I bet you all heard this one before…so I met this person on the internet (enter my Manti Teo moment here). Actually, it was on the BBQ Brethren forum. This pitmaster’s avatar used the screen name “rip” and he was located in a nearby town. Every once in a while, I would message him about competition BBQ and he was more than happy to answer my questions.
I met “rip” (aka Jeff Rippelmeyer) competing as Rippel-Que at the Lakeside Que-Topia event and I was blown away with his site setup. The most impressive item was his cooker, a custom insulated smoker. Little did I know, this was a prototype to what would later be used in the Rebel line. For some time now, Jeff has been a mentor to me on the in’s and out’s of competition BBQ. He’s a many times over Grand Champion, consistently a top 10 overall finisher and has a 3rd place trophy in brisket at the American Royal Open. There’s no question his knowledge was valuable to my success in 2012.
As luck would have it, Jeff lives right down the road from me. One of the perks to having a pitmaker as a neighbor is to
beg ask him to borrow a Rebel (base price $2,450 for the 23) for a review I want to post on this blog. However, the notion that my facade had worked would be far fetched, Jeff is just a good guy. He sent me a message to drop off a Rebel soon afterwards. I was floored when he pulled up and rolled a big ass Rebel 23 (who I christened ‘Becky’) into my garage…SWEET!
The Rebel is big (says the guy who rocks on a WSM), but not as big compared to commercial smokers found in restaurants and catering/vending establishments. For example, 2 full pans can fit on each of the 5 racks in the smoker…in other words, I can fit (20) 1/2 pans in this thing! By comparison, I can stack about 6-8 half pans on my 22.5″ WSM.
All the racks pull out so you can remove them if you have clearance issues such as with this turkey I smoked on the Rebel.
The 23 had more than enough room for the main 4 competition meats; chicken, ribs, pork butts and brisket, so no rack would have to be removed. By giving the eyeball test, I’d say that 2 briskets, 6 pork butts, 5-6 ribs and at least 36 pieces of chicken can all fit in the 5 rack insulated beast. However, that 5th rack at the bottom should be used with caution at a competition because that is where the heat is closest to.
Instead, the lower rack could be used for water pans or some type of buffer. I thought about using water pans, but the Rebel doesn’t need it. All the meat I cooked was juicy and moist without any type of buffer (except when the food was wrap in foil or in a foil pan).
All of the food cooked faster compared to my WSM, despite some technical difficulties (I’ll explain later). The heat is all locked in the cooker because it’s sealed with insulation and steel. I won’t go into all the specifications, they can be found here. But I will say, insulated smokers are very popular right now and there is a reason why…because they are extremely convenient.
More about the Rebel
Common sense would tell me that getting a bigger smoker is more work to clean, not so. Cleaning the rebel takes a fraction of the time in comparison to my cooker and would have been even easier had I lined the drip tray with aluminum foil. In addition, using lump charcoal as we all know, produces less ash, but it’s hard to maintain low temps on cheaper cookers. The insulated Rebel solves that issue and uses a gravity feed system for supreme convenience.
In a gravity feed system, the fuel (lump or briquettes) is loaded at the top of smoker, which is offset to the right facing the door. Add chunks of smoke wood by alternating charcoal and wood in the chamber. At the bottom of the chamber a fire box door, lined with rope insulation, is where the ash pan sits and this is where to light the fuel. The easiest method to light the fuel (located above the ash pan) is to use a handheld, trigger-start torch. Since no such device was around, the charcoal was lit by lighting newspaper in the ash pan. This took a few attempts and worked best when the fire box door and the ball valve (located in the rear of the smoker) were open.
I was able to use an entire 10lb bag of lump charcoal, cooked for 16 hours, shut it down and still had lump in the chamber! Even better, while the Rebel was still hot on the inside after cooking, I easily rolled the 500lb cooker out of the way to let the wife park in the garage. I envision being at a comp where as soon as I’m done with turn-in’s, just roll the Rebel on the trailer and fasten it down using 4 D-rings. Instead, I currently have to clean and disassemble my grill on location and secure very part so it doesn’t fall of the trailer. That is how versatile and efficient the Rebel is.
A great supplement your Rebel smoker is the Pitmaster IQ 110 fire management control unit. How else are you gonna get some sleep at a contest? The dialed control box allows you to turn temps up or down. For some time, the 110 has shown to be reliable with kettle grills, WSM’s, Big Green Eggs, etc., the same goes for the Rebel. But because the Rebel is a different kind of cooker, the guys from Pitmaster IQ developed a program specifically for it for high efficiency.
While the Pitmaster IQ is a excellent addition for managing the heat in the pit, you are not limited to only that. However, any temp control system is a must for maximum performance from the Rebel.
In my first cook with the Rebel, it was used more as a prop for a video shot (with Al Bowman) for submission to the TV show BBQ Pitmasters. That included the 4 protein comp meats. It was a small learning curve because we didn’t expect to get done so quickly. That was great and it allowed us to complete a lot of our video in 1 day, including some terrific pron (food porn).
The second cook with the Rebel didn’t go as smooth only because I had difficulties with the Pitmaster IQ. It turns out, I wasn’t aware the settings were reset to the WSM program. Make sure you’re running the correct settings before you start. Otherwise, the cooker would take longer to bring up to temp, thus a longer cook time.
Despite the hiccup, the times were still faster than my cookers and each item come out spot on perfect. The 17lb turkey was tender and moist, the chicken thighs were juicy and evenly cooked through and the ribs were incredible. It feels like I’m cheating, cooking on this is too easy.
What else can I say, this is my dream smoker. If I had one, I would do some vending with it too, again it’s versatile. And just to be clear, I’m not hiding the fact that Jeff is a good friend of mine, so you can make up your mind how much bias is in this review. Some of the top BBQ teams are already cooking on Rebels…the results speak for themselves.
Another caveat that should be taken into consideration when you order a Rebel smoker is customizing it. Add a slam latch instead of the standard latches or get locking wheels, Jeff can do it for you.
When Rippy came by to pick Becky up, there was a tear in my eye. We’ve gone through so much the 2 weeks we spent together, the break up was hard to endure. Now that I know what the Rebel is capable of, it’s not a matter of if I get one…it’s when. For yours truly, that day may be when I get my tax return (fingers crossed).