would have thought of wanting or needing this but I am glad it is there.  Very nice feature that every pellet cooker should include.
  • 20 lb Hopper Capacity – This keeps the Grilla cooking for hours and hours.  The 20lb capacity isn’t unheard of.  I think it is just about right for pellet cookers.

Size and Cooking Area

The physical stats of the Grilla are as follows:  Height – 44in, Width – 31.5in, Depth – 29.5in, Weight – 145lbs.  What these numbers do not accurately portray is just how small a foot print that is.  This unit takes up about the same space as a Weber Kettle, Weber Smokey Mountain or Big Green Egg XL.  Of course, this small foot print does affect cook area, but you aren’t looking at this cooker if your intention is to cook a case of boston butts or half a dozen briskets at one time.  This is not to say the cooking area is undersized. There is, in fact, more cooking area in the Grilla (488 sq in) than a Big Green Egg XL (452 sq in).  You could fit a pork shoulder and brisket on the lower rack of the Grilla and still have room for a rack of ribs on the top shelf.

From a competition perspective I found the cooking area and overall stature of the Grilla to be very good.  I could easily see taking 2 or 3 Grilla’s, loading them on a small trailer and doing some serious damage out on the circuit.  This cooker is easily moved so load outs and off loads would be simple even with a single person or small team.  

Draper’s  has several much larger cookers, some of which will hold several cases of boston butts at a time.  While I love these cookers, it is a bit refreshing to have a smaller cooker on which to just flip a switch and cook some chicken,  burgers, steaks or a single shoulder. This is an especially nice cooker to have around just for practice and recipe invention.  I found myself trying new things just because it was so easy to get a fire started and ready cooking.

Build Quality and Design

This is one of the few things still made in the USA that makes me proud to be American.  When I say this thing is over built by a mile I mean it.  Seriously they could have cut 10 corners and no one would have ever known, but they didn’t.  Every weld, every seam and every surface is done impeccably.

A couple of the of the areas that deserve to be mentioned specifically are:

  1. Grates – Wow! These things are nearly pencil thick stainless steel.  I don’t know how much they would cost to replace but it seriously can’t be cheap.  These grates are so well built, I’m convinced they will survive a nuclear apocalypse.

  1. Swing Lid – Okay, so the fact that the lid swings instead of flips open or detaches completely, like on some units, is cool.  The fact that they thought enough about the lid to include bearings in the mechanism is AWESOME.  Such a smooth glide to the lid is a very classy touch.

  1. Wheels – The wheels for me are much like the lid.  You expect it to have wheels, but you don’t necessarily expect them to be nice 5 inch rubber wheels that roll like they are greased with duck fat.  Maybe roll isn’t the right word, perhaps I should say glide.  One quick, easy motion and the Grilla tips back and glides effortlessly wherever you want it.

  1. Side Tables – It’s a really a nice touch to make these stainless steel.  We have stainless on our Tucker Cooker and have never regretted opting for it.  Sun baked, 10 day old barbecue sauce cleans up easily and it really looks better long term.  The hooks to hold your utensils are also a nice touch.

  1. Cord Storage – This is a such a little thing but I wanted to highlight it because it is yet another example of a place where the engineers could have cut corners and slacked but they didn’t.  The electrical cord wraps perfectly around the holder and even has a perfect little notch where the end clips in to for secure storage.

  1. Auger, Motor and Fire Pot – Auger, Motor and Fire Pot – I think is the area where some lesser pellet grills are suspect, so  I was worried about this with the Grilla.  After doing some research I found out that Fahrenheit Technologies is a home furnace company. Guess where the auger, motor and fire pot were developed?  In their home units.  This heating system and pellet delivery mechanism has been proven over the past few years.  This to me is a huge relief. Fahrenheit Technologies has also backed the Grilla with a 3 year warranty, further showing their confidence in this product.

  1. EZ Fuel Change Out – I have to admit that at first I thought, “big deal.”  Then I needed to switch pellets and the hopper was full and you know what? It was a big deal.  This is a necessity that every pellet cooker should include and deserves to be highlighted.  You just turn the latch, the door opens to a 90 degree angle and has side walls to help funnel the pellets into your bag.  You can swap out a complete 20lb load of pellets in just a couple of minutes.

  1. Finish – This thing has a great powder coat finish that should have no problem holding up a long, long time.  It feels good to the touch, cleans easily, and is on nearly every surface inside and out.

Quick Cooking Thoughts

To test the cooking abilities of the Grill I performed a total of 7 different cooking tests.  These tests were designed to replicate the different cooking styles and methods a competition cook and backyard cook would use.  

To be a true barbecue pit, a cooker must first and foremost be able to cook low and slow.  To be a great grill it has to be able to sear meat and cook at higher heat.  A newer competition cooking trend is hot and fast, so I also ran a test to represent that method as well.  

1 – 14lb turkey at 250 degrees followed immediately by 150 MOINK balls.

2 – 8 thick all beef hamburgers cooked at 300 degrees.

3 – 18lb pork shoulder cooked at 225 degrees for 11hrs (low and slow).

4 – Medium sized beef brisket cooked at 350 degrees for 3hrs (hot and fast)

5 – 3lb beef tri tip cooked at 250 degrees

6 – 18 chicken thighs cooked at 275 degrees then at 375 degrees to set the sauce and finish.

7 – 1 rack of beef ribs cooked at 250 degrees for an hour and a half.

The Grilla did very well in all tests.  I admit for the first cook I had to get used to cooking on  pellets.  I was pleasantly surprised how fast it recovered temperature, held even cooking temperature and how much smoke it put out.  Never was I disappointed by the results.  It is a very solid cooking platform that in the right hands is capable of pulling off 180 scores in competition.  This pit has been my “go to” pit for at home cooking the past several weeks and I have come to realize the more I leave it alone while cooking, the better it does.  Yes, I know this is a basic idiom of barbecue, but sometimes we all need to be reminded we aren’t always as smart as we think we are.  This is especially true for me.

What I Liked

  • Build Quality / Design – I did a whole section highlighting this.  Nothing short of exceptional and being American Made is just the cherry on top for me.
  • Size – It really does take up very little space for the cooking punch it packs.  Fantastic form factor that is led by functionality and tempered with smart design.  
  • Mobility – This pit still surprises me at how easily it moves.  It’s such a small but very essential part of making the Grilla even easier to live with.  The Big Green Egg could learn a thing or 10 from the Grilla.  
  • EZ Fuel Change Out – Yet another “feature” that should be a “standard” on all other pellet cookers.  Don’t underestimate how nice this is to have and other pellet pit makers should take note.
  • Cooking Versatility – I cant think of a thing the Grilla couldn’t do…..ok it can’t do a whole hog, but neither can most pits.  Other than that though the temperature range and how quickly the Grilla can go from 225 degrees to 400 degrees make this one impressive cooker.
  • Cooking Ease – There are few pits that I would say can take a very average person and make them a great cook.  This one is one of them.  One good barbecue book such as  “BBQ Makes Everything Better” and the Grilla and the average Joe could turn out the best barbecue his buddies has ever had the pleasure of eating. Same pit plus a good pit master and the Grilla has a really solid chance at turning out world class results.  

What Could Be Improved

For those of you who know me or have read any of my reviews know that I do not review or give my comments about any product without also offering suggestions for improvement.  Here is my short list for the Grilla.

  1. Grease Catch Can – As it is configured now you can use an soup can or soda can to catch grease.  This is good, but not great and to me it’s not in keeping with the quality of the rest of the unit.  My suggestion would be to include a bucket, that could hold around 48oz of liquid.  (One with the awesome Grilla logo on it would be fantastic!)  I found the need for this larger capacity while cooking the MOINK balls.  Evidently when cooking the equivalent of 5 packs of bacon wrapped around meat balls it makes a whole heck of a lot of grease.  When the can overflows while you aren’t paying attention to the back side of the grill it makes a large mess that doesn’t make the wife happy.  The average user may never experience this, but if there is even a possibility that they could, an effort should be made to address the issue.

  1. Side Tables – I have no issue with the build quality or material of the side tables.  In fact I think those parts are great.  It is a minor nit pick but I would like at least one of the side table to be be able to hold a large aluminum pan.  I found myself sitting larger square pans on top of the hopper vice on the side tables. Understandably, making a larger side table would negatively affect the overall footprint of the unit, which could be considered a larger negative.
  2. Digital Up/Down Controls – Some folks will want a more precise control panel other than the one that is currently offered on the Grilla.  They will say they need control in 5 degree increments vice 15 degree.  I understand their reasoning, but I have to say I don’t necessarily agree.  I think this “precision panel” could be offered as an option for those that feel that strongly about it, but isn’t an absolute requirement.

  1. A Cover – All high end cookers are an investment.  To protect that investment the Grilla should either ship with a weather proof heavy duty cover or one should be offered as an option.  It is my understanding that one is in development.  I will be buyer number 1 when it is officially released.
  2. Price – After having the Grilla for a few weeks and comparing it with other pits I have to say I like it.  I really, really like it.  The only thing I found myself the least bit unsure about was the price.  The Grilla s a premium product, made in the USA and has no corners cut.  That means it also has premium pricing.  Is $1495 shipped expensive?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  With all factors weighed and lived with I can’t imagine not having the Grilla.  Therefore I would have to say “yes, it is worth it” and it gets a complete recommendation from me.

How To Get One

The availability of the Grilla is limited as of this writing.  I know Fahrenheit Technologies is working hard to bring dealers online and get units out to stores.  For now though to get one you  can order directly from their web store or contact Fahrenheit by phone at  616.392.7410 or email them at getcooking@mygrilla.com for more information.  Pricing as of this writing it is $1495 shipped to your door.    

Parting Thoughts

My time with the Grilla has changed my thoughts on cooking.  I still don’t think I am ready to give up any of my other cookers because  they each serve a purpose.   I will say that I am now a fan of pellet cooking. It has made some serious improvements since I first looked at it.  Most of which is just in general quality.  The pellets you can get now are a much higher quality and the pits you can get range from very cost conscious, mass produced units now being carried at Costco to very limited run, almost hand made units that you will have to get on a waiting list for.  The Grilla is certainly the latter of the two.  I am glad that my first real long term experience with a pellet pit was with one of such quality because I would pick a unit of less quality apart no matter how well it cooked.  I place a big premium on quality, always have, always will.  It is just who and what I am.  

If I had to put my thoughts about pellet cooking in general into one statement it would be this:  “Did I cook the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten on a pellet pit?  No, not yet.  Did I cook the best barbecue I’ve ever had for the least amount of effort?  YES, yes I most certainly did.”  I have had better barbecue.  That is the truth.  What is also true is that I’ve never had barbecue anywhere this good for the this small amount of effort.  For 98% of the people in this world the Grilla will make the best barbecue you’ve ever eaten.

The Grilla is a mainstay at my house now.  When it comes to everyday cooking or cooking for smaller groups, it’s just too easy not to have around and use.  I have to take my hat off to Jay Prince and Mark Graham for doing the impossible: changing my mind about pellet cooking!

 

 

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Thermoworks TW8060 Review

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I was recently given the opportunity to review a couple of products by Thermoworks.  Being a near-religious user of their Thermapen I quickly agreed.  Anyone who knows me knows how much I cherish my orange Thermapen.  I have stopped using any other thermometer.  I became such a big fan of this device this summer.  I put off paying the money for a Thermapen for the past couple of years, trying my best to ignore the posts on different forums saying just how amazing these units are. I finally broke down and bought myself one and I am glad I did.  I often equate the Thermapen to Tivo.  No, it’s not required to watch TV, but once you have it you really can’t imagine NOT having it.  That is exactly how I feel about my Thermapen.  It’s not that I can’t cook without it, it’s that I won’t.  I can check a whole pit of chicken halves (around 50) in the time it would take me to accurately check about 10 with any other so called “quick read” device.  The Thermapen is literally the only thermometer that I believe earns the moniker of quick read.  To say I have high expectations of everything from Thermoworks is fair and accurate. So, as you can imagine, I was anxious to test the TW8060!

The kit I was sent was the special kit that included the Smokehouse Probe (item 113-177) and the High Temp Alligator Clip Probe  (8468-22).  

What Thermoworks Has To Say

Let’s start the review with what Thermoworks has to say about the TW8060:  “Our new TW8060 is a simple-to-use 2-channel thermocouple alarm thermometer with convenient backlit display. An ideal cooking thermometer, the TW8060 can monitor your food item and the oven temperature simultaneously and alert you when it’s done. Also records Max and Min temperatures of both channels so you’ll know what limits were reached during your process. A handy tool in a small, compact package. Uses type K thermocouples so high temperatures are not a problem. Choose from hundreds of probes.

Great tool for BBQing. Insert one probe into meat and the other can be used to monitor the grill temp, or smoker. As featured on Alton Brown’s Good Eats recent BBQ special “Right on Q” (click here to read more about it on our blog).” 

Sounds like a great unit and hey if it’s good enough for a near cult legend like Alton Brown who is known for his kitchen gadgetry then it probably is going to meet or exceed the average Joe’s needs and expectations.

First impressions of the TW8060  

The first thing you will notice when you unbox this unit is that it’s not like most other thermometer-probe units.  This one feels a bit more like an instrument.  What do I mean by that?  The TW8060 gives you the impression it was once used for something much more complex and strenuous than just reading the current temp of your Big Green Egg and your brisket at the same time.  The screen of the TW8060 is initially protected by a clear sticker that proclaims “Environmental Instrument.”  You can tell this unit was likely adapted from commercial, industrial or business use and, if you cook as much as I do, that is a very good thing.    

The unit itself isn’t overly large or heavy.  It fits the hand nicely and has a very nice easy to read screen.  There are 6 buttons which appear very self explanatory.  Overall, a smart design that looks  fairly easy to use.  The unit also has as dust cover that goes on top of it to keep debris out of the ports where the probes connect.

The next thing I noticed were the probes. They are awesome and deserve their own section breaking down just how great they are.  Fortunately, the next section does just that.


Probing The Issue

It is fair to say there is as much money in the probes of the test unit I was sent as the device itself.  You can tell.  These probes are awesome and easily the nicest I’ve ever seen.  The gauge of wire used is much thicker than that of other probes. The protective shielding is stronger and they use a two prong positive / negative connector which I have never seen.  Typically probes use a 3.5mm headphone jack style connector.  

The two prong connectors intrigued me enough that I actually requested to be put in touch with a engineer at Thermoworks so I could “probe deeper into the issue” (say it like Dr. Evil and that’s mildly funny).  The response I got back was:

“The connectors are different because the TW8060 uses “Standard” industry Mini Thermocouple probes rather than Thermistors. Most other oven Thermometers use Thermistors, just like the TW362B with the stereo plug jack.

We decided to use Thermocouples due to the temperature use range, durability, more water resistant, and larger selection of uses, etc. (The 362XX probe thermistor sensor – for example – will fail if heavy steam seeps into the sensor. A Thermocouple would not be affected in the same environment.)”

The next thing I noticed concerned the pit temp probe.  This is the first probe I’ve ever seen (I understand there may be others) with an integrated clip that is intended to hold the probe exactly where you want it.  In fact the thermocouple itself is located at the very tip of the alligator clip.  I can’t tell you how many times I needed something like this.  Putting a pit probe in your bbq contraption is one thing but putting it EXACTLY where you want it and knowing it will stay there is a huge advantage.

Because of how precise the placement of the pit probe could be, I decided to do a test cook on our Ole Hickory CTO.  I did so only because I have always wondered what the temp variance was between the 4 racks and also from front to back on each rack.  This is the first device that allowed me to accurately measure this difference.  Now, armed with this information, I have a much better idea where and where to place different cuts of meat for different results.  This is a big deal for pit masters, especially those of us who are starting to move to the “hot and fast” cooking method.

The next thing to note about the probes is the length.  This has long been my biggest complaint about most units.  The probes are usually just long enough be awkward.  It’s safe to say that Thermoworks has decided to err on the side of making sure there is enough length on the probes.  The meat probe is right at 6ft long which is plenty for most any pit.  The pit temp probe I was sent is 8ft which is awesome.  So many times, especially on larger pits, I have actually run a completely different thermometer if I needed to read something on the opposite side of the pit.  I don’t foresee that being a problem here.  

As you can see from the pic above I have the probes inside the pit with the doors closed and then I extended the connector, backing away from the pit until the wire was taught before taking the picture.   To give you an idea of scale the CTO is right at 5ft tall.  So yeah the probes are pretty darned long.

One last thing to note is the thickness of the meat probe they sent.  Holy cow this thing is built to last.  I have personally bent a couple of probes while cooking whole hog and hams.  This is something I can honestly say I don’t think could ever happen with this unit.  Notice the probe in relation to the brisket in the pic below.  This is a smaller brisket but you can get the idea.  

