Smoking with Green Mountain Pellet Grills

GreenMountainGrillsEarlier this year, I broke down and bought a pellet grill / smoker. I say broke down because for several years, I thought the whole pellet cooking concept would be a fad. And when it came to slow cooking and smoking, I always thought that if you weren’t manually stoking a fire for hours on end, it was cheating, what wimps do (all that said in my best Tim The Tool Man Taylor voice). Turns out, cooking with pellets is beyond cheating, but so far, I am proud of the results.

SmokedSpringer2015

Smoked Spring Chinook Salmon

In my technology business, my team and I focus a lot on automation, eliminating manual tasks, and reducing wasted effort. If something has to be done manually multiple times, we’re probably going to write a program to do it instead in an effort to eliminate the risk of human error… Add to that mentality the fact that I took a BBQ class many years ago and the take away that I’ve lived by since is that temperature control is everything in grilling. Temp of the grill / smoker and temp of the meat you’re cooking.

For me, cookouts, throwing BBQs, smoking fish, etc… is all about getting friends and family together to enjoy some wonderful eats. As much as I try to automate things at work and in life, you almost might say that it would be hypocritical for me not to automate smoking and BBQ. Automation allows for the more import things in life while ensuring great, consistent output every time. Shameless brag… I think the 100+ people we fed GMG smoked pulled pork to for this past 4th of July would agree..

Why I Chose GMG

I’ll start by saying that choosing what pellet grill to buy can quickly become a Ford vs. Chevy vs. Dodge debate.  With that said, I had full intentions on buying a Traeger at the start of 2015.  Following a fair amount of research and several trips to dealers, I ultimately purchased Green Mountain Grill’s Daniel Boone model in early March, 2015.   The Daniel Boone with it’s 432 sq. in. of cooking is comparable to the Traeger Lil’ Tex Elite’s 424 sq. in of cooking surface.  Both are amazing works of art and I don’t you can’t go wrong with either one.

Surface to Price RatioCooking FeaturesMix & Match PelletsReviewsIt's Uglier
Price per square inch of cooking surface was better with GMG. When comparing the base models, the savings are well over $100 which gave me room to buy the rain cover (Oregon requirement) and a few bags of pellets.
All GMGs have a built in meat temperature probe which is a nice touch. Some models also have the ability to control the unit via smart phone or remote control. The GMGs have a temp range of 150 to 500+ which provides the option to sear steaks and do traditional high heat grilling whereas the Tragers had a max of about 375 degrees out of the box and no probe or remote features.
According to a couple dealers (selling both products), Traeger used to (or still does) void warranties if non-Traeger pellets were used. Out of the gate, GMG promotes experimenting with various brands and flavors of pellets to find what you like. I didn’t verify the current state of this but thought it was an interesting date point for someone who was skeptical of pellets to begin with.
Trager has a serious band of followers. However, there has been a decline in positive reviews for Trager in the past few years. The faithful followers have started to get upset with the quality of recent production compared to the 10 year ago version. A lot seems to come from frustration rooted in the manufacturing moving from Oregon to China. GMG reviews are generally very positive. It might still be in the honeymoon phase but reviews are a good data point. Note, GMG is also manufactured in China.
Ha! kidding.. but the new Tragers are way more beautiful to look at. GMG has black and stainless but I like the color, shape, and stamping of Tragers.

So far this year, I think I’ve hit grand slams with pork shoulder, St. Louis style ribs, and brisket.  But here we are in fall and it’s all about smoking fish.

Pellet Smoked Salmon

GMG Smoked Salmon KJFirst things first, I always use alder for smoking fish, regardless of which smoker is used. Since I prefer a more mesquite smoke (GMG Texas Blend) for pork and beef, it’s important to swap out pellets before smoking fish. This can be a bit annoying but only takes a few minutes with a small scoop. So far, I’ve experimented with two smokes, one at 175 degrees and another down 25 at 150. Both with Bear Mt. Cascade Alder pellets in warmer summer temperatures with lower outside humidity.

I continue to follow the basics from last year’s Cheap Smoke article but the smoking steps are a bit different. Here is my baseline for future pellet smoked salmon experiments.

BrinePellicleTempTimeOutside Conditions
I brine my fish with a dry brine for 24 to 36 hours before I plan to smoke. I shared my basic 4:1 brine in my cheap smoke article last year and it’s my go-to for most salmon smokes. So, if I plan to smoke on a Saturday, the fish will be in the brine by Thursday night or Friday morning.
Probably the most important step and one most people leave out. Following the brine, rinse the fish off and pat dry. Put on cookie racks and set out for 2 hours or until a pellicle forms on each piece. This will be a tacky layer that the smoke can adhere to.
Set the smoker to 150 and wait for it to stabilize. I am convinced that lower heat is better and suggest doing all salmon smoking at 150 (or lower). The nice thing about a pellet grill is that if you need to, at the end of your smoke you can easily increase the temperature to get the fish to done. All of my experience smoking fish before the pellet smoker was with a Little Chief which produces a very low temp. I think even at 150 it’s a bit hot but that’s where outside temp can play an interesting role (see that section)
At 150 degrees, plan on 7 to 8 hours of smoking so the term, slow and low is applicable? Thickness of salmon chunks will be the main driver of duration to done. It’s done when it has a deep red color. With both of my salmon smokes so far, I think I’ve pulled pieces off too early. At this point, my rule of thumb for inch thick or more pieces going forward is at least 7 hours.
Believe it or not, outside conditions do matter. Temperature and humidity will impact the smoke times. I’ve only smoked with the pellet grill in warmer temperatures. I usually use my Little Chief in colder fall weather. After 8+ hour smokes with cold outside temps, I often had to place the salmon in the oven to finish them off. I suspect the 150 temp will be perfect colder outside temps and humidity but it’s going to be sweet to be able to just crank up the heat if needed.

And don’t forget, smoked salmon isn’t done until it’s been smothered in Kelly’s Habanero Jelly.

Take Away

They call them pellet grills but they’re really awesome smokers.  My GMG kills it for beef and pork and it’s one of the two best purchases of the year (I’ll share what the other is in a future article).  I’ve been able to make perfect ribs, brisket, and pulled pork with very limited experience in those areas.  So happy to have that BBQ tool sitting in my backyard.

On the salmon smoking front, I am not yet ready to ditch my Little Chief smoker as I prefer the much lower temp. With that said, I am anxious to try a few salmon smokes this fall when the temperatures outside start to drop and humidity changes. I have a feeling that’s when it will do salmon the best and I’ll be able to adjust temp as needed to get everything to perfection.