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Amateur Chef - New to smoking

Poll Results: Can you achieve similar results to a traditional smoker with an electric smoker?

 
  • 0% (0)
    Absolutely - easy as pie
  • 100% (1)
    Yes. Similar, but not as good
  • 0% (0)
    No way in hell
1 Total Vote  
post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 

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.

 

Meats

 

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.

 

Rub

 

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.

 

Results

 

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....

 

Results

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

41mfA3lzjjL.jpg

post #2 of 4

Welcome to the forum Joe!  I don't have an MES but lots of folks here do.  Try the search magnifier for MES 30 tips and you will be amazed.

 

Mike

post #3 of 4

Welcome to SMF!

 

There are lots of MES owners on here to give you some tips.

 

Al

post #4 of 4

I too received my MES30 as a gift and, like you, had no previous smoking experience. Therefore, while I cannot compare the MES30 to more traditional smokers, I can recommend some mods. You'll see these same recommendations all over this forum.

 

I'm a little surprised that you are having problems with the temperature regulation. It is true that the thermostat has a lot of hysteresis, a fancy word that means there is a big temperature gap between where the thermostat turns on the power and where it turns it off. As a result, if you set 225 degrees, it will go up as high as 250, and perhaps as low as 210. However, I have not found this to be a major problem, since the temperature averages out pretty well, and doesn't get high enough to change the cooking characteristics. Also, even with his cycling, the temperature control is probably a lot more precise than any smoker that doesn't have built-in temperature regulation. This is, after all, one of the main advantages of using electricity as the heat source.

 

The smoke quality is a different issue. Since the chips are heated to smoking temperature by the same electricity that heats the box, the smoke is not very constant. The problem of inconsistent smoke quantity and quality gets worse if you forget to feed more chips into the smoker every 35-55 minutes.

 

So, smoke generation is one of the biggest problems with the MES design. The solution is to make the smoke generation completely independent from the heater source. The usual ways to do this are:

 

  • Buy the MES external smoker attachment
  • Buy the AMNPS
  • Build or buy your own external smoke attachment (e.g., the "mailbox mod").

 

The simplest and cheapest is the AMNPS, which is what I did. I also built a simple, under $10, external attachment that fits into the chip holder hole which provides 2-3 times the amount of air into the smoker. The idea was to increase air for the AMNPS, which smolders inside the smoker and therefore needs oxygen, but at the same time also increase smoke flow over the meat. I was about ready to give up on my MES, and even started a post about my dissatisfaction, along with what I did to remedy the problems I had:

 

http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/241811/thinking-of-selling-my-mes-30

 

In the end, I kept the smoker and have begun to get much better results with it. The most important changes were:

 

  • Use the AMNPS, and don't use the internal smoke generator
  • Always preheat the smoker, and always get the smoke going strong before introducing the meat
  • Don't use the water pan (it took me a long time to come around on this one)
  • Use my external air mod

 

Hope that helps!

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