Wanna See My Unit

I know I mentioned in passing earlier about how nice and big the display is on this unit.  It really does deserve to be highlighted.  You can see in the pic below just how easy the display is on the eyes.  Also the display has a back light for low light conditions.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get a pic to turn out quite right, but the light is very good and does work very well.  The only way I could imagine the back light being better is if it used some sort of Indiglo like Timex uses.  It’s not needed though, the light really does the job well.

Also note in the pic the 6 buttons of the device. Being a stubborn guy (“guy” being the operative word) I was able to use the device without referring to the manual.  I did go back and do a quick read through of the manual after I finished testing, though.  Thermoworks did an absolutely outstanding manual for the Thermapen.  This manual isn’t as educational, but is very easy to understand and use.

I think it is important to highlight the speed in the readings on this unit as well.  Immediate response is a very accurate description.  I wish I had a video to show just how quick the thermocouples used in the TW8060 respond to changes in temp and how fast that is displayed.  Had I thought more about it I would have staged a race between my orange Thermapen and the TW8060.  I have to say I think the TW8060 might just have an edge in the speed department.  So what color is the fastest Thermapen?  Grey and Yellow :).  I know its an unfair comparison as the Thermapen is a compact unit and the TW8060 isn’t.  I just wanted everyone to understand just how fast this unit is.  Thermoworks hit another home run in this department.

Function, Function What’s Your Function

Ok, so by now you know I like this unit, how well it is built and some of the features, but none of that really covers how it works.  Here is where I won’t belabor any points.  If you have a bbq pit or have ever cooked a Thanksgiving turkey you know how these units typically work.  You jab the beast with a probe, set the temp you want to get an alarm at and go grab a beer on your way back to watching the football game.  At least that is what I do.  This unit functions as it should and it is easy to set up.  

There are a few things that should be noted that might be missed by the average user.  First I really like that it has a high and low temp alarm as most units don’t.  Second is the temp range of this unit, it can read from -328 to 2372°F (-200 to 1300°C).  Can I get a WOW on that one?  Third is the accuracy of the reading.  This unit has no more than a +/- of .02% rate of error at any degree and most of its range it is within a .01%.  Again AMAZING and it makes you wonder why more companies don’t use thermocouples.  Next this unit includes a Max/Min function. While the unit is powered on, it will continuously record the maximum and minimum recorded temperature. The Max/Min temperatures will be stored until they are cleared by the user, even if the power is shut off.  I’m not 100% sure how I will use this handy power, but I am sure it will be useful and it is not included on any of my other units.  Finally, some kudos should be given to Thermoworks for using industry standard probes and offering a good mix of them to the end user on their website.  This allows the end user to configure the TW8060 exactly the way they want it and even have spare or different probes available as their needs change.  It’s a small thing but a good thing.

There are only two places I would have to ding this unit.  First is that it does not have a 2 channel alarm and it should, especially considering the cost of entry on the unit.  The alarm only covers channel 1, so note that before buying.  I think this is something that could be easily remedied in future revisions of the product and, given the product cost, Thermoworks should address it.  Next, it should ship with some sort of stand that keeps the unit upright.  There is a great one that is available as an add-on, but again, for the money it should be included, in my humblest of opinions.  

What I Liked

– Speed, this thing is fast and a performer.

– Design, well made near industrial quality that is still easy to use.

– The probes, easily the best I have ever seen.  Cannot say enough about how excellent these probes are compared to any other’s I have used.

– Screen, easily readable even in low light due to back light feature.

– Dust / debris cover for the top of the unit for when it is not in use.

– Functionality that I’ve never seen in any other unit, Max/Min feature is an excellent idea.

– Range of readings is nothing short of exceptional.

– Good list of accessories,  including different probes that allow the end user to set up this unit just the way they want, an awesome case and a very cool stand.

What Could Be Improved

It’s fair to admit that I am not often easily impressed, nor do I review any product without mentioning places for improvement, so understand some of these improvements could be considered a little “nit picky” by some.  That said, here are my suggested improvements:

1 – Alarm on both channels.  Why?  To be such a high end unit it just seems logical to have an alarm on both channels

2 – Positive lock for the yellow probe connectors.  While this isn’t completely necessary I think it would be nice to have.  Maybe the dust cover could be altered in a way where it could stay on the unit while the probes are inserted.  This unit is expensive and I would hate to see it accidentally picked up by the probe wires and the unit disconnect and fall to the ground.

3 – Magnet on the back of the unit.  Why?  Because most bbq pits are metal and it would make sense to be able to stick the unit on the side of your smoker out of the way until you need it.  At least use the attachment point on the back of unit and develop a magnet that could be sold as an accessory.

4 – Ship from factory with a stand.  Again this is an expensive unit and for the price it would be nice to have.  There is an awesome stand available as an accessory that I will be purchasing.  

I don’t want to end the review of this unit on anything less than a positive note.  I am a believer in the TW8060 and pretty much anything that Thermoworks decides to produce.  In fact I believe in Thermoworks products so much I have literally bought a Thermapen for everyone who cooks with me.  Yes, that is a lot of money, but when you cook for the public at large events serving something that’s raw can cost you even more.  We as a company trust Thermoworks.  The bottom line on the TW8060 is that it is what I expect from Thermoworks:  A fine product that does the job.  No it’s not the cheapest product, but it is one of the best in many categories.  Go check out the TW8060. Oh, and tell the folks at Thermoworks that I sent you.

 

 

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Newbie Guide – Recommended Resources

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In the past few years since purchasing our Tucker Cooker I have been on a mission of barbecue information gathering, learning, practicing and the overall betterment of myself as a pit master and cook.  I have noticed from talking to other Tucker owners that, even though the Tucker is a larger pit, it is often the first real pit / smoker they have ever owned.  With those things in mind, I thought it would be helpful to put together a resource guide to assist people in their education process.  The lists contained here should not be considered a complete work, but rather a starting point.  These are just my favorites and my personal recommendations.  Take the time to explore and  use these resources to find your own favorites.

