The REC TEC Bullseye is a low cost pellet smoker that looks like a charcoal kettle grill and works more like a gas grill than a modern pellet cooker. It is meant to smoke and grill for "the best of both worlds." As a pellet smoker, it provides good results; however, Bullseye has an antiquated controller with no thermostat, so good results take more effort than they should. As a grill, the Bullseye gets hotter than most pellet smokers, yet its searing capability is modest (keep in mind, our standard for searing is all-over Maillarded brown surface on a steak not grill marks). This is because it uses, like all pellet smokers, indirect heat. To get a great sear you really need exposure to direct heat, i.e. infrared from intense flame. Bullseye's unique design provides some exposure to open flame, but the radiant heat generated by the small amount of burning wood pellets in the firepot is not intense.
When we think REC TEC we think quality. Their RT-680 Pellet Smoker is heavy duty with lots of stainless steel parts and a sophisticated digital touchpad controller. Alas, Bullseye shatters our high expectations and is cheaply made to sell at an MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) of $499 and an actual selling price direct from REC TEC of $399 with shipping included. Granted, the RT-680 costs three times as much when shipping is added, and we appreciate economically priced equipment, but has REC TEC gone too far with Bullseye in shooting for such a low price point?
Here is a video tour of a new Bullseye fresh out of the box.
Modern Thermostatic Control
All other modern pellet smokers us a thermostat to control cooking temperature by regulating the amount of wood pellets and air that are delivered to burn in a firepot. Click here to learn about how pellet smokers work. Decades ago, when Traeger introduced the first BBQ pellet smokers, they all had crude Low/Medium/High controllers that were incapable of any accuracy or consistency. Whether you were cooking on a sweltering summer day or in the middle of a blizzard, the same amount of fuel was sent to feed the fire. Today, every pellet smoker we have tested, except Bullseye, has digital thermostatic control. A sensor inside the food box monitors cooking temp and regulates the amount of wood pellets and air sent to the firepot to maintain your desired set temperature. You set the temperature and the smoker maintains that temperature, just like your kitchen oven. Set the temperature then throw on a brisket before going to bed, and you can sleep soundly, knowing that even if the temperature outdoors drops 20 degrees in the middle of the night, the thermostat will hold your cooking temperature steady. Below is an example of Traeger's most basic, entry level controller.
Note the absence of numeric temperature markings on the Bullseye controller shown below. Not much different than a gas grill and of course that is what we dislike about gas grills, you cannot accurately control the oven temp and control of temperature is at the essence of cooking. Nowadays you can even buy thermostatic controllers for charcoal grills. With no thermostat under the hood, any numbers next to the hash marks on the dial would be meaningless. Although it is a step up from the caveman era, this controller still doesn't guarantee accurate cooking temperatures. You would need to purchase an accurate digital thermometer and play with the controller dial until you tune in and maintain the desired cooking temperature and adjust manually as the weather changes. Click here to learn more about digital thermometers.
Why no thermostat on this pellet smoker? REC TEC explains, "We don't add a thermostat to the Bullseye because this grill is designed to be an inexpensive entry level pellet grill. This design helps bridge the technology gap between gas & charcoal grills and pellet grills without all of the bells and whistles. We find that many seasoned backyard BBQ people get overwhelmed by having so many temperature selections and ultra precise temperature controls. The Bullseye allows them to get into the pellet game at a reasonable price with a grill that performs like a gas grill but with the flavor of a real wood fire." Fair enough. But I would argue that the struggle to set a correct temperature on the Bullseye is more overwhelming than simply dialing it up to a specific number with "Ultra Precise temperature controls." It would be much easier to have a thermostat do that work for you as on the REC TEC-680.
Notice that Bullseye's two red switches above are labeled "Power" (left) and "Ignitor" (right). All pellet grills have a power switch. A typical cook session has about three steps. Step 1: Power on. Step 2: Set cooking temp. Then the blower fan kicks in and the control system begins feeding wood pellets to the firepot. An ignitor rod ignites the pellets and starts the fire. Once the fire is established, the ignitor rod automatically shuts off. You cook the food, and when done cooking, Step 3: Set the controller to shut down mode, and the pellet feed stops.
With Bullseye, the procedure is more complex. Step 1: Power on. Step 2: Guess where to set the temperature dial. Step 3: Set the dial, and the blower fan kicks in and the control system starts feeding wood pellets to the firepot. Step 4: Turn on the ignitor, and wait three to four minutes to verify the ignitor rod is glowing red. Step 5: Turn off the ignitor. Cook the food, and when done, Step 6: Turn the dial counter-clockwise to "Off." Finally, Step 7: Allow the system to cool down for several minutes before powering off. OK, I admit it. I am spoiled by the ease of use provided by contemporary, set-it-and-forget-it thermostatic controllers with auto shut off ignitors and auto shut down. But these features have become the industry standard for pellet grills.
