I recently received a Bubba Keg Convection Grill for evaluation purposes and have been putting it through its paces to see how it performs. After some initial struggles, I decided to use the first nice weekend day to stage a cookoff. "In this corner....weighing 50 pounds....the Bubba Keg Convection Grill...." You get the idea. I wanted to put this newcomer - this unknown, untested cooker - up against my tried and true Chargriller Smokin' Pro. A simple enough premise, but it lacked a little zing. I badly needed a hook. Then it came to me. I have been playing with all these new charcoals that Kingsford has introduced this season. I would do a showdown at High Noon between not only the cookers BUT the charcoal as well. It's a two-for Tuesday (except that it is a Saturday...meh)! I would pair the Bubba Keg Grill with the Kingsford with Hickory (reasons to be explained later) and the Chargriller with the Kingsford Competition Briquettes. The stage was set. The cage had been lowered onto the ring and this was to be a no-holds barred battle royale (Rick Flair where are you???).
The protein for the challenge was baby back ribs - one rack for each cooker. I loaded up my chimney with Competition Briquettes for the Chargriller, and I filled the fire bowl of the Bubba Keg Grill with Kingsford with Hickory. Each set of charcoal was fired at the same time. It took approximately 25 minutes for the chimney to reach the grey ash stage. The Bubba Keg took off much quicker, reaching 200 degrees in 5 minutes. However, the Bubba Keg proved to be tough to dial in. After initially spiking, it dropped and then quickly shot up over 300 degrees. At the 25 minute point when I dumped the chimney full of charcoal into the side fire box of the Chargriller, I was still tweaking the Bubba Keg's air flow to try and get it to settle down. At 35 minutes, the Chargriller was at a stable 225 degrees, while the Bubba Keg was still climbing towards 350 degrees with the damper all but totally shut down. The ribs were loaded onto each cooker, even though I was not comfortable with the high temperature of the Bubba Keg. As far as the hickory briquettes go, they put off a nice amount of hickory smoke. I was impressed with the basic premise of a natural wood infused charcoal. Shortly after the hour mark, I checked on the competition briquettes. They had burned down substantially more than a normal briquette would have at that point. I'm just guessing, but their higher burning temperature definitely results in a shorter life.
At the two hour point, the Bubba Keg had still not settled into a suitable smoking temperature. It was above 400 degrees at this point. I had played with the dampers to the point of frustration. Nothing was working. I had read up on this phenomenon before trying this experiment. If you miss your window on a kamado-style cooker, you will never get it back down to an appropriate temperature because they are so well insulated and efficient. This was definitely my experience. On the other hand, the Chargriller was chugging along like it always does at 225 degrees with a wide open damper. My only complaint was that I was burning much more charcoal than I usually did. At 2 and a half hours, I pulled the ribs from the Bubba keg and put them on the chargriller. I didn't want them to be ruined. It's good pork after all and should not be wasted. I chalked the failure of the experiment up to user error. The Bubba Keg is a completely different beast. Whatever you know about offset cookers, or any other style cooker, does not apply to a kamado style grill. I still have a LOT to learn.
Kingsford Competition Charcoal is not great for long smokes. It is perfectly suited for high temp grilling. It has very little off flavors and leaves little ash. Kingsford with Hickory behaves much like regular Kingsford. It does work as advertised. The hickory flavor and smell carry through like they should. I don't know if they work as good as chips and chunks, but it is a passable substitute.
The Bubba Keg Convection Grill is unique. It does not behave like any other smoker (other than the Green Egg/Primo/etc.) I'm thinking it might be a great candidate for a BBQ guru. The limited amount of cooking surface is an issue. I have cooked a dozen baby back racks on a chargriller using rib racks. I'm guessing I could do three or four baby backs at the most on a Bubba Keg grill. Also, the Bubba Keg grill does not come with a diffuser plate of any variety, so you are stuck smoking over direct coals. This is far from ideal as far as smoking goes.
As a grill, the Bubba Keg Grill offers a lot in the high temp category. It is not difficult at all to get it up to 800 degrees. This is ideal for searing steaks, scallops, shrimp, or doing grilled pizza. However, if you want to do a half chicken or something that requires a moderate temperature and the ability to use indirect heat then the Bubba Keg fails pretty miserably. There is no way to cook indirectly on the Bubba Keg. It is direct heat or nothing because of the relatively small cooking surface and the design of the fire bowl. Previous to this experiment, I had tried to cook some Cornell chicken on the Bubba Keg. Cornell chicken requires basting every three to five minutes. Opening the lid of the Bubba Keg and basting the chicken resulted in flare ups every time and resulted in a really spikey temperature profile. Allowing for user error and inexperience, the Bubba Keg Grill seems to be a niche appliance, suitable for certain applications and not for others. I will continue to experiment and play with the Bubba Keg because I love the idea, but I'm not sure that it will be my go-to for smoked meats and indirect cooking. It may just be a really awesome, efficient grill.