Doing the Masterbuilt vs Bradley electric smoker comparison is bound to tick off a few folks as both companies have loyal fan bases. Of the two brands, Bradley is more “high end” but Masterbuilt is where I would put my money.
The main reason that I don’t like Bradely smokers is the same reason that so many people love them: The automated smoke wood addition system.
The Heart of the Bradley
A Bradley smoker is composed of two different modules.
The first module is the rectangular primary cooking chamber. The cooking chamber contains the cooking grids and a heating element that controls the temperature inside the smoker. There is a hole in the side of the cooking chamber that accepts a connection from the second module.
The second module is the smoke wood addition system. This module feeds compressed sawdust pucks into the cooking chamber and uses a separate heating element to make the pucks smolder and produce smoke. A new puck is automatically fed into the chamber every 20 minutes. The latest models hold enough pucks (Bradley calls them Bisquettes) for up to 9 hours of smoking.
The automated and continuous addition of pucks is what makes Bradley unique in the world of electric smokers. All other electric smokers require you lo manual load wood chips, let them smolder, and then manually add more chips once the chips are consumed.
I will acknowledge that the Bradley system is convenient and many people love these smokers.
However, let me give you three reasons to think twice before buying one of these.
Cost: The automated feed system and the associated extra heating element make the Bradley considerably more expensive than an equivalently sized Masterbuilt electric smoker. The exact price difference varies based on which model, etc but is in the range of $150 to $200.
Complexity: Most electric smokers have one heating element and an associated temperature control system. The Bradley has two heating elements, an associated temperature control system and the entire automated mechanical puck feeding system. There are more things that can go wrong on a Bradley just because it has so many more parts.
Stuck with Pucks: This is the thing that bugs me the most. If you buy a Bradley smoker then you have to buy all of your smoke wood from them. They have you as a captive customer for a consumable supply for as long as you own the smoker.
Many people love the automated design that makes Bradley a “set it and forget it” electric smoker.
I just like simple and inexpensive better.
The second reason that I am not a fan of Bradley smokers is the size of the cooking grids. While there is plenty of capacity inside a Bradley (572 square inches on the Original), that capacity is spread across multiple, small cooking grates. The grates in the Original come in at 11 x 13 inches. While this size is fine for chicken and pork chops you are going to find yourself in a pickle when you try to smoke a slab of spare ribs or a full packer brisket.
Here is a video of the Original Bradley Smoker in action. I like this video because it shows the puck feed mechanism in pretty nice detail as well as how you need to cut your ribs in half in order to get them into the smoker.
For the price of a Bradley you can get the massive 40 inch digital electric smoker from Masterbuilt and have enough cash left over for four or five slabs of ribs. Not only will you have a bunch of ribs but you will have a smoker that is large enough to handle them.
Whether you decide to go with a Bradley or a Masterbuilt make sure you get a model with DIGITAL temperature control. There is absolutely no reason to shoot yourself in the foot by getting a smoker with a manual thermostat/rheostat controller.
Both Masterbuilt and Bradley have cold smoke generator attachments that fit their digital smokers. They follow similar pattern in that both of them work great and the Bradley version being more expensive.