Southern barbecue is the closest thing we have in the U.S. to Europe’s wines and cheeses; drive a hundred miles and the barbecue changes – John Shelton Reed
Culture, as a concept and an idea, can mean a lot of different things to people. The conventional notion thrives on the proposition that culture is something that develops over an extended period of time, and gains significant substance and shape due to the collision of a multitude of similar ideas.
While that theory is fine in principle and works for places like Europe, it falls short when trying to explain historically younger nations, like America.
We might not have the same amount of history under our belt as our older cousins across the pond do, but our culture is just as vibrant and rich as any European country’s culture is.
As far as culture is concerned the only model that really works, or has any real bearing or significance as far as we’re concerned, is a culture that’s shaped by people. We are the architects of our own culture, and our culture is doing just fine.
And the hidden, largely undiscovered beating heart of American culture is barbecue.
It’s an addictive, endlessly convoluted culinary artform that varies from place to place and State and State and everyone has their own idea about what makes good barbecue and where the most delicious, mouth-watering dishes originate and come from.
Opinions are as varied and individual as the people who have them, and honestly, we think the only thing you need to make great tasting barbecue is a good grill.
As barbecue is in our blood and we were raised on it, we’ve spent our lives searching for the grill that will make perfect barbecue regardless of where the said grill is located or what recipes you’re using.
The latest stop on our endless quest to find that perfect grill brought us to Pit Boss’ door and a grill that we’d heard a lot of good things about, but until recently had never had the pleasure of cooking with, or on; the Pitboss 820.
The Pit Boss Way
They may well be relative newcomers to the world of barbecue, having only been around for a little over two decades, but during their short history Pit Boss has already become a name that thousands of Americans have come to adore.
Constantly striving to push the boundaries of grilling technology and evolution, Pit Boss is a brand that pays close attention to what their customers and employees say, and when they talk Pit Boss listens, learns, and uses that information to make their grills better than they were before.
Claiming to make the best value, inch by inch, grills that are available domestically, Pit Boss have wholeheartedly embraced the growing trend for pellet fired grills.
And they decided that they and their grills need to become bigger, hotter, and heavier than their competition in order to finally become the undisputed Kings of the grilling and barbecuing scene.
It’s a pretty bold claim, and move, to make, and one that we knew we had to put to the test when we tried grilling the Pit Boss way by putting the 820 through its barbecuing paces.
Pit Boss Sportsman 820
The first thing we discovered about the Pit Boss Sportsman 820, was that the number didn’t refer to an individual grill, but rather a series of three slightly different wood pellet fired grills.
While we could have chosen any of the three to start barbecuing with, we elected to try our hand with the best selling and most popular model.
Experience has taught us that if you want to find out how, and why, a grill has started to develop its own mythology the best way to find out what all the hoopla and noise is about is by stepping up to the plate of, and cooking with, the grill that’s leading the charge.
And in the world of the 820, the Sportsman is the barbecuing big dog.
All The Room In The World
The Sportsman 820, like the other grills in the 820 series, is a wood pellet grill, which means that you load the side hopper with pellets, set the pellets alight, dial the temperature and time in, and it’ll do the rest.
Well, okay, there’s a little more to it than that and once the pellets are lit and start heating things up, that’s when the hopper transfers the heat to the main cooking chamber, which is where all of the barbecuing miracles happen.
Inside the main chamber are two shelves which give you a combined cooking space of around eight hundred and forty-nine square inches, which means that you can barbecue and smoke more than you’ll ever need to in order to feed the average American family.
How much can you cook in it? Well, let’s put it this way, we tried the 820 on what we like to call an all-meat Sunday, and we managed to fit half a dozen burgers, a whole chicken, and a couple of steaks in it, all of which with a little careful grilling know-how on our part, were cooked to perfection by the 820.
The heat was easy to dial in, from the straightforward and simple to use control pad (which also monitors the pellet consumption and how much fuel the hopper has left in its tank), and with an active and available heat range of just over three hundred degrees Fahrenheit, from one-eighty to five hundred degrees, we could easily raise and lower the temperature as and when we needed to, depending on what we wanted to serve and when.
Next Stop Pellet City
All the heat and smoke that the Pit Boss makes comes directly from its rather grandiose hopper, which can hold up to twenty-one pounds of pellets at a time.
That’s a lot of wood to use at once, and while the Pit Boss can safely hold and burn that much fuel unless you’re going to embark on a mammoth all-day cook, we’d advise doing things the way did, and just using ten pounds of pellets and keeping an eye on the top-up gauge.
You won’t need to fill the Sportsman 820 any further than that for an average cook, but it’s nice to know that the 820 has the capacity to hold, and burn, more pellets if you need to use them.
One of the things that we love about wood pellet grills like the Sportsman is that when you get the temperature just right, all of the smoke that the wood makes will infuse into whatever you’re grilling, and add an incredible dimension of flavor that you wouldn’t have dreamed was possible, and the Sportsman poured that flavor on like it was going out of fashion.
And being the suckers for flavor that we are, we just let it do what it does and reaped all the benefits when it finished cooking.
Sometimes, even the best grills are difficult to clean when you’re finished, but that wasn’t the case with the Sportsman. The hopper is easy to remove and clean out, and the main cooking chamber is just as simple to wipe down, which made our least favorite part of grilling easier than we thought it would be.
When it comes to cleaning, we like to keep things quick and simple, and the Sportsman earned almost as many barbecue points during the clean-up as it did while we grilling.
A Hole In One. Or Maybe Eight…
Pit Boss likes everyone to know how versatile their grills are, and while the Sportsman subscribes to their eight in one model (it’ll bake, barbecue, smoke, grill, broil, roast, and more), as we’re die-hard grillers, we only used it to smoke and cook some mouth-watering, lip-smacking barbecue with.
And it did everything that we asked it to and more, and we’re pretty sure that with enough time and dedication, we could teach the Sportsman to sit up and beg and even play fetch.
When The Fun Stops
Much as we loved the Sportsman, there were a couple of bumps in the road on it’s way to grilling paradise.
While it’s fitted with wheels and folding legs to give it the illusion of being portable and easy to move around, as it weighs around one hundred and fifty pounds, it’s so heavy that unless you spend all of your free time in the gym, once you’ve found a place for it in your yard, it’s going to stay put.
And then there’s the other thing that bothered us about the Sportsman, and yes we know it’s an incredibly minor and petty issue, but we’re going to talk about it because we feel like we should.
The other models in the 820 range have a thermometer on the front of the cooking chamber, but the Sportsman doesn’t.
Instead of a temperature gauge, it has a branded Pit Boss badge, which means that the only way you’ll know how hot it is is by checking the temperature on the control panel.
Would we rather have a gauge than a badge? You bet we would, but we guess that’s something that the grilling majority didn’t want, which is probably why Pit Boss didn’t include one.
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
Did we like the Pit Boss? We absolutely loved it and would happily grill an endless series of weekends away with it, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that our nearest and dearest get themselves hooked up with a Sportsman to do the same.
Is it the perfect grill that we’ve spent our lives searching for?
No, it isn’t. It fell short on a couple of points, namely the temperature gauge and its weight, but perfection is within its reach.
And given how innovative and forward-thinking Pit Boss is, we wouldn’t be surprised if one day soon, they achieved our idea of grilling perfection with their 820 range.