Considering buying an Electric smoker

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by greenersport, Jul 26, 2016.

  1. greenersport

    greenersport Newbie

    If I were to buy an Electric smoker should I get?  I see Charbroil has some new models?  Masterbuilt?  I think the Bluetooth and temp monitoring would be nice.  Looking for advice.

  2. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Not a watt-burner here, I just never wanted to go that route. I've read that Masterbuilt has great customer service...haven't read much about the rest you mentioned.

    While the units with more convenience and features may be appealing, they are more complicated...complicated translates to higher potential for problems down the road when compared to just a simple rig with temp controller.

    In my experience, simple is usually more reliable, even if it comes with a bit steeper learning curve to master the rig.

    In most cases, don't trust the factory thermometers as they tend to have less than acceptable range of accuracy. Verify temps before trusting them with a prized cut of meat. Even just a $4 pocket thermometer to insert into the smoke chamber is better than nothing for temp, and you can do a boil-check with them to verify their accuracy.

    These will help explain the what and why to determine if your smoke chamber therms are good to go:

    Boiling Point / Atmospheric Pressure / Altitude

    Water Altitude Boiling Point Calculator

    Last edited: Jul 27, 2016
  3. sota d

    sota d Smoking Fanatic

    I've had a Masterbuilt 30 for 3 years now. Other than recently replacing the heating element, I've had no problems with it and it has turned out some great Q. No blue tooth or anything fancy, but it works well. Good luck, David.
  4. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I've enjoyed my Masterbuilt electric digital smoker for over four years. It's a 30" Generation 1 model, which you can sometimes find for under $130-140 but more often around $170-180. That makes it the best electric smoker in its price range. I'm not a fan of any Charbroil products because I think the quality of construction is lacking across the board. Masterbuilt has a new Bluetooth model in both 30" and 40" sizes which has been very popular but they're also a little pricey. It depends on how much you plan to spend. Masterbuilt also has an excellent customer service department.

    Since my MES 30 is what I call a basic black model, I monitor meat and cooking temps with the Maverick ET-733. I really enjoy that therm, so much so that I just bought my 2nd one. I don't have a smart phone--yet--but I can't see using a Bluetooth therm with phone apps to monitor the cooking. A lot of guys like to keep digital records or even written printouts of their smokes. I think I'd rarely read those.
  5. cmayna

    cmayna Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I love my  MES40  Gen 1  smoker.  It caused my two Big Chief's to go into retirement.
  6. jond36

    jond36 Meat Mopper

    My biggest recommendation is DONT get a small cooking chamber. This is especially true with electrics because the food can throw of the temp of the thermometer and shut off the cooker or vice versa.

    The MES is large enough that it doesnt have this problem, but just some food for thought.

    Pros - lazy Q (set and forget)

    Cons - no smoke ring
    - no TBS
  7. jond36

    jond36 Meat Mopper

    I should catch myself before I say no TBS. AMNPS puts out great smoke.
  8. scobeyjohn

    scobeyjohn Newbie

    I am single and have a son and daughter in law that come over to eat.  A few weeks ago I bought an electric Masterbuilt Bullet with 2 racks.  I have smoked some salmon, chicken quarters and today I am doing a 4lb brisket.  So far it has worked great and I am happy with it. It is easy to clean and move around. 
  9. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    I have 2 MES 40's Gen 1 Model 20070311 all Stainless. The Bluetooth units are good as well. If price does not matter too much, the Smokin-It Electrics are a great value...JJ
  10. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I forgot about the MES 40 Gen 1. Had I had the money that would have been my choice instead of the MES 30. Don't know why but you can find an abundance of MES 30 Gen 1's on Amazon but not one MES 40 Gen 1. At least I haven't seen one in a couple of years.
  11. jeffinn

    jeffinn Fire Starter

    The Smokin-It 3D is a really great smoker. All stainless steel and backed by a 3 year warranty (1 year on the Auber controller and 3 years on everything else). The owner really stands behind his products.
    I purchased the 3D a few months ago and absolutely love it!
  12. focus

    focus Newbie

    I've recently made the decision to go electric myself.  I have loved my char-griller with side fire box for many years, but my life demands a more set-and-forget option.  Plus the New England winters have taken their toll on the Char Griller.

