ZDNET’s key takeaways
- The GE Smart Indoor Smoker retails for $999 but is currently on promotion for $699.
- The sleek design allows indoor barbecue smoking without smoke in your home kitchen, with computerized temperature control, app connectivity, and efficient use of pellet fuel.
- Large device footprint with a relatively small cooking cavity; app performance exposes a weakness in GE’s cloud infrastructure, and its UX requires improvement.
Barbecue is a vastly misunderstood cuisine. Many mistake it for high-heat, fast grilling over an open flame. True barbecue is a technique that utilizes lower temperatures, slower cooking times, indirect heat, and the infusion of fruit and seasoning wood flavors. Unfortunately, many eateries that claim to serve barbecue are merely grilling pre-cooked meats, such as boiled ribs coated in sauce. However, authentic barbecue derives its essence from smoking, which imparts a distinct flavor to various types of meat, including pork shoulder, chicken, bacon, smoked fish, and other delectable smoked delicacies.
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Achieving this authentic barbecue flavor at home typically requires dedicated smokers, traditionally used outdoors and fueled by hardwood charcoals, smoking woods, or wood chips or pellets. These smokers range from straightforward models like the widely popular Weber Smokey Mountain to small cabinet smokers like Masterbuilt, large offset units, and advanced electric pellet smokers like Traeger. However, not everyone has access to a suitable outdoor space for smoking, especially in apartments or areas where outdoor cooking is restricted or impractical.
GE Appliances, a division of the Chinese consumer products giant Haier, has introduced the Smart Indoor Smoker to address this challenge. This groundbreaking appliance brings the authentic barbecue smoking experience into the home kitchen, providing a viable solution for barbecue enthusiasts without outdoor cooking access. The Smart Indoor Smoker retails for $999 but is currently on sale for $699.
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Testing the Smart Indoor Smoker
I recently had the opportunity to thoroughly test the Smart Indoor Smoker over several weeks, experimenting with various foods, including back ribs, spare ribs, meatballs, wings, and pork shoulder. I used fruitwood and hardwood cooking pellets, including different varieties of Kona brand pellets that GE sells for use with the unit, and pellets from well-known industry brands like Traeger sold at stores such as Home Depot. All the cooking pellets we used worked fine, regardless of manufacturer.
The GE Profile Smart Indoor Smoker is a highly advanced device equipped with a microprocessor for precise temperature control. It uses a proportional, integral, derivative (PID) algorithm for temperature regulation and is connected to the internet with Wi-Fii and controlled optionally with a mobile app for iOS and Android. One of its most noteworthy features is that it is designed to contain all smoke within the cooking compartment during operation, with only the smell of the cooking food escaping, much like a regular oven.
The smoker measures 20.35 inches by 16.25 inches by 16.5 inches and weighs 45 lbs, resembling a large microwave. However, it has a relatively compact internal cooking cavity — one of the other major drawbacks besides the cost. The cooking chamber is accessed through an oven door and is equipped with three easily removable metal wire racks. The racks can hold three full racks of Costco back ribs (if cut in half), one brisket (also cut in half), a whole chicken, dozens of chicken wings, or one large pork shoulder. The racks rest on removable metal supports, and a removable drip tray (which I recommend lining with aluminum foil during each cook) sits at the bottom of the chamber above a dedicated heating element that cooks the food. All of these components are dishwasher safe.
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Smoking is achieved through a motor-driven pellet auger fed by a two-cup pellet hopper, which heats the pellets just enough to produce smoke without fully incinerating them, as in a pellet grill. The hopper contains enough pellet fuel to last up to four hours of continuous smoking. The innovative smoke disposal system involves venting carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide into a filtration system, where an advanced catalytic conversion process transforms them into water vapor. Particulate matter and used pellets are collected in a removable water-filled disposal bin.
Notably, the smoker’s sophisticated catalytic converter, a key component due to the inclusion of costly platinum group metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium, requires no maintenance and is a permanent feature. It is also a significant factor in the smoker’s premium pricing, but its effectiveness justifies the cost.
