Congrats on your new MES!
You sound seriously unhappy with the MES you received. I strongly recommend you take it back and ask for an exchange. I don't know how much you paid either $300 or $400 depending on retailer, but for that much money the fit n finish should be good enough to make you happy.
As much as I like all things MES, my wife doesn't like the way chicken turns out in the MES, she loves chicken cooked whole on a weber kettle, or when I grill pieces on the weber gas grill. I do smoke pieces and then finish them on the grill for char and she likes that. One problem with the MES is you can only achieve 275º, as a result you can't get the skin crisp, too bad the MES can't hit like 330º then you could achieve a crisp skin.
Let us know how the chicken turns out.
Since your a new owner, I have been posting for new owners, the below "new owner tips", some will feel it is redundant, however the post is intended to help.
MES New Owner Tips:
Collected from input of many MES owners, some may seem a bit dated due to new MES with higher watt elements but work as a general rule.
• Season it. (Many spray the inside with PAM)
• No extension cords, unless it is 12 ga or heavier.
• Spray your racks with PAM prior to smoke (makes cleanup easier).
• For easier cleanup, use alum foil on the water pan and drain pan.
• Manual says preheating isn't necessary, preheat, it will make getting up to initial set temp faster, and temp recovery when opening hatch faster. (These instructions were for older MES units with lower wattage elements, however the value of preheating applies to all units.) Preheat to 270º. Cold ambient 45º and colder as long as 2 hours, 1 hour for warmer temps and as little as 30 min. in summer. Preheating help establish a stable cooking platform without the dramatic temp swings in first hour of smoking. (Experiment with preheating and see if it helps.)
• Add boiling hot water to pan, this will allow you to get up to set temp faster.
• Start the smoke with a few wood chips. The manual says 1 cup max, you will find a hand full is almost too much. 1st chip dump just a few chips 8-10, 15 minutes later a little more chips 10-12, another 15 minutes 12-15 chips. This should produce a nice bed of hot ash with good chip combustion. 12-20 chips every 30 minutes should work from this point on. Your goal is TBS (thin blue smoke). When its right you can smell the sweet smoke, it won't smell bitter or be cloudy white. Dark smoke is nothing but awful.
• Do not adjust vent leave it wide open. Unless using the AMNS, (follow AMNS instructions).
• Use external probe for sensing meat internal temp, you can run the probe cord through the exhaust vent. *You may want to run 2nd probe inserted into a wood block or potato with 2” to 3" tip exposed to verify the internal MES cooking temp. (Newer MES models have the built in probes. verify they are +/- 5º accurate).
• Once your meat is loaded, avoid opening the hatch. New models can recover to set temp faster, but every time you open the door you extend the cooking time. Thus spritzing isn't really necessary in a MES due to the water pan keeping the smoking environment moist enough to not dry out the meat.
• If you do have to open your MES plan your moves so you can keep door open time to a minimum. (I’ve decided to not stress and plan for open door times by adding 20 minutes per door opening, although best is to keep to absolute minimum).
• When your done cooking, the proper way to shut the MES down is to turn off the controller then unplug. (Sounds simple but the controller has been known to get stuck if not shut down properly.)
• If your MES seems to struggle getting to either the preheat temp of 270º or is taking extraordinary long times to raise to cooking temps after meat is loaded try doing a RESET..
Proper RESET = cycle the MES off with the controller, unplug electrical cord, count to 10, re-plug electric cord, turn on MES with on/off, reset temps.
If you tried a reset, and 20-30 minutes later there is little change do the reset again.
• Cleanup is easy with a Brillo (or similar) pad to scrub the tough stuff, and throw grates, water & drain pan into dishwasher. Some have complained about the spot welds on the drain pan rusting, I hit those spots with a touch of PAM then store the cleaned stuff back in the MES.
You do not need to clean the inside cabinet, most experienced smokers consider that just seasoning. With a hot wet rag, wipe out the inside bottom and any excessive gunk on the walls. Again with hot damp cloth, wipe the door gasket, and the door frames (for better seal).
Congrats on you new MES purchase, and welcome to the MES owners club.