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The Smokenator

Posted by Brandon On July - 19 - 2016

smokenator-grillI think it’s fair to say that the kettle-style charcoal grill is something of an icon in the grilling world. Not only is it a classic symbol of charcoal grilling, it’s easily one of the most affordable, and maybe more importantly versatile style of grill on the market. I’ll go out on a limb and say for the money it’s the best thing going. While many manufacturers have their own take on this design, Weber is probably the maker that most of us associate with the concept.

Kettle grill users know that not only can they crank out great burgers, steaks, and whatever else they want to throw over the fire, they also know that when set-up correctly their grill can work as a passable smoker. Sure it will likely never be as good as a dedicated smoker, but then again it’s probably better at smoking than a smoker is at grilling. But I digress…

We were recently contacted about testing a product called the Smokenator. This is a fairly simple device that aims to make the Weber kettle from an acceptable smoking device, into a much better smoking device. Naturally we were happy to give it a go and share our thoughts. The sample we were provided was their Smokenator 1000, I’ll be dropping the 1000 during the review, which is designed for the 22 inch kettle, but they do offer other models for the various kettle sizes. (Note we were also sent a sample of their Hovergrill product, but since it was not integral to the operation of the Smokenator we opted to review in a separate post which can be seen later this week.)

IMG_20160627_085523801First things first, the Smokenator is a simple design. It is basically some sheet metal that has been cut and molded to interface with the various surfaces of the Weber kettle. Also there are 3 holes in the top, 2 smaller round holes for access to the fuel and 1 larger rectangular shaped hole for the water pan. The included water pan holds roughly two cups of liquid.

Installation is super easy, just remove your cooking grate and place the Smokenator on the side of the kettle. You should be able to see how it interfaces with the tabs that hold the grate in place and the lower charcoal grate and make adjustments if needed. There is no anchoring or permanent modification of the kettle required. This is a huge benefit in my opinion because some, if not most, of us don’t have the luxury of taking several cooking devices on our tailgates.

The first test is purely to get a handle on how the Smokenator performs with an empty cooker and to see how easily we can manage the temps, or in other words a dry run.. This test was conducted by filling the Smokenator with 50 unlit briquets of standard Kingsford Original (Blue Bag) and 15 lit briquets of the same. Also used was 1 semi large chunk of pecan wood. The water pan was filled 2 cups of hot water (~165 degrees F), and 2 temp probes were placed in the cooker. One was on the cooking grate and one on the lower charcoal grate. You can see a narrative of the this test here, Smokenator Data – Sheet1.

A quick word about this type of cooking if you aren’t too familiar with it. There are many variables involved with maintaining a lower temperature like you’d use for BBQ cooking. The outside temp, wind, sun, precipitation will all affect the cooker temp. Also if you build too big of a fire in the form of too many lit coals you won’t be able to keep a low temp. Practice, practice, practice before you commit a lot of money in food costs and really get a feel for cooker temp otherwise you will be sorry. Even between my tests the environmental conditions were different enough to produce noticeable differences in cooker performance.IMG_20160628_123413119

My dry run showed a couple things, by hour 4 the fuel supply was considerably spent. This is likely due to the fact that I measured my temps at the grate levels and not at the dome. The dome temps are 10-20 degrees higher than the upper food grate per the Smokenator manual so my grate temps which were above the target mark in the Smokenator manual were much higher than the temps by which they based their calculations. If you’re cooking bigger food items you’ll want to refuel at hour 4 if using the Smokenator in the standard fashion. Possibly even sooner if the outside conditions require you to burn hotter.
While we’re on temperatures, notice the lower (charcoal) grate temp was much less than the upper (food) grate temp. If you’re planning on packing the cooker full of food you need to adjust for that bottom grate being much lower in temp. Also of note the fact that the temperature is lower on the bottom grate is a great sign that the Smokenator design really does make for a true indirect cooker. If you’ve ever tried indirect with charcoal before without some sort of holder you know sometimes keeping the coals where you want them can be tricky.

IMG_20160708_113813893The next test was to try a short cook to see how the cooker responds with food in the chamber. The first of which was a simple naked fatty. If you’re unfamiliar I’ll save you the risky Google and tell you what it is. A Fatty is a term BBQ for a smoked roll of ground meat, and the naked adjective means that it is cooked without anything more than some rub on the outside. I will disclose that the weather played some tricks on me with this one as a light drizzle began falling about and hour and a half into the cook. As I mentioned earlier weather is one of those variables that will really mess with your cooker temp. To compensate for the loss I made the decision to open the vents and try to shelter the cooker from the elements as much as I could without posing a fire hazard. This did help but the breeze, lack of sun, and rain really made this a much more difficult cook. I also believe the fatty might have still been a little frozen which made the internal temp just sit still for a long time.

