Over the last year, I’ve been test driving Bradley’s 2-rack Compact Convection Smoker. Being an apartment dweller in a huge city, the idea of an electric smoker the size of a microwave oven sounded like a winner. No big bags of briquets to store, no propane bottles to deal with, just plug it in, heat it up, and let it do its thing. Moreover, it’s big enough to smoke a couple of rib racks if you cut them in half first. It’s a great idea for those with limited space and if you’re new to smoking meat, it seemed like a very easy to cut your barbecue baby teeth on it. For me, the smaller size sounded like a good idea for projects too small to justify busting out my charcoal bullet smoker.
Bradley made the Compact Smoker small enough to fit on a kitchen counter. Which, funny enough, is kind of how they recommend using it. No, you read it right. This pint-sized barbecuer was designed for use either indoors, albeit in an extremely well-ventilated area, or outdoors (but protected from bad weather). It even has a 3-foot flex tube to vent exhaust out your kitchen (or garage) window. I was pretty skeptical of running a smoker in my place for three hours but I’m also a man. Meaning, curiosity sometimes beats down common sense and shoves it into my brain’s basement when I’m trying something new. Just ask anyone who knows me at my emergency room.
You and I both know I ran that smoker inside my apartment straight out the box.
After I put it together, of course. The Bradley Compact Smoker sets up in under five minutes. I cured it, then waited a day before smoking a whole chicken in it. Unlike other smokers where you’re constantly shoving in wood chips, Bradley smokers have these dispenser tubes on top that hold Bradley Flavor Bisquettes: pucks of compressed wood chips (sold separately, 12 types of wood available). You fill the tube with the pucks and every 20 minutes it automatically dispenses one inside the smoker for you. All of Bradley’s smokers use them, not just the Compact, here.
Programming the smoker takes a little getting used to. Like a microwave oven, you set the heat level on a scale. In this case, 1 through 5. Here’s a breakdown of the levels by temperature:
Level 1: 150-220 F
Level 2: 190-230 F
Level 3: 230-270 F
Level 4: 260-300 F
Level 5: 290-330 F
After that, you set the cooking time, followed by the smoking time. All of these functions are set using up and down arrow buttons, then pressing the “Set” button. It takes a little time to get up to temperature, but once that’s done, the smoker pretty well runs itself unless you get a bisquette clog. That’s easily sorted out by jogging the bisquette with the arm mounted at the back of the smoker. What isn’t so simple is getting the Bradley back on track when it jams up like that. You get a message that says, “ERR” on the faceplate, it beeps all over the place, and you have to unplug the smoker and reprogram it after you plug it back in. That only happened to me three times over a year, so it wasn’t a huge deal but it was annoying when it did happen.
Smoking that chicken worked out pretty well. The Bradley was very consistent in terms of temperature and smoke quality. The chicken was very juicy and had a great, smoky flavor to it. Running it indoors with all the windows open worked, as evidenced by the fact that I’m still alive to post this review. However, I’d recommend running it outside on a sturdy little patio table instead. Even with the exhaust tube, the Compact generates plenty of smoke at the edges of its door over several hours of use. You don’t want that fogging up the place. If you do run one outdoors, just be sure to get Bradley’s outdoor cover for it or store it when not in use.
Since that first chicken, I’ve used the Bradley for ribs, brisket, bacon slabs, and pulled pork. The results were always very good so long as you followed the instructions properly for programming the smoker from the get-go. Overall, I would recommend it for anyone starting their smoke cooking hobby, especially where space is limited. I still love my charcoal smoker, but the Compact is very good for small jobs.
As far as bang for the buck, the Bradley Compact Convection Smoker retails for $199, the cover is $29.99, and a box of 48 smoking bisquettes is $10.99. That’s about $240, plus shipping, to get started in the world of smoking. Although you can get larger smokers for cheaper than this, the Bradley’s compact size has great appeal in some situations where a normal smoker isn’t the best option.
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