Backwoods Smoker has a long history producing larger smokers for restaurants and bbq competitions.
The Backwoods Chubby 3400 vertical charcoal smoker promises to bring that level of quality to the backyard pitmaster.
After owning this smoker for a few years, I put through this review to help walk you through the features of the smoker, it’s build specifications, and how it performs during a low and slow smoke session.
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Backwoods Chubby 3400 Review Overview
Backwoods Smoker caught my eye during a food truck rally in 2016. There was a competition model mounted on the back of a BBQ truck and the food that came out of it smelled amazing.
With a little research I discovered the Chubby 3400 and it was just what I needed to up my BBQ game.
Manufactured with the same principles and design as its competition ready counterparts, you get commercial quality in a retail size product.
Weighing in at only 130lbs, it’s very portable whether you’re cooking onsite for a family gathering or hitting a camping trip with the boys.
Being an upright style smoker, it can also act as a grill – all you have to do is remove the water pan and heat diverter and bam: direct heat for grilling and searing.
Speaking of water pan, the Chubby has a removable version that not only acts as a heat regulator, but keeps the cooking chamber moist so the meat won’t dry out. It’s not required that you cook with the water pan, but having the option is definitely a plus.
With the Backwoods Chubby you get a smoker that is on par with what you’ll see on the competition circuit, rather than what you see in retail stores.
This is reflected in the price point comparison as the Backwoods Chubby costs a good bit more than smokers, such as the Weber Smokey Mountain.
In the Chubby 3400, The Backwoods Smoker company has built competition level performance into a retail-sized package.
Backwoods Chubby 3400 Specifications:
- All stainless steel inside
- Heat diverter
- Removable stainless steel water pan
- Slam latches
- One extra slider for rack height adjustment
- Pre-drilled caster bolt hole pattern on bottom
- ⅛ inch nickel plated racks
- One inch insulation standard
- Cooking degrees: (approx.) 180 to 550
- Amount of charcoal: (approx.) 6 to 10 lb.
- Cooking time: (approx.) 6 to 10 hours (Depending on the temperature used for cooking)
- Meat: (approx.) Eight slabs of baby back ribs, 2 to 3 brisket, 2 to 4 Boston butts
Cooking Chamber Dimensions:
- 17′′ deep
- 13′′ tall cooking chamber
- 16′′ wide
For its compact size, the cooking chamber holds a lot of meat.
Personally, I’ve had two briskets, two racks of baby back ribs and eight sausages cooking with room to spare. The racks can be rearranged to fit the size of meat you’re cooking and it’s deep enough to hold a half-pan.
The firebox sits below the cooking chamber, so you don’t lose heat when reloading or adding wood. The Backwoods Smoker company recommends cooking with a base of all natural lump charcoal and adding wood chunks on top of the charcoals to add the desired level of smoke.
What I like:
- Insulated – The Backwoods Chubby 3400 comes standard with one inch of insulation. The steel isn’t as thick as the quarter inch rolled steel you see in some heavy hitters, but the double walled insulated construction helps to hold the temperature steady for hours on end, similar to how a double walled Yeti cooler operates.
- Cooking capacity – The Chubby is small enough to sit on a tabletop, but the cooking chamber is large. Backwoods Smoker states “It has enough space to cook a brisket, leg and thigh combos, a rack of ribs and a pork butt all at the same time!”
- Steady temperature control – The design and construction of the Backwoods Chubby 3400 allow for concise temperature control with no added thermal regulators. With three airflow vents it takes some dialing in, but once you get to know your smoker, setting it up for steady low-and-slow cooking is a breeze.
- Portability – For the amount of food you can cook, this smoker is surprisingly portable. I’ve taken it on long weekends trips to crosstown gatherings. It’s easier with two people to load it into the car, but can be done with one person. Adding caster wheels to the pre-drilled holes makes moving this around a whole lot easier.
