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Last week a select group of 20 employees and guests gathered at an event space on the San Francisco Bay, and, while looking out at the Bay Bridge dined on a selection of choice elk sausages, wagyu meatloaf, and lamb burgers — all of which were grown from a petrie dish.
The dinner was a coming out party for Orbillion Bio, a new startup pitching today in Y Combinator’s latest demo day, that’s looking to take lab-grown meats from the supermarket to high end, bespoke butcher shops.
Instead of focusing on pork, chicken and beef, Orbillion is going after so-called heritage meats — the aforementioned elk, lamb, and wagyu beef to start.
By focusing on more expensive end products, Orbillion doesn’t have as much pressure to slash costs as dramatically as other companies in the cellular meat market, the thinking goes.
But there’s more to the technology than its bourgie beef, elite elk, and luscious lamb meat.
“Orbillion uses a unique accelerated development process producing thousands of tiny tissue samples, constantly iterating to find the best tissue and media combinations,” according to Holly Jacobus, whose firm, Joyance Partners, is an early investor in Orbillion. “This is much less expensive and more efficient than traditional methods and will enable them to respond quickly to the impressive demand they’re already experiencing.”
The company runs its multiple cell lines through a system of small bioreactors. Orbillion couples that with a high throughput screening and machine learning software system to build out a database of optimized tissue and media combinations. “The key to making lab grown meat work scalably is choosing the right cells cultured in the most efficient way possible,” Jacobus wrote.
Co-founded by a deeply technical and highly experienced team of executives that’s led by Patricia Bubner, a former researcher at the German pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim. Joining Bubner is Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, a former director of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, who was a post-doc at Berkeley with Bubner and serves as the company’s chief technology officer. Rounding out the senior leadership is Samet Yildirim, the chief operating officer at Orbillion and a veteran executive of Boehringer Ingelheim (he actually served as Bubner’s boss).
For Bubner, the focus on heritage meats is as much a function of her background growing up in rural Austria as it is about economics. A longtime, self-described foodie and a nerd, Bubner went into chemistry because she ultimately wanted to apply science to the food business. And she wants Orbillion to make not just meat, but the most delicious meats.
It’s an aim that fits with how many other companies have approached the market when they’re looking to commercialize a novel technology. Higher end products, or products with unique flavor profiles that are unique to the production technologies available are more likely to be commercially viable sooner than those competing with commodity products. Why focus on angus beef when you focus on a much more delicious breed of animal?
For Bubner, it’s not just about making a pork replacement, it’s about making the tastiest pork replacement.
“I’m just fascinated and can see the future in us being able to further change the way we produce food to be more efficient,” she said. “We’re at this inflection point. I’m a nerd, i’m a foodie and I really wanted to use my skills to make a change. I wanted to be part of that group of people that can really have an impact on the way we eat. For me there’s no doubt that a large percentage of our food will be from alternative proteins — plant based, fermentation, and lab-grown meat.”
Joining Boehringer Ingelheim was a way for Bubner to become grounded in the world of big bioprocessing. It was preparation for her foray into lab grown meat, she said.
“We are a product company. Our goal is to make the most flavorful steaks. Our first product will not be whole cuts of steak. The first product is going to be a Wagyu beef product that we plan on putting out in 2023,” Bubner said. “It’s a product that’s going to be based on more of a minced product. Think Wagyu sashimi.”
To get to market, Bubner sees the need not just for a new approach to cultivating choice meats, but a new way of growing other inputs as well, from the tissue scaffolding needed to make larger cuts that resemble traditional cuts of meat, or the fats that will need to be combined with the meat cells to give flavor.
That means there are still opportunities for companies like Future Fields, Matrix Meats, and Turtle Tree Scientific to provide inputs that are integrated into the final, branded product.
Bubner’s also thinking about the supply chain beyond her immediate potential partners in the manufacturing process. “Part of my family were farmers and construction workers and the others were civil engineers and architects. I hold farmers in high respect… and think the people who grow the food and breed the animals don’t get recognition for the work that they do.”
She envisions working in concert with farmers and breeders in a kind of licensing arrangement, potentially, where the owners of the animals that produce the cell lines can share in the rewards of their popularization and wider commercial production.