    My 2 whole hours of research turned up the Masterbuilt and Bradley models.  Stopping by Lowes and Home Depot and I was relatively pleased.  Although the models they had on the floor (the 30" Masterbuilt and 40" with window and remote control) had some plusses and minuses.  the notable minus being the chip/ash holder looked really small for a long smoke session - like about 1.5 cups.  Ditto for the water basin - maybe two cups there.  I've seen a video through the Lowes/HD website that shows a model with a larger water basin.  However, the model in the video didn't have a meat thermoprobe - which I really liked in the floor models I've seen.

    As to the Bradley models, I'm very interested in the automatic feed system, but I'm not crazy about being wedded to Bradley bisquetts forever.  But from what I can tell, you can get a longer smoke session using the Masterbuilt cold smoke accessory so you're not refilling the chips every few minutes.  Any experience with this out there?

    Couple more questions:

    - Someone said that you can't get a smoke ring with a Masterbuilt.  What gives there?

    - What is TBS and AMNPS?

    - Should I get hung up over the meat probe?  I read another post here that says it's not accurate anyway.  I think I can just use another remote probe thermometer and thread it through the exhaust valve, right?

    I haven't mentioned yet that I'm looking to spend $200-$300, maybe a little more if it's really worth it.

    Thanks for the advice.
  13. old sarge

    old sarge Master of the Pit ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Focus - Welcome to the forum. 

    You can get a smoke ring if your heat source is wood.   Combustion of the wood produces the gasses that produce the smoke ring. You will not get the smoke ring with electric.   The wood chips or chunks used are for smoke flavor.

    TBS is thin blue smoke. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I do not. I use a Smokin-it electric smoker  and prior to that a Cookshack Amerique. My smokers use chunks; 3 to 5 ounces total at the beginning of the smoke with no reloading needed.  I can use tree branches from fruit trees in the wood box to save on money.

    The AMNPS is an after market accessory that burns pellets or sawdust that a lot of master built owners use to avoid having to make repeated trips to fill the chip tray.  From what I have read, you will need a torch to light the pellets/sawdust.

    You need a quality temperature probe for monitoring the smoker temperature and when doing large pieces of meat, the internal temperature of the meat.  Check out the ThermaQ and the Maverick.

    Besides the smokers you are looking at in the stores, do not overlook smokers from Smokin-it.  All stainless steel, inside and out; no plastic or painted parts, no gaskets, no windows, 3 year warranty on the smoker and if you get the digital version, the controller is covered by a 1 year warranty.  

    I am including a link to the SI smoker site and also a link to an article that explains smoke.  Very helpful in understanding the science. 

    I hope this helps.  It is very tempting when starting out to buy what looks good in a store but do some  more reading and research.  A smoker, a good one, is an investment.

    Last edited: Jul 30, 2016
  14. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Well! This is news to me. You forsook your Cookshack Amerique for a Smokin-It? What happened to motivate you to make the change? But I tell you, if I had it in my budget and wanted to stick with electric smokers I'd be looking at a Cookshack or a Smokin-It. Some people like the Smokin-Tex, which looks very similar to a SI smoker. But from what I've read SI has the better line of smokers and their prices are better as well. AI know that Cookshack is made in the USA whereas SI is made in China. That's the primary reason why CS smokers are higher-priced than SI because the both seem to be about the same in quality. SI has the better warranty: parts are covered for 3 years instead of two.
  15. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    Going to share a post I already made with you, for a very affordable yet nice unit from Master Built.

    I am new to electric smokers as well, having a been a wood and charcoal cooker/smoker (4-6 hours) with a Char Grill.

    I also went thru the same mess looking at all the different electronic options

    I did some intense research on the models as well as the price of the replacement electronics and elements, probes etc etc, that said, I found that the main control/readout is very pricey, over half the price of the unit in most cases and seeing that and the added cost of the other items I was not impressed, my reason being, if I have one of those then I would want at least a spare control and heating element in case it died and I was in the middle of a cook, then I could replace and get back to business, when I saw the price of these gadgets I was discouraged.