Using the Smart Indoor Smoker
Featuring a modern and stylish control panel, the Smart Indoor Smoker effortlessly combines aesthetics and functionality. Its touch-sensitive buttons on a glass surface provide intuitive control and ensure easy cleaning. The color-changing LED rotating selector dial visually conveys the smoker’s progress and status, while the push-to-select functionality enhances usability. Dedicated buttons for power and precise cooking adjustments grant optimal control over the smoking process. Additionally, a digital display with blue alphanumeric LEDs offers essential information, such as cooking timers, food probe and cavity temperatures, adjustable smoke intensity levels, and operational status.
The smoker boasts a range of preset cooking options for various types of meat, including ribs, chicken, pork butt, wings, brisket, and salmon, accommodating diverse barbecue smoking preferences. It also features a customizable setting for limitless culinary exploration. Beyond smoking, the device can hold food at a predetermined temperature after smoke application or continue cooking without smoke, which is ideal for dishes that benefit from extended cooking times. Furthermore, a convenient smoke-clearing function (a 10-minute procedure) evacuates smoke from the cooking cavity before opening the door, enhancing its suitability for indoor use.
Once you have selected the desired settings, the oven will begin a brief preheat period before beginning the smoking cycle. Then, it will prompt you to start the smoking cycle and ensure that there is water and a full load of pellets in the hopper.
While the smoker efficiently reaches its maximum temperature of 300°F, it is not designed for searing large meat cuts within its temperature range of 225°F to 300°F. For a crispy crust or sear, it is recommended to transfer the meat to an oven or grill.
The first cooking attempt
My experience with the Smart Indoor Smoker began with a pack of three racks of pork loin back ribs from Costco. For our first attempt, my wife and I used the “Pork Ribs” preset, which runs at 235°F for six hours or until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 190°F if using a probe. Beforehand, we primed the unit to load the pellet chamber with fuel for smoking — which only needs to occur once or every time the pellet chamber is completely emptied. We prepared the ribs by rubbing them with yellow mustard and hot sauce, followed by a dry BBQ spice rub, and marinated them in the refrigerator for an hour.
Since back ribs are smaller than St. Louis and Kansas City cut spare ribs, and it can be challenging to insert a probe in them correctly, we decided not to use the temperature probe at the time — this was a bad call.
Our first attempt at back ribs with the Smart Indoor Smoker reminded us of the importance of choosing the right meat cuts and understanding how they respond to specific cooking times and temperatures. Our anticipation for a mouth-watering feast quickly turned into a lesson in humility as the ribs ended up overcooked and lacking in flavor, with an unpleasant charred taste.
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This outcome, which was different from our previous successes with back ribs on other smokers, highlighted the mismatch between the “Pork Ribs” preset, which is more suitable for fattier spare ribs, than the leaner and meatier pork loin back ribs, which should ideally not be cooked for more than four to four and a half hours — we’ll discuss this more in a bit.
This incident demonstrates the need for a software update that differentiates between presets for “SPARE RIBS” and “BACK RIBS,” each with predefined cooking times and temperatures to avoid such issues.
Thicker cuts of meat are easier to work with
We expanded our tests for the Smart Indoor Smoker to explore its potential and restore our culinary reputation. We smoked pork and beef Italian-style meatballs and Chinese-style marinated pork shoulder strips (char siu) at 225°F until they reached their ideal internal temperatures. The meatballs were cooked to 160°F and the pork shoulder strips to 165°F, resulting in superbly cooked dishes. We used the temperature probe to ensure precise cooking for each dish.
The standout success of our testing was a 3.45lb whole pork shoulder, which underwent the following process:
- Seasoning: We generously seasoned the pork shoulder with a blend of mustard and hot sauce, then coated it with our favorite barbecue rub.
- Smoking: We smoked the pork shoulder at 225°F, targeting an internal temperature of 165°F, with the temperature probe ensuring accurate monitoring.
- Smoke clearing: Upon reaching 165°F, we activated the smoker’s smoke-clearing cycle to eliminate excess smoke.
- Wrapping: We then wrapped the pork shoulder in aluminum foil and reinserted the probe for continued temperature tracking.
- Final cooking phase: We increased the cavity temperature to its highest setting of 300°F to bypass the temperature “stall,” cooking for an additional two and a half hours (without smoking) until reaching an internal temperature of 200°F.
