I've had my 20070910 for about 3 years now. After the first year I rewired her to accept a home brewed PID. I also use the A-Maze-N. Can't beat that combination. I cook small because it's just me and the wife. I added a Mav 733 to monitor temps. It's pretty much a set and forget now.
I started off with a home brew stick burner that I used for years and it turned out some damn decent BBQ but boy was it some work. As I got a little older I need more time for my wife and family so I went to a Weber Smokey Mountain and a Digi-Q, that was nice. Frankly that's the best setup you can ask for when you measure bang for the buck. Turned out some awesome Q. I still have that setup. I have also owed a couple of Backwoods smokers. I love those things they make some yummy Q, but they are a lot of work.
Now I'm old and staying up all night tending a fire is just not in the cards so I went electric. I wanted to get my feet wet without investing a whole lot of money. I happened upon a yard sale in the little town of Holliston, MA . There sat a 20070910 new, in original box, unopened. Guy said his son bought it and never used it and it was cluttering up his garage and he wanted it gone. I offered him $10 and he said "Haul it off". I threw it in the back of my Jeep and headed home. Best $10 I ever spent. I spent the next year learning how to cook on it. I was lucky because I had 3 decades of experience smoking meat to fall back on so the learning curve wasn't all that steep. I quickly learned the cons of the MES and how to overcome them. A mod here, a mod there, it adds up. I was really disgusted with the controller so I researched and built my first PID. That did the trick. Now I just needed to get the smoke right. That chip tray just didn't cut it. Then I read about the A-MAZE-N. I could have built one of those, it's pretty simple but those folks worked hard to bring that product to market they deserved a little support. So I bought one. Well that was the finish needed to make a decent electric smoker. 2 years down the road with the mods and I'm loving it. It sits on a enclosed back porch vented to outside and I cook year round. It gets a little cold in Winter but the MES has enough insulation that the cold weather doesn't bother it.
My wife loves ribs and I've learned how to trim them so they fit in that tiny cooker. I give her, her fall off the bone ribs, with my special rub (she likes it with a pop) and my dipping sauce on the side.. Happy Wife, Happy Life. I'm a brisket person and I can trim a brisket to fit. Plus I get leftovers which I vac and freeze. I'm happy and I get to sleep through the night.
Moral of the story is it doesn't matter what your using to smoke your meats. What matters is your experience in smoking meat. It ain't the paintbrush, it's the artist. So try as many different methods that you can. Learn from each one.
Love your story and your moral, Willie. I've had the same smoker for over 5 years now. No mods because I'm not as adept as you and some other but I've learned to make my little guy--as I call my MES 30--turned out some incredible Q. The story of how you found and how little you paid for yours is funny. I paid quite a bit more for mine on Amazon because my wife and I rarely go to yard or garage sales. I'd never smoked before but always wanted to. So, from reading cookbooks and online smoking articles and recipes, watching some videos, and after finding SMF, I learned tips and techniques that have helped me become a pretty good home smoker. With almost every smoke I try to do an experiment to learn from. I found out this past week that you don't need to wrap a whole beef brisket for it to turn out moist and juicy with nice bark. My family also loves the smoked foods I bring to the table. After winning a beef jerky making kit in one of A-MAZE-N's monthly drawings, I've been working on turning out professional-tasting teriyaki beef jerky. It's still a work in progress. Todd and Rhonda Johnson, the company owners, are wonderful people who provide among the best customer service I've ever experienced. They do indeed deserve our support and that's why I buy wood pellets and other smoking accessories exclusively from them.
What amazes me about that little MES 30 is that you can turn out Q so good that you no longer have to go or order out BBQ at some phony BBQ franchise place. There are times I'd like to have a larger smoker so I wouldn't have to slice a whole brisket in two to make it fit inside, or so long racks of pork ribs wouldn't touch the walls before they shrink down during smoking, but this little guy works great and I've learned tons and upped my smoking game exponentially by cooking with it. I just smoked a whole beef brisket. Like you, I'm too old to stay up all night babysitting the smoke. But I started the point at 11 am last Sunday, went to bed at 10 pm that night fully trusting my MES 30 to carry on well thru the night, and just happened to wake up at 5:30 am the next morning when the brisket point had been cooked to perfection. I think those of us with a talent and love for smoking are rewarded with good luck.
I don't know if there's an art to smoking, but an argument can be made for it. To me, it's a skill, an intrinsic ability to make a number of decisions throughout the smoke to produce great food. Yes, when you have the MES 20 set up right, it IS set it and forget it. But that's not quite right, is it? There's always a series of little things to pay attention to and to do. It's not a labor intensive as a stick burner but you have to monitor the cook, which I do with my Maverick ET-733. And Willie, maybe I'm biased but when my smoking is on-point, I'll put my smoked pork ribs or brisket or turkey breast against any smoker's--pro or not (OK, I tasted some St. Louis ribs at a BBQ competition I'll never be able to match. Still the best I've ever had). Someday my beef jerky and smoked cheeses will be up there too. They're sure getting closer. And it's all so much fun.