Top positive review
Yes, you should pay this much for a glorified hair dryer
May 31, 2016
UPDATE: After two grilling seasons, I have to admit I'm not using this to light charcoal anymore. If you're lighting charcoal in a chimney, this will get you cooking faster, but I think it adds a new problem: by the time the top coals are lit, the lower ones have burned through quite a bit. So overall it feels like I'm getting a faster light at the expense of wasted fuel. Considering the short lifespan of a briquette, that can mess with the cook. It's not really worth it to save 10 minutes, but I guess it's nice to have the option if I'm in a hurry.
What I am using it for is as a supplement to the Slow-N-Sear, and for that it's AWESOME. I've been relying on the reverse sear lately for just about everything but for steaks especially, I've never grilled such good food before. The concept is that you bank all or most of your coals on one side of the grill, and cook your food with indirect heat until you're about 10 or 15 degrees shy of your target temp. Then you put the food over your coal pile, which is way hotter than you'd normally cook with. That's where you get dark, flavorful crust (no grill marks; the whole surface is a giant grill mark) with total control over temperature.
The problem with this setup is that even with a big pile of charcoal, it's not going to be that hot after 10 minutes of covered indirect cooking because it's been oxygen-starved. Enter the (BBQ) Dragon ... you can turn the coal pile into a glowing red inferno in a minute or two. The BBQ Dragon isn't so much a time-saver anymore; it's saving moisture in your meat while you quickly get your sear zone hotter than would otherwise be possible.
I don't feel any differently about the quality or features of the BBQ Dragon, but its role in reverse-searing has turned it into a must-have for me.
This product sat in my cart for a long time before I decided to pull the trigger. I knew what it does, and knew that I really wanted my charcoal lit as fast as possible ... I just couldn't get past that price. I felt like I was going to get ripped off buying what is nothing more than a common fan, probably only priced as high as it is because it's marketed to grill enthusiasts (and we love to spend money on this stuff).
Well, I can't say that I think it's worth, for example, half the cost of an entry-level Weber charcoal grill. I'd feel pretty good paying about $30 for this. But I was wrong to think that this is not a unique product. You're paying for a good idea. Nowhere else will you find a small fan that a) is built to be heatproof, b) has a long, flexible neck, c) is cordless, and d) can be recharged.
Those features are why you can't "just use a hair dryer." Well, you can, but you'll have to stand there holding it, and you'll need to be near an outlet, and you will only have one free hand to get your charcoal lit. There's no possible way to position anything else correctly without holding it. I tried a regular fan once and after seeing the difference some moving air makes, I knew I had to buy the real thing.
Let me mention some common beefs in other reviews:
That Battery Latch: Yes, it's weird. Basically the entire end of one part of the handle comes off, and that's where the batteries go in. This end cap is your battery latch, and it's held in place by two flexible plastic clips that mate with holes on the handle. It's a design that I don't remember seeing before, and probably with good reason. My problem isn't that anything feels cheap or flimsy, it's that it's hard to get it back on once it's off, to the point where you feel like you're forcing it and may break it. Maybe some earlier reviewers had a different product run with thinner clips that are easier to insert but also easier to break? With mine, I would not enjoy taking it off and putting it on a lot, but with rechargables I don't have to think about it.
USB port: I think it's great that you can bring your own batteries and charger to this system. The USB port is probably the worst part of this product, though. I have a really hard time getting the cable in there correctly. BBQ Dragon needs to tighten this up a bit.
The handle: I haven't seen much mention of the fact that the handle can serve as a really sturdy base for the fan, making it free-standing. This would make it great for a campfire or fireplace. The flipside of that is that the handle is enormous - so big that it's difficult to squeeze with one hand.
Documentation: No complaints here. There are diagrams for placement of the fan for different situations (for example, if you're lighting a chimney you should point the fan downward on the other side of the grill so that air loops around and travels up the chimney. This seems to work pretty well). If they didn't explain the USB charging before, that's been fixed now.
Build quality: It's built like a tank, especially the handle, the neck, and the case of the fan (which is stainless and not plastic like you might suspect). Two exceptions are the terrible USB port, and the wiring inside the fan tube. I was a little surprised to see fairly bare soldered wire connections inside the fan. I'd think you'd want that stuff sheltered from the filth that's being constantly sent through the fan body. We'll see if that becomes a problem when this unit has been out there a few more years.
I love this fan, and as long as it lasts more than a few years I'll be happy with my purchase. The build quality is great, it works well, and I love the recharging function. With some tweaks to the USB port and battery cover, and a $10 price reduction, I'd have zero complaints. 4 stars.