This process took 6.5 hours, including a necessary refill of the pellet hopper, given its four-hour capacity.
The outcome was an impressive 38oz (about 2lbs 6oz) of cooked pork. After resting, we shredded the pork and seasoned it with a simple, flavorful dressing of apple cider vinegar, mustard, more BBQ rub, and hot sauce. We served it alongside hamburger rolls and coleslaw and complemented it with our favorite bottled BBQ sauce to create an ideal dish for a small family event or a big game day feast.
Lower food volume results in faster-cooked recipes
The unit’s compact cooking cavity speeds up meat cooking, so cooks need to be aware that meats will be done faster than in larger smokers. Recipes with reduced or halved portions will also cook more quickly than full recipes. For example, when testing a chicken wing recipe, we used only 1 lb of wings instead of the recommended 6 lbs. GE’s recipe called for cooking the wings at 275°F for two hours and then raising the temperature to 300°F for an extra half hour to crisp the skin.
However, our wings were fully cooked in just one hour. If we had not checked on them, they would have been overcooked. It’s crucial to check proteins for doneness after the first hour of cooking, particularly when cooking smaller amounts of food as indicated in a recipe, to avoid overcooking.
How to master smoking ribs with the Indoor Smoker
In a subsequent test with Kansas City cut spare ribs, using a temperature probe with custom settings (225°F aiming for an internal temperature of 195°F, at a high smoke level), we achieved perfectly smoked ribs in just 4.5 hours. This test demonstrated the smoker’s efficiency and the importance of why cooks should tailor times, temperatures, and methods to each recipe.
We should stress that employing the temperature probe across all cooking experiments with the Smart Indoor Smoker was markedly more effective than relying on cooking time alone, highlighting the variability in meat related to fat content, preparation, and trimming.
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Cooking outcomes can vary significantly based on your meat supplier source and chosen individual cuts of meat.
We also revisited cooking back ribs, a more challenging task, guided by advice from pitmaster colleagues. We achieved excellent results this time with the Smart Indoor Smoker. However, it necessitated close monitoring post the three-hour mark, including checking the ribs every half hour with an instant-read thermometer (we recommend Thermapen ONE) to verify doneness and ensure consistency with the smoker’s probe readings.
Here’s the procedure we followed:
- Initial preparation: We started with a package of Costco back ribs containing three racks and cut each rack in half for better handling and cooking.
- Seasoning: Each half rack was thoroughly coated with a mustard and hot sauce mixture, followed by a liberal application of our favorite barbecue rub.
- Temperature probing: We inserted the temperature probe into the thickest part of the largest rib section. Recognizing the smoker’s heat patterns, we placed these thicker sections on the top rack, closest to the smoke vent fan, for optimal cooking. The probe in this cook is strictly for additional remote temperature monitoring, given the challenges in obtaining accurate readings from back ribs due to bone heat conduction.
- Timed cook: The smoker was set to 225 degrees, with the three-hour timer set.
- Smoke clearing: We executed a smoke clearing at the three-hour mark to remove excess smoke.
- Mopping: Post-clearing, ribs were moved to a sheet pan for temperature checks with an instant-read thermometer, targeting an internal range of 140-150 degrees. We then mopped the ribs with a mix of apple cider vinegar and barbecue sauce, adding more rub for flavor.
- Final cooking phase: The temperature was raised to 240 degrees, and ribs were reorganized in the smoker, with the thicker, less cooked slabs placed on top. We checked the ribs every 30 minutes, flexing the ribs to assess doneness. Thinner slabs were ready to rest and serve at this point, but thicker ones needed more time.
- Finishing: Fully cooked ribs were finished with barbecue sauce at 300 degrees for 5 minutes.
Although the smoker can hold all six halves of back ribs across its three racks, it’s a tight fit. We recommend arranging them in an “S” or spooning configuration, alternating one rack bone-side up and the next face down to maximize space efficiently.
The smoker shows its strengths with meats treated with dry rubs or marinades, enhancing flavors through slow cooking and smoke infusion. For the best finish with thick, sugary BBQ sauces, apply the sauce towards the end of the cooking cycle. Elevating the temperature to 300°F also allows the sauce to adhere properly and caramelize on the meat, creating a delectable crust and rich flavor.
