Product review: Hunsaker Vortex Charcoal Basket for WSM-22

August 29th, 201623 Comments

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How do you improve the flavor of barbeque cooked in your Weber Smokey Mountain 22-inch smoker or your drum smoker?  Here are two suggestions from my Swiss Army knife of black belt secrets:

Tip #1 – Maintain good fire control

Tip #2 – Ensure your pit “breathes” well

Good fire control ensures consistent temperature throughout the cook, and good “breathing” refers to how fast hot smoky gases flow over your meat. This thermodynamic process is called drafting and it allows your meat to crust up to hasten the creation of thousands of new flavor compounds via the Maillard reaction.

For the nerdy types, here’s a bit more detail: Drafting facilitates the pyrolysis of amino acids that results in championship barbecue flavors. That is, how good your barbecue tastes is not just dependent on your meat, wood, and seasonings, but is closely related to consistent pit temperatures and how well your smoker drafts hot air.

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I’m always looking for ways to improve temperature control and drafting in my smokers, and thanks to Mark Hunsaker, I was able to experiment with his Vortex Charcoal Basket. Results were excellent, so here’s scoop on Mark’s invention.

Mark’s been barbecuing for over 30 years and started in the pit making business more than a decade ago. He became interested in competition drum smoker cooking and started building and tinkering with various designs of drum smokers and accessories that cooks at every level would enjoy.

Today, his company, Hunsaker Smokers, produces barbecue parts for the DIY folks so they can build drum smokers, and he also sells fully built units. The Vortex, which I tried out on my WSM-22, was designed to maintain a constant temperature, thereby reducing charcoal use and hot spots. It has a convenient handle design that makes it easy to lift or lower the basket, start the fire, and dump the ashes. And the uniquely slotted Vortex plate is designed to circulate and mix the air to eliminate potential hot spots should your charcoal burn down unevenly in your fire ring. You also get a hot-and-fast effect, popular today on the competition circuit, when your meat drippings hit the Vortex plate and vaporize. This sizzle creates a grill-like flavor to keep your meat moist without the need for a water pan.

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The Vortex fits 55- and 85-gallon barrels and the classic WSM-22. It comes fully assembled…spray some cooking oil and you’re ready to cook. On my first try, I felt that my pit temperature did not rise fast enough. This was easily fixed on my next try by putting in ¾ lit chimney of coals instead of my customary 1/3 lit chimney of briquettes. From the looks of the design, you would expect the Vortex plate to spin, but it doesn’t move and sits static in the pit. I’ve done a few cooks now, and it’s become a fav among the many accessories I have in my ever growing collection. It does what it says it will do:

  • Keeps constants temps
  • Gets the sizzle effect
  • Drafts the hot air well

All that said, $134 is not cheap, but it is not over-the-top expensive either, and that price includes six-components: charcoal basket, grate, leg supports, ash pan, lift handle, and Vortex plate. For your mullah, you get a proudly made-in-America craft product, and you’re supporting a family-owned operation. So go get yours online at http://www.hunsakersmokers.com/. Feel free to let me know how you like it.

Briskets using the Vortex in a WSM-11

Briskets using the Vortex in a WSM-22

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