Electric smokers are nothing new, but one that connects to the Internet so you can control it with your smartphone or tablet and feed it recipes from the cloud? That’s different. We’re going to see a whole lot more of this sort of thing in the next couple of years thanks to companies like Dado, the Portland, Oregon-based outfit that makes the brains behind the Charbroil Digital Electric Smoker.
Rather than venturing alone outside the world of briquettes and smoke, companies like Charbroil are turning to specialists like Dado who know the ins and outs of making an Internet-connected appliance easy to use. That way, they can remain focused on doing what they do best — in this case making affordable, quality BBQ grills and smokers. This way, all Charbroil has to do is drop a tiny module into something it already makes and, bam: smart smoker.
But do we really need a smart smoker? Is the sort of person who loves to smoke meats year round, rain or shine, with as little hassle as possible, the kind of person who needs a smartphone to control what is already a pretty hands-off device? To find out, we spent a couple of days smoking breasts, butts, and brisket with Charbroil’s latest offering, and in the end, we decided it isn’t a matter of need, it’s a matter of want – and that’s just fine with us.
The beauty of an electric smoker
Tending a BBQ pit, while a rewarding art few can master, is a time-suck of epic proportions, and one best left for lazy summer afternoons where drinking beer is the most important thing you’ll do all day. Not only that, but anyone residing above the Mason-Dixon line is likely to tell you that cold weather is a pit master’s worst enemy (right in there with green wood) making a brisket-fest an unlikely proposition in winter.
The beauty of an electric smoker is that it doesn’t give a portly pig’s pink posterior whether it’s July or January – it’s ready to smoke whether the sun is blazing or the snowflakes are falling. That, and it pretty much gives you license to check out for the day and drink beer to your heart’s content because it’s got the whole smoking wood thing down to a computer-controlled, take-a –chill-pill science.
So what’s not to love?
If you have poor Wi-Fi in your back yard or patio, you might find the Charbroil Digital Electric Smoker quickly goes from modern-day culinary miracle to “what the hell is wrong with you?” in a not-so-hot hurry.
Sometimes smart is dumb
The problem with the Internet of Things is that as soon as the Internet goes away, the “things” tend to turn into morons. Perhaps that’s overstating the effect that a lack of connectivity has on this otherwise killer digital smoker, but once you take the Internet away, this device gets a lot less versatile.
Char-Broil’s Digital Electric Smoker turned out to be among the most stable and easy-to-use home appliances we’ve ever dealt with.
To be fair, the smoker comes with three preset buttons you can press in case you can’t get connected, and that will let you cook something for some amount of time at a very low temperature until the included temperature probe says it’s done – so you’re not entirely out of luck with no Internet connection. And if Internet drops out while you’re cooking, no worries. The smoker already has its instructions at that point and will keep on keepin’ on without the Internet.
Still, I like a comprehensive suite of on-board controls … just in case something happens with my phone, tablet, or Internet connection. Contingency plans are a rarely a bad idea, and we’d like to see one implemented here.
Easiest app ever
I’ve tested out a fair number of smart appliances and have struggled through many poorly designed smartphone app interfaces. In my experience, when a company that has zero experience designing smartphone apps just decide to start designing smartphone apps, the user experience usually turns out to be pretty bad. Fortunately, by outsourcing this job to Dado, Char-Broil’s Digital Electric Smoker turned out to be among the most stable and easy-to-use home appliances we’ve ever dealt with.
The app starts out by offering to let you cook manually or opt to use a pre-programmed cook cycle. If you choose the former, all that’s left to do is specify the desired internal temperature. If you choose a guided cook option, the smoker will start asking you what type of meat you’ve got and take you from there.
For our evaluation, we smoked three chickens, two pork butts, and one brisket. In each case, the Digital Electric Smoker produced a perfect product in exactly the amount of time that had been anticipated. You might expect that, but given the cold weather we were dealing with, we expected the cook to take a bit longer.
A gentle, consistent smoker
The thing that surprised me most about the Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker was how long the wood chips lasted. I expected the wood chips inside the smoker box to be dusted in maybe four hours – six if I was lucky. However, at six hours, the smoker looked as if it had another good three hours’ worth of chips in that little box. Turns out, I was right. I could have gone the entire ten-and-a-half hours without opening the box and would have been just fine.
That’s great for convenience, but if you like a heavier smoke flavor on bigger cuts of meat, you may be disappointed. Our brisket and chicken turned out great, but I would have preferred a little more smoke flavor on the pulled pork.
Outside of that, I tried to find hotspots or cool zones with this smoker – anything that would indicate a flawed design – but to no avail. This smoker may not feel super-premium because it doesn’t weigh over 100 lbs., but it will do 95 percent of the job a proper pit will, and it’s questionable whether you need that other 5 percent.
If you want one, get it
I don’t often just come right out and start issuing licenses to buy, but in this case, I’m having a hard time coming up with a reason you shouldn’t get a Char-Broil Digital Electric smoker. They’re great at what they do, and the price is reasonable. The only question that remains is: Do you need the Smart Chef technology? If not, you can save yourself over $100 by going with the “dumb” version. But, if you like a smoker you can monitor with your phone from anywhere, one you can pre-heat as you make your way home during your evening commute, or even one that won’t cook your goods into leather when you get distracted, then by all means, pull the trigger and start having some fun (and some delicious BBQ).