Mar 192011
 

Two days until spring. As the younger folk say, “I’m not even kidding.”

Yesterday we spent some time with a single-purpose device – the Char-Griller Super Pro. It grills, very well in fact, but that is all it does. And if you are anything but a complete rookie here, you will know that grilling is not cooking barbeque.

Let’s pause for a moment and repeat that: Grilling is not cooking barbeque.

So – with that mantra firmly centered in our minds we are going to hit the other end of the spectrum and visit the evil opposite (as it were) of the Super Pro with the Louisiana Grills Country Smoker CS-680. This is a pure barbeque machine, a wood-fired pellet-feed smoker that will cook giant cuts of meat for hours and hours with low heat and deep penetrating smoke. It’s a serious chunk of iron, and a big investment both in time (when you cook) and money (when you buy one). And like any good investment it will pay dividends over and over again with food that will make you the envy of the neighbourhood. Is it the right investment for you? Keep reading and find out!


At A Glance: Lousiana Grills CS-680

DSC_0024

Quality – EXCELLENT
Ease Of Use – VERY GOOD
Flexibility – FAIR
Value – EXCELLENT

The Nuts And Bolts

Quality
This thing is a tank. Period. It’s heavy and solid and the welds are first rate. The lid for the pellet hopper is double-walled, the hopper is strong enough to sit on (not that you ever would) the electronics are sealed, and the fan and firebox are seriously heavy-duty. You are going to have this smoker for a long time.

The pellet delivery system is a paddle-wheel instead of the auger-type system that you see on other pellet-feed smokers. The paddles are semi-rigid rubber, so that they can flex enough to clear a pellet jam on their own. There is a trade-off in out-of-the-box performance because of this, however. See the Super Important Thing in the “ease of use” section for more details.

All Louisiana Grills are made in Canada and come almost completely assembled. There is nothing bolted together, the entire unit is welded at the factory. You only need to put the wheels and levelers on when you get it home. Because of this, you are not going to go pick this up and get it home in the trunk or the back of your SUV. A pickup truck or van is definitely required here. Luckily, most retailers who sell high-end products like this are also going to offer delivery, often for free. Be sure to ask.

Ease Of Use
Everyone’s first smoker should probably be a pellet-feed machine. Why? Because it’s easy is why. You let the machine handle the tending of the fire, freeing you to worry about the food. You have enough on your plate when you are starting out with rubs and brines and cuts and times and the last thing you need is to be fiddling with dampers and logs for hour after hour. Better, you can actually get the wood you need in pellet form, whereas in many areas it is rather difficult – if not impossible – to source the kinds of hardwoods you need as logs for smoking.
DSC_0025
To light the fire you simply fill the hopper with whatever pellets you want to cook with, plug the smoker into a 110V outlet, and push the “start” button. There is an igniter in the firepot that comes to life, the machine starts tossing pellets in, and 7 minutes later you have a smoky hardwood fire. Easy as pie. Heck, easier – pie can be hard! You set the rate of pellet feed and voila! Constant temperature throughout even the longest cooks. The only thing you may have to worry about is refilling the hopper if your cook lasts longer than six or seven hours. A hopper extender is available for those extra-long overnight cooks.

Lousiana Grills also come with a “prime” button that lets you force a few more pellets into the fire without affecting the other settings. This lets you boost the fire when you open the lid for mopping or turning or any other attention you need to give your food so that you don’t lose any temperature or smoke. It’s a nice touch.
DSC_0027
Cleaning is a snap – the entire heat shield comes out of the machine for cleanup of drippings, and there is almost no ash at all because the pellets burn so efficiently.

One Super Important Thing: The paddle-wheel design of the feeder means that you never ever get a pellet jam. This is a good thing. Cleaning a jam out of an auger is a wretched job. However, it means that instead of the firebox being at the centre of the smoke pit (as in a Traeger grill, for instance) it is at one end. This means on a larger grill like the CS-680 you get a temperature differential from one end to the other. The end of the smoker away from the firebox is always 50 degrees F hotter. As long as you are aware of this, it’s not an issue. You can either use it to your advantage – smoke a pork butt at one end at 225 and stuffed jalapenos at the other end at 275 – or you can use this handy arrangement of fire-rated bricks around the firepot and have the exact same temperature throughout the pit. Forewarned is forearmed.
pic002
Flexibility
Like the Super Pro I reviewed yesterday, this is a machine that does one thing really well. It smokes. The pellet-feed control will give you enough control over the fire that you can do anything from a super-low 120 degree smoke (for cold smoking things like fish, vegetables, and cheese) to a positively toasty 400 or 500 degrees for quick-smoking steaks or chops. Generally you will be working in the 225 – 275 degree range for “go to” items like butts, ribs, briskets, and birds. The number of things you can try are virtually endless.