What I don’t like:
- No standard drip guard – When you open the cooking chamber and pull out a grate, cooking juices drip onto the firebox door and run onto the ground. Backwoods Smoker offers an aftermarket drip guard – that I recommend for anyone who purchases a Backwoods Smoker product – but if this came standard as part of the firebox door, that would help elevate the Chubby even more. For now you can purchase them as accessories.
- Water pan clean-up – When you’re done cooking and it’s time to clean everything up, if the water pan is full it can be a bear to empty. Trying to lift it out and dump it usually results in spilling the food drippings and water mixture all over the inside of the smoker. Ideally, you time it up to where there is very little water left at the end of a cook. Otherwise, I recommend ladling out a good amount of the water before you try and remove the water pan to dump it.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for a step up in quality and cooking size from the Weber Smokey Mountain, the Backwoods Chubby 3400 is an excellent choice.
You can cook for your neighborhood little league team, or hit the road and take on some BBQ competitions – all with the same quality smoker.
Unboxing and assembling the Chubby 3400
The Chubby 3400 couldn’t have been easier to unbox. It ships already assembled and is ready to be fired up within 10 minutes of unboxing.
I cut open the bottom of the box, flipped it upright, then pulled the box off of the cooker. It’s tightly packed with styrofoam that not only keeps things padded within the box, but also protects the parts that stick out such as the door latches and temperature gauge.
The racks, water pan, firebox, ashpan, and heat diverter are all packed into the cooking chamber protected by styrofoam and wrapped in plastic.
Pull these out, put in place and you’re ready to get it fired up for the first time.
The removable firebox that you load with charcoal is made of a heavy gauge steel, but the weld job warped my firebox after the first use.
It bent upwards causing it to wobble on two legs at a time. This doesn’t affect its ability to function and cook, but it definitely was a defect and wobbles whenever you load it.
Update: I reached out to the Backwoods Smoker website about the firebox issue and they promptly got back to me on the same day stating it was a manufacturing defect that had since been fixed. The company then sent me a new firebox with appropriate welds that corrected the warping issue. A+ customer service!
Brand and Build Quality
The Backwoods Smoker brand came from humble, grassroots beginnings. Founder Mike McGowan cut his teeth in the welding industry and started making smokers for friends as a hobby.
Word of mouth got Mike’s smokers on the competition circuit, where a team using one of his models won Memphis in May. The rest is history from there, as demand took off and Mike left the family welding business to make Backwoods Smoker his full time job.
Though manufacturing has been moved overseas to keep up with high demand and raw material cost, Mike’s origin story still reflects the quality that goes into the Backwoods Chubby 3400.
It’s a robust cabinet cooker. The powder-coated exterior steel looks sleek, but also protects the metal from the elements. Everything fits tightly together and the one inch of standard insulation adds density to the cooker.
I’ve lugged mine around to various places, and everything stays tight. No wiggle on the lids, latches or handles.
Unlike some retail, lower-price point smokers, the Chubby 3400 comes sturdy and stays sturdy through extended use.
Cooking on the Backwoods Chubby 3400
The Backwoods Chubby 3400 is built to get to the desired temperature and stay there. It’s an offset airflow smoker, which means a more uniform cooking environment is created by forcing hot air and smoke under an additional metal plate, called a heat diverter or baffle, and back into the cooking chamber, reversing the air flow to escape through a top vent on the upright smoker.
I cooked all the BBQ staples on the Chubby 3400 to test it out. Generally keeping the temperature at 250°F to 275°F.
Poultry and sausages stay moist too, and because of the water pan, it is not necessary to wrap the meat as you would in a dry cooker or offset smoker without a water pan option.
Bringing the Chubby 3400 up to temp
Get the party started by filling a chimney starter with good, quality charcoal. Once lit and starting to ash over, pull the firebox grate and ashpan out from the Chubby and pour the charcoal into one corner of the firebox grate.
Fill the rest of the grate with unlit charcoal and spread out evenly, leaving the one lit corner uncovered. This most closely resembles the Minion Method in how the coals burn for a long period of time, but also compares to the Snake Method.
