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A Review On: Napoleon Grills Apollo® 3 'n 1 Smoker

Napoleon Grills Apollo® 3 'n 1 Smoker

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Review Details:
Value
Quality
Ease of Use
Heat Control
Purchased on:
Price paid: $340.00
bgray
Posted · Updated · 967 Views · 15 Comments

Pros: Maintains temp very very nice over a very long period.

I've had the AS300K for about 2 months.  I've successfully smoked 3-4 whole chickens, 2 pork butts, and a couple of fatties.  So far, I love this.  It doesn't take up a ton of room in my garage.  It's easy to move.  I only bring it outside for cooking, so I'm sure it will last a very long time, not being exposed to weather.

 

The real beauty is that it will maintain temps all day with very little fuss.  For a smoker that takes up a very small footprint, it would be hard to find another that will hold steady temps with little fire maintenance for as long as this one will.  Of course, the Weber Smokey mountain is a very similar smoker, but I like how this is more versatile.  I'll explain more below about this versatility, which is why I bought this over the WSM.

 

I'll fill the coal basket completely with unlit charcoal (briquettes or lump) with 3 wood chunks buried within the outer edges.  Then I'll pull out enough coals from the center (ala Minion method) to create about a 5-6" hole.  Light these coals in a chimney, put them back in the center, and then a 4th chunk of wood goes on top.  After about a half hour, I'm up to 225.  All vents wide open.  The beauty of this Minion method is that the lit coals in the center will slowly light the rest of the coals throughout the day, leaving you with a very very long steady fire.

 

If I don't choke down the bottom vents, then the temp will keep rising, but I usually choke the bottom vents down to 1/2 or 1/4 to maintain between 225-250.  The last time that I smoked, I started my fire at 9:00 am, and I had a constant 225-250 temp until around 5pm and I only adjusted the vents twice!  Very impressive.  If I wanted to keep going, then I only would have needed to add more coals.

 

(regarding the paragraph below, make sure to read my edit at the bottom of the review....my use of water has changed)
I do recommend that you do a couple of "dry runs" to figure out how to properly maintain temps.  If I had started cooking food with my first attempt at maintaining a fire, it would have been a disaster.  I do use the water pan filled with water, but be careful.  If you are low on water, and you add a gallon or so (even hot water), you can drop temp real significantly.  I like to have the water pan completely full at the beginning, and this way, you can cook all day without losing water completely, generally.  But if you do get low on water, don't add water unless you really want temp to go down.  Remember that the water pan is not necessary for a good cook, it's just a nice way to maintain temps, and bring temp down if you need to, and it will definitely do this!  If you do add water and your temp goes really low, fear not...it might take about 15 mins to get back up to temp, but the smoker will get back to temp as long as your fire is good.

 

So why did I go with this over a Weber Smokey Mountain?  Mostly due to the fact that it's more versatile.

 

1.  The Apollo smoker comes in 4 main parts.  The lid, 2 rings, and the bottom.  If you want to smoke at a hotter temp, remove one ring, and the smoker is smaller (although I haven't tried this yet).  If you want to remove both rings, the lid will sit on the bottom, and then you have a charcoal grill about the same size as a Weber Jumbo Joe.

 

2.  The 4 sections are linked with latches on the side.  This keeps them together, and allow you to lift the entire unit from the side handles, or top handle.  Or if you want, you can release the latches on any of the sections, and lift off whatever section(s) you wish.  Some people have mentioned that the latches seem cheap, but I don't see them failing anytime soon.  They don't have to be amazing quality to function faithfully.

 

3.  Handles on the side rings.  If you ever need to add more coals during a fire, this could be downright dangerous with the WSM, which has no handles.  There is a real risk of the water pan spilling 250 degree water on your feet, or maybe onto your coals.  Of course, the risk is there with the Napolean, but the handles make this a hell of a lot easier.  Now granted, you could open the front door, and add coals this way, but I would rather take the unit apart so I can properly shake ash out of the coal basket, take a good look at my fire, and then add my coals.  I will put out this caveat - I don't own a WSM, so I've never tried to remove the large ring during a cook.  But I'm pretty sure that one unit having handles, and one unit not having handles makes this pretty easy to figure out.

