It’s surprising how quickly dinnertime rolls around when you know pulled pork sandwiches are on the menu. I was in charge of cooking for my family of three and decided it was the perfect opportunity to test out the Smart Indoor Smoker GE Appliances lent me. I was confident the five-pound bone-in shoulder I had put into the device seven hours ago had sufficiently liquefied collagen and a crusty bark, but I was worried that my family would pick up on the faint but pleasing smoke smell.

Then the front door’s knob jiggled to life. My wife asked about the mail and our teenage daughter said lacrosse practice was “fine.” They both saw the smoker on the kitchen island, yet no one did a double sniff. As we sat down to eat, I got nervous.

I shredded the butt for pulled pork and topped it with vinegary coleslaw on potato rolls (and served sauce on the side). It stirred up mixed emotions. The sandwich was delicious: the fall-apart tender pork with crusty bark and a pleasing smoke essence required minimal effort. After two bites, I thought to myself that good barbecue can’t—or perhaps, shouldn’t—be this effortless. 

The GE Profile Smart Indoor Smoker, which retails at $1,000, is about the size of a mini fridge. The three racks inside are removable to accommodate a broiler chicken, a casserole dish, or a half-rack of ribs. A brisket would require trimming to fit. The hopper on the top needs about two cups of hardwood pellets, which, after combustion, fall into a water-filled drawer to extinguish. The smoke enters from the side wall of the cooker, floats around inside, and then is scrubbed clean on its way through a permanent, catalytic converter–type filter. 

An electric element provides heat while the pellets add flavor. Thanks to its temperature range of 150 to 300 degrees, you can hold food at a safe temperature after it’s done cooking, which means it’s ready to eat when you are. While the Wi-Fi–enabled appliance comes with a companion app, your interaction through a smartphone (or tablet) is minimal. The touch screen dashboard has settings for popular cuts like brisket, pork butt, and ribs. Each has a preset internal temperature, tracked by a probe, or you can customize your cook time and temperature. You receive an alert on your phone once the meat is done. A dial allows for some customization of the smoke level, but the chances are slim it will overpower anyone even when cranked to the highest level.

The whole process is a far cry from cooking barbecue the more traditional way: hauling yourself outside during a vast range of potential weather conditions; fiddling with an offset, pellet, or rotisserie smoker; and keeping an eye on it for hours while adjusting and maintaining the fire. The ease, comfort, and convenience of my barbecue made it feel sacrilegious. 

Like a man of the cloth, Joe Zavala, of Zavala’s Barbecue in Grand Prairie, a suburb of Dallas, patiently listened to my anxieties and guilt. What the indoor smoker made was tasty, crusty, smoky, and juicy—but was it really barbecue if I didn’t put in all the effort? “We know that barbecue is expensive and it’s becoming more of a special event to come and eat it with your family and friends,” he said. “We want more people to make barbecue at home, and if you can be that backyard hero, or that countertop hero in this case, that’s really cool.”

Zavala and other pitmasters I talked to are seemingly welcoming the evolution of making barbecue indoors. “It’s a step closer to real barbecue,” said Christie Vanover, a Las Vegas–based pitmaster with the competitive team Girls Can Grill who has used the GE Appliances smoker for months. “It does create nice bark, an essence of smoke, but nothing like you’re going to get from cooking on charcoal or logs,” she said.

The GE Appliances smoker system is designed to be consistent and predictable, but that also means it doesn’t leave room for creativity. “When you’re cooking with a stick burner you have all these options,” said Jordan Jackson, who manned the pits at Franklin Barbecue in Austin before opening a barbecue consulting business. “Do you want one, two, or three sticks? Do you want them to smolder a little, or do you want more airflow? A denser log or a lighter one?” While it’s true that traditional barbecue is more difficult, yielding a more complex flavor, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something else. “The way I look at it is pretty simple: People focus too much on how something is achieved instead of the achievement,” Jackson said. “If you make a really good Texas brisket on a pellet smoker, how can you argue with that? If it was great, well, what does it matter how you made it?”

This was a shock to hear. Using a pellet cooker, like a Traeger, always seemed like cheating to me. Sure, it’s capable of making a meal friends and family enjoy, but even if no one else noticed the lack of fussing, I knew it required less mastery. But maybe I should start worrying less about that. After all, my back patio isn’t exactly one of Texas Monthly’s Top 50 barbecue joints.

To some experts, easier barbecue is fine, provided you don’t sacrifice its spirit in the process. Dayne Weaver, of Dayne’s Craft Barbecue in Aledo, about twenty miles west of Fort Worth, welcomes this newfangled smoker for those without the space. “It’s great to see that smoked meats are becoming more popular and mainstream,” he said. “I think this ‘smoker’ is great . . . but if someone has a backyard, I’d be pretty sad to hear that they were using one of these. Smoking barbecue is an outdoor activity, and I’d like it to stay that way.” In my vision of dystopian Texas, the popularity of indoor smokers explodes and barbecue joints become twenty-first-century automats.

My fears were quickly dispelled. “A pellet cooker is a robotic version of cooking,” Jackson said. “You’ve got people who can play music by ear and those who can read music. And to me, a pellet smoker is a classically trained musician who has no writing skills. And then you have the person who plays by ear and has the heart and writes the best pop songs—that’s cooking barbecue.” Still, pellet cooking—even indoors—can be a gateway to more traditional means. Vanover says she’s had many social media followers comment that her tutorials have inspired them to graduate from using pellets to trying smoking the old-fashioned way.

Turns out that what you’re sacrificing with an indoor smoker is less about the flavor and preserving real barbecue and more about the communal aspect of cooking with family and friends. “I think barbecue was here before us and will be here after us,” Zavala said. “At the end of the day, if you enjoy it, and your family and friends enjoy it, then you’re the pitmaster of your own countertop.” 

That’s all the reasoning I need to take smoked brisket—what was almost exclusively a Saturday project—into the fold as an effortless weeknight dinner.