    So all that said I started looking at different models and their capability

    I chose the MES 30 Sportsman Elite for these reasons:

    1. Simplicity
    2. It has a 1500W Element which in regards to cold weather cooking should be enough to handle the heat loss if done outside, again the 1500W element for good heat control and less variations of the temp, and again for high temp cooking and smoking, the 1500W element will surely outperform and have better life than the lesser ones around 800W's
    3. I am not sure of the comments on longevity of the unit, the one I have is made well, yet it is not Stainless Steel but even if left outside with a cover I do not see the life being a issue, it should last well over 5 years, and if kept indoors or a shop I would imagine it would last forever unless you run over it or a tree falls on your shop and destroys it.
    4. COST - I paid 146 bucks for it and with the rack Mod I am doing I have 8 racks for jerky and a host of other things, of course I can not put a chicken or whole ham on each rack, but with 8 racks I can surely do 8 chickens or 4 hams with bone or probably 12 roasts if I wanted.
    5. Simplicity of Heating Element and Temperature Control, it is like that of a Electric Skillet, very dependable.

    All that said, the reason I am against all the fancy electronics is for one, as stated, the cost of replacement of the individual parts is rather expensive in my opinion, and they will go bad sooner or later
    I can get a new Temp Control and the 1500W Element, both, for just under $50 from Master Built.

    I love stainless but I would not leave a electric appliance/controls in the weather even with a cover, it will lead to accelerated death of the parts from moisture, condensation, rust, dust, pollen etc etc, so if the body is Stainless that is great, but it will not stop that damage to wiring, elements and Temp controls, another plus for this unit, there is no wiring except the cord going to the Temp Control !

    And for the biggest reason to forget the electronics and go Analog is :

    You can buy a dual probe meat thermometer that will monitor inside cook temp, meat temps on separate pieces/roasts etc, the cook time overall, and you can get them in Infrared, Wireless and Bluetooth, so I do not see spending all that extra money for the smoker regarding the addition of the extras electronically when you can get a decent dual or single probe monitor for right at or even well under $50

    I do not look at Master Built having the market because of the many people using them, I look at it as there are many people using them because they are far more affordable and in real use and general care last the same amount of time or as long.

    I am perfectly happy with the construction of the unit and I have been in the mechanical for my whole life, and with proper care, this will outlast my Char Grill, only because the Char Grill has to be outdoors, even under the cover it takes damage over time, but then I am on my second Char Grill, but have been using them for over 20 years.

    I have not fired mine up but am impressed with the simplicity and have a list of Mods I want to complete, one I have already done, The Rack Mod, I get the other 3 racks today and will be posting that Mod this evening with instructions, and the parts from Master Built were less than $20 dollars, the other I am doing soon is adding a Smoke Stack from a Master Forge Propane Grill, part with shipping less than $15, and the reason being is I am using a AMNPS Pellet smoker, with the MES 30, the chip tray is not reliable unless cooking high temp, and the majority of my work outside of actually using it to cook, will be low temp or cold smoke, I will be posting that Mod as well as soon as I get the Stack in about a week, just ordered it today, the reason for the Stack is to increase Air Flow over the basic 3/4" hole in the back right hand top that is the exhaust vent ( I will use that hole for my Temp Probes and fill with high temp RTV Silicone ), the AMNPS has to have Air of course and it will help with the smoke generation and keeping the AMNPS lit, but the real reason is for drying and or dehydrating, it will speed those processes drastically, the stack is adj for air flow, so it can be adj'ed so it is like it was or opened up for faster times on diff uses.

    Many consider the AMNPS as a MOD but all you have to do is set it in there, I guess it does qualify for a MOD seeing it is Modified Operation at the very least.

    So, if you have lots of money, throw it at the Stainless, but if you want something that will serve you with reasonable care for a long long time, save that money and buy some meat instead of Stainless  :)

    To each his or her own but I would stay away from the electronic versions, if you want really reliable heat control then follow my profile, after the stack Mod, I will be working on a nice T-Stat Mod for this as well so you can just set it and forget it, that is the only drawback I see in the Temp Control, no temp settings, I will mark mine for the moment but the T-Stat Mod will be far cheaper than the Aftermarket Temp Controllers and would not be subject to damage from moisture or even wet environments as it is a sealed contact that is otherwise purely mechanical in nature.
  16. focus

    focus Newbie

    So I started looking at Masterbuilts and Bradleys as cost effective options. Based largely on N4YU's post above, I'd just about settled on a Masterbuilt 30 with cold smoke attachment + the AMNPS gadget. Seemed like that would be the best and most cost effective option for me. Then my buddy starts talking to me about his Traeger Lil Tex Elite...

