After seven years as a die hard Traeger Lil’ Tex pellet smoker owner, I wanted to see what the marketplace looked like. Sure I was loyal, had recommended Traeger grills to family, friends and random people I walked by at Traeger roadshow events at Costco and Home Depot, but after seven years, I began feeling the itch to explore and see what was out there. I Googled “pellet smoker” and was instantly presented with lots of previously unknown brands.
Let me describe a pellet smoker for those unfamiliar with them. Pellet smokers consume small machined wood pellets made from a large variety of tree woods. My favorite is hickory, although apple and mesquite are close. The pellets are stored in a hopper on the outside of the unit and fed into the fire chamber by a motorized auger (think large drill bit) assembly. A heating element comes on for the first few minutes as the smoker starts up, causing ignition which is maintained by a stream of pellets and the external fan which blows air into the chamber. The logic board allows you to set a desired temperature and in turn controls the number of pellets per minute fed into the chamber by the auger. A temperature probe in the cooking chamber is also connected to the logic board to give it feedback on whether it’s meeting the temperature goal or not. Because the pellet smoker uses wood, it imparts a great wood taste into the food. The logic board minimizes the amount of fire management required to produce quality BBQ allowing the grill to run for long periods of time, such as overnight in the case of brisket and pulled pork.
So I started researching the new smokers one by one. I immediately noticed the pricing of the new smokers. Most of them were much-higher priced than my old Traeger which I purchased for $571 in May of 2008. After a few weeks, I began to come back to Yoder Smokers more than any other brand and the YS640 in particular. This smoker has second shelf option that gives a total cooking space of 1,074 square inches. The Traeger has 492 square inches of space. I was excited about the Yoder’s extra space, the larger hopper (20lbs of pellets versus 10 lbs) and the potential searing capability as this smoker can generate temperatures up to 600 degrees.
On Saturday, September 5th, Kathy and I went down to Sherwood to check out Sam’s NW BBQ Company but, sadly, the store was closed for the holiday weekend.
My trusty Lil’ Tex flaked out that Monday during a Labor Day cook of 2 pork butts and a brisket. After about 12 hours, the smoker’s temp dropped and hovered around 140-170 degrees. It just wouldn’t get any hotter after a reset and a fire pot examination. Fortunately, the brisket temp was about 179 degrees so I trayed it, poured in some Big Cow Beef Injection, covered it and placed it in the oven to finish at 205 degrees. The pork butts were about 185 degrees so I transferred them to my natural gas grill with indirect heating to let them finish at 203 degrees.
This cook also pointed out to me the limited amount of space I had in the Traeger. I arranged the two pork butts front-to-back on the left half and the brisket on the right half. All the meats overhung the drip tray allowing juices to drip to the bottom of the cooking chamber. The lid was barely able to close because of the front-left butt, but it worked. At this point I really started to appreciate the potential for a larger smoker, and just a new smoker as well.
I finally made it out to Sam’s again on September 21st, the day Sam received a 27-smoker shipment from Yoder. Basically, a big mistake on my part, because I immediately fell in love with the YS1500, the YS640’s bigger brother. Sure Sam laid down his sales pitch, but I was sold as soon as I saw it. The biggest decision at that point was which color for the competition cart (base): Oregon State Beaver orange, black or another special-order color. As I left, I told Sam I would be back in 2.5 weeks to pick up the YS1500 with the orange cart.
I told my friend Stephen about that trip during our next lunch at Grant’s Philly Cheesesteaks and he volunteered his vehicle for the trailer I needed to get the smoker home. I didn’t mention this previously, but the smoker weighs 667 pounds. Yikes!
Once we got it home, we off-loaded it and moved it into position. Luckily it comes with a tow bar and 10″ pneumatic wheels.