While the Cook-Air EP-3615 has been discontinued, this review currently goes for the current EP-3620 model.
Regardless, this grill is my safety net for 1 inch thick or less chops and steaks, and it’s currently my favorite tailgating small-sized portable.
What its got right
It only cooks pellets the size of jumbo hockey pucks or 2-3 inch hardwood chunks, and in just 5 minutes it gets to a 700F steakhouse sizzle. Your 1 inch ribeyes will produce an even color edge to edge and a crust of mahogany throughout. There’s zilch for cleanup, and there’s not a place it can’t go because of only 17 pounds to haul. Cook-Air’s height is just 12 inches, and accompanied with its lightweight you have a powerhouse among portables with a 13” round cooking grate, not too small to grill up three steaks of good size. And it’s usually not even a couple Benjamins.
The width of the combustion chamber is similar to that of whiskey measured to a quart and one-third its height. Take a paper wadded up to toss in and flame it up or there’s the firestarter sticks Cook-Air includes that you could use (steraine permeated cardboard, essentially animal fat extract).
Count out half a minute and it should catch, and switch to 1 on the fan. Load the combustion chamber with wood, turn the fan up to 3.
Within a couple minutes or less the wood is getting full attention. Crank up to 5. Give it 5 minutes at most and it’s soaring past 700F, and if you load wood in at the maximum amount and wait 7 minutes (or 3 minutes more), the center of the deflector plate between the food and the flame is nearing 1000F (edges seem a fifth lower in temp or around 800F). Temps be steakhouse style! Giddyup.
If you’ve gone up against fajita in wars with your ammo of thin skirt steaks- getting meat that’s well done at the point there’s any color on the outside- Cook-Air’s got you covered.
Insider tip: crank her to 5 and don’t put the lid on for thin meat grilling so you’re focusing the heat on only one side. And because it’s a real fast cooker, the loss of moisture weight is minimal although you might hear of shrinkage in this case from the high heat contracting proteins.
For steaks 1 inch thick, cook on 4 or a milder 3 so you don’t burn the exterior while hanging around for the temp to come up in the interior. See that they’re turned every couple of minutes (or 1 minute intervals). Wait a couple minutes after putting on the lid so the heat reflects down.
Spoiler alert: One of these costs this much on Amazon.com
There’s one strong advantage with using this system: the meat surface is allowed to entirely brown thanks to… the thin wire grate. For meat of thicker cuts, more wood will probably need to be added after around ¼ an hour (dependent on the setting of the fan).
Because things get real hot with this baby, your grub cooks lickety split. You’ll want to be on stand-by with a Cook-Air, and a Thermapen will be an absolute essential to pick up or a similar digital meat thermometer that’s fast.
The food, surprisingly, doesn’t get a flavor that’s overly smoky because the fire is consuming the wood so thoroughly. Smoking is noted in the manual as to be done when grilling is about wrapped up, but you might prefer doing it sometime soon after lighting up the Cook-Air (so when you’re smoking you won’t overcook the meat).
The lid handle is attached by just two screws for assembly. With it comes an adapter and power cord, a (cleaning-oriented) wire brush, tongs, a cigarette lighter 12 volt adapter, and wood pucks (as compressed sawdust) supplied nicely for maybe 10 grill-outs.
To clean whatever ash is left, just turn to low on the fan, take the supplied brush to wipe down the surface, orient it upside down, give it a shake, and take a cloth damped down to wipe with. Because the EP-3620BKs are built with stainless steel of a 304 grade, they won’t be subject to rust.
Wood is wood, right?
What’s said by the manufacturer regarding what should be used for wood: either their (Canada ordered) wood pucks must be burned or any accessible source of hardwood that’s been unfinished and untreated. For the record, compressed sawdust is what you’re really burning (main constituent of the pucks).
Actually, you can get away with using something like oak (Mojo-Bricks is a good source; they’re also using chunks of sawdust that’s been compressed).
The pucks from Cook-Air are a tad less tightly. Better yet, the wood flavors you get with Mojo-Bricks are a good variation.
Cook-Air points out that softwood cannot be burned like wood pellets or charcoal or pine. The load of resins in softwoods is never something you’d want to use on a smoker or grill because of the noxious gases they make.
If you were to test this out with a (brown-colored) bag of Kingsford Competition Charcoal (ash produced is less with the Competition), you’d get a distinct smell of solvent regardless of how well it cooks and burns, but if you’d cook with hardwood you’d have far less ash.
The (good) advice of Cook Air is to make sure you remove whatever you can of external fat, and dry pat the surface prior to putting on food so you don’t get flare-ups. My critique to their recommendation: keep the time short if you have the lid on. The surface gets deposited with gray-colored thick soot. The fan can’t be turned off or even to 2 or 1 either. Same deal. So, perhaps cook at or above 3 only.