Friday, July 13, 2018

Product Review: Humphrey's Battle Box - Wounded Warrior version

Disclaimer- I/we are not affiliated with Humphrey’s in any way, we received no compensation for this review and I paid full retail price for this unit.

This is a follow up to our unboxing post about the Humphrey's Battle Box - Wounded Warrior version.  My neighbor and BBQ teammate, John Makela, shares his thoughts on his smoker after using it for several weeks.


Fresh out of the crate, now we need to cook something


This whole story starts last year right after Chris took delivery of his new smoker, the Deep South CG36 (aka Big Red). As he says in that review we were just hoping that it would put out food equal to our kamado grills.  It was better than the kamados, it blew me away.  I knew right then I was going to step up with the big boys and get me a very high-end smoker.  I wanted something smaller, something I wouldn’t feel guilty if I just thew one pork butt on but could cook for a decent sized party if needed.  My search was on.

I looked at a lot of brands, read a lot of forum pages and made my spreadsheets to analyze everything.  The other finalist last year in Chris’ search was Humphrey’s, that didn’t automatically make them my choice, the spreadsheet had a lot to say about it too.  Well, Humphrey's came out on top and they had just created the wounded warrior color scheme of their Battle Box where they give 10% of all sales to the Wounded Warrior organization and I loved the color scheme; two birds, one stone.

Humphrey’s BBQ Inc. is based out of Limerick Maine and owned by Chad and Nicole Humphrey, two of the nicest folks you will ever deal with.  They started years ago repairing all brands of smokers from backyard to commercial until they finally said let’s make our own.  So they took all the lessons they learned working on other smokers and applied it to their line.  Customer service is top notch.

Chris posted the unboxing of this smoker back in his April posts so be sure to check that out for a lot more pictures.

Features:

  • Insulated, reverse flow box smoker.
  • Welded Tubular sub-frame (think roll cage of race car)
  • 1200 degree nonflammable insulation.  Moisture resistant, fungi resistant, high K value and military certified
  • 3 slide out cooking racks, Stainless Steel.  14.75” x 22”  Holds full-size hotel pan
  • Stainless Steel 4” water pan (mine is the slide-out version, $100 option)
  • Commercial grade style latches, they call them slam latches, they work great.
  • Tel-Tru thermometer
  • 2 probe Ports (standard on my unit optional on most)
  • 8” No Flat wheels (standard on my unit optional on most)
  • Outer Dimensions 24”w x29”d x 43”h, 325 lbs, its heavy
  • Cooking Chamber dimensions 15.25”w x 22.5d x 18”h
  • 10-12 lbs charcoal capacity with run times up to 12 hours, I’m finding longer.

Charcoal box, which is located behind the lower door.  This was after a 5-hour cook at 290, I think I’d be good for 10 more hours or so.  Shown with optional snake T dividers which makes the fire burn in a snake pattern.


Internal cooking chamber with water pan removed and replaced with a 13x22” pizza stone, which I elevate on 5-3/4” copper plumbers elbows. Heat rises up from the charcoal box below and comes out of the top of the unit where the inner vertical walls end about 3 inches from the top of the smoker.  This heat now travels downward to the group of 8 holes you see just above pizza stone center line where it exits the cookers chimney.  Hence reverse flow.  Notice with water pan removed I have 6 rack locations to use, 5 with water pan in.  You can also see a bit of the internal tubular frame at top right and left.


Photo with cooking rack on the ground with 2 half pans.  There is still room for good airflow around the meat.  I prefer to cook in pans to keep clean up much easier.


End view of the 4” water pan, note the round bar about 1/2” below the lip of the pan, this is so you can pull it out for easy refill and it will not fall out as the lip is on top of the guide bar and round bar below it.  All cooking racks and charcoal box have this same feature, this makes it easy to slide cooking racks out to spritz or baste your meats and not worry about them falling.



Inside of cook chamber (and firebox) with the pizza stone in and racks positioned for max big meat capacity.  Without extra accessories, this configuration would cook 2 butts on the bottom, 2 racks of ribs in middle and a brisket on the top.  Since pans are involved clean up is a breeze.  That could be 40 lbs of meat.  More could fit with no pans.


With water pan, you lose a rack space but could still fit the same meat as above if you place bottom rack just above the water pan.


Performance:

I have completed 11 cooks on the Battle Box, 6 using a Flame Boss 200 to control temps and 5 running full manual control.  In both cases, the smoker is steady as she goes in terms of holding temps.  If I am doing an overnight cook I would use the Flame Boss to set it and forget it, but for shorter cooks say ribs or chicken, full manual is not a problem whatsoever.  I have been impressed with its ability to hold temps steady.  When using a computer temp controller remember to keep the top chimney vent open only about 1 finger width or less.