Either way, the lit charcoal will slowly light the unlit piles around it, allowing it to burn slowly throughout the rest of the firebox grate.
With the charcoal roaring, place the grate and ashpan back into the firebox chamber and open the three dampers all the way.
Regulating temperature in the Chubby 3400
With the firebox loaded, it’s time to add water to the water pan. You want the water level to be about half an inch below the top of the water pan. This helps prevent overflowing water from running down into the cook chamber and putting out the coals.
Once the temperature gets to within five to ten degrees of your desired cook temperature, close both bottom dampers down to half an inch. Leave the top damper completely open as this keeps the air drawing steadily out of the top damper and doesn’t smother the charcoal.
Smothering the airflow to the charcoal can put out the coals causing your food to have an ashy, bitter taste. Leave the top damper all the way open and control your temperature with the bottom two dampers as best you can.
If you followed these instructions, the smoker will rise up about five degrees and settle in on your desired temperature for the long haul. I’ve held a steady temperature for over ten hours with a loaded firebox and water pan before having to refuel.
This smoker has very little fluctuation if you’ve dialed it in this way. Cold, wet, hot, or dry ambient temperatures don’t seem to affect the ability to hold steady much with the Chubby, though the amount of fuel used varies based on ambient temperature and humidity.
If the smoker starts to run too hot, first close one of the bottom dampers completely, let some hot air out of the cook chamber by opening and closing the door, and check back in fifteen to twenty minutes. The temperature should have dropped by five to ten degrees.
You can also leave the cook chamber door open longer, or add more water to the water pan to lower and regulate temperature. Once it’s back to the desired temperature, go back to leaving both bottom dampers a half-inch open.
Add the smoke
With your temperature settled and the meat ready to go on, it’s time to add the smoke.
You’ll want wood chunks for this, and full logs won’t rest all the way on the lit coals causing subpar combustion and dirty smoke.
Pull out the firebox grate and place a few chunks of your choice of wood onto the lit coals. Return the grate to the chamber and close the firebox door.
The smoke should last for two to four hours, depending on how many chunks you used. If you notice the clean smoke has stopped, and you want more flavoring, add more chunks to the lit charcoal.
The Chubby’s firebox is great for combining wood flavors. You can mix and match hardwoods with sweeter fruit woods to add complex layering of flavors to the meat. Experiment and have fun with this as it really sets some BBQ apart from others.
With the smoke rolling and the temp regulated, it’s time to put your meat on and enjoy the smell. Relax while the Chubby 3400 does the work for the next few hours.
Reloading the firebox
Depending on the quality of your charcoal and the amount you fill the firebox, you shouldn’t need to reload often.
I reload about once a cook if I’m doing anything over eight hours such as brisket or pork butt.
Reloading is easy. Just open the firebox door, pull out the grate on the ashpan and pour new charcoal into the grate.
It’s best to use heat resistant gloves when reloading the Chubby. It allows you to push the coals around evenly on the grates and move the pan around without fear of being burnt.
At times, the hot ash below the unlit coals will light the whole firebox grate. You don’t want that to happen as it will run the smoker hot and will burn through the coals faster.
If need be, empty the hot ash into a heatsafe container, then reload the charcoal and place it back into the smoker’s firebox chamber.
Should you buy the Backwoods Chubby 3400?
This is a fantastic smoker for any aspiring pitmaster, especially those on the prosumer side – amateurs who purchase equipment with features suitable for professional use.
If you’ve done the Weber Kettle smoking method and are looking to add capacity and efficiency to your cooking, the Chubby 3400 will serve you well.
It’s priced higher than the retail items because it performs better than them. Backwoods designed the Chubby 3400 to be competition level, just on a smaller scale.
The stout build is convenient for a number of reasons, but don’t let it fool you. You can certainly take this to a local competition and cook every meat you need to.
I did add four casters, the drip guard and a Backwoods branded cover to keep it protected during inclement weather. I highly recommend those additions to round out the convenience of the smoker.
If you’re in the market for a cabinet smoker – or just a darn good quality, reliable one – this should be on your list.