Because this 2nd test was so full of variables that worked against the Smokenator I opted to conduct a 3rd test cook that would hopefully no
t have the same conditions as cook 2. Thankfully aside from a quick yet heavy downpour the 3rd cook was perfect. The 3rd cook featured not only another naked fatty, but also a bacon cheeseburger fatty made with a bacon weave and ground chuck.IMG_20160708_120626541

One thing that became pretty apparent with each cook was that the Smokenator requires some periodic attention to function at peak performance. As you replenish the water take the time to stir the coals using the included rod. You’ll knock the ash off the coals and keep them exposed to the air for better combustion. It’s also a good idea to consider adding more fuel if you expect to be cooking for longer. I wouldn’t do this every time but maybe every other water refill.

Thinking outside of the instruction manual another thing you could do would be to remove the water pan and either use it on top of the grate or use a different container altogether. What this accomplishes is that you’ll have more room for fuel in the Smokenator and, if you chose a larger water container, less frequent filling. You could alternatively omit a water pan entirely, but this comes with the downside of reducing humidity in the cooker as well as foregoing the benefits that the water lend to temperature control. I think I’ll likely tinker with things over time, but as long as the person doing the cooking knows what is what it shouldn’t pose an issue.

I’ll cut to the chase. Is the Smokenator “Tailgating Approved”? Yes it is. While it’s not the only way to go about the task, it absolutely allows you to easily, and maybe more importantly, temporarily modify your Weber kettle into a suitable smoker. Does it have some limitations? Sure, but if you know them you can easily work with or around them. The model 1000 we tested for the 22″ kettle comes in right around $70, but other options are available for some of the other kettle sizes.  For more info on the 1000 or the others you can visit Smokenator.com

KC Masterpiece BBQ Sauce Mix and Dry Rub

Posted by Brandon On July - 11 - 2016

habaneroEvery so often when we’re contacted about evaluating a product the conversation leads to other review opportunities.  This just so happened to be the case with KC Masterpiece’s new BBQ Sauce Mix and Dry Rub.   Being no stranger to BBQ sauce I was more than willing to give it a try.

Initially I was unsure of how this product worked. I mean in most cases BBQ sauce really isn’t something that you just throw stuff into and out it comes.  BBQ sauce can mean many things, and can be somewhat controversial in the true BBQ world, but for the casual cook we typically associate the term BBQ Sauce with a thick reddish brown/completely brown sauce we find in bottles at the grocer.   While you can make your own somewhat easily it does involve several ingredients and cooking.   This BBQ Sauce Mix eliminates most of the ingredients and the cooking all together.

IMG_20160711_115112757To make a sauce with this all you need to do is add 3/4 of liquid to one of the 2 packets that come in the box.  What kind of liquid? Well that is where this product finds its use.  The mix provides a pretty solid base flavor and the liquids you add are not only going to make the sauce well, liquid, but add those additional flavors you might be interested in.  Like fruit flavors in your sauce?  Just add whatever fruit juice you want.  Really like the tangy acidity that vinegar adds?  Use some vinegar.  You are in the driver’s seat here, its entirely up to you.  Want to crack a can of beer and whip it up in the parking lot?  Should work just fine.  IMG_20160709_193448180

Since we were sent a sample of the Spicy Habanero variety and decided to go with sort of a honey mango type of thing for the test.  So all I had to do was add 1/4 each of mango nectar, honey, and cider vinegar.  What I got was a pretty nice little sauce with not an excessive amount of heat.  I can safely say it wasn’t excessive because my wife who is pretty sensitive to the heat thought it was an acceptable level.  I applied this to some wings I had cooked on the grill as part of another product evaluation and I was  pleased with the results.  It might have been a touch thick for tossing wings in, but I also made it in advance of saucing and per the box the sauce will thicken over time, plus most wings can’t have enough sauce on them.

Full disclosure, we didn’t try the product in the dry rub or marinade capacity.   This wasn’t because I didn’t think it would be good, it was just a result of having grilled meats for pretty much every meal for a week. 

All in all I think its a good product especially if you want to whip up a fresh BBQ sauce in a hurry.   The Spicy Habanero version is gluten free per the box, and I would guess that the others probably are as well.  You can find this product pretty easily in Wal-Mart and the price is pretty right coming in around $3 for a box of 2 pouches of mix.  For more info and recipe ideas you can check out www.kcmasterpiece.com 

 

Fatheadz Eyewear

Posted by Dave On June - 29 - 2016

FatHeadz eyewear

Sunglasses. No matter what season you tailgate, a good pair of sunglasses is key. The harsh glare of the sun during those early football season tailgates or the glare from that snow bank in the late season, you’re going to need some sunglasses this coming tailgating season.