Because this unit has a tonne of space inside, you can smoke a couple of pork butts, three or four dozen chicken wings, and fifty stuffed jalapenos all at once. With the CS-680 you are pretty much never going to run out of room. Even two full “new york” pork shoulders are going to fit in here without crowding. If you are smoking, you aren’t going to run into too many things you can’t do with the CS-680.
DSC_0029
Value
Louisiana Grills are not cheap – most retailers sell this model for about 1400 dollars (CDN). You are paying for North American construction, quality metal and welds, and world-class ease of use. If you plan on smoking a lot, or doing any sort of large scale cooking, you are going to get every penny of your money’s worth out of this machine. If you only use it a couple of times a season, however, you might look to spend your money on something with more flexibility like a Big Green Egg. But for long-duration (eight, ten, twelve, even twenty-four or more) cooking and maximum capacity, no hybrid is going to give you the same bang for the buck that you get here. You get what you pay for here.

When All Is Said And Done

Nothing beats the flavour, texture, and outright joy of traditional smoked barbeque. If you want to start working with big chunks of meat that take extra long times to cook properly, a pellet-feed smoker is the only way to go. If you are going to spend the money, make sure you get the best.

Post to Twitter

 Posted by on March 19, 2011

  13 Responses to “Louisiana Grills CS-680 Review”

  1. Like the site so far, although I had to look around for a place to post this comment.

    I’m also a Canadian, and I got interested in pellet grills about a year ago–while looking for a new gas grill, I saw a display of Traeger grills in the local Home Hardware. I did some research, and ended up with a Louisiana Grills TG-300, which has had a lot of use since. I have definitely become a fan of proper “barbecue.”

    I have had a few minor problems with my grill, the most major being a jam in the feed system, due to the fire going out during a recent overnight cook–the paddlewheel turned on the shaft, and will no longer feed properly. I called Danson in Edmonton, and they’ve sent out a new wheel and an upgraded burn grate (which should help keep the fire from going out) for simply the cost of shipping. When I asked, I was told that I could upgrade the feed system to the current auger style for about $150, but they suggested I stick with the paddlewheel, so I will for the time being.

    Anyway, I have two questions. One, could you explain your reasoning behind the placement of the firebricks you’ve got around the firebox? It looks interesting, and I’m wondering if I should look at something similar (keeping in mind that my cooker is much smaller than yours, but I believe it has the same firebox and feed system) Second, I’m wondering about putting some kind of insulation on the cooker, either some kind of ceramic panelling on the inside, or some kind of insulation on the outside. Any ideas, and is it worth it? I don’t see others doing this, but then again, I do see some commercial units are insulated…hmmm…

    Thirdly (OK, three questions!) do you have any experience at all with the digital temperature controller that Danson supplies for their grills? It would sure be handy to set a temperature and leave it…but I wonder how effective it might be, as my cooker does seem to vary the temperature pretty widely during a cook.

    Any thoughts are appreciated.

    Geoff.

    • Thanks for your note! To address your points and questions (more or less in order):

      Comments: Thanks, I was never quite happy with the layout and link to comments myself. I have changed the site to make the comments page for each item more obvious.

      Danson service: Glad you had a good experience with them. In my research prior to buying I heard nothing but great reports about their customer service. Their web site might be terrible (are you listening, Danson?) but they treat their customers like gold. I also would have recommended you go with the paddle. Clearing a jam from an auger-drive system is awful. And they do jam a lot more than a paddle. The fact that yours jammed at all is surprising, but I have an idea about that (see below in my comment about temperatures).

