Bubba Ho-Keg: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by zydecopaws on January 18, 2010

bubbaclint.jpgIn spite of my desire to extend the running gag on this blog about the review that will be written “tomorrow”, I did promise a lot of folks that I would eventually get around to writing my impressions of the Bubba Keg Convection Grill (aka: BKCG or more commonly know as Bubba Ho-Keg around here). This post would be that review, and we’ll have to come up with some other topic for the post that will be written “tomorrow”.

In order to give a fair and (relatively) unbiased review, I will follow the time-honored tradition of exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly of Bubba Ho-Keg, while serving up memories of one of my favorite movies and bad movie poster mashups. Does anyone besides me look at this effort and start thinking about Luke and R2D2 from Star Wars?

But I digress… On with the review.

The Good

Bubba Ho-Keg has a more good things to talk about by far than Bad or Ugly. For starters, the thermal properties are outstanding. I’ve had the grill up in the 700-800°F range and still been able to touch the exterior of the cooker with bare skin and not having to treat for burns afterward. The fact the the thermometer even goes up that high is another point in its favor; this grill can really bring the heat for cooking steaks, pizza, or other high heat meals. Add to that the cast iron grill, and you have a real winner for getting those grill marks coveted by outdoor cooks everywhere.

In spite of the high temps available on Bubba Ho-Keg, it is still miserly when it comes to charcoal use. A bag of lump seems to last forever, and the ash removal is no longer a chore as the amounts are much less than when using standard charcoal briquettes, and easily done using the handy multi-tool and the bottom vent. Although the initial cost of purchase is more, and bags of lump charcoal are generally more expensive than standard charcoal, the overall cost of operation is less as it only takes a handful or so of lump per cook, and any leftover is easily saved by simply shutting down the vents and closing the lid. After a few cooks, the top vent and lid seal had both seasoned up nicely and created an air-tight seal that will put out the lump pretty quick, saving whatever charcoal might be left from the cook for the next meal.

Another positive is the ability to move the main grill to a different level, thus giving you the ability to get things closer to the flame, or just give yourself more room for chili pots or large cuts of meat that might need a bit more space between the grill and the lid. The stainless steel top rack is also handy, and allows you to load up the grill with sides, desserts, or even other entrees. The extra space it provides comes in handy when you cook entire meals on the cooker, something we do quite often. And speaking of extra space, the wing-like shelfs come in real handy to hold plates, sauces, or other useful items (live beverages) that always seem to find their way around the grill.

Last, some comment must be made on the quality of construction. Bubba Ho-Keg is well-made and appears to be sturdy enough to survive several years of weekly cooking, dragging around in the gravel, and hauling around attached to the rear of the truck. Assembly wasn’t traumatic, there were no parts left over (none missing either), and nothing had to be taken apart and put back together due to poor instructions. Although we haven’t taken it on a road trip yet, mounting it to the receiver hitch on the truck wasn’t difficult in spite of the recommendations that you should use two people to do this. I managed it by myself, but I wouldn’t recommend that to most folks as I am a tad larger than most people I know.

The Bad

No grill is perfect, and Bubba Ho-Keg isn’t without areas that could be improved. First is the stainless-steel top grill. Although it is very handy and swings out of the way nicely, it only sits above the main grill by about 6 inches, and isn’t the most stable of platforms due to the single-post stand. The grill has a tendency to sag toward the unsupported end (not surprising) and is limited to the amount of weight it will hold. I use enamel-on-steel pots and pans on the grill, and some of the larger ones really put a strain on this grill when they are full. I wouldn’t recommend putting cast iron pans or dutch ovens on it, although the cast iron main grill is more than strong enough if that’s all you have.

Another good idea gone very wrong is the tool holders that screw into the molded plastic side trays. These are basically three stainless steel prongs on each tray designed to poke you in delicate places and guaranteed to drop any tools hanging from them on your toes if you try to wheel Bubba Ho-Keg anywhere. These could be improved tremendously by turning them into hooks rather than slightly bent rods; one of these days I’ll make a trip to the hardware store and come up with something to replace them with.

The last item on the Bad list is the steep learning curve associated with temperature controls, especially at the low end. High heats are pretty easy, but it took quite awhile for me to figure out all the tricks in keeping the temps in the 200-225°F range without having to check the cooker every 5 or 10 minutes. Close it down too much and the fire goes out; open it up too much and low-and-slow turns into not-so-low-and-burnt if you aren’t careful.

The Ugly

The topic of temperature control leads directly into the ugly. My single biggest complaint about Bubba Ho-Keg is the lack of a diffuser and/or plate setter. This would greatly improve the ability to cook low-and-slow, should help in controlling lower temps, and provide the ability to cook indirectly as well as provide a place for a drip pan (or a pan of beans to catch all those wonderful juices dripping off the meat). You could also put a water pan on it if you wanted, although i do have to admit that I am doing this less and less, even on the WSM.

Now I know I could buy a ceramic plate setter from the BGE folks, but one would think that those folks at Bubba Keg would have been able to come up with a reasonable solution for this by now. That would have been a much better accessory than the cover they are offering now that they have changed the name to The Big Steel Keg and made the trailer hitch an added accessory rather than part of the main packaging. They have been promising one for months, their customers are begging for one, and yet they haven’t been able to come up with a solution. Looks like I will be contacting a BGE dealer one of these days real soon…

Random Musings

This quite possibly might be the longest post I’ve written since I started this blog. Hopefully it has been of use to those of you out there trying to decide if a BKCG is for you. Bubba Ho-Keg has displaced a Weber Performer as my primary grill and has served us well since its arrival. I do feel I am getting my money’s worth, and would recommend it to anyone out there considering a kamodo-style grill to add to their arsenal. It might not be the best grill for a rookie outdoor cook, as the learning curve is a bit steep. However, if one has the patience to master the temperatures and air flows, it will turn out some fantastic meals and is well worth the investment in time and money.

Now that this is done I need to figure out what to not write about tomorrow… 😉

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