 

4.  Built-in temp probe grommets.  To keep an eye on your internal temp, you simply stick your probe into the grommet.  There is no need to attach the probe to the cooking grate, which could take up some room if you are filling the grate with food.  The grommet is positioned right at grate level.  No need to fish the probe through the top vent, or through the front door.  There's a grommet on both the top grate, and the bottom grate, so if you want to cook on both grates, you can monitor temps in both locations.

 

5.  Much larger water pan than the WSM.  I can smoke all day and not need to refill water.

 

6.  The coal basket is all one piece on the Apollo.  My understanding is the the WSM is a ring, and grate that are not connected...one just sits on top of the other.  It's very easy for me to grab the Apollo coal basket by the handles, give it a shake, and ash falls to the bottom.  I also hear the WSM owners will oftentimes buy a second coal grate and put the two grates in a cross-hatch pattern to keep coals from falling through.  No problem with this on the Apollo.

 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a big Weber fan.  I have had a Genesis Gold gas grill for 12 years, and I love it!  I love Weber's customer service.  Once I had a problem with a part on my Weber side burner.  Even though the grill was 12 years old, I called them up and they sent me a replacement part for free!  Pretty amazing.  I don't have any experience with Napolean customer service in comparison.

But when I did all my homework on vertical smokers, I came to the conclusion that the Apollo was the better smoker, and I still feel this way.  If my opinion changes, I'll update this review.

Very happy with this smoker!

 

EDIT AFTER ABOUT 3-4 MONTHS OF USE.....

Still very happy, really nothing has changed, except that I now prefer to not use water in the water pan when I start a fire.  I have found that water definitely acts to absorb a lot of heat.  If, in the middle of a cook, you realize that the water is absorbing enough heat that it's tough to keep a temp of 225 or so, then  you're kind of out of luck.  

 

It's not easy or at all safe to remove this very very hot water.  You can add more coals, but I found that even with a very very hot fire, there were a couple of times that I hovered at low temps no matter what I did with coals or vents.  The water pan had too much water, and I couldn't safely remove the water.  So what I do now is start cooking with no water in the pan, and then if my temps get higher than I want, regardless of the vents being totally choked down, I add about a quart or two of water at a time, monitoring temps to decide if I need more.  Much easier to do this, then it is to remove very very hot water.  

For those of you thinking that water is necessary for moist food, it is not at all.  After all, offsets, drum smokers, pellet smokers, electric smokers, pretty much every other smoker out there will cook without water in the cooking chamber.  The water is strictly for temp control, and doesn't effect the moisture of the meat.

 

I go with no water at the beginning of a cook, as it's much easier to add water to lower temp than it is to remove water to raise temp.

 

Also, no water in pan = less heat required to keep a desired temp = less coals needed = longer cooks per basket of coals.

15 Comments:

I've had my as300k for about 5 months now and agree with the above review.  I just wanted to add that I picked up an 18" pizza pan at a restaurant supply place, to use while dry smoking.  It's a perfect fit in place of the enamel water pan, but when your done the baked on gunk can be scrubbed off with a metal scrubby.  That makes clean-up easier without wear and tear on the factory water pan.
I just got the AS300K myself. It took a long time for me to choose this over the WSM, but I'm glad I did. I am completely new at smoking and I just finished smoking an 8 pound pork butt for 13 hours. Came out wonderfully! I am going to try your "minion" lighting method next time because I added new charcoal every 1.5-2 hours. I may be new to owning a smoker, but I am far from new at cooking and this was super easy for me to unpack and get going with. I loaded it up with charcoal and lit it up empty for several hours before actually cooking anything in it. Everything in this article is spot on. I only filled my water pan half way and ended up adding more later. Temp came back up pretty quickly.
Thanks for the comments!  Just so you know, I updated the review with a few more points. 
 
Brholte, definitely use the minion method.  If you are adding coals every couple of hours, then you are missing out on one of the best features on this smoker for sure!  I did a pork butt, and had to get up at 4 am due to how large this butt was if I were going to eat it the same day.  I went back to sleep with my Maverick monitoring temp for me (will beep if the temp gets too low or high), and I did one vent adjustment around 5:00, but I was able to sleep as late as I wanted after that.  I maintained 225-250 until around noon!  Then I just had to adjust some vents.  Then added coals around 3-4 to finish the cook.  Very very little fuss!

