Some brands of BBQ manufacturers produce a product and then stick to the ‘If it aint broke, don’t try to fix it’ school of thought. Well that’s all well and good but more recent times in the BBQ world have meant that some of these long standing and well-established manufacturers are being left behind. The market for outdoor cooking is ever growing, and more and more people are looking to get involved, and are now armed with more knowledge than ever of cooking styles and types of BBQ and grilling, thanks to social media, BBQ blogs and YouTube videos. As that’s where more forward-thinking brands like ProQ have stepped up to the challenge.
Way back to their original models of the classic ‘bullet shaped’ smoker (so named because of the shape), it was clear that ProQ wanted to offer their customers more. More flexibility, more options, more cooking styles and more enjoyment out of their products. But in the last few years, the guys behind the ProQ brand, looked over their models from top to bottom to see what could be changed to make their smokers even better; the result is a stronger than ever product offering with a host of new features. So, let’s have a look.
The smallest of the ProQ line up is called the Ranger with a 37cm wide circular cooking grate; next up is the Frontier with a 43cm circular cooking grate; and finally, the largest in this range, the Excel, with a 50cm circular cooking grate. The Excel is the model we will focus on but most of the features discussed span the whole range, but please check the ProQ website for full information www.proqsmokers.co.uk
I’ve been cooking on a ProQ Excel for around 8 years now but the guys at ProQ kindly offered me an upgrade to the latest version for review. That said, I am still free to give my own and honest opinion on the products in the article.
One of the biggest changes is to the main construction of the unit and the high-grade porcelain coated steel that is used. Heat retention in these units is key and whilst some manufacturers are saving money thinning the metal and coatings they use down, ProQ have gone the other way, meaning the units are more efficient and less fuel is used for each cook. Who doesn’t like saving money?
These range of smokers all break down into 4 sections giving several different set up styles, depending on the type of cook you are looking to do. This is one of the major advantages of the ProQ models over similar bullet style smokers, who only usually have one way they can be set up. The 4 sections on the ProQ working from the bottom up, are the base with the legs and 3 air vents, this is the part that holds the fire basket; then stacker 1, which would usually hold the water pan and have your first cooking grate and side handles for moving around; then stacker 2, which holds your second cooking grate and also has side handles; and then finally the lid with the hanging bar inside, the top vent and handle on the outside. Each of these stackers comes with the new and improved spring-loaded clips for a tighter seal.
So, as I mentioned above, these smokers come with a water pan; if you are not familiar with these, the idea is that for long cooks you fill the pan with water and it creates a nice moist environment inside, to help the meat during the cook, but to also help the smoke get onto the meat too. It also helps to keep a more even temperature as energy is used to heat the water, so less swings up or down in temp. Just make sure the water pan doesn’t boil dry else you may see that temp change pretty quickly. A mistake we’ve all made.
Hanging meat in a smoker has become way more popular in recent years, and whilst the ProQ models (Ranger excluded) have always had a hanging bar tucked away in the lid it has mainly been used for cold smoking. But now more and more people are hanging racks of ribs and legs of lamb, as well as many other cuts in their smokers. And with the water pan removed, any fat drips go straight down onto the coals, creating an unmistakable smell and flavour that is one you just have to try. And once you do you’ll literally be…. hooked.
Vents! How many times have you burnt a finger adjusting a vent during a cook, well it’s no longer a problem with the cool touch tabs on all of the vents and handles. This covers the 3 daisy vents at the bottom, the exhaust vent at the top and also the chamber door and lifting handles on each of the stackers. No more burnt fingers for any changes needed during a cook.
The fire basket has now been improved to incorporate grooves, so one of the grills will fit securely in place if you are using it for high heat direct grilling, and there is also now a stand holder so you can attach one of ProQ’s other accessories, their Flip N Grate. Also handy and giving you huge versatility on the way you can cook from one single BBQ.
Each stacking level has a single silicone probe eyelet so you can easily feed through 2 wires for meat probes or grill temperature probes. These come in handy when you are cooking multiple meats on different levels in the BBQ. As they are silicone it means they won’t damage your cables and you don’t have to worry about feeding cables in through a vent or trapping them between the lid and potentially breaking a cable. A simple thing but really does help.
Whilst most of these ideas have focussed on the ProQ being a smoker one of the best tricks it has up its sleeve is by removing the middle stackers and leaving but the base and the lid. Now you have a super portable grill you can take anywhere with you for a picnic, to the beach camping or wherever you need to. How many other BBQ’s have that as an option?
All of these features and ways of cooking really give you a sense of why the ProQ offers such excellent value for money. All of this is backed up by a level of customer service that is second to none. Should you ever need to, the team will be happy to help via email or over the phone which can be a rare thing these days.
So I’ve owned a ProQ smoker in some form for around 8 years now and there is a good reason for that, they just work and they give you so many cooking options at a very reasonable price. And that price does not mean a compromise on quality. It has taken me from an absolute beginner cooking my first ever pork shoulder smoker overnight, through to the variety of cooks we now enjoy and with a lot more confidence in using the smoker. You can see from some of the pictures here and on many more of my social media feeds how much I enjoy cooking on my Excel in various different set-ups. And there are now more options too with the new plancha, rotisserie and Smartfire attachments, some of which we will discuss in later reviews so please keep checking back.
Please check out the ProQ website to see their full range of products including accessories, large commercial style smokers, cold smokers, BBQ controllers, charcoal, smoking wood, as well as recipes and tips.
Twitter : @ProQSmokers
Twitter : @ArtustBBQ