When one thinks of smoking foods, most think about the old stickburners made out of an old propane tank or 55 gallon drum. The stickburners (particularly the larger ones) are awesome ways to smoke meat, particularly if you're smoking food for a large gathering. If I've got to feed 100 people, it's definitely the way to go. However, what do you do if you just want some smoked food for your immediate family? Well, there are many ways you can go about this. There are many type of smaller smokers available that can do the job that you need it to do. There's the Green Egg, Little Chief, Bradley Smoker and a multitude of others that all work to some degree. Some work better than others. Some, not as well as others. However, all of them can produce decent smoked foods. The smoker I use to feed my family or a small gathering is the Bradley. I believe that it offers the opportunity for me to produce the most consistent smoked foods with a minimal investement of time and effort. (Disclaimer: I do not work for Bradley Smokers, nor do I have any financial investments or ties with Bradley. Just a very happy owner of two Bradley Smokers.) This post will speak on the Bradley Smokers and why I prefer them.
Bradley offers different types of smokers. The bulk of their smokers are electric smokers, however, they also offer a propane smoker which is ideal for smoking on the road or at a tailgate party. I do not own one nor do I have any personal experience with one. I do have a friend who owns one and he has produced some mighty fine smoked foods with it. I've even seen a smoked turkey he's produced with it and it looked incredible. I do have extensive experience with the electrical models. Bradley offers an Original Bradley Smoker which includes a tower and smoke generator and has 4 racks in which the food can be smoked. The temperature is controlled manually by a slider which allows you to adjust the temp at which you can smoke your food. Below is a picture of an Original Bradley Smoker. The smoke generator is on the left hand side with the tower on the right.
Bradley also offers a smoker in a digital version. The digital version comes in a 4 or 6 rack model. I've found that 4 racks is plenty of space for what I need to do for my family but friends tell me the 6 rack is nice as well. The temperature for the Digital Bradley Smoker is controlled on the face of the smoke generator and allows a little more pinpoint accuracy than the Original Bradley for the new smoker. However, if you have any experience at all with the Original, you can pinpoint the temperatures pretty easily with that unit as well. The only downfall that I see with the Digital Bradley Smoker is that it has a time limit of 9 hours and 40 minutes. If your timer is not reset within that period, the smoker will automatically turn off. This is easily overcome by simply resetting the timer before the 9:40 time limit. However, it would be nice to see them fix this simple problem. Having dealt with the Bradley folks, I assume they have to be working on this. This is what the Digital looks like:
The method by which the Bradley delivers the smoke is the bisquettes that can be seen in the tube on top of the smoke generator. These bisquettes are fed one at a time to a burner which sits at the end of the smoke generator. Each bisquette will burn for a period of twenty minutes until another bisquette is pushed onto the burner plate and the one that has been burnt is pushed into the water bowl which sits underneath the burner plate. How the Bradley differs from other smokers is in it's smoke delivery system. Generally, when you smoke foods, you want to introduce the smoke to the food over a very long period of time. The best way I can describe the smoking process of the Bradley is to consider the smoke that the Bradley produces to that of olive oil. There are different types of olive oils. You can get plain old olive oil or you can get extra virgin olive oil which is considered the creme de la creme of olive oil. The smoke that the Bradley produces from the bisquettes in the 20 minutes they are burning are the best part of the smoke and it provides a very potent smoke to the foods. If you burn them any longer, you can get what I consider an acridic smoke and leave the food tasting ashen. In this photo, I'm doing a cold smoke with cheese which is why I have ice in the bowl. As you can see from the photo, the bisquettes are lined up and the bisquette on the right is on the burner tray. After it has burned for 20 minutes, it will be pushed off by the one next to it and into the awaiting water bowl. Because of the intensity of the smoke, I generally do not apply smoke for more than 4 hours when smoking foods in the Bradley. This is not to say that the foods will only be in the smoker for 4 hours and your food is done. The food will be done when you've reached the internal temperature you want, depending on what you're smoking. However, I very rarely apply more than 4 hours of smoke.
So, where does the Bradley have it's advantages over other smokers? I can produce awesome (well, family and friends say so anyways) smoked foods with a smoker that is about as "set it and forget it" as a smoker gets. We live in a world where we are constantly on the go. Not many have the time or the patience to tend to a traditional stickburner smoker. Many times, the foods we smoke need 15-plus hours in order to reach the internal temperature desired. Because the Bradley allows you to load the smoker with bisquettes and the smoke generator automatically moves the bisquettes for you, I simply set the temp I want the smoker to produce and the amount of smoke I want the smoker to produce. I can even sleep through the night without having to get up and check the smoker or tend to the fire. It surely makes it easier than traditional smokers and the food I produce from this smoker is as good as anything else I've done with other types of smokers.
The Bradley also offers a very easy way to do some cold-smoking. This is another advantage I believe that the Bradley Smoker differs from other smokers. Whether you want to cold-smoke cheese, sausage, steaks or anything else. It can be accomplished very easily. If the ambient temperature is very low, it can be done by simply not turning on the heat to the tower and only using the smoke generator. The beauty of the Bradley is that it can also be configured rather easily to set the smoker up in a permanent cold smoke setup but still allow you to hot smoke in the cold smoke setup. I have a very good friend by the name of Mike McRitchie who lives in Moose Jaw, SK. He's pretty much what I consider the Tim Taylor of Bradley Smokers. Since his ambient tempartures get rather low in the winter, he's configured his Bradley in his heated garage and keeps his in a permanent cold smoke setup which allows him to cold smoke or hot smoke during any time of the year. Here's his setup:
As you can see, the smoke generator is seperated from the tower and run into a cold smoke box (Mike's is pretty eleborate; you can even use a cardboard box to generate the same results). The smoke is then run into tower to the awaiting food. He also has a PVC tube atop the smoker vent concentrating the smoke into his awaiting oven hood which pushes the smoke outside. Most folks will use their smoker outside but I don't blame Mike a bit for having his indoors. He experienced some extremely bitter winter conditions this year but was able to smoke all he desired because of the Bradley. This is another reason I believe Bradley to be better than others. Try bringing different smokers into the garage and not having the smoke fill up your garage.
These are just some of the reasons I choose Bradley. Most of my smokes that will be documented on this blog will take place in the Bradley. I hope you enjoy smoking foods along with me. If you've never tried smoking foods because you thought the process was too difficult or too time consuming, I invite you to try out a Bradley. My good friend, Bryan, at http://www.yardandpool.com/ can hook anyone up. He has great customer service and is always willing to go the extra mile to get someone started. You can also check out the Bradley Smoker Forums at http://forum.bradleysmoker.com/. There are some really good folks there and you can see what you're missing out on there.
The Surgeon General was right when he said that smoking was addictive. However, this one addiction that adds to your life rather than take away from it. Give it a try and see if I'm right.