Smoking your favorite foods is as easy or as difficult as you want it to be these days. Memorial Day, a few years back, my family had the idea to smoke an entire pig. We had no idea what we were doing. My grandfather owned this ridiculously old smoker that was little more than a long steel drum turned sideways on a pair of stilts stuck into the sand.
While all the women in my family leisurely worked on the sides, taking frequent breaks to bathe in the sun and swim in the lake, the men labored tirelessly over this old contraption, checking the temperature, adding more charcoal, tossing in wood chips, poking, prodding, rotating, turning and adjusting the smoke. We worked in shifts, keeping an ever-so-watchful eye for nearly 24 hours straight — and even then, once we eventually dug into the pig, everyone agreed that it should’ve cooked longer.
Needless to say, PawPaw’s makeshift smoker was a far cry from Bradley’s 6-Rack Digital one. Sure, Bradley’s model isn’t quite big enough to house a whole hog, but I would’ve gladly hacked that pig into pieces if it meant more time spent swimming in the lake. With its digital time, smoke and temperature control, and its array of flavored bisquettes, I know it would’ve made that Memorial Day much less of a headache.
But don’t let the tale of the world’s longest smoke persuade you. Check it out for yourself.
A smoker’s use is all in its design. A poor design can lead to uneven flavoring, fluctuating temperatures and undercooked food. A quick glance at the Bradley and, after observing its stylish exterior, you’ll likely notice its vertical construct. As we all know, smoke climbs, it doesn’t crawl. That’s why this taller-than-wide design is ideal for evenly smoked vegetables, cheeses and meats.
Now you might be wondering what that thing is on the side. The little black box on the left is the digital control/generator. This is where the magic happens. Without the need for charcoal or lighter fluid, you can set the temperature, set the time, set the smoke and let it go. Just press a few buttons, load up a handful of Bradley’s flavored bisquettes into the sleeve and you’re ready to smoke. (It’s no more difficult than setting an alarm clock.) It’s also extremely convenient for anyone smoking overseas, or those used to using Celsius over Fahrenheit, as you can change back and forth between the two with the flick of a finger.
Oh so often it’s what’s on the inside that counts, especially when it comes to smokers. How many racks does it have? How big are its inner dimensions? How much can it hold? These are all very important questions — ones that we’ll get to in a minute — but before you can start smoking, before you can even take it out of the box, you have to make sure it’ll fit where it needs to go. If smokers don’t have the right amount of space to smoke, they can ruin food, cause fires and damage property.
Luckily for you and the Bradley 6-Rack Digital, this slight smoker sits nicely in most backyards. It’s 39 inches high, 17 inches wide (24 with the generator), with a depth of 14 inches. Just pick it up — it’s only 57 pounds — and put it anywhere on your patio.
Unless you’re extremely short, or you don’t mind bending over a lot, you might want to consider getting your smoker a nice set of wheels. Not only will purchasing a nice utility cart let you work at eye-level, and wheel it on into the garage whenever it starts to rain, but, depending on the size and the design, it can offer a lot of storage space, great for all those extra tools and utensils you may find yourself using once you become a seasoned smoker.
Is there anything sturdier than steel? It doesn’t seem like it sometimes. And when you’re looking for a quality smoker, you’ll definitely want one constructed from the stuff, that’s for sure. Not only does good solid steel make for a longer lasting product but it actually aids in the cooking process. It absorbs heat and redistributes it evenly across its body, awesome for uniform temperatures and shorter cook times.
For fashion, flavor and resilience, the sleek interior of the Bradley 6-Rack Digital is made from polished stainless steel. Its outside is also constructed by steel, but is finished with a coat of powder epoxy to help prevent wear, tear and degradation. Fully insulated, it’s great for year-round use — though smoking in the snow is not typically recommended. In addition to all that, it also boasts a rather durable set of aluminized burners. Fancy stuff.
Take care of your smoker. Treat it well. Buy it a coat. You don’t want it rusting or getting too cold. Amazon sells a form-fitting jacket that covers both the smoking cabinet and the adjoining generator, a necessity for anyone living in cold, humid and/or rainy climates.
Usually, when there’s smoke there’s fire. But, in the case of the Bradley 6-Rack Digital and its fireless smoking system, the fire has no part to play. So if you’re someone who doesn’t like to play with flames or mess around with the kinds of charcoal, lighters and lighter fluid you have to use to get a charcoal smoker smoking, then the electric option is definitely the way to go.
The Bradley 6-Rack Digital boasts a 500-watt heating element with a 125-watt smoking element. Just plug it in and you’re ready to start smoking. It also comes in three different models, North American (120 volts/60 hertz), European (240/50) and one for the Englanders (240/50), to help accommodate for the various voltages used in homes around the world.
