Some of my favourite recipes revolve around smoked food: whiskey maple smoked moose heart, sweet chilli heat venison jerky (this one includes directions for the oven, but can be easily tweaked for the smoker!) and candied salmon.
In the smoker world, there are plenty of different options in a variety of different price ranges. Homemade, electric, charcoal, pellet and more, there is something for everyone – and they each have their pros and cons. I grew up using a Little Chief smoker; for the past seven years, we have used a Bradley that we won at a Ducks Unlimited fundraising dinner. Just this past year, we invested in a new Traeger. Needless to say, we’ve tried our hand at a few different smokers.
Owning both a Bradley and a Traeger, I have been asked the same question several times. If I had to pick one, which would I choose? The plain and simple truth is that each one has its strengths, it is just a matter of your personal preference.
I used the aforementioned three recipes to pit the Traeger and Bradley side by side. Would there be a noticeable difference? It turns out, not so much. The red meat tasted the exact same from both, and the salmon was only slightly different, with the Bradley giving off a much stronger smoke flavour. This translated into the Traeger salmon tasting a bit sweeter than the stuff that came out of the Bradley.
This (very informal) taste test proves one thing: that you can’t really go wrong with the options out there today. It is simply a matter of weighing what features you want (coupled with your budget) and finding the smoker that is right for you. Below is some of my thoughts on both the Bradley and the Traeger.
Bradley 4-Rack Manual Electric Smoker
This smoker has been an absolute workhorse ever since we brought it home. It is compact, doesn’t take up much room and is simple to run – there is only a couple switches and a dial. It imparts a strong smoky flavour to whatever you put into it. However, because it is manual and not digital, it can require a bit of babysitting to ensure the temperature stays within the right range. (Ask me how I know… I may have charcoaled a whole batch of smoked trout the first time I used it.)
Would I buy it again? I am a huge Bradley fan, but I would definitely splurge and spend the extra money to get a digital version.
Traeger Pro Series 780
This wood pellet grill is marketed as an all-in-one package deal, which is why it piqued our interest when our barbeque finally bit the bullet late last fall. It’s digital and can be controlled from the grill itself, as well as via an app on the phone.
One of the main selling points I heard from people before we bought it was, “You can’t screw up a meal on it.” While that is a great feature, I’m sure part of it has to do with the meat thermometer that the grill has, and even when cooking in an oven you can reach that level of accuracy if you just invest in a meat thermometer for the kitchen. That is actually how I find we use our Traeger, as a substitute for our oven.
Would I buy it again? Absolutely. While I don’t find that it replaces our barbeque, it does a great job of smoking our food and as this summer progresses, we use the Traeger to cook dinner more than our oven. That being said, I don’t think I could be convinced to splurge and spend even more money on some of the fancier models. This one does the trick just fine!