      The fire bricks: The heat shield in the Danson / Louisiana smokers is really good. In fact, in their largest single-firebox models (the CS-570 and the CS-680) the heat shield is too good. It moves the heat away from the firebox and down to the far end of the smoking chamber so quickly and efficiently that you end up with two distinct temperature zones. The area of the cooking chamber directly above the firebox will be at temperature A (for example, 225 degrees) and the temperature at the end away from the firebox will be temperature A+50 (in this case, 275 degrees). This can be useful at times, but can also be a pain (especially with the built-in thermometer down at the hot end). The bricks slow and deflect the airflow from the firebox, and also add some thermal mass at the end that runs cooler, helping to balance the entire chamber. With the bricks in place, the entire cooker runs at one temperature. Your unit, the 300, shouldn’t have these airflow issues. However, the added thermal mass of the bricks might help you keep a more even temperature if you continue to have problems with that (again, see below in the temperature section).

      Insulation: Unless you smoke outdoors in the winter a lot, I wouldn’t do this. I think you might end up causing more issues with airflow and ease of use than you cure. Insulating really only starts to pay off with much larger cooking chambers than you or I own.

      Temperature: If you are having variations in temperature once you have your feed control set, my first question has to be about what brand of pellets you are using. If you are using Danson’s own brand (“Backwoods”, I believe), I would suspect that is a large part of the problem. I don’t care for their pellets at all, I find that the variation in sizes makes for a very uneven fire. Additionally, the wildly varying length of the Danson’s pellets could have also been the cause of your jam (if you are using them). As much as I have some issues with their grills these days, I still think the Traeger pellets are the best and most consistent on the market for average backyard users like you and I. If you aren’t using the Danson’s pellets and you are still getting wild variations, try using some bricks around the firebox to add some thermal mass to help even things out. Experiment with different configurations until you get to the result you want.

      Digital controller: I have heard nothing but good about these controllers. I plan to get one and install it this summer. I am told by other owners that they are easy to install and friendly to use. That said, I would be interested in your answer regarding which brand of pellets you use before recommending this outright.

      Hope this helps!
      PB

      • have you put in the digital controller and do you like it have you heard about q pellets let me know as soon as you can thankyou very much

        • I have not put the digital controller in as of yet, but I am planning to this year. There was a discussion on how it works over at Pelletheads last season, you may want to take a look: http://pelletheads.com/index.php?action=printpage;topic=863.0.

          As far as I know the installation is dead easy, and the unit does work as advertised. You would certainly want to build up a brick heat baffle around the fire pot to help with moderating the temperature and defending against issues with gusty winds if you were truly planning to be able to “set and forget” the system.

  2. I have a traeger grill that’s about 6-8 years old (pre China), I have several friends who bought traegers about the same time. We all mostly BBQ several times a week in the moderate climate down here in California. That said Its getting close to buying new smokers.
    I looked at a Louisiana display today and agree that insulation is pretty good but I wasn’t impressed by the overall design.
    1. standard hopper size to small
    2. hopper lid on 3 of 4 floor models had poor fit and didn’t open easily
    3. top heat shield cant be covered by foil, as far as I could tell.
    Although it was heavy I could not justify the 2K to buy one.

    I cant buy a new traeger because of the awful quality compared to when they were built here.

    FYI never had a jam and annual temp here is low 30 high 100 on average so winter smoking is much better

    Thanks for the informative review

  3. Furrealz? That’s mavurloesly good to know.

  4. Nice blog here! Also your website loads up fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as quickly as yours lol

  5. Hello! Quick question that’s totally off topic.

    Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly?
    My website looks weird when viewing from my apple iphone.

    I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue.

    If you have any suggestions, please share. With thanks!

  6. Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely great. I really like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it sensible. I can’t wait to read far more from you. This is actually
    a terrific site.

  7. It’s difficult to find experienced people in this particular subject, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

  8. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored at work so I decided
    to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break.

    I love the knowledge you provide here and can’t wait
    to take a look when I get home. I’m amazed at
    how quick your blog loaded on my phone .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G ..
    Anyhow, good blog!

  9. I’ve been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like
    yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. In my view, if all website owners aand bloggers made good content as you did, the
    internet will be much more useful than eveer before.

  10. I enjoy looking through an article that can make people think.
    Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

 Leave a Reply

(required)

(required, but kept private)

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>