I'm doing ribs tonight.  I'll try to take some pics of my "minion" method and post them here, or on the forum, if this helps.
I just got my AS300K this week...So far I like what I see. I did a dry high temp (400 degrees ) fast burn yesterday to burn off oils and any other undesirables left over from construction.
Tomorrow I'll do a slow burn with bacon grease and apple & pecan wood to season it and get an Idea of temp control. I usually use a mix of Kingsford charcoal and lump charcoal.
I'm used to vertical smokers just not this big so we'll see how the burn goes tomorrow, I hope to get an 6-8 hour burn @ 225-250
Sounds great S1Howard!  If you run into any issues, feel free to reach out to me!
After my first "burn in" I've made a few mods.
1. The grommets were not big enough for more than one temp probe per section, I removed the ones that came on the smoker and installed larger ones.

2. I noticed the charcoal rack bottom was actually sitting at the bottom of the air vents not allowing enough air in ( I was able to get my temp where I wanted by cracking the door open). I put an 18.5 " grate (Weber) in the bottom and set the fire basket on top, Very, very big difference In temp control.

3. I like to use the steamer pan to add flavor and I really like the large size but...THAT SUCKER IS A HUGE HEAT SINK ! Simple solution, I broke out my big stock pot and pre heated the water, worked like a champ...The smoker was up to temp (230 degrees at the top grate) within 10-15 minutes.
I also put gaskets in between each of the sections and around the doors.

BTW when I ordered the smoker I got an extra chamber, so I'm heating a couple of extra cubic feet.

I was very happy with the second burn after the mods were made, average temp was 230 for 7 hrs with no charcoal added after the initial 230 degrees was obtained.

I plan to load it up with 12 chickens Weds morning. I feel confident it will be a good smoke.
Great comments, thanks!

So you bought a third ring, right?  So you bought another of these....
http://www.amazon.com/Napoleon-Apollo-Chamber-Assembly-As300k/dp/B0075II85E/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1383083795&sr=8-4&keywords=napoleon+apollo
 
...so you now have another cooking grate, right?
 
Please let me know if this works out well.  I would like to have more cooking capacity, and this looks like a good solution.
 
Also, just so you know, I bought a DigiQ DX2 for mine, and I really really recommend it!  I did a pork butt, put it on at 10:00pm.  It held temp all night as I slept.  I had to get up once at about 4 am to restock coals, but that was it.  The Napolean when for 16 hours with hardly any maintenance at all with this thing working for me!
I bought a third chamber on ebay for $71.00 but it did not come with a grate, I had to buy that separate $29.00. All total it was $100.00 spent
I have since found the chamber with the grate at HayNeedle.com for $99.00 shipping is $6.00 Fedex. I think it's worth the extra for shipping just to get it all at once, I'm still waiting on the grate. In the mean time I am using a Weber 18.5 " grate, it barely fits.
Here's what I found...
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0075II85E/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=F4EQDV01L2AV&coliid=IXTGGILOD24KZ
 
This also does not come with a grill grate.
 
Please keep me updated on how it goes with 3 chambers.  I actually wrote to Napolean customer service to see if they recommend this.  I'll let you know what they say.
I will keep you updated and try to get some pics posted. I will not get the chance to smoke the chickens this week, work has gotten in the way again so maybe next week. I may get time to do another test fire, I have always used bricks in the fire basket to burn in an "S" or snake method. Now you've got me interested in giving your way a try.
Here's the response from Napolean...
 
We have never tested the unit with 3 chambers. so we are uncertain of the results that would occur.
I have spoken with a senior associate here, and she believes that you could add an additional chamber, you would like have a harder time controlling the temperature.
 
Let me know how it goes, please!
You'll love it!  I recently upgraded to a Yoder YS640 pellet cooker, but I'm not letting the Napolean go.  Will still use it.  If you have any issues, I'll be happy to help.  If you've never smoked before, then the Napolean will have a slight leaning curve.  It took me a while to figure out the best configuration of the water pan and how much water (if any) to use.  So reach out if you have any hiccups.  
Sounds good!  The thing that took me the longest to figure out was water and placement of the pan.  Put the pan on the bottom shelf, where it's supposed to be.  Put in a quart of water (or even none) at the beginning of a cook.  If the water evaporates completely, don't worry about it.  After this, the only time to worry about water is If your temps go up higher than you want.  Then add another quart, maybe a half a gallon.  Always err on the side of less water, and never fill it completely.  At the beginning, I never fully appreciated what the fantastic heat absorbing qualities of water really are.  At least that's what has always worked for me.
OK, sounds great!  I think that you'll be really happy with it.  I would still buy this over the WSM.