    And suddenly I'm smitten, but at nearly twice my desired price point. #0.1, He tells me it's electric, but only in as much as the heat source for the pellets is electric. Supposedly, they ignite/smolder and do all of the cooking themselves. The only power it draws is for the auger that feeds the pellets and the heating element that occasionally kicks in andrestarts the pellets, so less power than a 1200W element and smoke for "added flavor vs real wood as the cooking fuel. This sounds good, right?

    #2 From what I understand, you cannot get a smoke ring with the Masterbuilt. But he claims he can get a smoke ring every time.

    #3 It can get hot enough to sear steaks and cook pizza; the MES can only get to 240F or so. Being a Massachusetts resident, if I could have a smoker AND a outside oven, that would be huge (no a/c during the summer makes cooking inside nearly impossible.)

    #4 I have had his Q and it has been spot on every time. Turkey and pork butt in particular, but i need few other samples to know it's the shit.

    More research turned up Green mountain, Louisiana something or other , etc. I dont have unlimited resources but SWMBO might authorize a credit raise if its really worth it.

    At any rate, I feel like I'm back to the drawing board. But am i comparing apples to dumptrucks if I'm talking Masterbuilt and Traeger/Green mtn/ etc.

  17. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    If you're looking to spend no more than $300, I think Masterbuilt is your best bet.  You'll be limited to either one of their analog smokers or the, which is what I own. It's a Generation 1 design that's several years old but remains a good one. Mine is the 30" model which means I'm limited to what I can put in there. A rack of pork ribs may squeeze up against the walls as well a beef brisket flat. I recently bought a whole packer brisket and have to plan how to fit that sucker in there and how many racks it will take. The smoker can also come with a half moon shaped controller (which was a redesign) but it's the same smoker. The price on Amazon right now is $189, what I paid for mine over 4 years ago, but I've seen it as low as $129 at Ace Hardware including meat probe and some other accessories. Mine didn't come with a meat probe or a window and I don't miss either one.

    According to the Masterbuilt website, the company still sells 40" Gen 1 but it's pricey with its full retail price of $449.99. I never see that one in store ads. But, if I'd had the money 4 years ago, I would've opted for the 40" model even though the smaller guy I own is easy to move between my garage and my backyard on a hand truck.

    As you've most likely read here, built in smoker therms or probe attachments are notoriously inaccurate. I use the Maverick ET-733 for monitoring smoker and meat IT temps. And yes, I thread the temp wires down through the top vent and clip the BARBECUE probe to a rack and insert the FOOD probe in meat (unless I'm smoking ribs then I clip both probes to different racks on different sides of the interior.

    I don't like Bradleys because, as you wrote, you're tied to buying their biscuits. I also don't like it because the auger motor that drops biscuits into the burner (or whatever it's called) can break down, which I bet is expensive to replace if it happens out of warranty. Now, Lowes is my favorite big box hardware store but I wouldn't buy a smoker there. My local store only carries Masterbuilts that are second generation which are smokers that were riddled with design flaws. They've been replaced by the 2.5 Bluetooth models which I've been reading are much better but very pricey.

    You can typically tell the generation version of a digital Masterbuilt by the controller placement. Gen 1 has the controller on top and in the rear. Gen 2 has the controller embedded in front at the top of the smoker. With the Gen 2.5 , the controller sits upright in the front and has a sunshade. There are interior design variations with the 3 generations and it's been acknowledged that the Gen 1 and 2.5 smokers have the best overall designs.  

    Masterbuilt also makes custom smokers with big box sporting goods stores nameplates, like Cabelas or Bass Pro. Those smokers with those brands or with the MB brand are typically called Sportsman Elite. They typically come with a meat probe and 4-6 racks (4 racks are standard with a MES). Sometimes they might include a sausage hanger and a cover, depends on the unit on sale. If on sale they can be a great bargain, off sale they can be pricey.

    TBS=Thin Blue Smoke. When you see smoke wafting out of the exhaust vent it shouldn't be solid white or very gray or even black and it shouldn't look like you're sending smoke signals to the neighbors which they might misinterpret as "Free Smoked Eats Over Here!" Thin blue smoke shows you that the smoker generator is working fine and producing the right amount of smoke to enhance the food and not overpower it.

    AMNPS=A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker. It's a wood pellet burning maze tray and it's what a lot of us here use. You can fill it with wood pellets and get up to at least 11 hours of smoke. There are a couple of issues in some situations with the pellets going out but that's typically due to airflow and temp conditions inside the smoker and/or weather conditions outside. Todd Johnson, owner of A-MAZE-N and inventor of different lines of wood pellets and Dust smokers provides superior customer service. He and his wife, Rhonda, are wonderful people. I also buy all my wood pellets from them. Here's the A-MAZE-N page to check out the company's products.