A major complaint many tailgaters have is that they have a larger head and traditional, “over the counter”, one-size-fits-all sunglasses don’t fit properly and are uncomfortable. I have that same problem so I definitely feel your pain and frustration. That’s why when the folks at Fatheadz Eyewear contacted us about their line of products, we were pretty stoked to try them out.

Fatheadz prides themselves in being able to fit each person to their needed width of sunglasses. Their sunglasses range from 130 mm – 164 mm width options. Even if you have a head the size of a watermelon in August, they have you covered.

We had a sample of the Fatheadz Big Daddy V2.0 sunglasses sent to us to test out.

(Disclaimer: We received a sample of Fatheadz Eyewear free of charge. The fact this sample was provided to us for free in no way influenced our opinion of the product nor did it impact our ability to test and review the product fairly and objectively.)

My hat size is 7 5/8 which translates to needing a frame width of 145 mm (5.71 in). They arrived professionally packaged with a sturdy carrying case and fit my face like a glove… actually not a glove but just like a great pair of sunglasses should. After having them on for less than five minutes, I was convinced I had found my new pair of sunglasses for the upcoming tailgating season.

Fatheadz The Boss Sunglasses

Fatheadz The Boss Sunglasses

The Big Daddy V2.0 sunglasses cost $99.00 and the available frame colors include: Black, Trans Grey, Trans Brown and Clear. Available lens colors include: Smoke, Brown, Glacier Blue and Volcanic Red.

Fatheadz boasts nearly 10 different frame styles and within each frame style they are available in multiple colors and lens options.

After testing out Fatheadz Eyewear, if you have a larger head and have trouble finding sunglasses that fit, Fatheadz Sunglasses are definitely “Tailgate Approved”.

Fatheadz are available for purchase via Amazon or you can buy directly from their website, fatheadz.com

Johnsonville Sizzling Sausage Grill

Posted by Brandon On June - 16 - 2016

Ever since the birth of my children I find that time that I can use for recreational outdoor activities has become to put it gently, limited.  And even though the resolution is for them to just get a little older, waiting is the hardest part.  In the meantime I’m always searching for those ways to get me a little taste of the things I used to do in those pre-daddy days.  Well as luck would have it, a couple weeks ago I was contacted about a new product from Johnsonville, their Sizzling Sausage Grill.  Anytime someone is willing to send me a sample, especially our friends at Johnsonville, to get my thoughts I am happy to oblige.  

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I think the first thing worth mentioning is that the fact that this is an electrical appliance is a significant departure from Johnsonville’s food only approach before. In all honesty I was admittedly a little skeptical about the item since it appears to be only useful for sausage cooking.  The other thing is that most people have some experience with the electric grill concept, probably with something sold under a famous boxer’s name.  I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the idea, but I can’t really tell you the last time I saw one in use.

So for starters the Sizzling Sausage Grill is a counter-top electric grill which has metal inserts with grooves in the shape of the typical Johnsonville sausage link i.e. a tube with that slight curvature.  In the top plate there is a hole through which a temperature probe is allowed to puncture a sausage and sense when to stop the cooking process.  Each of the cooking plates is removable and are dishwasher safe.  On the exterior of the product there is a removable drip tray and the outer surface is a mixture of black plastic and a brushed metal.   It has a solid feel and slight heft which seems appropriate for its appearance.

Using the grill is pretty simple, you place your desired sausage onto the bottom plate, matching the shape with the groove.  You can do 1-5 sausages at a time, the only caveat is that one sausage must be placed into the middle groove so that the temperature probe can detect the internal temp.  Otherwise you’re free to place any extra sausages in whichever spot you’d like.  From there you close the lid until it latches and press the button.  The claim is that the grill will cook the sausages in 10-15 minutes.  Here is a video describing the process along with graphics showing it:

My test was pretty straightforward, cook a pack of brats and see what happened.  Less than 12 minutes later I had 5 nearly perfected cooked brats hot and ready for dinner.  I say nearly perfectly because a couple didn’t have complete browning, which is a minor criticism.  The vast majority of the surface was a lovely even shade of brown and other than the sausage that received the probe none appeared to be punctured/cracked.  And that cook time?  I don’t think I’ve ever turned out brats that fast except when dealing with the pre-cooked varieties.  Truthfully I was very pleased with how they turned out.  

Indoor sausage cooking usually involves a lot of cleanup, that was not a problem with this.  The plates are easily removed, and even though they are dishwasher safe, a quick wash with a soapy sponge took care of them.

Does that mean that I would recommend this to everyone?  Not really.  It’s not very often that I test a product that delivers on it’s claims that I still have reservations.  When we talk about a product in terms of tailgating there are plenty of variables that need to be factored in.  