Requirements….or are they?

There are just a few real requirements in the barbecue game.  They aren’t difficult, but they are undeniable.  First and foremost, you must have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  That is the single most important thing you can bring to the table and will serve you better than any other trait.  Second, you must be willing to tinker with things, such as recipes and cooking methods.  Be willing to take these things and see if you can make them work, adapt them, change them and call them your own.  Finally, keep a note pad and pen handy and take copious notes.  In hind sight, this is probably as important as the thirst for knowledge.  Jotting down times that meat goes on the pit, what temp, how long it cooked, at what temp/time you injected, etc will prove to be invaluable as you grow.  The sooner you adopt the idea you must take notes about everything, the faster you will improve.

Having noted all of these requirements, I am reminded that this crazy culture of barbecue was built by men and women who have accepted that there are really no actual rules, but a lot of strongly suggested folk lore.  This lore, as with most things of legend, is meant to be tested, challenged, changed and changed again. So, I think my greatest suggestion must be to find what works for you. I can only hope some of the things I mention here aid you in finding the magical combination of things that will help you become a true pit master.

The Wide World of Web Info

The Internet is always the first resource I recommend.  It is a pretty obvious one given the age of information we live in…not to mention it’s free. Anything and everything you need to know you can usually find online. The real question then becomes where to find the best, most helpful info. Since the sheer amount of information on the web can be overwhelming, to say the least, the majority of the hints here will help start you on the right path to finding the information you want on-line.

Seek and Enjoy

You can, of course, go with a search engine like Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.  You just have to be willing to type a question into the search engine and see where it takes you.  General questions like “best internal temperature of a pork shoulder” typed into Google will keep you reading for hours, if not days.  The drawback with  this method is that you may well find yourself flooded with too much information.  It may also turn you onto 15 great sites that you become a long term fan of. Be patient! Pick a site that looks interesting to you and see where it takes you. User mileage may very, but never underestimate the power of the almighty search engine.

Finding Your Forum

Forum’s are probably the single best source for the new barbecue pit master.  These jewels of the Internet are loaded with nothing short of experts in the field and you can learn a lot in a very short amount of time.  Be warned though, as with most activities with a learning curve, most forums have little patience for newbies asking the same question over and over.  Take the time to read the FAQ sections of all forums before posting questions.  Be sure to use the search functions of the forum to help find answers.  Take the time to post an introduction telling everyone who you are, where you live, what cooker you use and what you like to cook now. The barbecue community is, by and large, chock full of friendly, helpful and knowledgeable folks who are more than happy to help.  If you follow these few tips you will find yourself welcomed and the volumes of information available to you vast.  

Here are two I personally recommend (although there are literally hundreds to choose from):

BBQ Brethren – Probably the most comprehensive barbecue forum on the Internet.  A vast source of information, a wide ranging cast of characters and a lot of bantering.

BBQ Bug – A  fantastic resource that includes  tons of step by step instructions for just about everything you can think of in barbecue.

Blog Jam

I really love a number of blogs and read them daily.  What I find so compelling about blogs and newsletters is that they are typically written by fans turned experts.  You get several levels of expertise; everything from someone who has never barbecued who just wanted to write about their experience to actual experts who have been brought on by a company to write for them.  Each type of writer has things to bring to the table and each is worth reading.  Blogs and newsletters are great because you can subscribe to them and have every updates emailed to you as they are released.  This allows you to catalog the information and recall it at will.  Some of the resources I subscribe to are:

Amazing Ribs

Big Wayner’s BBQ Blog

Grill Grrl

Grilling With Rich

How To BBQ Right

Nibble Me This

Patio Daddio BBQ

Listener Supported

Lately, my favorite source for barbecue information are Internet radio shows,  also known as podcasts.  These shows are hands down some of the best entertainment for the barbecue pit master.  I know, it sounds a little bit odd at first using your computer to listen to the radio, but just think of these shows as Pandora for barbeque.  Then there is the whole idea of listening to a show about barbecue. Doesn’t  it seem a little bit self indulgent? Well maybe, but the shows really are a great way not only to learn, but to get a real feel for the whole barbecue culture. I understand this may not be for you but I still suggest you give it a try.  Like me, you may find yourself addicted to it.  I love that I can listen to these resources live and participate in the audience or I can download the podcast of the show later and listen on my phone while driving to and from work.  

My favorite shows?  That’s easy, check these out:
BBQ Central Radio Show – This show is also live every Tue, 9pm EST on the Outdoor Cooking Channel  Greg Rempe does a great job of balancing fun and barbecue information and is considered the pioneer in barbecue radio shows.

BBQ Super Stars – Darryl Mast has many shows on his network and does a live call in, free format sort of show that allows anyone to call in and talk Q.  BBQ Super Stars as a site is much more than just a radio show though, check it out as it is a great source for all sorts of barbecue information.  Check out the Tucker Cooker section on the main site, there are some videos there that were shot during the last Memphis in May.

Whiskey Bent BBQ’s “In The Pit” – Is one of the shows on the BBQ Super Stars network.  This show is headed by Chad Ward of Whiskey Bent BBQ, a fantastic up and coming competition team out of Florida.  Chad’s main focus is competition barbecue and the show is always informative and entertaining.  

