Pros: Good deal for the price
Cons: Gaps around firebox halves and ash pan
I picked up my TMLE maybe 4 months ago to take over smoking duties previously handled by a Char-Broil American Gourmet. Being heavier gauge steel, and with more square inches of firebox and pit space, it looked like a great choice for the price that was asked. From reading reviews on here, I figured I would probably have to use high-temp sealant on at least some joints when I put it together, but being set in my ways has it's good... I put it together with NO sealant so I could see for myself if it really needed any. Lit a curing fire that same night, got it good and hot... no problem. No sealant needed. Firebox and pit doors leak a lil bit... not a concern.
Next run was with a pork shoulder. I welded up a charcoal basket, filled it with Royal Oak lump, and had the TMLE out in the breeze. Everytime a gust would come thru, it would gain 30+ degrees on the factory gauge. I'll just say right here that the factory gauge seems to read around 50 degrees higher than grate temperature as measured with a digital thermometer. So, before my next cook, I got to looking and I see that my firebox halves didn't seal none too well on the sides. I welded the firebox halves together to keep the drafts out, and tried again with more lump charcoal. Much better, but still unstable. It's the draft coming from around the ash pan that make it hard to keep a steady temp with charcoal, so...
Time for a REAL fire! Burning only oak and hickory, the last few cooks have been great! I found that when burning only wood (really what an offset is for in my opinion) I have to open the intake damper all the way and also open the ash drawer to keep a hot, clean flame with enough draft thru the pit to keep creosote from forming and keep the temperature up. The TMLE is a stick burner alright, the only time I use any charcoal at all is to get the wood fire started, and I might throw 2 or 3 briquettes in there if I need a quick heat boost to get a fresh wood split going.
Also, if you're not pre-burning your wood (I ain't, not yet anyway) just take whatever splits you'll be burning next and put them in the firebox outside of the flame. This pre-heats them and I only get a little bit of white smoke when adding them to the fire.
So, my only mods right now are welded firebox seams, also welded a few other bits here and there like the firebox door backstop (was previously bolt-on), and I dropped in place a heavy steel plate where the charcoal racks used to be that runs maybe half the length of the pit. Just space this about 1.25 inches from the firebox opening. No additional temp gauges or anything... I've learned to figure actual grate temperature based on the factory thermometer reading. My digital one burnt up when my last charcoal "fire" got to 450+ degrees!
1 pork shoulder, 1 salmon steak, 3 fatties, and some salt all came out great after the mods. Am thinking of making bacon next.
Have not tried grilling on this and don't plan on it so I can't say how it works as far as that goes. I would think it's fine though.
A great smoker for the price, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for one that is relatively easy on the wallet but still built solid.