Back in March of this year, Hasty Bake, a well known grill manufacturer here in the Tulsa area, invited me over for a plant tour and I happily obliged ;-). After the tour was over, they sent me home with a Hasty Bake 131 Legacy and several bags of their branded lump charcoal. Oh, and let's not forget the heavy duty red leather grill gloves, samples of their own rubs, a bottle of firestarter gel and some huge firestarter matches.
This company has been producing their line of grills since 1948 and I was excited to give this legend a try and see how it fared against so many other great smokers and grills. The reason I can compare this grill with other smokers and not just grills is because of the unique way in which it is built which allows it to smoke, grill and sear with the simple turn of a crank to move the firebox closer or further away from the cooking grates.
I'm getting way ahead of myself though so let me just introduce the unit by showing you the one they gave me.
[Right side view]
[Left side view]
Hasty Bake believes that a hood with a vent allows moisture and heat to escape leaving you with food that is not as moist as it should be. The large hood on the 131 Legacy completely seals in the heat and moisture when it is closed and there are no vents or openings of any kind on the hood.
The vents are located below the grate on the body of the smoker. The main intake vent is in the access door and the exit vent is on the opposite side of the grill by the push handle.
As I mentioned above, the location of the vents in the body of the smoker below the grates is a key component in how this grill works by creating an airflow pattern in the hood that preserves moisture and prevents the food from drying out as easily.
Upon first glance you'll notice that the grates on this grill are not flat but rather “v” shaped and this is very much on purpose.
The thinking behind the design is that if you want to reduce flare-ups you have to be able to control the grease and keep it from dropping down into the flames as much as possible.
Because of the “v” shape, most of the grease on the food runs to the center of the grate where it drips down to the grease drain rod and runs downhill to the outside of the grill and into the grease pan. This not only controls flare-ups but also keeps the grill a lot cleaner– two birds, one stone.
The hand crank on the left side of the grill right below the push handle allows you to move the firebox up and down depending on what style of cooking you want to do whether smoking, grilling or searing.
It turns very smoothly and there is a handy indicator that let's you know the position of the firebox.
By moving the firebox closer to the grates you can sear a steak or by moving it down into it's lowest position you can smoke foods at lower temperatures. As you know, smoking is normally done using indirect heat and this can be achieved by using the included heat deflector on top of the firebox.
Firebox and Ash Pan
The firebox sits just above the ash pan and is where you place the lump charcoal for lighting. As the charcoal burns and creates ash, it falls down to the ash pan where it can be easily disposed of once it cools down. Hasty Bake recommends lining the ash pan with heavy duty foil in order to prolong the life of the ash pan.
As we all know, factory thermometers are usually not very accurate and I'm always interested to know just how accurate they are. The one on the Hasty Bake is touted to be accurate within 2%. So at 225, it is said to be accurate within +- about 5 degrees which is not horrible for a factory thermometer. I have not tested the accuracy yet but once I do, I will update this to let you know how it rates.
Front Work Table
The 131 Legacy comes with a front work table made of stainless steel. It is removable and stores inside the grill when not in use. I am impressed that this is not only made of heavy duty stainless steel but also that it comes standard rather than being an add-on. It is a great place to sit thermometers, tongs, pans, etc.
To light the Hasty Bake, I lowered the firebox to about 2 inches above the ash pan then pulled out the firebox and ash pan for full access. I also raised the hood and fully opened both vents.
Lump charcoal was poured into the firebox so it was about even with the top of the firebox and only filled the right half of the firebox.
Per the instructions, I squirted the firestarter gel in a small circular pattern on the foil in the ash pan just below where the center of the charcoal was.
I tried lighting a firestarter match that they gave me but found that a standard gas lighter worked better for this purpose.
Once lit, the ash pan and firebox was pushed fully back into the grill simultaneously but the door remained open and the hood raised until the coals were ready.
In about 10 minutes, a large area in the center of the firebox was glowing red. I placed the heat deflector on top of the firebox, closed the access door and the hood so I could get a read on the temperature and set the vents.
Once the temperature came up to about 200°F, I closed the intake and exit vents to about 50% and once it reached about 215°F, I closed the intake vent to about 15% to try and maintain a low smoking temperature.
So far, the Hasty Bake likes to cook at temperatures of about 275°F to 300°F although I have been successful at getting it to maintain 225 for about 45 minutes before the temperature slowly climbs to 275°F or so. Controlling the temperature is a matter of the correct amount of charcoal, the correct amount of lit charcoal and proper vent settings and there's some art to it.. this is not a set it and forget it cooker nor is it intended to be.
What about Smoke?
There's a couple of ways to handle the creation of smoke. One of them is to place dry woodchips or wood chunks on top of the charcoal and just keep replenishing it as needed to keep the smoke going.
Another method (my favorite) is to place a pie pan filled with pellets, wood chips, wood chunks or a mixture of these on top of the heat deflector for continuous smoke throughout your cooking session. I do not recommend soaking the wood in water.
How to Cook Low and Slow for Hours on End
While I am still learning the techniques required to maintain low and slow in the Hasty Bake, from my research it seems that many are using a fuse method to keep only a small amount of the coals lit at one time. This method requires you to place something like a firebrick in the center of the pan with coals carefully stacked all the way around the perimeter. The coals are lit on one end and like a “fuse” it burns slowly from one end to the other maintaining a low temperature all the while.
I will work on perfecting this method and hopefully be able to post more about it later.
Anything I Didn't Like
The vents are hinged and while they seem to work just fine, I believe a more precise and repeatable airflow setting could be obtained by using sliding vents with the same hole patterns.
As I use this more, I will notate anything that annoys me or I feel could be improved.
After using the Hasty Bake 131 Legacy for a couple of months now, I can say that it is one of the most versatile units I have seen with the ability to cook at low temperatures all the way up to screaming hot searing temperatures by simply altering the amount of charcoal, raising or lowering the firebox and adjusting the vents.
If you love cooking with charcoal but want it to be easier and more versatile than most charcoal grills and smokers then the Hasty Bake may be something you need to look into very seriously.
After using this thing, it's obvious that a lot of thought went into the design and it works flawlessly. There's no wonder that these are sitting on so many patios here in the Tulsa area and beyond. Many people have had their units for decades and still use them.
I have cooked burgers, hotdogs, tri-tip, brats, chicken wings, whole chicken and pork ribs and in everything I have cooked, even though much of it has not been entirely low and slow, the flavor has been out of this world.
This grill is a joy to use and I am excited to improve my skills over the coming months. Unlike most grills on the market, the Hasty Bake 131 Legacy is well made from high quality materials and I have no doubt that I'll be using this for several decades to come. Furthermore, the Hasty Bake company not only has a long history of great products but they still manufacture parts for all of their past and present models and replacement parts, should you ever need them, are readily available.
For those of you in the Tulsa area, be sure to stop by their store at 1313 S. Lewis Tulsa, OK 74104 to see their entire line of grills and accessories. Be sure and tell them that you heard about it from Jeff at Smoking-Meat.com.