Whilst a rain soaked February is perhaps not the time most people would think barbecue, I received as a Christmas present a bullet smoker and have been itching to try it out ever since. After weeks of incessant rain I decided come rain or shine I was going to fire it up this weekend.
I have smoked stuff (hot and cold) on a kettle barbecue (using water filled foil trays to get the indirect heat effect) and whilst results were OK I felt the need to step up to a purpose build smoker unit (having according to my wife become deeply obsessed with “Diners Drive ins and Dives” on the Food Network).
The smoker I plumped for was the Pro Q Frontier which is the mid size model in the Pro Q range of bullet smokers (the Amigo is the smallest and the Excel the biggest ).
The other one I looked at was the Weber Rocky Mountain smoker but this was a bit pricey for me ( £250+ compared to under £200 for the Pro Q Frontier).
The Frontier is a module based product with 4 sections that neatly clip together (lid, base and two tier inserts).
Further tiers can be added but the capacity with two tiers is more than enough for my needs (even if entertaining) with two substantial areas to load food. Any more than three tiers would seem to me to make it difficult to use and make it unstable.
The modular design makes it a very user friendly product and allows the coals to be put in first and then the rest of the sections can be easily fitted on top. The clipped together sections make a ergonomically pleasing bullet shape and can easily be carried around (when not hot) by the various handles.
The Frontier has a large water bowl which sits directly above the coals and this means that the food is not exposed to direct heat from the coals.
The idea is to have a low and slow cooking process producing a tender and moist (due to the steam from the water bowl) end product. Smoke is added to the equation to enhance flavour and give the food that unique BBQ taste.
My initial attempt at hot smoking a whole chicken (beer can style) was a limited success as I struggled to get and then keep the temperature over the 200 degrees fahrenheit required. In hindsight, I think this was due to putting cold water in the water bowl and not using enough fuel. This resulted in a drop off in the temperature after only 2.5 hours and having to finish the chicken off in the oven (regarded by my wife as an epic fail).
My second attempt at beer can chicken (more on this in a later post) was much more successful as I used both pre boiled water in the water bowl (flavoured with rosemary – can add wine, beer etc) and a much larger amount of fuel (a full load of heat beads in a Weber BBQ chimney – a very simple and efficient way of lighting coals).
The result was that the required 200+ degrees fahrenheit temperature was reached quite quickly (15 mins max) and I was able to maintain that temperature for over 4 hours. During cooking the temperature can be regulating using the three bottom vents (opening them increases the temperature and closing them reduces it). The top vent should always be kept open. It required minimum tinkering to get a stable 210 degrees. Over long cooking periods the water bowl may need to be replenished as on my 4 hour plus cook time it nearly ran dry at about the 3.5 hour mark and I had to added more water.
Wood chips are added to the charcoal basket to get that all important smokey flavour and these can be placed in the charcoal basket via a side door. I used a metal firebox into which I placed pre soaked wood chips (about 30 minutes in water) before adding to the coals.The idea behind this is to enhance smoke levels and ensure the chips do not burn to quickly.
One possible criticism of the Frontier design is the positioning of the water bowl which does not make it that easy to add wood chips, more fuel etc into the charcoal basket as it sits quite deep (this could be alleviated by moving it up but this would reduce cooking space). I think if more fuel were to be needed (e.g. if doing a pulled pork which could need 10 hours plus) I would struggle to get a reasonable amount of new hot coals into the charcoal basket via the side door and may need to disassemble it to add more coals. This would I suspect result in a temporary loss of heat and drop the temperature down for a while.
The lid has an inbuilt temperature gauge, but I prefer to use a probe with an electronic read out. For this each tier insert has a neat design feature of an eyelet that allow a probe to be inserted into the body of the Frontier. I found that the probe reading for the middle section was above 15-20 degrees higher than that registered on the inbuilt temperature gauge at any given time.
The lid also includes a bar and hooks from which fish, sausages etc can be hung. This is a useful feature in terms of making the most of the space available.
Once the cooking is completed all of the vents can be closed to put out the coals, but be aware it takes a while (couple of hours) for the temperature to drop down sufficiently to enable a cover to be put back on the product.
The Pro Q Frontier smoker is a well build and well designed product and perfect for the needs of anyone who wishes to dabble in the delights of home smoking.
It is worth noting that it can be used to both hot and cold smoke (Pro Q have a very nifty gadget for cold smoking which I shall review at a later date with a smoked salmon recipe).
The Pro Q range of smokers can be bought in UK from various outlets including Macs BBQ (http://www.macsbbq.com/) who I would heartily recommend. They really know their stuff and are extremely helpful.
I will post details of some recipes and the results in later post , including my beer can chicken, but I am quite pleased with my efforts to date. The chicken was both moist and tender and had a lovely subtle smokey flavour.
All in all the pro Q Smoker is a great product for an amateur smoker such as me and I can see it being used more and more as the nights draw out and (please god) the sun makes an appearance again.