For advance preparation, dry or marinated ribs can be cooled, cut into individual pieces, tossed with sauce, and stored until needed — reheat in an oven or on a grill before serving.
About that (lack of) smoke ring
After noticing that meat cooked in the Smart Smoker did not have the traditional pink smoke ring, which is generally considered a sign of well-smoked meat, we investigated further. Several barbecue experts were consulted, and it was clarified that while a smoke ring may look visually appealing and is often a consideration during competition settings, it does not necessarily mean that the meat has a deeper smoke flavor.
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The smoke ring is formed due to a chemical reaction between smoke and the meat’s surface, influenced by the rub or marinade’s salts, nitrates, and overall smoke volume. Therefore, the absence of a smoke ring does not detract from the smoker’s ability to infuse smoke flavor, even though it produces smoke at a greatly reduced volume due to lower pellet fuel consumption.
Maintenance and cleaning
After each cook, you’ll want to dispose of the used wet pellets in the trash and pour the water into the sink. It’s also recommended to clean the cooking cavity thoroughly and all its components to prevent the accumulation of grease and caked-on food matter. The metal racks, rack supports, probe, and drip tray detach easily thanks to tension studs on the oven wall, and soaking these components for about an hour allows them to loosen any burnt-on debris before putting them in the dishwasher for a thorough cleaning.
For the cavity interior, you can use damp cloths and vinegar spray to wipe down the surfaces, but avoid using soaps or detergents during this process. After removing the metal shield cover, the exposed heating element at the bottom swivels, making it easier to access the area beneath and the back crevice of the oven, although that part can be hard to get to and may need extra work to get all the gunk out.
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The oven door glass should also be cleaned thoroughly to remove smoke, grease, and particulates. It is worth noting that the glass window feature isn’t very useful, even with the cavity light turned on, as the smoke completely obscures the food and collects on the window when it is cooking. It’s something that GE should consider removing in the next product version.
Connectivity is a weak spot
The Smart Indoor Smoker is compatible with GE’s universal SmartHQ smart appliance app, and the setup process is relatively straightforward, requiring turning on a network pairing procedure on the device and activating WiFi. However, during our evaluation, we frequently recognized a substantial update delay between the smoker and the SmartHQ cloud instance. This latency in real-time feedback exposes a weakness in the app’s performance and Haier’s cloud infrastructure, compromising the reliability of remote monitoring.
While the app provides convenience by allowing users to adjust settings and monitor temperatures remotely, we advise against sole reliance on it for extended periods. Close supervision of the smoker is essential to attain optimal outcomes, particularly on longer cooks.
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Furthermore, the app’s user experience (UX) requires improvement. The standout issue we noticed was that the “Recipes” feature, powered by Google’s AI, has no integration with the smoker.
Among the app’s features, the “Favorites” section is the most valuable. It lets users store customized cook settings for repeated use, enhancing the overall cooking experience. In the future, we’d also like to see more social media or community integration with the app to share cooks and settings with other users.
ZDNET’s buying advice
The value of the GE Profile Smart Indoor Smoker largely depends on personal circumstances, such as living arrangements and cooking needs. Those with space for an outdoor smoker may prefer traditional models for their lower cost and potential to achieve high-quality barbecue results. Outdoor smokers range from the simple yet reliable Weber Smokey Mountain at around $300 to mid-range pellet smokers at around $500 by Traeger and Recteq, and into the thousands for higher-end models, offer extensive cooking capacity and the ability to create a smoke ring. Still, they use significantly more fuel — between one and three pounds of pellets per hour.
The GE Profile Smart Indoor Smoker stands out for its wood fuel efficiency, utilizing about two cups of pellets for four hours of cooking. This makes it an ideal option for those who cannot use outdoor smokers, like apartment residents, offering a smokeless solution for indoor use. Priced at $699 during its Super Bowl promotion, the Smart Indoor Smoker is a competitive offering, and it would be advantageous for GE/Haier to keep this pricing to remain attractive to consumers. Nonetheless, this smoker is a versatile choice for anyone wanting to demonstrate their indoor barbecue skills, capable of handling everything from small cuts to larger proteins.