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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

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GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

BBQ_grill_grates

Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

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The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.

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*Based on 4" raw burger with 1/2" space on all sides

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Best BBQ accessories

MAK Grill 2 Star General Pellet Grill

By Meathead Goldwyn

Manufacturer: MAK Grills

MAK Grills makes two very impressive residential pellet smokers and one large commercial smoker. They are Meatheads favorite pellet smokers and earned our AmazingRibs.com Best Value Gold Award. MAK took the pellet world by storm and quickly developed a reputation as a best in class producer largely due to their sophisticated "Pellet Boss" controller. The Pellet Boss is easy to learn, intuitive and highly accurate. It also has some useful added features like three independent meat probe inputs and wireless capability. Furthermore construction is solid, durable and effectively holds even, set temps.

MAK Grills is a family owned business that grew from MAK Metals, an Oregon company engaged in precision metal fabrication since around 1990. They have about 70 distributers, mostly in the northwest.

MAK Grill 2 Star General Pellet Grill

MAK Grills have the distinction of being Meathead's favorite pellet smokers. He recently tested their 1 Star General and 2 Star General Residential Pellet Smokers. MAK also makes a large, commercial size 4 Star General smoker. Here is his review on the 2 Star General.

The MAK is definitely well thought out and well built. The most important feature is its temperature control system. Temperature control is at the heart of good cooking. Many pellet smokers use the confusing and imprecise radial Ortech controller, or even worse, a three position controler with no thermostat. Not the MAK. Their Pellet Boss controller is custom made and the new version on the current models is the best in the biz.

It is a sealed touchpad that is easy to learn and very intuitive. Just load the hopper, plug it in, press the on switch, and the unit ignites itself. The thermostat is highly accurate and fluctuates less than my GE oven in the kitchen. Heat distribution is very even all across the cooking surface although it is a bit hotter at the edges where the inlet vents are. It also comes with one meat probe and has ports for three meat probes, so you can load 'er up with three different thickness meats with three different target temps, say a beef brisket (190°F target), precooked ham (140°F target), and a turkey breast (170°F target), and monitor all three meats.

The controller can even be programmed. You can put your Thanksgiving turkey on at 325°F, when the probe hits 155°F, it can drop the oven temp back to 165°F, let the meat rise to that temp, and hold the bird there until you're ready. Set the temp in 5°F increments, set a timer, set an alarm for a time or an internal temp of the meat, set a program so that the unit changes temp at a predetermined time or meat temp, spend some time with the family for a change. As an option, you can even buy a bluetooth remote control so you can monitor and change temps from the living room. Truly a marvel.

At 60" wide, 49" high, 25" deep, weighing in at about 185 pounds, there is a 14" tall 429 square inch cooking area. You can order upper racks for the cooking chamber. There are few backyard cookers built so well. Solid. I cannot see vulnerability to rust. Fit and finish are very good. This is clearly not the standard cheap Chinese-built unit designed to cut corners and drive down price as are so many others on this page. All parts are heavy and built to last. Several parts are made from high grade heavy duty stainless steel, and the rest are thick steel and well powder coated. Assembly took about two hours, but the only tools needed were two hex wrenches and a crescent wrench, both supplied. Many nuts are welded onto the body, so you only need to twist in the screws. Minimal fumbling. I only needed my wife's help for about 30 seconds to get the thing off it's back and standing upright on the casters after I attached the legs. The cooking chamber and hood are thick high quality 304 stainless steel and the rest is long lasting thick high-temp powder coated aluminized steel.

As you face it, the left shelf contains the 20 pound capacity pellet hopper. You dump pellets in it and its funnel shape gravity feeds them to an auger that moves them to a fire pot in the center of the grill. There you find a glowing element that lights the pellets and a blower controls oxygen supply. On a 50°F day I got it up to 485°F, so on a hot summer day it should go well beyond 500°F. The problem with pellets is you can go through them in a hurry at high temp. Cooking ribs on a 68F day I went through about one pound an hour for a four hour cook including warmup and cooldown. It burns about 1 pound of pellets per hour and they cost about $1 per pound plus shipping, so that's a bit more than $1 per hour at low temps.

