We’ve cooked real barbecue. Tending to smoldering embers for hours, keeping the temperature at a steady 225 degrees while apple wood perfumes pork shoulders and turns them a mahogany color. It takes an extraordinary amount of time and attention to do it well on a kettle or in a gas-powered smoker. Ask a Southern pit master, and he’ll tell you that real barbecue can’t be rushed. That’s true, but Char-Broil’s digital smoker makes it easier.
The Deluxe Digital Electric Smoker is about as tall as your college refrigerator and sets up in a few minutes with a handful of internal parts. Inside the upright cabinet is an electric heating element topped with a removable smoker box and water pan. Above that is a drip tray pitched to send fat into the water pan for easy clean-up. Four evenly spaced racks hold food above the heating element. All of this is visible through a clear glass window and controlled with the digital panel on top. Really the only feature distinguishing the smoker from an electric oven are the holes on the sides toward the top. They create a draft that pulls the smoke from the bottom, past all the food, and out of the unit.
Before the first smoking session, you’re asked to season the appliance by running it empty at 275 degrees for two hours to burn off any manufacturing residue. The next day, we loaded ours up with a 10-pound, barbecue rub-coated pork butt that sat in the refrigerator for 24 hours. We added a little more than a cup of apple wood chips to the smoker box, based on the recommendations in the manual for the type of meat and weight. The smoker box holds four cups of chips for up to eight hours of smoke, so you can pretty much go a whole day without adding more. The chips don’t have to be soaked, which only really delays the smoking process; it doesn’t help them last longer (the unit also burns pellets, but not wood chunks). We’ve never used a water pan, so we decided to try it this time. After loading the meat, it was time to set-it-and-forget-it.
We punched in the time (four hours) and the target temperature (225 degrees), and clamped the glass door shut with the beefy latch. The keypad was intuitive to use: Select the temp in five-degree increments and the amount of hours. And if you want to take a reading using the included probe-style thermometer, there is a setting for that, too.
We set up the smoker in the backyard. It took about 30 minutes for the smoke to arrive, but when it did, it called us from the front yard — the smell wafted clear over the house. Over the next few hours, we monitored the time and temp from the remote control, and that was it. We never opened the door to add more wood, to adjust the meat, or to add more charcoal to boost the heat. It was as hands-off as any hunk of meat you’d be roasting in a normal oven. Char-Broil says the range is about 100 feet, but take it indoors, past a few walls, and the signal quickly deteriorates. When it was ready, we removed the pork, tented it with foil, and let it sit inside for about an hour. After that, it shredded perfectly with that slight pink coloring under the skin and a smoke smell we swear was earned the hard way. A grease tray on the bottom is easier to work with if you line it with foil first. We prefer a nice bark on our ‘cue, so we probably won’t be using the water pan with fatty pork too often. And when you’re done, cleaning is pretty easy thanks to dishwasher-safe components and easy-to-clean sides.