Firstly this is an electrical appliance, if you don’t have electricity available to you at your tailgate then you’re out of luck.  Also consider that you can do 5 sausages at a time, if you need to crank out more than 5 every 10-15 minutes you need additional resources. Finally it really only cooks the fresh uncooked sausages, that can mean a wide variety of flavors, but it definitely doesn’t mean a burger or chicken wings. 

One place where I can see a product like this being useful for a tailgater is after the event when you want something to eat while you wait for traffic to clear up or to celebrate your team’s win.  Firing up a more traditional grill is can take time, and cool down usually isn’t instantaneous.  This can mitigate a lot of that.

Also for a lot of people they can’t make it to every game and do a fair amount of “homegating.”  In my situation with the kids the ability to go to the kitchen turn on the grill and then walk away for a bit and come back to cooked food is really appealing.  

I do like this product, and where I think it will be of great use will be in prepping sausage when it isn’t necessarily the main course say for pizza or more typical sandwiches.  

The price seems high, but if you’re considering this product you likely don’t take your sausage consumption lightly.  Currently the product site has the Sizzling Sausage Grill listed at $99.98 + $14.95 S&H which can be broken down into 2 payments.  There is a 2 year limited warranty on the product, and right now they include coupons for 4 packs of sausage with every purchase potentially a $28 value.  

My final take?  Tailgating approved with reservations for the reasons I listed above, but worth it if you’re serious about Johnsonville sausage.  For more info see https://www.sizzlingsausagegrill.com/

 

Tremor by DreamWave

What’s a good tailgate without good music? Even if you have the most awesome playlist, what good is it if nobody can hear it? Ensuring your tailgate party has the best music is always a guessing game as to what the people will like the most. Making sure they can hear it and in mind blowing high quality is a no brainer.

We recently tested out Tremor by DreamWave. It may look like a rugged boom box but it is a lot more than just that. The Tremor is a 50w full activity sport speaker with a 20 mAh power bank. What does all that mean? It means that you don’t always play Mettalica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” but when you do, the rest of the parking lot does too.

Most outdoor speakers lose sound quality as the volume goes up. Not with this unit. We took it tailgating to the Cal State Fullerton Baseball game and turned it up. I mean way up. As we reached peak volume, other tailgaters from quite a few parking stalls away walked over to see if we had some sort of a DJ speaker system. Nope. Just a Bluetooth connected Tremor by Dreamwave.

Before taking it to the tailgating parking lot, the first thing we noticed about The Tremor was how rock solid and sturdy it was. I wouldn’t suggest trying to drop it and kick it around but it definitely can handle being packed in a tailgating vehicle and being brought out to a few tailgates.

Pairing the Tremor was quick and easy too. It’s equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC for easy pairing with your mobile music devices. If one Tremor is simply not enough sound to rock your tailgate party, you can connect and pair two Tremors together at once to provide double the sound for the ultimate Hi-Fi experience. We mentioned the rugged construction earlier but it is worth noting the IPX5 protects against water/dust/sand/snow and comes complete with a portable design with a sturdy shoulder strap.

Specs:

  • 50W Premium Audiophile Performance Sound System
  • IPX5 Water/Dust/Sand/Snow Protection
  • Connect 2 Tremors Together At Once
  • Bluetooth CSR 4.0 + EDR, A2DP AVRCP, APTX
  • 20,800mAh Rechargeable Battery (Power Bank)
  • Play time: Up to 20 Hours (8 Hours Max Volume, Full Bass Status)
  • Hands Free Calling and NFC Ready
  • USB 5V/1A Port for Charging Mobile Devices
  • Hi-Fi Sound and Anti-Distortion Circuity

After putting the Tremor through it’s paces and thoroughly testing it out, the Tremor by DreamWave is definitely “Tailgate Approved”. The sound quality was awesome and the rugged design makes it a perfect addition to any tailgate party.

The Tremor is listed on Amazon for $449.99 but as of press time, is selling for $318.98 + FREE Shipping. You can also get the Tremor for $299.99 purchased directly from the DreamWave website.

For more information, visit: DreamWaveUS.com.

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TailgatingIdeas.com is a tailgating blog dedicated to bringing you the latest and most intriguing tailgating ideas out there. Whether it is the latest tailgating gear reviews, a great new recipe or a funny list to make you smile, our goal is to inform and entertain the avid and the casual tailgater alike.

Started in August 2007 by tailgating enthusiast Dave Lamm, TailgatingIdeas.com has evolved into an advocate for tailgaters rights and is not afraid to touch on controversial issues confronting those who frequent the tailgating parking lots.

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