Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Smoker and review of the A-MAZE-IN smoke generator

I've now had the opportunity to try a few different items in my smoker and have had some pretty rockin' success and a couple total failures.  The most outstanding failure was my first smoking experience and to be honest I don't know where the failure occurred, there are so many mistakes to choose from.  First off I used the wrong product to start the fire, and while I used hardwoods from a trusted source I wasn't choosy as to what was getting burned, next I created waaay too much smoke and lastly I didn't wait for my product to rest before trying to eat it.  Lots of opportunities for improvement were noted and I've spent the past few months refining my technique.

To start I moved to a safe reputable fire source which was Kingsford coals started with a chimney starter (no chemicals).  Second I started using specific wood varieties and found that I really liked a blend of hickory and applewood then developed a schedule to provide a steady and predictable stream of smoke without going overboard.  I also learned the importance of letting your smoked product rest for a day or two before eating which is necessary for heavily smoked items such as bacon and kielbasa.  It lets the smoke mellow and permeate the product a bit more.   

While using hardwood chips gave me a great deal of control and many benefits, it was also a huge time suck.  I had to add a handful of wood-chips every 30-40 minutes to keep the smoke going and needed to replenish my coals at about the 6 hr mark.  This near constant tending was great as it allowed me a lot of time to socialize with friends and family and consume yummy fermented beverages but it also meant I was tethered to my backyard for most of the day.  

Here's a picture of my smoker which is set up for cold smoking.  By cold smoking I mean the heat source is isolated from the product being smoked so that you can smoke for a much longer time and not cook the product.  If you were using heat you'd cook the product while smoking which limits the amount of time you can apply smoke.  Too much heat and lots of time = jerky, not tasty vittels.  The more smoke you want the less you want heat.  I have a small pile of coals in the heat box on the right and as the smoke travels up the six-foot run to the smoker it cools to just a few degrees over ambient temperature before percolating forward and out an exhaust port up top.  The smoker is a re-purposed shipping crate that was transformed with the expertise and patient instruction of my Uncle Mike.  

While in and of itself the smoker was working great I didn't like the direct time investment.  Looking for an alternative led me to the A-MAZE-IN smoker.  I read many many many reviews and found all were exceedingly positive so I decided to bite the proverbial bullet and put my money where my mouth was.  Because I was looking for flexibility and a long smoking time I chose to purchase the ""NEW" A-MAZE-N-PELLET-SMOKER" which had the longest burn time and allowed me to choose between either sawdust or my preference, wood pellets (both of which can be purchased from A-MAZE-IN). When I purchased the smoker I also ordered 5 lbs of hickory pellets and 2 lbs of applewood pellets which I blended together.  I had considered purchasing the pellets from another company which would allow me to purchase locally, with more bulk rates and save on shipping but when I spoke to their sales rep I learned that the majority of their pellets were blends based on alder or oak while A-MAZE-IN used single variety only in their pellets.  What was on the label was what was in the bag.  That said A-MAZE-IN does have purposed blends available such as the Pitmaster's Select (which is a blend of hickory, cherry and maplewood), which I also ordered a couple pounds of.  

As you can see from my picture below the A-MAZE-IN is a maze of perforated steel.  Once loaded with pellets you just light it, blow out the flame and let it smolder.  While the website says that my choice of A-MAZE-IN took about 15 oz of pellets my experience was that it took a little closer to 16.25 oz which is close enough for me.  Unlike coals which can be lit using a chimney starter you absolutely have to use a propane-style torch to start the A-MAZE-IN.  It took me about 20 seconds of sustained contact for a good flame to get going which I let burn for a few seconds before gently blowing out.  I loaded the A-MAZE-IN into my smoker and away I went.  Literally, I was able to leave the house to run some errands which centered around the purchase of an interesting beer I'll introduce in a later post.  For those worry-warts out there my wife was home so if the smoker started to burn she'd take care of it, I hope.  Past experience told me that my smoker is fairly air-tight so I included a tiny fan inside the smoker at first to create a slight breeze. I removed the fan after an hour or so for a total burn time of 11 hrs, as promised by A-MAZE-IN.  If you want more smoke just light both ends.  If you only need 3 hrs of smoke only load one row.  The results are excellent and I won't go back to chips again.  You can add this smoker generator to just about anything from a large cardboard box to your Weber grill for hours of smoky goodness.   

This is the A-MAZE-IN just after being lit.  If you look carefully you can just see a bit of yellow flame on the front left of the maze

A short blurb on the company, A-MAZE-IN Products:  I called ahead to ask some questions and found the owner, Todd, to be friendly and very helpful with all of my questions.  His package deals are a great value and I highly recommend this product if you're going to be smoking.


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