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Callow vertical smoker
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Hi Joel. I have just finished a review of the Callow - if you have not seen it you can find it here
There is no can of worms really between charcoal and briquettes - it really depends on what you are looking to achieve. If you are looking for a quick hot smoke - say chicken at 160 C for 75 minutes then lumpwood charcoal will be fine as it gets to temperature quickly and burns quite hot. Its downside though is that it burns quite quickly and for long smokes (like pork or brisket) you would need to continually add more fuel during the cook which leads to temperature peaks and troughs. For the longer smokes the briquettes are better as a single load will usually last the full duration of a cook, For instance in my review I used 2 Kg of Heat Beads briquettes in the Callow and the stable cooking temperature was maintained for about 8 hours. This only actually 2/3 filled the fire basket and so it is likely that 3 Kg of Heat Beads would give you a good 12 hours cooking.
Don't forget it is not just the fuel. Whether you use lump charcoal or briquettes you will probably want to add smoke flavour in the form of wood chunks or pellets. Here is an example of a minion setup in a ProQ Frontier - which is similar to the Callow.
When grilling on a BBQs people tend to get the charcoal all alight at once and then the food is cooked quickly over 15-30 minutes or so and then the charcoal is allowed to burn itself out. The fire is not controlled and almost all of the heat is wasted.
When cooking in a smoker we are looking for something quite different. We are looking to bring the temperature of the cooking chamber up to within a very specific temperature range - typically between 110 and 160 C depending on what is being smoked. In order to do this we do not burn all of the charcoal at once but are looking to control the rate so that the fuel is burned over an extended period of time. The most common ways of doing this are the Snake method or the Minion method
Both are the same conceptually and consist of mostly unlit coals being placed in the fire basket and then a few lit coals added. The air flow over the coals is then regulated so that the burn progresses slowly (over a matter of hours) through the unlit coals.
Snake method - often used in Kettle smokers. This burns from one end
Minion method - often used in bullet smokers. This burns from the centr outwards
When using either the Snake or Minion methods it is important to use good quality briquettes/charcoal as many of the cheaper ones can produce unpleasant smells when they are initially lit and produce a lot of ash.