The MAK also has a door to remove your pellets so you can switch wood types when you switch meats. Want alder for salmon and hickory for pulled pork? No problemo.

The hood is a roll top, so it doesn't need extra clearance behind the unit as with some other grills. The cooking chamber is tall enough for big turkeys and whole hams. The heavy duty stainless steel grates will last forever, the sloped drip pan below has perforations so bare flame can reach the food if you want. If you don't want, there are two covers for the holes. Unfortunately, you need to remove the food and the grates if you want to expose the cooking area to direct flame. Below this is a heat deflector that covers the combustion chamber. With the holes covered you essentially have a large convection oven and there is no need to turn the food. They clearly have worked hard to defeat the bane of the first generation pellet burners, hot spots.

There is very little ash, but occasionally it must be removed. Cleanup is a bit of a pain. You need to remove seven parts to empty the cup of ash and vacuum out the interior.

A very cool feature. The right shelf holds a warming box that can keep one dish warm until the others are done. For example, I put some raw minced potatoes in a perforated pan on the grill about an hour before the chicken breasts went on. I thought they'd finish about the same time, but the potatoes were well done before the meat. So when they were done, I moved them to the warmer, and they held there until serving time. At the time of this writing, no other pellet burner offers this warming box.

Now this method is not foolproof. The main cooking chamber was chugging along at about 300°F, while the warming chamber was about down at 180°F. So when I brought in the taters and the meat to the dining table together, they spuds got cold quicker. I also noticed that when I knocked back the oven temp to about 200°F, the holding temp got below 140°F. That's in the danger zone for microbial growth. Probably not an issue because they had been heated well beyond the kill temp of 155°F, so the potatoes were safe, but this is something a good cook will need to be careful about. Another great feature of the warming chamber is that it gets low enough for cold smoking or cheese. But don't make the mistake I made. I smoked some cheese in the warmer while I had some salmon in the main cooking chamber. I got salmon flavored smoked not-so-gouda.

A note about repairs. The igniter rod on mine crapped out. MAK had preemptively sent its customers replacements because it had decided that the factory installed igniters had a defect. I was not looking forward to replacing this part, expecting a knuckle buster. But the MAK website has some fine step by step videos that walked me through the process, and taking apart the pellet feed system gave me a greater appreciation of their design and build skills.

Summary

Pros. Well built in Oregon, will not rust. Doesn't need a cover. Highly accurate temperature control, and control of temp is the most important thing in good cooking. Versatile programmable controller with lots of bells and whistles. Large capacity pellet hopper, easy to change wood types. 14" overhead cooking space, enough for turkeys. Cooking range is advertised at 180 to 500°F depending on ambient temp and how much cold meat is in there. The warming box can be used for cold smoking cheese or fish. Comes with a three year warranty.

Cons. Price. At about $2,600, this grill is four times the price of a good Weber gas grill. And, as with other pellet smokers, it just does not get hot enough to properly sear a steak. Modest 19.5" deep x 22" wide, 429 square inch cooking surface will not handle a large party. They sell an optional upper grate that can get you up to 858 square inches. That there is no handy place to store the electical cord is another minor aggravation.

Wish list. I'd like to see a double layer of metal in the lid to improve heat retention and reduce pellet usage. I'd like to see a thermometer in the warming chamber. It would be nice if the cart had sides and a door for dry storage. A rotisserie would also be cool. I wish there was an easy way to slide out the burn pot for cleaning without having to remove so many parts.

Question marks. There is the eternal question for digital controllers on outdoor devices: How well will they stand up to the elements, especially winter in Chicago?

Bottomline. I have had a LOT of iron on my deck and it is one of the best cookers I've ever used. This new device has already spawned a following at PelletSmoking.com. Go there to read more.

Price: 

$2,500 Manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP), actual price may vary.

Where To Buy (Buying from these suppliers supports this website): 

Big Poppa Smokers

Primary Function: 

Smoker

Fuel: 

Wood Pellets

Primary Capacity: 

429 square inches ( about 21 burgers )

Main Burners: 

1

Manufacturer claims that all or practically all of this device is made in the USA

Yes

Review Method: 

Cooked On It

We have hands-on experience testing this product. We have also gathered info from the manufacturer, owners and other reliable sources.


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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