Birds of a Feather…..Twitter Together

What makes the barbecue community so powerful is the sharing of information and the direct access we have to the “stars” of our field.  It’s impossible to be at every event, competition or show with your favorite barbecue star but if you have a Twitter or Facebook account you have what almost amounts to a 24hr backstage pass with them.  Not every star has or maintains their Twitter or Facebook feed, but the one’s who do are fantastic sources of information. I suggest you follow them and don’t be afraid to interact with them and ask questions.  A word of advice: Remember that these are real people, with real lives, real families, real jobs and real problems.  Be polite, be real, be courteous and, above all, be a friend, not just someone who is trying to gain something from them.  If you do that, you will go a long way towards making some great friends.  In fact, some of my closest barbecue relationships started on Twitter and grew into real world friendships that I consider invaluable.  

So who do I follow?  All the people I have mentioned in his article have websites, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Take the time to look them up even if I don’t explicitly list them all below.  I follow and recommend these folks because they are great at Twitter in particular, all links are to Twitter, but you can find links to Facebook from there:

Brian Henderson

Danielle Dimovksi (aka DivaQ)

Hanneke Eerden

Jay Prince

Kevin Kelly

Larry Gaian

Neil Stawder (aka Bigmista)

Ray Lampe (aka Dr. BBQ)

Wilfred Reinke

There are many, many others. You can do a search in Twitter for #bbq or #barbecue and see what turns up. Don’t be afraid to Follow someone for awhile to see if you like their content.  If you don’t you can always Unfollow them later.

Reading Is Fun-da-mental

If more traditional sources are your cup of tea, there are, of course, tens of thousands of barbecue books out there for you.  I really like barbecue books because they are as much instructions manuals as they are recipe books.  Some include a bit of history, behind the scenes access to legends and some fun tall tails.  One of my first barbecue books was by Ray Lampe.  His book was an integral part of inspiring me to start making my own barbecue sauces.  I would recommend reading much more than just barbecue books though.  Be willing to expand your purview and find inspiration from many types of books.  One of my favorite things to do is find a recipe that has nothing to do with barbecue and take it, rework it and make it my own by putting my own barbecue slant on it.  

I have included a few of my personal favorite books in the list below.  One of which was written using a Tucker (Championship BBQ Secrets).  Each are great books in their own right and for different reasons.  Check them out, cook along with them and see where they take you.

BBQ Makes Everything Better

Championship BBQ Secrets for Real Smoked Food

Dr. BBQ’s Big-Time Barbecue Cookbook

Peace, Love and Barbecue

If you are looking for a great list of barbecue book reviews, check out  AmazingRibs.com.  Meathead Goldwyn does a good job reviewing some of the best books available.  

It’s All Perspective

While I find myself writing “rules” or “recommendations” for the new barbecue fan, I have to admit there are no actual rules.  Every time a rule has been created in barbecue it has been challenged, changed, rewritten or reinvented.  Some will swear by low and slow while a new breed of pit master is all about hot and fast cooking.  Some will say you can only get great flavor by burning wood while the next guy is steadily winning with charcoal or pellets.  In the end, my earlier premise holds true: this culture of barbecue was built by men and women who have accepted that rules are made to be broken and the folk lore is meant to be tested, challenged, changed and redone.  There is, however, one truth that we cling to:.  No matter what you cook on, cook with or how long the cooking takes, when the meat tastes great, you have cooked with love and passion.  Remember that, and you will have a great dish every time.

 

 

 

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The Big Green Egg XL vs The Grilla: A Comparison

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When I first saw the Grilla in person a few things jumped out at me.  First, it was very unique but mildly ugly at initial glance.  It took a closer look to really appreciate it.  It was that thought that brought me back to the purchase of our Big Green Egg XL (BGE  XL).  That triggered a whole host of other ideas that basically brought me to the realization that the Grilla, whether it intended to be or not, was basically a pellet powered BGE XL.  

That may sound odd at first but when you stop to consider price point, cooking ability and the size of both cookers, I think you can make a case for a side by side comparison.  So I have jotted down my thoughts comparing and contrasting the two in hope of helping someone who is currently considering either of these two units.  I understand before the first comparison is even made there will be members of both camps who will cry foul and make points contrary to my points.  I completely understand this, as I too am passionate about the barbecue pits I own.  This is just my take and comparison on the two having owned each and it is not a personal attack on you, your choice or your favorite barbecue contraption!  With that out of the way let’s begin.

The list below is in the order that ideas occurred to me and I did not change it for purposes of publishing.  Also in bold at the end of each paragraph I will list which unit is better in that particular category and include a tally at the very end.

– Size / Weight / Cooking Surface – Both the BGE XL and the Grilla take up approximately the same space when the BGE XL has it’s side tables (known as mates) folded down.  They are not the same weight with the Grilla weighing in at nearly 100lbs lighter.  The Grilla has a larger standard cooking area (488 sq in) than a Big Green Egg XL (452 sq in). An additional upper rack can be purchased for the BGE, but the reviews I’ve seen are mixed on this rack so I only compared what comes standard for this one piece.  Winner:  Grilla

– Assembly – For the Grilla there was none.  Once you remove the shipping and packing material, it is ready to go.  Nothing to put together, no shelves, no nest (a cradle of sorts made to elevate the Egg to a comfortable cooking height) to build, no hinge system for the lid, nothing.  (I can tell you there is nothing more unnerving than paying over $1200 for a XL Egg and to sit on pins and needles hoping the nest they provide actually holds this 200lbs + of ceramic up after you have put it together).  I understand why the BGE is shipped the way it is.  It is after all an egg and is fragile so I don’t see any real way around the assembly issue for BGE.  Winner:  Grilla 