NOTE: It’s important to keep in mind that this is an electrical appliance and, as electrical appliances go, it takes a little longer for things to heat up. Once you add the meat, after preheating, the temperature will inevitably drop. It may take some time for it to re-regulate — and you might want to preheat it hotter than you initially intended to, to help speed up the process — but the key is to be patient. Smoking is so often about self-restraint.
NOTE #2: It’s also important to note that this particular model has a bit of trouble maintaining its temperature in the wind. Just something to keep in mind in case you’re ever smoking in Chicago.
When you have something as good as smoked meats and vegetables, all you’ll want is more of it. You might say to yourself now, “Oh I’ll probably just use it on the weekends, maybe smoke for some friends before the big game or use it on the rare occasion,” but once you bite into a succulent, smoke-seasoned pork shoulder that’s been cooking, hands-free, overnight, you’ll likely be changing your tune.
As the name suggests, the Bradley 6-Rack Digital comes with 6 adjustable wire racks, each with a cooking space of 11 by 13 inches — great for half-racks of ribs, whole fish and plenty of bell peppers. Its interior dimensions are 15 inches wide by 11.5 inches deep, with a usable cooking height of about 26.5 inches. Ribs. Shoulders. Ham hocks. Chops. The pig won’t know what hit him.
NOTE: Many vertical smokers come in the 4-rack or the 6-rack option. It’s important to keep in mind that, yes, the 6-rack option obviously comes with more racks — duh — but it’s also bigger. A bigger interior, means better spacing and more room for your larger items like turkeys and thick-cut briskets.
Overachievers need not apply when cooking with the Bradley 6-Rack Digital as this model is all about the convenience. Everything is adjustable. The racks. The temperature. The smoke. The time. The flavors used. All you have to do is ready the meat, preheat the chamber, put it in and leave it alone.
Just like the tortoise and the hare, this model wins with its low-and-slow smoke-ability. Its controllable temperature caps off at around 280 degrees, which makes it difficult to get a good bark on a pork butt, but an easy tradeoff when you realize that you can leave it alone — more or less unattended — for 9 hours straight without having to worry about burning down the house or charring that 12-pound Thanksgiving turkey your family loves so much. Its separate digital controls also make it easy to smoke your favorite cheeses.
Undoubtedly, the best part about the Bradley is its wide array of seasoned bisquettes. Alder. Apple. Cherry. Hickory. Jim Beam. Maple. Mesquite. Oak. Pacific Blend. Pecan. Special Blend. Whiskey Oak. The bisquette delivery system is as easy as sliding some into a slot — it holds about 9 hours worth — and letting it go. The people at Bradley are also nice enough to send along a cookbook with each of their smokers, great for beginners and those looking for some new ideas.
PRO TIP: For increased temperature control, a thermometer might be a worthwhile purchase. (In fact, almost every seasoned smoker uses one, regardless of their appliance.) You can use them to find the “sweet spot” in your smoker and, overall, they provide a more accurate account of the temperature inside the cabinet.
As many of us can attest to, if you don’t clean-up soon after cooking, you’re only setting yourself up for double duty. Dried juices. Crusted meats. Grease in its ugliest form. The last thing you want to do, after preparing your favorite meats and slicing up your favorite vegetables is to have to scrub away the leftovers from last week’s barbecue. (Yuck!) That’s why it’s important to have a smoker that cleans as easy as it cooks.
As previously mentioned, the racks of the Bradley 6-Rack Digital are all adjustable. They can be removed, soaked in water and easily scrubbed from side to side. You might also notice, when you open the smoker, that there’s a small bowl sitting at the bottom, inside a tray. The bowl is there for the ashes. Just fill it up with a little bit of water and it catches all the little bits of the bisquettes as they burn. The tray is there for the grease and the various juices that come rolling off and out of the meat as it slowly cooks in the smoky aroma. Both are simply removed. Just pull them out, rinse, scrub and then return.
NOTE: Remember, even though the smoker doesn’t get as hot as a grill or an oven, its various parts can still burn you. Leave ample time for the insides to cool before cleaning. And make sure, when you wipe down the insides, not to leave any leftover moisture as it may affect cooking times, temperatures and the overall atmosphere inside the chamber.
The Bradley 6-Rack Digital comes in two major parts, the smoke tower and the digital smoke generator. Both are easily attached to the other — a push here, a pull there — and once those two are connected, it’s as easy as plugging in a few cables, inserting the racks, placing the drip tray and tossing in the ash bowl. It shouldn’t take you more than an hour.
The Bradley 6-Rack Digital comes with a 1-year limited warranty against manufacturing defects. It does not cover damages resulting from alterations, manipulations, unkind weather conditions and/or outright negligence.
The Bradley 6-Rack Digital is as close as you’ll come to finding a set-it-and-forget-it type of smoker. It might not be the hottest smoker on the market today, but its separate digital controls, its functional design, its array of flavored bisquettes and its overall convenience make it a worthy appliance; for PawPaws, Grandsons and pig-eating families who like to smoke, swim and sunbathe, all at the same time.