Here’s a rack of baby back ribs right before the final glaze is applied, nice color.  The flavor was excellent too.


Some beef ribs just before spritzing


Brisket Flat getting close to wrap time.  This was one of the best briskets I ever had.



Pair of 2- 5.5lb whole chickens coming off the smoker.  Makes the best pulled chicken ever


This is a cook my wife saw on Pinterest and said we need to do.  Its called a swineapple; a stuffed pineapple, wrapped in bacon and cooked until done.  We stuffed with already cooked pulled pork, wrapped in bacon, dusted with a favorite brown rub and cooked until the bacon was done.  Interesting, great flavor but the acidity of the pineapple made the pork very mushy (mashed potato-like)  Maybe raw pork loin cooked to 140-145 may have been a better choice.


Pork Butt right after removing from smoker fully glazed with money muscle missing (We cooked the MM per our competition guidelines and ate it beforehand)


Boneless Skinless Chicken Thighs for our favorite, Chicken Fajita Bowls. Yum.

So in the first 30 or so days I have done 11 cooks on this smoker and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase decision.

  • Easy learning curve- coming from kamados, just fill firebox with lump or briquettes (I use both in combination), Open top damper and ball joint, light a front corner let it burn a bit, close firebox and cook chamber doors.  Start to close top vent and ball valve down (if manual, leave ball valve open if computer temp control used) when temps are getting near target.  I also don’t add my Flame Boss until I am within 30 degrees of my target.  That's it, smoker runs on rails.
  • Excellent smoke flavor- Nicole told me to add my wood chunks as soon as the food is added.  I just put them on top of the hot coals and 1 or 2 pieces in front of the coal burning part.  This method has worked very well for me with excellent clean smoke flavor.
  • Steady Temps- sounding like a broken record but its true, also because the cooking chamber is not huge temp recovery after opening the door is very quick, within a few minutes.
  • Long Burn Times- Humphrey’s specs call for 10-12 hour burn times, I am finding with cooks at the 285-295 range that I can probably get almost 15 hours out of 1 load of lump/briquettes, that is more than enough for any cook I do at the temps we run.
  • Cooks excellent food- I’ve run with and without water the results are always excellent. For small cooks I use a water pan. If I cook a lot of large meat I run without, thinking the moisture of the food keeps the chamber humid enough that along with spritzing.  I have cooked more whole chicken than anything else because it makes the best pulled chicken I have ever had.   Any food I have cooked has been better than I expected, especially so early in my learning curve (oh that's very short btw).  Bark seems just as good with water as without.
  • Shut Down is easy- Close the ball valve, close the top damper, remove the water pan if used (slide out pan makes this so easy).  That’s it, the fire goes out quickly and most of your unused lump is preserved.  Clean up after is easy, after cool down, shake the coal basket some, remove it which gives easy access to the ash pan below the charcoal.  Pull this out and dump; re-insert and you are ready again after adding some new coal.
  • Versatile- Though I haven’t done so there are reports of folks cooking pizza on these smokers and baking bread on them.  They are capable of running up to 500 degrees, provided you do not have any built up grease inside your cook chamber as the flash point of most grease is well below 500 degrees.
  • Built like a tank- My model the battle box is the smallest one in their heavy-duty series where they weld an internal metal frame structure (roll cage) to support all internal and external walls.  This makes the smoker very square and rugged, perfect for toting to competitions.
  • Many sizes and colors to choose from- I selected a smaller smoker, they make many different sizes and offer a lot of standard colors and they also offer a custom color service where you can pick any color you like for $150 extra.  Almost all smokers in their line are reverse flow, even their gravity feeders.

Final Thoughts:

Not as expensive as Big Red this still was a major purchase.  After being in BBQ for the past 7 plus years and living next to Mr. NMT, I understand how quality makes things better and easier.  I am more than pleased with my purchase and the quality of food it puts out along with the ease of operation.  I made a decision since it is mostly my wife and me who I cook for to get a smoker small enough where I wouldn’t feel guilty if I fired it up for just a rack of ribs, but I would have the ability to cook for a larger group if needed.  I live next to Chris so I have access to Big Red if I need to cook for a much larger crowd.  Had I not have been so fortunate living next to him, I may have very well gone with one size larger, the Pint (7 inches higher cooking chamber) or maybe the Qube’d Box or Qube’d Pint which has 6” wider cooking chambers than mine or the 7" taller pint.  If you’re thinking hi-end smokers, definitely give Humphrey’s some serious consideration and reach out to Nicole or join their private Facebook page to learn more.  I am very pleased with my decision.  I will hand this down to my children when I can't cook anymore, it is built to last.

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