Saturday, August 29, 2015

Product Review: Char-Broil Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725

For the past month, I have been testing out one of Char-Broil's insulated box smokers - specifically, the Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725.

Insulated box smokers have become quite the rage on the competition BBQ circuit.  I'd say it's probably the most common and arguably the most successful design on the KCBS circuit.  The big insulated box smokers, like Humphrey's, Stumps, Backwoods, etc, have the entire cooking chamber insulated and provide extra long cooking time and extremely stable cooking temperatures. A backyard version of one of those starts at about $1,000 and competition versions start North of $4,000 and that's before you add the cost of electronic controllers.  

The Char-Broil Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725 is an insulated box smoker that has been scaled down in size, cost, and complexity for the backyard cook.  Listed at $299, here is what you get.

  • Comes pre-assembled, basically just take it out of the box.
  • Digital electronic temperature controls
  • 750 sq inches of cooking space (Four 15" x 12.5" racks)
  • Remote control with displays for the set temp, set time, count down timer, and meat temp
  • Integrated meat probe thermometer
  • Glass front door for easy viewing during cooks
  • Water pan
  • Smoker box
  • Removable bottom tray for easy cleaning
  • Clean out drawer

Notice how the bottom tray is angled towards the left where the water pan is.  This makes it somewhat easier to collect rendered fat and drippings.

The smoker box is where you put a few handfuls of wood chips.  I suspect wood pellets would work well in this as well but I have not tried them in this.

The integrated meat temperature probe lets you monitor the internal temperature of your meat, which helps you to cook by temp and plan the timing of your side dishes.

The lower clean out tray collects drippings or crumbs that get by the drip pan.

The mounted rear wheels make it easy to move the unit when it is empty.

Secure latch keeps the door tightly shut during the cook.

How It Cooks
I have cooked ribs, chicken thighs, whole chickens, and beef back ribs on this smoker so far.  
First, you have to make sure that you run the pre-heat cycle first.  It takes about 40 minutes and if you skip it, you won't get your smoke applied at the crucial time the meat needs it at the beginning of the cook.

St Louis spare ribs sauced and about to go back into the 725.  They took right about the same amount of time to cook as they would on any of my other pits.  The texture was the same but I only had alder wood chips so there wasn't much smoke flavor, it was pretty muted.  Definitely go with hickory or oak for pork.
The ribs dripped a good bit but the way that everything comes out, it was easy to clean up.

 I did 15 boneless skinless thighs and a whole spatchcocked chicken.  The thighs were seasoned with Dizzy Pig Jamaican Firewalk for one pan and Dizzy Pig Swamp Venom for the other.  Both had butter and chicken stock in the pan.  The whole bird was seasoned with a general purpose BBQ rub that Meat Church is developing.

Both versions of the thighs were slightly spicy, moist, and had an absolute perfect amount of smoke flavor for poultry. We shredded these for use in pastas, salads, etc.

The whole chicken was spot on perfect in appearance, taste, and smokiness.  I wouldn't have done better on a kamado grill. We used this for smoked chicken salad, wonderful.

The membrane on the back of beef back ribs is tougher to get off than pork ribs.  You have to use a good grip and some forearm strength to get them pulled off.

When you get from the narrow end toward the wider end, you will hit some fat bumps which will slow down pulling off the membrane.  Just go slow and steady and it will all pull off.

 I did a slather ala Chris Lilly of beef boullion and worcestershire sauce to add flavor and bind the rub to the beef.  The rub was my NMT Beef Rub consisting of salt, pepper, green peppercorns, dried onion, dried garlic, dried red and green bell pepper, and oregano.

Smoked these both over a drip pan for even easier clean up.
I sauced the beef ribs with a little of Salt Lick's Honey Pecan BBQ sauce in the last 20 minutes.

Beef ribs came out very tasty. The smoke flavor was there but not as strong as I like it, although I like mine heavy. 

As far as temperature regulation, I checked it out several times using a Thermoworks ThermaQ with a k-type air probe.  The Char-Broil consistently regulated the temperature within +/- 10f for all of my cooks.

The remote control that comes with the Char-Broil 725 is on the left.  The display shows the set cooking temp at top, the set duration, how much time is left, set meat temp (was not set here), and meat temp (which was not in so the probe was hanging down by the heat element causing the false high of I don't cook my meat to i303f ha ha). 

Before and after shots of the wood chips from a cook.

So Easy, Is It Cheating?
This smoker uses an electronic heat element to smolder the wood chips so there is no mastery of fire management - one of the first keys to being a pit master.  Is that cheating?  So called traditionalists frown on pellet cookers or other cookers that use electric or gas to burn wood pellets. Ironically, many of those "traditionalists" are using metal offset pits and some folks would argue that even using a metal offset pit isn't authentic BBQ because it isn't cooked on a pit directly over wood coals.  Personally, I prefer to cook with lump coal and wood because I like to play with fire, but I don't have a problem with people using electric cookers as long as it isn't in a BBQ competition.

My Thoughts
After using this Char-Broil Digital Electric Vertical Smoker 725 for a month, my overall opinion is that this is an easy to use smoker for its target crowd of weekend warriors.  Char-Broil is not marketing this to the hard core, competitions every weekend, "I go through a cord of wood a month" smoker jocks.  This smoker is ideal for normal people who want to smoke foods at home but don't want to devote their entire weekend to it.  Here are some specific thoughts and opinions.

  • Design - very sleek and modern looking.  The pieces fit well together with no air leaks.  The seamless touch pad seems splash resistant.  It's easy to use without a lot of trial and error that you go through with other smokers like my favored kamados.  
  • Super Easy - No fiddling with fire management or chasing cooking temps, the electric controller does that for you.  The temps stay consistent and recover well after opening the unit. This has to be the easiest cooker I have ever used.
  • Temperature Range - I like that it can go as low as 100°F for cold smoking things like pork bellies for bacon, a lot of cookers can't maintain such a low temp easily.  Heck, your oven probably can't.  The upper range only goes to 275°F which is more than adequate for low and slow cooking.  But this limits it from cooking at hot and fast temps (290-325°F) that many people like to use these days.  Not a deal breaker but you need to be aware of that.
  • Smoke - This cooker gives a mild to mildly-moderate amount of smoke as designed, which is just about right for most people who don't do a lot of BBQ.  I like mine a little heavier so I use more chips than the instructions call for and would always lean to the stronger smoke wood chips like hickory and oak.  If I was going to do butts or brisket on these, I'd be tempted to add more smoke in the way of one of those supplemental smoke tubes that they make for pellet cookers and such.    
  • Other Options - If you are a tinkerer, like modifying things, and like playing with fire then this might not be the cooker for you.  In the same price range, you can look at Oklahoma Joe off-set smokers, build your own Ugly Drum Smoker, buy a Pit Barrel Cooker, or check out a WSM 18.5". 
So this smoker is easy to use, reliable, value priced, and is perfect for folks that want to dabble in smoking but don't want BBQ to become their whole life.  If you want a simple but solid performing smoker that you can just pull out several times a year and fire it up without long hours of babysitting your cooker, this is the rig for you.  If that is you, I highly recommend the Char-Broil 725.

[FTC Standard Disclosure] I am a member of the Char-Broil Allstars and received this smoker to review at no cost.  That said, I feel like I was a little hard on this smoker in the review because I don't want my affiliation with Char-Broil to affect my opinion.  Heck, I even mentioned competitors in the same price range, so if Char-Broil was paying for my opinion, I'd get the axe for that! I always want to give my straight, true opinion and this is a good cooker for the right fit.