Notice anything missing? Bullseye has no chimney or exhaust damper. We didn't think about it until this started happening.
The smoke and heat travel up from the cooking chamber through the pellet feed auger tube and into the 15 pound pellet hopper. We fear this could start a fire in the pellet hopper. Although rare, this troublesome issue commonly called "burn back" can occur in other pellet smokers, but Bullseye is particularly susceptible to it because the cooking chamber lid seals snugly like a good charcoal kettle grill, and there is no chimney or exhaust damper for heat and smoke to escape. REC TEC's solution is a bit of a kluge, a metal spacer that lifts the the lid to the cooking chamber open slightly (see below).
The test model we received didn't have this spacer. REC TEC's customer service was aware of the problem and sent us the part no charge. They say all models are now shipping with the spacer pre-installed.
Flame Deflector Plate
Most pellet smokers have a solid flat drip plate right under the cooking grates that helps deliver heat from the small firepot more evenly across the entire cooking area. The drip plate also channels grease away from the firepot and into a tray or small bucket. Bullseye uses a round, perforated "deflector plate," which did a good job of distributing heat evenly while exposing foods to some direct flame through the perforations (see below). The gap between the deflector and cooking grate makes using a drip pan or water water pan easy.
We performed several cooking tests, the first of which was a flight of chicken wings at about 350°F. This mid-range temperature was not too hard to dial in using our digital thermometer as a guide. The wings came out uniformly crisp and golden brown as shown below. Click here for Meathead's Crispy Grilled Buffalo Wings Recipe.
Low and Slow Smoking
For the low-heat test, we planned to smoke some brisket at 225°F overnight, our standard temp. This time setting the temp with the dial controller was extremely frustrating. After two hours of overshooting and undershooting the mark we finally got Bullseye to hover consistently around 250°F. We suspect one would eventually become familiar with Bullseye's controller, but anyone who is accustomed to thermostatically controlled pellet smokers will likely be filling their swear jar to the brim, as we did. Fortunately, the ambient temperature outside remained steady throughout the night, and the next day, we enjoyed delicious brisket with a nice smoke ring shown below.
Bullseye aspires to be both a low-temperature smoker and high-temperature grill. Cranked all the way up, it can go over 600°F air temp, which is admirable (many pellet smokers with thermostatic controllers can hit 550°F easily). That begs the question: Is the slightly higher high temp worth the trade off of having no set-it-and-forget-it thermostat? A full grate of half-inch thick, third pound burgers (below) says not.
The burgers didn't develop that delicious browning that you want for flavor and a good crust. We got better results with the optional extruded aluminum searing kit by GrillGrates for $109.95 (below).
The GrillGrates also helped to properly sear a couple thick strip steaks (below).
But by the time we got even faint sear marks on a thin strip steak it was overdone.
On the plus side, the Bullseye's pellet hopper lid can be used as a side shelf. But this stripped down device doesn't even have tool hooks, and the overall construction is remarkably flimsy. REC TEC points out that their kettle is porcelain enamel coated, which they believe will be more durable than powder coated steel, and that they use a ceramic ignitor rod which is more costly than standard ignitors and is said to have an extended life of 100,000 cycles.
If you already own this cooker
If you did not get the lid spacer with yours, you should contact them. We are aware that the manufacturer is upset with this review and is asking owners to come here and to YouTube to call us idiots. Nobody likes a poor review. But we have never before seen a manufacturer act so childish (you should read their emails). If you own a Bullseye we know you love it. This is called confirmation bias. Nobody likes to be told they made a poor purchase. And to be sure, as we say above, there is much to like about this cooker. But there are a lot of things REC TEC could do to make it much better. This is version 1.0. We like the concepts well enough to have high hopes for version 2.0. We hope they will hear our criticisms and use them to make a better grill and make a lot of money. We are rooting for them despite their bad behavior.
While we understand REC TEC's aim to provide a versatile, low cost grill/smoker, we feel that Bullseye falls short of the mark in functionality. It lacks industry standard thermostatic control and is not much more powerful for high temperature grilling than other pellet smokers. The GrillGrates helped searing performance dramatically which is why they are a popular option for all types of pellet smokers.
One year limited warranty.
We thank REC TEC for providing a Bullseye for our tests.
Cooked On It
We have hands-on experience testing this product. We have also gathered info from the manufacturer, owners and other reliable sources.
REC TEC Grills offers an ever expanding line of visually striking pellet smokers and related products.
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