– Sturdiness –  I’ve had our BGE XL for almost a year and I have already broken two parts.  Of those two parts, the first (the fire ring) was definitely my fault as I sat it down harder than I should have.  The second part was the plate setter that broke while I had it propped up and was reloading some charcoal while the plate setter was hot.  I don’t know in that particular instance that I was at fault.  It literally cracked like a saltine cracker and fell apart in the middle of a competition.  Honestly, I feel the way I reloaded the charcoal was in a manner in which any cook would have done.  I can’t necessarily blame BGE, I realize I am probably asking more of the unit than it was intended for by competing with it.  The rigors of competition and travelling are huge and unless a unit was designed with that in mind it might be a bridge too far.  I don’t foresee that being a problem with the Grilla as it is 18 gauge steel and has a great powder coat and no fragile parts.  I’ve only had the Grilla for a month and a half, but the Grilla wins here in my opinion.   Winner:  Grilla

– Lid – Each cooker has a unique take on lids.  The BGE uses what amounts to heavy duty springs to assist in the lifting and holding of it’s lid up.  This design works and I would hate to feel the full weight of it’s lid each time I had to open it.  The Grilla addresses the lid with a swing design.  There is no lid to take off or to lift up on a hinge, instead it slides open on a set of very smooth ball bearings.  The hinged lid on the BGE requires more space to the rear of the cooker, meaning it takes up more space while you are cooking with it.  The Grilla lid swings out of the way neatly and easily.  The BGE method of dealing with the lid does provide a little more access to the pit, but it is nominal in comparison.  All things considered for longevity of the moving parts, space, etc I have to give a very slight edge to the Grilla.  Winner:  Grilla

– Made Where? – This seems to be less of an issue for some people in our very global economy.  For me, though, it’s still a very important factor.  I served in the military and supporting products made in the USA is a priority to me, even when they cost more.  The Grilla is made in the good ole US of A by Americans in Michigan.  The BGE XL is made in Mexico.  Most of the Grilla’s pellet pit competitors are made in China.  They may be American companies but there are very few companies who actually manufacture pellet pits here.  Grilla does and, to be honest, that makes me proud.  I guess it is comforting to note that the BGE XL is at least made in North America.  Again for some this is a non issue and is far less important than overall price, for me it is an issue.  Winner:  Grilla

– Full Product Line – BGE is a well established company, with decades of experience and millions of happy customers.  They truly do have a BGE to fit just about every need.  I think most of them are just flat too small and that is why we bought an XL over the mini, small, medium or large.  Grilla currently offers only one size.  I don’t know if there are plans for a larger unit, but I hope so.  I have to give the nod to the BGE XL on this one.  Winner:  BGE XL

– Working Area – I think the BGE XL with it’s accessory “mate” shelves have about the same area as the Grilla’s shelves.  The difference though is that the BGE XL’s shelves are only blocked on the back side.  This allows larger pans to be balanced on the shelves.  If you only considered this factor I would say BGE is the slight winner.  If you take a minute to look at how the working area is constructed and the materials used I think there is a different story to tell.  The Grilla’s shelves are stainless steel and are a fixed part of the unit. They are also so sturdy I stood my 9yr old on one to test it.  I do not feel confident enough to stand a 60lb kid on my mate shelves, especially with as wobbly as the BGE is in its nest.  I am going to call this a draw.  Winner:  Draw

– Cook-ability – I think both the BGE XL and the Grilla win here.  The BGE XL wins because it can hit near crucible temps and you can find Royal Oak lump charcoal at nearly any hardware, big box store or grocery.  The Grilla wins because it is just flat out easier to cook with it.  You flip a switch and you achieve the temp you are looking for.  Some in the BGE XL camp will of course bring up that you can hook up a BBQ Guru device and nearly do the same thing.  Except you really can’t.  The Guru, as amazing as it is, still only works once you have arranged your coal in the BGE XL and lit a proper fire.  So no matter how you slice it, achieving the appropriate temperature is more difficult in the BGE XL.  Both units can cook for hours and hours on end with a load of fuel and both have turned out some of the best and easiest barbecue I’ve ever eaten.  If pellets were more of a mainstay and you could find them at any store I might give a slight edge to the Grilla.  Because they are slightly harder to find I think I’m calling this one too close to call.  Winner:  Draw

– Moving – Every single time I move our BGE XL, I  worry that I might break something.  This may not be as pronounced with smaller BGE’s or for those people who are not moving their BGE frequently.  I worry its going to tip or the nest is going to fall apart.  Sadly for BGE XL it would be so easy to fix this with a much better designed nest.  In fact the more I think about it, 90% of my personal complaints about the BGE XL center around that terrible contraption they pass off as a nest.  If you pay $1200+ for something that is fragile it should come with something that ensures it’s safety, something that adds a sense of sturdiness and stability, something that…well isn’t poorly made to be frank.  The Grilla is solid, easy to move and never gives you slightest pang of worry when moving it.  This honestly is something I probably would never have noticed had I not owned a BGE XL. Winner:  Grilla (by a mile)

– Accessorizing – Some people are all about the accessories that are available with a particular unit.  In this area I have to give the nod to the BGE XL.  There are accessories galore, most of which are over-priced, but they all seem to be of fairly good quality.  The Grilla is so new that there isn’t much in the way of accessories.  I think there will be in time, but I can only comment on what is available at the moment.  Winner:  BGE XL

– Roughing It – One of the negatives of all pellet pits is that they require electricity.  So the ability to take them tailgating or off to a hunting camp where electricity may not be available is a limiting factor.  Of course, some inventive pellet-heads have used batteries and generators but it’s not what the average guy would bother to do.  That said, the BGE XL does not require electricity, so it gets the nod here even though I think it is very fragile and hauling it to a deer camp would give me pause.  Winner:  BGE XL (by the slightest of margins)

– Price – I know the pricing on the BGE XL’s vary and some folks have gotten some great deals.  I will have to go only with what we paid for our BGE XL versus the shipped MSRP of the Grilla for comparison.  Our BGE XL, with Nest, Plate Setter, Mates, taxes, etc out the door was just over $1200.  The Grilla delivered to your door is $1495 (pricing based on information from Grilla and subject to change).  

