In the last few months there has been an astounding number of reviews and mentions of the new Bubba Keg
convection smoker. Just about every BBQ-related blogger and writer
that I know has used one of these things, so I was excited when I stumbled across an old email that I had missed from them offering me the chance to review one.
Top and bottom vents. Wheels left off to make it harder to steal.
For those that are unfamiliar, the Bubba Keg's design is very similar to the classic Kamado-style cookers
-- that is, an oval or egg-shaped vertical cooker about 4-feet tall and 20 or so inches across. The inside of the Kamados are ceramic which is a dense, heat and moisture retaining material. A small amount of charcoal goes in the bottom of the egg and above that about 2-feet or so is the grate for the food. They are designed to cook with the lid closed and are super-efficient. There are air vents near the bottom (to stoke the fire) and on the top (to release and help circulate air).
The Bubba Keg looks a bit like R2-D2 with less buttons and lights. It is a modern, lighter take on the original design using two walls of steel with insulation between them to simulate the properties of the ceramic. A gasket on the lid lip helps reduce the leakiness of the seal. Like with the Kamado, there are air vents on the top and near the bottom. The one near the bottom has a little screen to hold in the coals and ashes, which is a nice safety touch. Another nice safety feature is that, thanks to the insulation, the BK doesn't get very hot on the outside, which means if someone bumps it, touches it, they will not get burned. The top and bottom vents can get hot, and care should always be exercised around fire.Charcoal burns slowly and gradually. The amount in the 1st picture is probably more than you need.
After a few false starts, I finally had a chance to set up the grill behind the building with the eager help of Willie, the building's Super (aka, handyman). This is the first time in the nearly 8 years that I've lived here that I've been given the green light to cook behind the building-- something about the BK (and knowing I'm a professional BBQ cook, I suspect) has Willie's attention. I don't know what it is, but I am consistently plying him with food to maintain the goodwill.
Anyway...back to the action. Putting the thing together was a snap, really, and I'm not the handiest fella in the world. The only thing you need an extra pair of hands for is getting it on the stand and out of the box. It's a little heavy and cumbersome for one person, pretty much. It can be done, but the extra hands really help. For various reasons (security being foremost) I didn't add all the handles, wheels or hardware, but I did put on the front handle with the built in bottle openers, those are essential!
The cooking grate and the top air vent are cast iron, so they need to be treated like any other cast iron pieces. I seasoned her up with Crisco and got the lump burning with a few chunks of Mesquite, which was all I had on hand.
Getting the fire going is the same as with any grill except this thing requires very little charcoal-- about 1.5 pounds is plenty to get started, or two or three fist-sized piles. With all the vents wide open and the charcoal burning well, it took only a moment or two to get up to 200 degrees, which is where I chose to start making my adjustments to the vents.
If you wait much longer it will get away from you, if you are shooting for the low and slow style of cooking. Since it is double-walled and insulated, getting it to cool down is harder than getting it to warm up. If you are looking to sear and/or cook at higher temperatures, let it rise to the 400+ range. Make small adjustments to the top and bottom and you can pretty much dial it in to a temperature you want. One load of charcoal lasts a few good hours. Plus, next time I opened it up to cook, there was enough charcoal to get going again from the last cook.
As far as wood, I found that two to three half--fist sized pieces was plenty, but that's my taste and using a pretty tangy wood-- mesquite. With a fruit wood like peach or apple, maybe you could go heavier.
All in all, after giving her a pretty thorough test with sausages, pork loin, ribs, chicken breasts, chicken leg quarters, burnt ends, potatoes, portobellas, onions, peppers, smoked almonds and more, I can say that everything that has come off the pit has been moist and delicious. Right out of the box, this has been an exceptionally versatile and easy to use piece of equipment. I have to say, I'm very impressed.
The Bubba Keg
is available at Home Depot with a retail price tag of $599 and Sam's Club in 30 stores throughout Alabama, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Tennessee is also selling them and at the same price of $599.
And, lastly, here's a tune from Mercury Rev, which should appeal to Beatles, Flaming Lips and T-Rex fans....