When it comes to award winning competition BBQ there’s one thing pitmasters have in common – their smokers. For the best smokers to win your next BBQ cookoff see below to see what the pros use.
We’d all love to barbecue at the highest level, similar to that of the competitors we so often hear about. Their recipes for success include many factors, and the equipment used can be high amongst those. The best part is that some of the heavyweight pitmasters have taken their expertise and translated it into equipment you can use to compete, or just knock the socks off your friends and family with home barbecue.
In addition to looking at the products designed by competitors, we know you will want to learn about products that are actually designed for home, but show up in the tents of successful competitive barbecue pitmasters. You can see our top picks for at home use smokers here. We’ll also add thoughts on the differences between approach and goals for home barbecue and competition.
You can’t help but notice all these competition level units are big and solid with excellent capacity. Lang is no exception. US made; Lang has built a great repertoire of famous users from top place competitive pitmasters to restaurant pros to celebrities. Their success gives you a great idea of how effective these smokers are at their job.
The biggest claim to fame, and legitimately so, is that Lang introduced the ‘reverse heat flow’ design. There are certain to be home pitmasters that used similar approaches, but these guys do get bragging rights for introducing it commercially 30 years ago. Lang has a channel that runs under a metal plate which takes the heat from the hotbox and conveys it across, underneath the cooking chamber. The natural convection then moves the heat, and smoke, back through the cooking area and out the chimney on the side it all started.
You get two benefits from the reverse flow design. First, your heat is diffused evenly throughout the smoker with minimal temperature gradients from end to end. Second, that hot plate flashes moisture from the drippings into humidity that is essential to smoking meats. The same griddle effect sizzles the fat and juices to create additional natural smoke to flavor the food. A nice double whammy that has proven effective for creating high quality barbecued food.
Their core group of products are numbered by their dimension, from the 36 (or 36” long) to the 108 which can be configured to hold 150 pork butts! It is also interesting that most home smokers measure in cubic inches, these guys measure in cubic feet of cooking surfaces. Their 36 and 48 are listed as backyard intended and have patio wheel carriages, the 60 is where they begin the list at competition level and build it to a trailer frame. At all levels, they deliver quality smoked foods.
We talk about these smokers being designed for competition, and they are. But this line is designed by the penultimate competitor, Myron Mixon, a five-time barbecue World Champion, among many awards, celebrity chef and reality show judge for barbecue. Often called the winningest man in barbecue, he brings credentials and experience to bear in these products.
The line runs from home style pellet smokers up to massive commercial models that literally weigh more than one ton and measure the cooking space well over 10,000 square inches. But the most unique and interesting part of the product line are the H2O smokers. These are charcoal driven for the fuel and include a large water reservoir that works as both a heat sink to keep temperatures even and a humidity source to get the most flavor from the smoke. Pitmasters know the science of smoking, that the flavors in the smoke will attach to water molecules which transfer them more directly to the food as it cooks. So, there are very well thought out reasons for using this approach.
The MMS-48 is a great example of this group of products. These are flat smokers that locate the water pan between the cook chamber and the fire pan. This diffuses the heat, spreading it more evenly in the cooking chamber eliminating hot spots and keeps the water warm for both evaporation and heat retention. It is an elegant solution that will allow for low and slow style, or for faster cooking approaches, of barbecue and smoked food.
There are some products that you look at and say ‘whoa’ that is commercial grade. This is the usual first look reaction to the Yoder line. Beefy, solid, overbuilt, they look like a tank version of food preparation. The best part is that they deliver too. This line of products is used by competitive teams across the country.
Their selection is quite diverse, from flat to vertical to offset smokers using fuel from wood to charcoal to pellets. All of these are housed in heavy duty metal and built here in the United States. Their approach to mobility is a design that would sit on your trailer for travel. They have great wheels and handles for moving around the site or your yard.
Yoder’s choices and style of pellet grills seems to be the standout of their line. They boast a searing surface temperature of 700 degrees in addition to the low and slow temperatures desired for classic barbecue smoking. Yoder is also utilizing good tech in their units with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity.
Their line offers some backyard choices like their YS480S which offers both grilling and smoking options. Still pellet driven but built to smoke, and with tech connectivity, the CimmaronS has over 2000 square inches of usable cooking surfaces. A great feature is a ‘pellet dump’ that allows you to swap wood type or empty the coffer before you take it in the road.
Bringing it home – Smokers for Competition Style BBQ @ Home
So far, we have separated some aspects of this line up of elite cookers to specify competition.
We are big fans of Meathead, and wholeheartedly agree with him that there is a vast difference between backyard cooking for friends and family and actual competition cooking.
First, look at the goal. In competition you get one shot with maybe a couple bites to each judge. The teams go all out with additives, hours of prep, complex technique, and on and on. Many of the elite competitors even admit their product is nothing like the food they enjoy, and serve their guests! Second, they do have the absolute best equipment, spending tens of thousands of dollars. Many of us do not have anywhere near that budget. There are equipment choices more based in the reality of those of us striving to put out a really good traditional barbecue meal without breaking our budget.
Just the name is synonymous with home backyard cooking. They brought us the kettle grill in the fifties and later the Weber Smokey Mountain, just a great smoking device. This little R2D2 looking cooker actually appears at competitive barbecue events. It gets so much popularity because it is really easy to use with no moving parts. Put some charcoal, with wood if desired, in the bottom, water in the pan (very helpful as we know), set the body in place and start filling the racks with food after a quick warm up time. Add some fuel through the hatch and you can smoke for hours at controlled temperatures.
Already in a compact vertical design, you have three choices of diameter size to best suit your cooking environment and goals. Generally, we tend to recommend go big, in this case 22-inch diameter, because it is better to have the space and not need it than to need it and not have it. You will amaze your guests at the quality and volume of food you can cook to enjoy with them. We recommend checking out some of these cookbooks to get your feet wet with competition style BBQ on something as simple as a kettle grill.
We know that we have Traeger to thank for bringing the pellet grill to the attention of Americans, showing how effective they can be at low and slow smoked cooking. But we are exploring more budget minded options for your backyard cooking. With 30 years making grills, nearly 10 years with pellet fuel devices, Z Grill is not a newcomer. But they deliver a quality product at very competitive pricing. Not the cheapest, but their build quality and features make them competitive well above their price range.
Their ZPG-600D is a great example. Using the direct heat function, you can get over 700 degrees for searing meats and such. But these excel at lower temperature cooking. Pellet smokers give you almost unlimited set and forget cooking. So, a 12 hour smoked pork butt or an 18 hour brisket are right in the wheelhouse of easy cooking. This unit also shines at roasting, for example, cooking chicken at 350 degrees while getting great smoked flavors added in. In short, versatile and effective at a reasonable price, and it’s not unheard of to see these guys at cookoffs.