First off the Eggheads will say “but you don’t have to buy the plate setter or the mates.” My reply would be “Yes, you really do”.  For low and slow cooking the plate setter isn’t an option, it’s a requirement.  The mates (shelves) are optional to some, but not to me.  Furthermore, many BGE owners would consider the purchase of a pit temperature control device such as a BBQ Guru’s Party Q a near requirement.  This unit is the entry level of the BBQ Guru devices and rings in at $130.  So by the time you factor all of that in we are talking very similar money.  

The next argument from Eggheads will be that “I only paid $1000 for the same set up you have”.  To that all I can say is:  “Great!  We worked a deal on ours but didn’t manage as good a deal as you did.”  All things considered such as options, assembly, etc I am honestly going to call this one a draw.  I know the BGE XL is technically cheaper, but I think you have to factor in the assembly time and accessories into the overall cost for this to be a like comparison.  Winner:  Draw     

– Community – For many having a lively community of users and experts to ask questions of and interact with is the single most important factor.  There are literally hundreds of sites dedicate to the BGE and kamado style cookers.  There are nearly an equal number of sites dedicated to pellet cooking.  No, the sites aren’t specifically for the Grilla, but you can bet there are plenty of pellet-heads out there to learn from.  All things considered I would say this is pretty even, but since the Eggheads have been around longer I can only assume they have had more time to amass a great amount of knowledge and recipes pertinent to their specific cooking platform.  Winner:  BGE XL (by a very slight margin)

                       

                                BGE                                  Grilla

Totals*:                       7                                         9

*all draws were listed as a win for both units

By my very nature I hate articles that call both units in a comparison a winner, it really is one of my biggest pet peeves.  The whole purpose in comparing something is to pick a winner.  Car and Driver and Consumer Reports does it and so should we as bloggers / reviewers.  In this case numerically the Grilla did win based solely on the categories but I think more consideration has to be given to the actual cook who is going to use the pit. With that said the big question obviously is:  which should you buy?  Well that depends.  🙂

The BGE XL is a fine cooker and I still enjoy cooking on it despite my complaints about the nest and it’s fragile nature.  For those that prefer a more hands on approach to cooking that includes lighting a fire and accessories then I would say the Egg is the winner.  I’ve turned out a lot of great barbecue on our BGE in the year we’ve had it.  I’ve even got a couple of trophies from the entries cooked on it.  It is versatile, it is proven and despite some corners being cut in quality in an effort to make better profit margins, it is still a good cooker.  

The Grilla is a fine cooker as well. I am learning to love it more each day and there really isn’t much to complain about other than price.  I think the buyer who loves the ease of flipping a switch and turning out great food with as little effort as possible will gravitate to the Grilla.  It’s hard not to love just how easy this cooker is and I know I can win trophies with it as well.  As the pellet options and availability are addressed, I think the pellet cooking world as a whole will over take much of the grilling/barbecue market.  That is just my personal opinion, but I think it’s a fairly safe bet at this point.  

You honestly cant go wrong with either choice as they are both fantastic cookers.  This is like trying to pick between a BMW and a Mercedes.  No matter what you will be well taken care of.  All I can say is I have driven both and as of this very moment if I had to write the checks over again I would likely buy the Grilla.  I recommend you taking a hard look at the type of cook you are and what your expectations are of a unit and apply what you read in this review accordingly.  

Happy Grillin’ Folks!

 

 

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Meat Manifesto

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BBQ has crossed into the mainstream recently. This boom in popularity has brought some positive things, but also some negative aspects. I would like to take a moment to define what being a real bbq craftsman (ladies read craftsperson if you prefer) means to me as a competitor, business person and backyard cook. I am a third generation pit master and to say I take this lifestyle, culture and community seriously is a mild understatement. The contradiction of the popularity of what once was considered a counter culture led me to write what has been called my meat manifesto.

I am a bbq craftsman
I had a dream and I pursue my dream with honor, perseverance and respect.

I am a bbq craftsman
I do not rely on gimmicks or trickery. I rely on integrity and a commitment to excellence.

I am a bbq craftsman
I remain open to suggestions, mentoring and teaching at all times. I want to learn and improve.

I am a bbq craftsman
I refuse to do anything that compromises the core values of bbq. I will stay true to the community and the values that make us so different from other groups.

I am a bbq craftsman
I do not subscribe or submit to fads. I only need smoke, heat, spice and meat, everything else can come and go but I stay true to and pay the utmost honor to those core ingredients.

I am a bbq craftsman
I train hard seeking to make the perfect bite of bbq. My skills are tested every time I start a fire but I will not give up or be deterred by nay sayers, lack of sleep or the difficulty of the challenge.

I am a bbq craftsman
I do not do this for fame, glory or riches. I do this for smiles and respect of those that eat my food and the satisfaction that is provided from their happiness.

I am a bbq craftsman
I am humble in the face of great competition, but I remain confident in myself and abilities.

I am a bbq craftsman
I am thankful for great competitors for without great competition there could be no opportunities to challenge each other to constantly improve.

I am a bbq craftsman
I am kind and respectful to my competition even when they don’t deserve it. This is not my weakness but rather the strength of the whole bbq community.

I am a bbq craftsman
I believe in myself, my flavor profiles, my talents and my equipment. On any given Saturday I can be or beat a world champion.

I am a bbq craftsman
I refuse to make excuses. If I do not win then the fault is mine, not the judges. I replace excuses with reasons to improve my product and process.

I am a bbq craftsman
I help new craftsman and peers giving freely of my time, encouragement and knowledge. I do not criticize or discourage others or do anything that weakens this community.

I am a bbq craftsman
I show respect to those who have paved my way. I always congratulate every winner.

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