That also helps in the mission of curbing the emissions associated with big agribusiness and breeding and raising livestock on a massive scale. If you only need a few animals to make the meat, you don’t have the same environmental footprint for the farms.
“We need to make sure that we don’t make the mistakes that we did in the past that we only breed animals for yield and not for flavor,” said Bubner.
Even though the company is still in its earliest days, it already has one letter of intent, with one of San Francisco’s most famous butchers. Guy Crims, also known as “Guy the Butcher” has signed a letter of intent to stock Orbillion Bio’s lab grown Wagyu in his butcher shop, Bubner said. “He’s very much a proponent of lab-grown meat.”
Now that the company has its initial technology proven, Orbillion is looking to scale rapidly. It will take roughly $3.5 million for the company to get a pilot plant up and running by the end of 2022 and that’s in addition to the small $1.4 million seed round the company has raised from Joyant and firms like VentureSoukh.
“The way i see an integrated model working later on is to have the farmers be the breeders of animals for cultivated meat. That can reduce the number of cows on the planet to a couple of hundred thousand,” Bubner said of her ultimate goal. “There’s a lot of talking about if you do lab grown meat you want to put me out of business. It’s not like we’re going to abolish animal agriculture tomorrow.”
Dallas-based Nomad set out to take an age-old cooking method and modernize it – but not by introducing connected or smart features. Instead, the Nomad Grill & Smoker takes classic charcoal grilling and relies on clever industrial design to make it packable and portable, while making sure cooks of all expertise levels can make great-tasting food even if they’re cooking with charcoal for the first time.
Nomad’s grill looks like some kind of fancy protective case that you’d expect to see traveling with a film crew, crossed with maybe a modern Mac Pro. It has an anodized aluminum build that uses a unibody casting in manufacturing, with high external durability and internal heat retention. It measures roughly 2 feet by 2 foot, and is around 9.5 inches tall when closed, with a total weight of 28 lbs including the cast stainless steel grill grate that’s included int the basic package.
28 lbs may seem like a lot, but it’s remarkably light for the cook surface you get with Nomad, which adds up to either 212 square inches of space in single-grate closed mode (good for smoking) or up to 425 square inches in open grill mode, which can double the cooking surface with the purchase of an optional second grate and charcoal placed in either side (better for open flame BBQing).
The case features a strong and durable dual latch closure system, and a reinforced handle for toting it around. Silicon skids offer protection for surfaces when laying the grill down to cook, and there are two magnetic air vents on either side for controlling airflow and flame, which are adjusted simply by manually sliding.
Design and performance
The Nomad design is deceptively simple – at heart it’s essentially a metal box. But looking below the surface a bit, it actually hides some very advanced construction, including a layered shell design that means the outside never actually gets too hot, which is great not only for chef safety but also for setting it down on a wide range of materials during the actual cook process. For a portable grill, that’s a huge benefit.
Looking at the grill grate specifically, it features a honeycomb design that helps better distribute the heat, which is also domed subtly to allow more clearance for the charcoal underneath. It’s removable, but also snaps into place in the grill itself using magnets, which is great for transport and also for ensuring things don’t move around with any bumps.
One other huge benefit that seems like a small thing at first glance is a built-in thermometer that’s molded into the case. This provides you easy, clear temperature readings for the grill, and it’s analog so there’s no power required – another big benefit for portability.
In practice, the grill works exactly as you’d expect a great charcoal grill to work, which is amazing given its size and portability. It should definitely be mentioned that you’re going to be much happier getting the grill lit if you pick yourself up a charcoal chimney, which eases the lighting process – but that’s a great accessory regardless what kind of charcoal grill you’re using.
I was particularly impressed at the Nomad grill’s performance when it comes to smoking. It maintains an even and consistent temperature with the box closed, and it’s easy to moderate the temperature with the built-in vents if you need to adjust the cooking intensity. The proximity of the charcoal to the food also imbues it with great flavor.
The Nomad Grill & Smoker is $599, which is a fairly high asking price, but it’s also unique in the market for the convenience it provides combined with the performance it offers. Whether at home or on road trips, Nomad is a wonderful addition to any home cook’s arsenal, and an all-in-one supplement that can replace even a dedicated, more fixed installation charcoal grill if that’s the way you want to go.
In her mid-50s, she cashed out some retirement savings to buy an Oklahoma City eatery, revamping the menu with family recipes. She died of complications of Covid-19.
Outdoor cooking industry leader and famed kettle-grill-maker Weber has acquired June, the smart cooking startup founded in 2013 by Matt Van Horn and Nikhil Bhogal. While financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, Weber has confirmed that June will continue to operate as its own brand wholly owned by Weber-Stephen Products and will continue to both sell and develop the June Oven and related products. Meanwhile, June co-founder Nikhil Bhogal will take on a role as SVP of Technology and Connected Devices across the Weber lineup.
Weber had already teamed up with June, with the startup providing the technology and expertise behind its Weber Connect smart grilling platform. That includes both the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub, which adds connected smart grill features to any grill, and the built-in smart cooking features on its SmokeFire line of wood pellet grills. That partnership began with a cold email Van Horn received in 2018 from then-Weber CEO and current Executive Chairman Jim Stephen, the son of the company’s original founder.
“He said he was a fan, he was a customer, and he couldn’t imagine a future without June technology powering every product in the Weber collection,” Van Horn told me in an interview. “I said, ‘Slow down — what are you talking about? Yeah, who are you?’ And he said ‘I’m flying out, I’ll be there Monday.’” I normally have my nice demo setup that I do, I’ll do like chocolate lava cake and a steak [in the June Oven]. So I got there about 15 minutes early to do that, and [Jim] was already sitting in the front steps of the office, ready to open the door for me — he’s like, ‘I don’t need a demo, I own this.’”
“His energy and ability to see things often before other people, it blew my mind,” Van Horn continued. “Soon after I met Chris [Scherzinger, Weber’s current chief executive], who was joining as CEO and [I] was able to experience firsthand this, honestly very surprising and wonderful culture of this historic Weber brand.”
As mentioned, June became a partner to Weber and powered the connected cooking platform it debuted at CES last year. Weber also led June’s Series C funding round, a previously undisclosed final round of financing that Weber led in 2018 prior to this exit.
Van Horn will act as president of June under the terms of the new arrangement and will continue to lead development of its current and future products. He said that Weber’s ability to help them with international scale and distribution via their existing global footprint was a big motivating factor in why June chose to join the now 63-year-old company. But another key ingredient was just how much Weber proved to be a place where the company’s culture was still centered on customer focus and a love of food.
“Obviously why Nikhil and I started June was that we love food, and we love cooking,” Van Horn said. “And a lot of the principles of how we think about how products get made are a lot of Apple’s principles — a large percentage of the June team comes from Apple. We’ve obviously kind of brought that to a microscale with our small 60-person startup. But being able to work with this very eager Weber team, that’s just been really excited from the start has been pretty incredible.”
As for Weber, the company gains a software and technology team that was born out of the idea of approaching cooking from a tech-first perspective — and they intend to infuse that expertise throughout their product lineup, with an eye toward building on their legacy of quality and customer enthusiasm.
“Once you infuse the software engineering, the connected product design and the machine-intelligence expertise that you have, you get these core competencies or capabilities, but that really undersells it,” Scherzinger told me. “Matt put together a team of superstars, and we just got a first-round draft pick [in June] that takes the Weber game to another level. That allows us to accelerate a significant number of initiatives, and you can expect to see an expansion of what Weber Connect can become in terms of new experiences for consumers, new services and new products, for sure, starting as early as 2021 and 2022.”
While Weber and June are not sharing specifics around the deal, as mentioned, Scherzinger did mention that “Matt and his team and his investors all did handsomely.” June’s prior investors include Amazon Alexa Fund, Lerer Hippeau, First Round Capital, Promus Ventures, Industry Ventures, Eclipse Ventures and more.
Like many folks this year, I have been cooking a lot. Though I’ve always loved food and have had a deep and abiding interest for the art of cooking, I’ve definitely pushed myself to learn how to do a lot of things from scratch in the kitchen this year. From cooking a decent CTM to a respectable pie, I have hit a lot of my personal milestones over the past few months.
One of the unforeseen consequences of my culinarily driven efforts to stay sane during quarantine this year has been a foray into testing out purpose driven kitchen devices. Though not quite single use (and actually pretty versatile in their own way) devices like the Ooni pizza oven and the Otto Grill have found their way into my ad-hoc outdoor kitchen and I have had a pretty enjoyable time pushing and prodding on them while simultaneously upping my own cooking game.
Which leads me to this review of the Otto Wilde Grill.
What is it?
It’s a 16x17x11” self-contained propane broiler that features two top mounted burners that can reach temperatures of 1,500 degrees F. There is an adjustable grille and a catch pan for grease and a dual use arm that acts as a grille tool and a wrench to adjust the distance between the burners and your food.
It’s designed to cook steak that gets you as close to steakhouse taste and texture as possible. It does so by mimicking the kinds of top mounted broilers that you’ll find in many commercial kitchens.
I’m not going to bury the lede, this thing is $1,000. If you don’t have a G to drop on a cooking thing of any sort, then read on for entertainment and edification. If you DO have that much to spend (maybe) and are wondering why the hell you’d want to, and if you should I think I can deliver those things for you here.
After my Ooni review, Otto Wilde Grills reached out to see if I wanted to try out their over-fired broiler. I love steak, especially steak at the perfect temp with a restaurant-style carmelized crust. I’ve been able to get decent results over the years with my standard grill and a cast iron skillet — and more recently have been very happy with the sous vide bath + skillet method.
But there is just something about the somewhat violent, crispy, high heat broiler style finish that you get at a steakhouse that I have not been able to duplicate at home.
Very specifically, the reason that a steakhouse steak hits your table with a carmel crust and nicely distributed interior juice is something called the Maillard reaction. Maillard reactions are different than caramelization, which is basically the heat driven decomposition of sugar. Instead, it is the breakdown and combination of sugars and amino acids. It happens during cooking in many foods but is most important in great tasting meat and bread. It begins to occur in most foods above around 280 °F or so but even higher temperatures can emphasize the resulting effects to the point where you get this deliciously beautiful light brown crust that adds a crunch and even slight sweetness to your foods, especially meats.
The trick of at home Maillard reactions in steak is how to activate and sustain the process long enough to create the desired result while simultaneously not over-cooking your meat.
A note: I am reviewing the Otto grill several years after it was initially released (though they do have a new ‘Pro’ model with a really handy drawer and a whole grill system hitting the market). But when they offered to send me one I went and checked out the reviews that were out there. Gonna be honest, even the ‘good’ reviews are pretty poorly done. Either they are done on YouTube by clear grillmasters that assume people know a lot about grilling and don’t really explain much beyond running a steak or two through the grill or they are on…ahem…other sites where they quite clearly have no idea what they are doing. Don’t get me started on the results in some of those reviews. I can’t even. I’m not going to blow up anyone’s spot specifically here, but as a bit of meta I can just say that the current state of food appliance reviews is really, really bad. I think a lot of people do pretty decent jobs reviewing, say, phones or game consoles. Not so much in the kitchen.
Anyway, over-fired broilers are extremely common in commercial kitchens, where ‘infrared’ heat (basically high heat gas shot through pinholes in a ceramic sheet) and radiant heat are primary options. The Otto Grill is an infrared style OFB, which means that it can get to high heat extremely quickly (about 3-5 minutes to 1,500 degrees) and that it cooks VERY fast because most of the heat goes right to the meat.
Fast, high heat cooking means quicker crust, less gas waste and most importantly, juicier steaks that have less time to dry out.
A quick how-to
One of the things that I found surprising when I started researching the Otto was that there are very few direct examples of how to cook a steak with it. To that end, here is my basic process for most steaks. Prior to beginning any of this I salt my steaks generously with a nice sea salt. I do not use anything else personally and I would say beware of any rubs with pepper or other ingredients because they can burn quickly in an oven as hot as the Otto.
- Fill the water tray halfway. This prevents grease fires and makes cleanup better, as well as introducing a bit of moisture to the cooking environment.
- Pre-heat the Otto at full power. This takes as little as 3 minutes and no longer than 5 from zero to 1,500 degrees.
- Remove the grille and place the steak(s) onto it oriented so that they are covered by one or both burners.
- Pop it back in and use the adjustment lever to move them within about a half inch of the bottom edge of the flame at the top. You should see a roiling, sizzling field of flame turbulence just above the top surface of the meat.
- Cook for around 60 seconds to 90 seconds.
- Lower, remove, and flip end over end to sear the other side.
- Raise, and cook for another 60-90 seconds.
- At this point, if your steak is 1” thick or under and you are ok with medium rare, you are likely done. Remove it and check the temp with a meat thermometer to see if it is at your desired temp.
- If it is a thicker cut, reduce the heat to ¾ on both burners and drop the grill to the bottom position. Rotate every 2 minutes and periodically check the meat temp (I do it out of the oven because it’s so hot in there) until you hit desired done levels.
- Remove the meat to rest, turn off the Otto and let cool somewhat to clean the tray and grille.
This method has enabled me to cook thinner cuts in as little as 3-5 minutes. Larger cuts may require careful rotation and positioning.
I have cooked a lot of steaks on the Otto over the last couple of months. I’ve done ribeye, sirloin, filet mignon, hangar and T-bone.
I cooked a wide variety of cuts at a number of different levels of marbling. The fattier cuts obviously benefited much more from the Otto’s high-temp cooking. The way that it absolutely pulverizes fat allows it to crust perfectly across the surface without creating a dry, crumbly texture. Instead it’s crispy and moist at the same time.
Also, because it’s a top firing burner, the fat seeps downward, through the meat instead of outwards. The resulting exterior is super delicious and produces a nearly perfectly sized rind every time, leaving a to-temp interior.
It took me a few steaks to get the methodology above down. I burned a few, for sure. This thing is crazy hot and the times involved are hard to wrap your head around at first. But once you have your rhythm, the Otto Grill cooks an insanely tasty steak from nearly any cut or quality of meat. Otto sent me a few frozen steaks to try, but I’ve mostly cooked my own meat purchased locally, which was much better. But even thawed meat was treated pretty well by this grill, the crust makes up for a lot when you’re working with so-so meat.
For those of you that know steak, you may be wondering whether it is good at grassfed beef. Yes! It’s actually super killer for grassfed because the high, high heat makes the sear happen super fast, locking in the juice which is at a big premium in leaner grassfed cuts. Grassfed suffers with long cook times, which you won’t find in the Otto. You can cook a very nicely juicy medium rare grassfed cut here.
One major comparison that I think many people who might be in the market to buy this thing will be interested in is how it stacks up against the very popular sous-vide + cast iron sear method also referred to as reverse searing. Cooking your steak in a water bath to achieve precise interior temp and then searing it for crust and flavor has become uber popular for at home cooks in recent years due to the wide availability of consumer grade immersion circulators.
I’ll say this as simply as possible: I think you can get extremely similar results with sous vide + cast iron, with some pretty straightforward caveats.
- Your cast iron has to be super hot. I’m talking 2,000 BTUs and up of gas burner hot. You need that high, hot heat to get that sear to lock in your juices and render your fat quickly.
- You’re searing it from the bottom by contact rather than the top by proximity, which means that fat will have a tendency to boil away and you need to continuously circulate your juices using butter or another oil.
- Smoke and spatter. You’re going to generate plenty of both on a skillet.
If you’re really used to reverse searing and you love your results, I still do think there are a couple of areas where the Otto can up your game a bit, but the general taste and satisfaction will be in the ballpark. One thing I did try which worked out well is a tri-tip — a huge cut that is popular in California that would not do well normally here. I did a sous-vide bath + reverse sear in the Otto and those turned out really lovely.
I liked the Otto’s more delineated rind that creates that nice flavor seal along the interior edge of your cut of meat. I also think that it can be very easy to over cook thin steaks while searing if you can’t get your skillet super hot.
The biggest overall benefit of course, is time. If you write off the resting time to bring your meat to room temp, which is passive cooking time, then you’re looking at anywhere from 1-3 hours to sous vide a thick cut steak. The Otto heats in 3 minutes and cooks in anywhere from 5-10 minutes. It’s a huge time savings for equal or better results.
One design consideration worth mentioning is that because there are two burners with a dead space in between, you must shift larger cuts to allow them to sear evenly if they span two burners. I wouldn’t call it a flaw as it is definitely pushing it to shove a wall-to-wall steak in there. I would love to see future versions of the oven reduce the space between the burners in order to allow more coverage for bigger steaks. This is a non factor if your steak fits under one burner, and most do in general.
The catch pan, by the way, is pretty instrumental. Filling it with water reduces the chances that your fat will catch on fire, burning portions of your steak, and it makes cleaning up super easy as you can sluice out the still warm grease water and then brush it clean. I will note, at the risk of some ribbing, that I forgot to put some water in the pan once and may have added some…decorative smoke work to my grill’s face. Cook outdoors.
Otto says you can make pizza in this thing too — and they even make a stone and peel. Well, you can, but I’d say how enthusiastic you get about it is going to sort of depend on what your standards for pizza are.
The pizzas that I made in the Otto with the stone are, uh, they’re fine I guess. It’s absolutely, totally possible to do a little personal-sized pizza in the Otto, especially if you par bake the crust. But anything you do in here is going to pale next to the Ooni. I’d actually much rather just gin a up a little pan pizza that you can do in your regular home oven. There are a lot of reasons to buy the Otto, but pizza should not be a primary one, in my opinion.
I did cook a beautiful batch of naan in it though which was lovely. It’s basically common sense. Anything in the flatbread family is going to do wonderful here, but stuff with toppings needs to be par baked because it’s so damn hot.
Can you cook other stuff in the Otto? Yeah, 100%. Basically anything you can throw in a cast iron pan and sear up will do well in the Otto. Examples I’ve tried include peppers and onions, fruit and veg medleys and crispy potatoes drizzled in oil. Because the cast iron gets nice and evenly hot and you have a top broiler it makes for an ideal searing environment. It is hot as hell even at the lower settings though, so you need to keep an eye on it.
Should you buy it?
Otto Wilde likely have their own ideas about the target market for their grills but for me it’s: has disposable income, loves steak enough to eat it 3x a week and already owns at least one or two other specialty grilling items. Basically, Big Green Egg owners. While something like a BGE is amazing at low and slow and smoking, it takes a hell of a lot to stoke and maintain the heat you’d need to get a caramelizing sear and in the end your steak would definitely be dryer.
The Otto Grill is basically the consumerized version of a commercial kitchen staple item. Could you buy something like a Salamander for like $1,300? Sure, but at that point you’re a commercial kitchen and you’re gonna need a natural gas plumb and probably a business license. Just rent a strip mall slot or a food truck.
Overall I found the design to be thoughtful, straightforward and reliable. Though I did have some ignition issues as described earlier, this is frank German engineering at its most utility-driven. The Otto Grill is expensive, but does precisely perform the task that it claims to make possible. I have cooked steaks by many different methods over the years and as I mentioned above, some of them are absolute stand-bys because they are really close to restaurant methodology. But for steakhouse style crust delivered absolutely consistently with the minimum of time and effort, the Otto Grill stands alone.
A backyard grill can easily produce the spicy, smoky slabs that for many are barbecue’s ultimate prize.
Smokers and pellet grills are growing in popularity, likely because a lot more people are cooking at home – and looking for other ways to up their home chef game. The Asmoke Pellet Grill, which is currently in the final stretch of a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo, has a price point that’s far below most other options out there – but don’t let the price tag fool you, the grill packs more punch than its cost and portable size might suggest.
If you’re not familiar with pellet grills, they’re a combination of smoker and BBQ that burn condensed hardwood pellets feed by an auger to create smoke and heat. The most popular options out there include Traeger’s grills, as well as Camp Chef, Pit Boss, and others. The Smoke Pellet Grill is a new, portable pellet grill that features a lot of the same features you’d see in higher-priced brand name options, but at a much lower cost when you factor in their accessories – particularly now, during the tail end of their crowdfunding campaign.
Asmoke’s $176 USD backer price includes one grill, a meat injector, a thermometer, grill gloves, shredding tools for breaking down smoked meat, tongs and a 5lb bag of their applewood pellets to get you started cooking right away. That’s over half-off their estimated retail price once the campaign ends. Even at the full final price you’re still going to come out cheaper than the closest brand name competitor – the Traeger Ranger – once you factor in all the included accessories.
The Asmoke is electrically-powered, so you can use it outside anywhere you have access to an outlet. It includes a larger cooking surface that can fit up to 8 burgers at once, or one full rack of ribs. As mentioned, there’s a temperature probe included that plugs into the front and displays the internal temp of any meat you insert it into within the grill itself while cooking. A dial on the front provides the only control you need, enabling setting temp from 180 all the way up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Asmoke Pellet Grill is designed to be portable, at just over 2 feet by around 1.5 feet, and 14.45 inches tall. It weights around 45 lbs, which is heavy, but that’s still portable compared to most pellet smokers, which tend to be very large and essentially designed to sit in a fixed location. The Asmoke is also made from steel and stainless steel primarily, so that weight represents durability, which is good for an appliance designed to be used exclusively outside.
Construction of the grill feels very sturdy and high-quality, with good fittings and finishes across the board. The heat resistant paint comes in four different colors, including the red and blue shown below, as well as an aquamarine green and black. Latches secure the lid while cooking, and there’s an insulating gasket that runs the length and width of the edge to keep the heat in while giving you a secure closure. A large handle opens and closes the lid, and four feet elevate the grill off whatever surface you’re resting it on.
Inside, there’s a hopper where you put the pellets on the left which is separated from the cooking area on the right. The cooking area includes a large grill surface, and an optional raised rack for a small second level cooking area. A stainless steel grease slide installs over the cup where pellets are driven by the auger to burn and smoke, and a second slide goes over that – giving you the ability to keep it closed for smoking and grilling, or opening it up to allow flame through for char-broiling.
On the front, you can see the control unit, which includes a large, readable display that uses a few different colors to clearly present information including the set temperature of the drill, auger speed, and sensor temperature when cooking with the probe. The large, single dial is your only control mechanism, providing temperature setting and letting you turn the grill on and off.
Some assembly is required to get the Asmoke ready to cook, but it’s actually super easy to do. Basically you just install the legs and front handle, and then remove all the internal components from their packaging and put them back in the grill. It took me about 20 minutes start to finish. The grill needs to be primed upon first use (and any time you run out of pellets), but that’s only a few more minutes. And the first time you ever use it, there’s a burn-off procedure that involves running the grill at higher temps for around 30 to 40 minutes, but it’s very easy to do.
The Asmoke punches above its weight class. In testing, I did an extended, 7-hour smoke of a pork shoulder blade roast using the provided Applewood pellets, and the results were fantastic. I’ve smoked a lot of meat using a Traeger Pro 575, and this was easily on par with the best results I’ve had out of that cooker in terms of the quality and flavor of the finished product.
Best of all, the Asmoke is small enough to work on my condo deck, which is not somewhere I’ve typically been able to consider using a smoker cooker. The grill does put off a lot of smoke through its exhaust, particularly when it’s first heating up to reach temperature, but it also dissipates rather quickly, especially if you’re on a higher floor. Just be aware that especially in close proximity, the smoke produced from cookers like these will be powerful and strong-smelling – which is a benefit for me, but which might not be what you’re after if you’re living in a dense city environment.
Actually using the Asmoke is very simple. You can find smoker cooker recipes available readily on the internet, and then it’s a matter of just following those instructions. The Asmoke gets up to target temperature quickly, and is good at maintaining a constant temp throughout a cook once it reaches those levels. If you need to refill the hopper mid-cook, it’s simple enough to open the box and do so, and you won’t lose all that much temperature so long as you do it quickly. And since the hopper compartment is insulated separately from the cooking area, you can do it without fear of burning yourself, too.
Because the Asmoke offers such a wide temperature range, it’s also good or grilling, and even baking. I also made burgers on it at a much higher temp, and those results were fantastic, too – far exceeding standard BBQs in terms of retaining juices and adding subtle smoke flavor.
One thing to consider is that post-cook, especially after long ones like the pork roast I did, there’s a fair amount of cleaning up involved. It’s not difficult, but it is time consuming, and includes scraping the grease tray, cleaning the cooking grate, and vacuuming out the leftover ash from the pellet pot and the bottom of the cooking box. This isn’t specific to Asmoke: It’s part and parcel of operation any pellet cooker, and I found that Asmoke’s high quality materials ensured it was relatively easy to clean.
If you’re looking to bump up your outdoor cooking game, the Asmoke Portable Pellet Grill is a remarkably affordable way to do so, especially during this crowdfunding effort. Normally, I’d advise caution in any crowdfunding scenario, but in this case, grills are already in the process of shipping to customers, and they work exactly as advertised, providing high-quality results.
This is a category where top-brand incumbents rightly earn a lot of respect and customer loyalty for their long history of delivery reliable products, so it’s hard for a newcomer to break in. But Asmoke’s product and results far exceed their newcomer status.