As I’ve referenced a few times on this site, the first smoker I ever used — the one I learned how to barbecue with — was an vertical Brinkmann Trailmaster offset smoker. It was adopted by myself, as the folks who were kind enough to give it to me had moved on to a horizontal style offset pit while this one was sitting out, experiencing the effects of weathering and the lack of use. It was a tough one to use, because anyone who has ever cooked grub in an offset smoker understands that you must tend to the fire virtually at all times, making sure that your pit isn’t oversmoking with billowing white smoke, chasing the thin, blue smoke perfection of proper cooking that won’t result in your food tasting like bitter, creosote-laden meats.
Nowadays, so many people have switched over to electric smokers or pellet grills, which are as close to set it’n’forget it as one can be, and I can understand why: less hassle. With an electric smoker, you use a smoker tube filled with wood chips to achieve a light smoke flavor. With a pellet grill, you use.. well.. pellets. I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never tasted any food that has been cooked on a pellet grill, despite my curiosity, but I’ve read countless posts on both Instagram and BBQ-dedicated forums where users express a lack of smoke in their grub as it pertains to food made on pellet grills. I can’t speak to that, though, due to my tastebud’s devastating void when it comes to tasting meat smoked on a pellet grill. However, pellet grills must be doing something right, given the popularity of brands like Traeger (which has a huge social following, as the brand appears to pump a ton of money into its marketing endeavors by anointing a myriad of Traeger users as ‘brand ambassadors’), REC TEC, Green Mountain Grills, Pit Boss, etc. I have spent a great deal of time debating on whether or not to save my money for a future pellet grill purchase, but if the rumors are true in regards to the food from them only featuring a light smoke flavor, I’m conflicted as I am a man who enjoys the taste of heavy smoke-infused meats when barbecue is on the brain.
You would think that with the popularity of pellet grills, stick burners would fall to the wayside, but stick burners will never exit the spotlight when it comes to barbecue, because it is tried and true barbecue. It is a labor of love tha hardcore barbecue fanatics delve into, not in an elitist way that denounces the efficacy of other smokers, but because it is a classic, proven method to — when done right — produce incredible barbecue. While there are detractors of pellet grills out there who call ’em ‘pellet poopers’ or ‘outdoor easy bake ovens with a weak hint of wood smoke,’ stick burner faithfuls are in the game due to their love of traditional barbecue, and I don’t fault anybody for that.
The only reason I stopped using my Brinkmann Trailmaster is because it rusted so badly that holes were formed. I’m not a welder, and I might as well be the least craftiest man on the planet, so that ended my run with it. I subsequently bought a 22.5″ Weber Smokey Mountain and eventually purchased my Barrel House Cookers, all the while occasionally barbecuing with my Weber kettle, but I never spent a day without missing my stick burner.
Yesterday, I added a new member of my grill/smoker family. A long-time family friend upgraded to an electric smoker long ago, and he had placed his old horizontal offset stick burner in his garage. It was wasting away, as it was being unused, and for him (as he stated) it was in the way, and he offered it to me. I could only utter an emphatic, “YES.”
After impatiently waiting, he delivered it. It had rust on it, and the grates were filthy, but I fired it up with some cheap Kingsford match light charcoal and some wood I had lying around, to see how it would run, with the intake and damper vents wide open, and it reached 700 degrees. I tossed the grates into the scorching hot fire that I built in my fire pit before scrubbing them down and ensuingly rubbing them with cooking oil. The additional reason I fired the pit up to 700 degrees, asides from seeing how it would run, was to sanitize the inside of the cooker. It leaked smoke from the lid, but that’s alright. I’ll roll with it that way for a while, but eventually I will invest in a gasket kit to line the lid to prevent smoke from leaking so heavily. After the fire cooled and I removed some ash, I used a can of Rustoleum to rid the smoker of the rust that had been built up.
It’s all ready for its first Grizzly BBQ smoke session, which I plan on throwing down some ribs soon enough. As for bigger cuts like pork butts and brisket, I’ll stick with my WSM and Barrel House Cookers for the time being, but I can’t wait to finally get back to tasting the amazing flavor that a stick burner provides, starting with the ribs, and then I’ll move onto other favorites like chicken wings and thighs, as well as bacon-wrapped cheese stuffed jalapenos (or, er, poppers).
Are you a stick burner fan, or do you find that tending to the fire is tedious and aggravating, preferring the set it’n’forget it route? Let me know in the comments!