    I only use wood chips on rare occasions for specific reasons and they're always in addition to wood pellets. I never use them as my primary smoke source because it's a huge hassle to have to walk out to the smoker to refill the wood chip holder every 20-30 minutes. I also never use the water bowl because, in the Gen 1 models, it's way too large for the smoker interior and just serves to steam the food. MES smokers are so well-insulated you never have to worry about the meat drying out--unless you leave it in the smoker at 250° and higher for a couple of days or more because you left on vacation and forgot to take out the meat and turn off the smoker. I foil over the water bowl and use it as another drip tray.

    A lot of MB smoker owners love the Cold Smoker attachment. It attaches to the wood chip loader hole on the side. The problem for me is that I sit my MES 30 on a table and to use the Cold Smoker I'd either have to place the CS unit on a table next to the smoker or do a mod like many users do and run a pipe from the CS to the MES. The CS is also an electrical unit so that's one more thing to plug in. It also uses wood chips but I'm not sure if it can also use wood pellets. I also don't know if it has an electric motor-driven auger to deliver wood chips to the MES or if it's a gravity-feed system. I like to keep things simple. I don't like to use more equipment than I have to when I smoke food. I use the AMNPS for cold smoking but I have issues with the pellets going out multiple times. Even though it can be a hassle to have to refire the pellets 3 or more times, and there's also an issue with keeping the smoker temp low due to the heat given off by the burning pellets, I've produced some outstanding smoked cheese along with a batch of beef jerky using the AMNPS. I now also have a tube smoker made by A-MAZE-N can be used for cold smokes.. It's been recommended to me that Dust is better for smoking at lower temps but I haven't bought any yet. The AMNPS burns either pellets or Dust but the tube smoker burns pellets only.

    So, hope all this helps. Yes, there are many electric smokers out there under different brand names and all similar in design to each other. I researched the major brands and types and I chose Masterbuilt. I've never regretted my choice except for it would've been nice to have been able to afford the 40" model. But one more thing: Masterbuilt customer service is excellent. Yes, you can get a rep who may not be as good or knowledgeable as others but in that case, you'd hang up and call back and most likely the luck of the draw or throw of the dice will connect you to a better CSR. I've worked in a few call centers (and offices) so I know that's how it works and what it make take to get good customer service from any company's call center.
  18. frankly

    frankly Fire Starter

    "#2 From what I understand, you cannot get a smoke ring with the Masterbuilt. But he claims he can get a smoke ring every time"

    --> Check out the thread and Qview I put up last night for my first butt on my MES 30 - it has a smoke ring.

    "#3 It can get hot enough to sear steaks and cook pizza; the MES can only get to 240F or so. Being a Massachusetts resident, if I could have a smoker AND a outside oven, that would be huge (no a/c during the summer makes cooking inside nearly impossible.)"

    --> Not sure about the searing part but MES are good for 275F as far as I know.

    I've done four smokes on my MES 30 (Gen 1) since July 4th weekend and really like it.  I had done smoking on my Weber kettle for several years and really enjoy the ease of using the MES (again, have a look at my first pork butt thread - that's about as easy of smoking as I could imagine).  I've read a lot about the AMNPS gadget and various other modifications/upgrades but decided to use the MES stock for some smokes to get accustomed to it and see how it performs out of the box, then see where I want to go from there.  So far I have not been disappointed!
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2016
  19. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    From what I've read, the ones who get smoke rings add a lump of charcoal to the wood chips under the heating element. Wood chips/pellets alone never burn hot enough nor generate enough of the gases needed to generate a smoke ring. It's all cosmetic anyway. I've chosen not to try it because I don't feel like experimenting with a burning charcoal lump inside my electric smoker.

    The top temp of a MES is 275 degrees but it can easily override that although it's not at all good for the smoker. Most smoking is done between 225-250 degrees in electric smokers of the MES design. I've sear/reversed seared steaks on my Weber charcoal grill. Some people will also sear them under a kitchen oven broiler
  20. frankly

    frankly Fire Starter

    I just ran it on the higher end of the smoking scale (275F) with few modest sized hand fulls of mesquite/apple chips and had a decent looking ring - at least in some areas but possibly not all throughout.

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