Review: Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef Technology
Smoking meat is a cooking technique that predates the modern era. It plays to our best primitive instincts. Early men (and women) were carnivores in need of cooked meat that would keep longer. And if this could be done with the added bonus of extra wood flavor, all the better. This need persists in the 21st Century. So when Char-Broil offered to set us up with a digital electric smoker to review, we were stoked. It’s not often we get to review cutting edge meat technology. Test out a smoker that communicates with your smartphone over a wi-fi network? The answer was easy.
Retailing at $399 (for the larger model), the Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef™ Technology is both simple and complex. It’s simple in that it’s designed for cooks who prefer the set-it-and-forget-it approach to meat smoking. This helps make the device a nice entry point for novice smokers of meat (like myself). The Digital Electric Smoker is also complex as it it requires the use of Char-Broil app that basically runs everything, from pre-heating and meat settings to monitoring temperature and alerting you when your meat is cooked. If this makes it sound like it’s a cooking device from the future, that’s because it kinda is.
To be fair, initial setup can be a bit of a challenge, but luckily for you, dear reader, your humble reviewer has already gone through the steps to troubleshoot some of the setup issues you may encounter when using the Digital Electric Smoker for the first time.
For starters, if you have a home wireless setup that has both a 5G and 2.4 network, you need to make sure that the smoker and your cell phone are both using the 2.4 network. The smoker won’t connect to 5G. Because it’s an outdoor device that is likely to be positioned far way from your home router, the smoker is designed to connect to the more distance-friendly 2.4 network. The manual also recommends that you point the smoker in the direction that your signal is coming from, which does seem to make a difference.
Okay with that out of the way, the first thing you need to do is download the Char-Broil app. The app is a bit buggy, but it gets the job done. After you download and install, the app prompts you to create a DADO account and it’s through this account that your phone communicates with the smoker. Pairing is pretty simple once you get everything all set up.
Before you use the smoker, you need to run an initial seasoning setting that removes any residual materials that remain from the manufacturing process. It’s just a one time thing, but don’t forget to do it. Once you’re ready to smoke, that’s when the real fun begins.
The first rule of meat smoking is that you need to preheat your wood chips. With the Digital Electric Smoker, you don’t have to soak your chips ahead of time. You can even skip using the water pan. But you do need to give your chips time to preheat so they’re ready to rock when you put the meat into the device. Deeper wood chip flavors like hickory, mesquite or oak are best paired with darker, heavier meats. Lighter meats are best paired with lighter wood flavors like apple, cherry or maple. But you know, you can also mix and match. Have fun with it, you budding meat smoking artist, you.
Once you get your choice of chips all preheated, the app will send an alert letting you know that it’s time to toss in your meat. Now this next step is very important. The meat probe is the key to everything. Place it in a silly part of whatever you’re cooking, and you could get a false reading that can result in a bad cook. Put that thing in a unobstructed center area of the meat that’s nice and plumb without being to fatty, and you’re good to go.
Poor probe placement can lead to meat being undercooked. This happened to me and some chickens I was smoking. It was late, the patio was dark and I used the light of a cell phone to direct my meat probe placement. This was a very rookie move on my part, and as a result, I received an alert on my phone that my chickens were done long before they were actually finished. This is because my meat probe was lodged in a silly spot. Be firm and decisive with the placement of the meat probe. Get that thing in there properly so you don’t run into any issues.
Pork shoulder is another great meat to smoke. Probably a way better option than trying to smoke whole chickens. Get some bone-in pork shoulder, wipe it down with maple syrup, apply a rub, let it sit overnight and then pair that thing with some cherry or apple or cherry apple chips, pair with some light flavored wood chips, get that meat probe in there properly and bam, you get a pretty tasty chunk of meat that’s ready to be pulled and mixed with some light, vinegar-based BBQ sauce (like Salt Lick Original). Grab some of those ready made oven biscuits and boom, you’re now the mayor of flavor town.
The Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker features three cooking modes:
Guided Cook mode walks you through a program after you enter the type of meat your smoking, the weight of the meat cut and how it’s prepared. The app provides you with instructions and estimated cook times. You just add in all the details and push the button to get things rolling.
Manual Cook mode let’s you set up the parameters of the cook yourself. You can enter a target cook time, temperature for the for meat probe or temperature of the chamber itself. You can monitor these things from your phone as the cook runs.
Preset Cook mode let’s you operate the device without the use of the app. This lower tech approach let’s you skip the whole wi-fi connection situation, but it does have its limitations. The three options available as presets are Pulled Pork, Beef Brisket and Smoked Fish. When you use any of the presets, the preheat cycle runs automatically, but you got to monitor the light ring to see when your meat is ready to be added or when the cook is complete.
The Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker gives you a balance of simple, slow cooking goodness with the added element of high tech control from the palm of your hand. Rookie meat smokers (like myself) will enjoy the fact that you can walk away from this thing while it works its flavor smoking magic. Experienced meat smokers will enjoy tinkering with different recipes and settings to achieve the perfect cook. Although it’s not free of flaws (initial setup hurdles, limited preset options), this device leverages SmartChef technology to re-introduce you to the most primal, fundamental meat cooking technique known to man.
After a botched set of chickens and a really tasty pork experience, I’m going to graduate myself to brisket, the king of of all smoked meats. I might even get weird with it and get some fruits and vegetables in the thing. Experimentation is encouraged, so have fun with this thing. If you prefer to follow some battle-tested recipes, check out the options available at the Char-Broil community site.
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