Greetings all, Joe from Dallas here. I recently received a Masterbuilt electric smoker as a birthday gift and I'm really glad to have stumbled on this forum. I have been an amateur chef for quite some time so, while I am new to smoking, I am not unfamiliar with the low and slow cooking technique as well as how to prepare and trim meats. I really hope that I will be able to contribute to the forum in time but for now I have nothing but questions. I'm going to try to detail my smoking experience with both pork and beef and save questions till the end.
Living near a restaurant depot I decided to go hog-wild (full pun intended) and buy 50 pounds of spare ribs and an 11 pound Angus brisket for my first round of trial smoking runs. I left the fat cap alone but trimmed the point down on the brisket for uniformity mostly because I hate having to discard perfectly rendered flavorful smoked fat when I get it at restaurants; I know this is controversial but it seems like a huge waste. I also trimmed down the spare ribs into rib tip sections and St. Louis ribs.
For both the beef and pork I went with a dry rub which was a simple mixture of 1:1:1 salt, pepper, garlic, then a 1:1 ratio of that mixture plug brown sugar, dash of mustard seed and celery seed.
Smoking - Pork ribs: 4.5 hours @ 200F-225F
I decided to try smoking ribs first because of the sheer volume I had and I ended up being able to fit 6 racks at a time; 2 on each shelf. Knowing that I would lose some heat in the loading process I fired up the smoker and brought the heat up to 275 with the water pan and 30-minute-soaked hickory chips. After reaching 275 I loaded all 6 racks in, 2 at a time waiting about 5 minutes with the door closed before loading the next round. After I got all 6 in the temp dropped to below 200 so I kept the heat at about 50% on the dial. After an hour or so I went out to check and saw the temp was still barely reaching 200 but I was getting a good amount of smoke and could hear a sizzle. With all my background in cooking I knew that meant the temp had to be 275-300 -somewhere- in the smoker to make the meat sizzle like that. Not wanting to end up with chewy ribs I back the dial down to about 30% and left it alone. At the second hour mark I checked the heat and saw it climbing over 250 so I back the dial down to 20% and opened the door to release some of the heat quickly. I saw that the bottom rack was cooking a little too quick so I switched the top racks and bottom racks on the fly. Long story short, at 4.5 hours after battling with the temperature every 30 minutes or so I decided to yank the ribs without checking the internal temp and hope for the best. I opted NOT to foil the ribs as you would with the 3/2/1 or 2/2/1 method because I equate that to boiling, which is an atrocity to smoking.
Overall I would rate these about a 7.0/10, which is considerably better than what I was hoping for with my first smoke and infinitely better than some of the BBQ places around here unfortunately. I brought them to a potluck at work the next day and everyone ranted and raved about them.They had a little too much pull for me but the fat was perfectly rendered all the way around with a good smoke flavor.
Smoking - Beef brisket: 17 hours @ 200F-225F, 1 hour @ 350F
A group of guys at work swear by some kind of 24 hour smoke method that I have never heard of. I'm much too impatient for that so I cut it down to 18 hours. Using the same rub I fired up the smoker with the water pan and 30-minute-soaked hickory chips again to 275 and put one of the briskets on the top shelf. I noticed it was considerably easier to keep the temperature between 200-225 using only about 15% power on the dial, at least according to the thermatru I put in to replace the stock thermometer. I put it on at 6PM and checked every 2 hours while also refilling wood chips until midnight and then again at 6AM at which point I put a meat thermometer in; it read 157F. I knew I needed to get to at least 180-190 so I thought by noon they would be ready. I came home for lunch at 11 and was surprised to find the meat thermometer had dropped to 153F. The brisket had been smoking for 18 hours so I was actually a little miffed at this point. I jacked the temperature as high as it could go until it hit 190F... about another hour; I really thought it was ruined and I would just have to grind it up into corned beef hash or something. I let it rest for about 30 minutes before slicing into it and was pleasantly surprised....
Strong 7.5/10. The fat was near perfect being less than ideal in some areas but the meat was definitely pull-apart tender when sliced on the flat. Again, everyone ranted and raved but I had higher expectations. There was minimal smoke penetration at best but the bark was extremely flavorful. The point was slightly chewier than I had hoped for and the flat a tad bit drier, but overall a good piece of meat that I would happily pay for at a restaurant. I think this had something to do with the length of time I smoked it, but I'm not sure how I could have achieved a 190F internal temp if it peaked at 157F over 12 hours without increasing the cooking temperature to 250-275. This leads me to believe maybe the top shelf is cooler than what the gauge reads.
Still with me? Ok, good.
Questions: I feel like all the things that prevented me from giving both meats a 10/10 were related to temperature regulation and lack of air circulation. With that being said...
1) Air circulation: With an electric smoker, is there a way to get better air circulation for even temperature regulation or am I out of luck? I was thinking about putting a metal fan inside to circulate the heat. Maybe even a metal plate to displace the heat to the first rack.
2) Smoke penetration: Is there a way to achieve better smoke penetration? I.e. dry wood chips instead of wet chips? Adding another wood chip box?
3) Temperature regulation: should I expect to see 200-225 on the thermometer or does the meat affect that reading? Where should I be reading the heat from?
4) Water pan: I hear there is a controversy regarding use of a water pan. Does anyone have experience removing the water pan for better smoke penetration?
I sincerely appreciate it if you hung in there until the end to read everything and hope that I can get some feedback on this experience. FYI this is the smoker I have: