I have the electric MES smoker. I maintain that it is the pit-master not bbq equip that makes the difference in producing great Q. Having said that, there is no doubt that having better equipment can make your Q taste wonderful more consistently. Sort of like a carpenter or a golfer the right tool for the job, makes the job easier and a lot of times produces the best results.
Both charcoal and Electric work wonderfully for the home BBQ / smoker, its debatable if the Q will taste the same but using the right equipment correctly you most likely can't tell the difference.
Major benefits for electric are cost, and convenience, the MES is almost a set it and forget it smoker, using digital controls like a modern oven. However wood chips need to be added every 30 min or so to keep the smoke rolling. The addition of a AMNPS will turn a MES into a true set-it-n-forget-it smoker.
Other advantages of the MES electric, it is insulated so it holds cooking temp better than the Brinkman, which means you can use it in cold weather, use it when it's windy. Also if you are a busy person, you there is less work involved when using the MES, you don't have to tend it.
The results with the MES are excellent. There are MES owners on this forum who have used everything out there or switched from either charcoal, gas, or even all wood, who have said the Q produced by the MES is as good or better than what they produced from the other style of smoker.
Charcoal, is an excellent fuel and really is the preference of many BBQers. While there are many different types of charcoal smokers, in my opinion for the backyard BBQer, the best and the only one I would own is the Weber Smoky Mountain (WSM). I would have bought one 5 years ago when I bought my MES, however I wanted to smoke a whole rack of ribs. The 18" WSM size forces you to either roll a rack or cut it. I can smoke 16 whole racks in my 40" MES. A couple of years ago Weber came out with the 22" WSM, I would buy this one today. There are a number of reasons to own a WSM smoker. 1st, the WSM is the most common piece of smoking equipment used in BBQ smoking competitions, there is a reason for this. QUALITY of the product produced. The WSM will produce consistent excellent results, that makes even a novice look good.
The WSM does require a little tending but not that much, there are a variety of accessories that can make it almost set n forget. One disadvantage of charcoal compared to electric is cost. Electric operates at about 11-15cents an hour, so if you do a 9lb pork butt which takes about 90 minutes a pound or about $1.30. Using Kingsford will cost you about .30 cents a pound, and should cost you 2 to 3 times the cost of electric depending on the pounds and smoke time. Plus you have to drive to get the bags of briquettes, if you are driving more than 5 miles that adds to the cost. So convenience/cost is electric. Charcoal will give you more control over texture, the meat can get crispy on the outside, which is desirable for chicken and ribs, this is difficult with the MES. In addition for charcoal wind can be a factor, and it is harder to maintain temp at lower outdoor ambient temps.
One major benefit, if you want to compete at a BBQ smoker competition your all set with a WSM, you can not use electric smokers at a bbq competition.
Edited by deltadude - 2/28/12 at 1:34am