Bradley Smokers > The Digital Smokers (BTDS76P & BTDS108P)

First smoke problem

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So I've only had my Bradley 4 rack digital for 2 days.. before that I've smoked on a vertical smoker.

For my first go I decided to do some racks of ribs, bought pork baby back ribs from Costco. Prepared the ribs by taking off the membrane and drying them and then applied a homemade bbq rub. I put the Bradley on setting the temperature to 240f, put in 9 bisquettes + 3 metal rings and then put the ribs in for 4 hours. I flipped the ribs after 2 hours as I had seen on a few youtube videos

When first flipping the ribs I noticed that the inside of the smoker didn't seem hot enough, I tested the temperature with a meat probe poked in the vent of the chamber at the top and was only getting 153f despite the smoking unit reporting 230f. To fix this I turned up the target temperature to 280f but after 10 minutes it still hadn't reached 240f on the Bradley sensor and hadn't increased at all on the meat probe. The ambient temperature was 66f (Welsh weather).

After 4.5 hours the ribs were warm to the touch and rubbery... I finished them in my kitchen oven, taking a further 3.5 hours to get them to fall off the bone... Normally on my vertical smoker I've been able to get great ribs with 3h  smoking plus 1.5h in foil so a little surprised at the 8 hour cooking time, feels like there's something up with the temperature probe and element, anyone have any suggestions where I might be going wrong?

First thing I would suggest is to always use a separate probe to keep an eye on temperatures because the one that comes with the Bradley isn’t the most accurate. However neither that nor the Welsh (Manx) weather would account for the discrepancy given the smoker is capable of attaining 280F!

Perhaps test the smoker unloaded / empty to see what temperatures are achieved and whether you can get it to approaching 280F? Are you using an extension power lead, I know from experience this can cause problems attaining the temperature you want when hot smoking?

Failing that presumably it is under warranty and could possibly need a new element, on the odd occasion I have needed them I have always found the UK Bradley supplier Grakka good for technical  support and advise.

Let us know how you get on.

It is not unusual for new users to temperature issues.

There are many factors to consider. First and foremost, are all the cable connections at back of unit firmly connected and secure? Do not use a long high gauge extension cord. If using an extension cord it is best to use a short one with heavy gauge wires.

Plug the unit it in and set temp to max, turn on puck burner and close the upper vent entirely. Let it run for 20 minutes and look inside. The main element should be glowing red for about 75% of its length. A small drop of water on the burner plate should indicate good heat there. Be careful not to get burnt.

These smokers will always be substantially cooler at the top near the vent compared to the back wall mid point where the temp sensor is located. The small element unfortunately struggles to raise temp uniformly within the chamber. By the time the air rises to the top it will substantially cool. This is why it is best to rotate the racks from top to bottom during the cook. frequency of rotation depends on length of cook...long cooks = more rotating.

Vent position also effects heat generation. Generally run wide open for first few hours to allow moisture to escape. Moisture within the smoker will act as a heat sink and pull the temperature down. Having said that, I always set my temp, run the burner with no pucks triggered and allow the smoker 1/2  hour to preheat with the Vent FULLY CLOSED.
Once preheated, I insert my preloaded racks, open vent full and begin cook for an hour or so before triggering pucks. This is with both the heat on and puck burner turned on. After that I will begin the pucks burning  and adjust the vent to 3/4 open. Then I run for 2 -3 hours and close the vent to 1/2 open. Idea is to let the moisture initially escape and then gradually choke the vent down as cook progresses. Sometimes I close the vent almost entirely to ensure a thick blanket of smoke towards the end of smoke phase. Once the pucks are finished I leave the burner running to help maintain temp.

It takes time for the smoker to get hot, evaporate moisture coming off the meat and then enable the heat to penetrate the meat. Although slow, this is beneficial because a low and slow cook gives best results. I might cook for as much as 8-9 hours for two metal racks loaded for ribs with smoker set at 220.

Temperature cycles up and down , overshooting the setting by as much as 20 degrees and then dropping below by 10 or 15 degrees. This is just the nature of the operation. Lower racks run hotter than top. I try to run the middle two mostly.

Outdoor temp and wind will affect operation. Choose a location shielded form wind but NEVER near any structure. There is always the potential for fire when you mix heat and animal fat. I never leave the smoker unattended for more than an hour and am always near by. Do not ever allow meat to touch side or back walls.

Keep the water full and check periodically. Open door as infrequently as you can. I adjust racks and service bowl at the same time. It doesn't hurt to put hot water in the bowl to start... just one less item the element has to provide energy to heat.

Once you start to find some success you can explore other options to improve the operation. Some users provide a insulating blanket similar to those used on hot water tanks for cool weather operation or use enclosures for the smoker. Again, you must be aware and take precautions not to create a fire hazard.

Many long time users have either put a larger wattage element in or added a second 500 watt element. I added the second 500 watt element and have never looked back. Heating is no longer an issue for me at all.

You can also add a temp controller that will maintain an accurate and non fluctuating temp.
The more product you place in the smoker the harder it is for temp to be achieved and maintained.

Hope this information doesn't disappoint you however its how it is. With a few adjustments and a little practice with your technique you can be up and running well, happy and eating well. Judging your description of rubbery ribs after 4.5 hours you may well have a problem. I would try the above suggestions provided before getting too concerned. Using the smoker takes  a little practise and refinement of technique.

I probably missed a few points. HS will be along to contribute as well.

Have fun.       

Still under warranty, only had it since Tuesday. its plugged into a garden isolated plug that is on a spur from the house electrics (no extension). Just put it on for 20 mins with an oven thermometer inside.
target set to 300f, Bradley probe says 216f, oven thermometer says 50c (about 120f), its definitely not warm in the cabinet and the element is only slightly red in the middle

Thanks for the tips Manxman and Orion, lots of it makes sense, and i know from my previous smoker it takes a while to perfect technique so I'm happy to keep trying.

Reading in Bradleys own recipe book they suggest that you should be able to do a rack of ribs in 3.5hours, but maybe that if you are using the smoker in a much warmer climate.

How difficult is it to upgrade the element?


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