looks like when u put the chip loader in, it is too high... the bottom portion of the loader should be below where its currently at so the part that is holding the chips is closer to the heating element
I am using a 19 month old 40" MES and my chip tray which has the tray part, and then the bottom slide piece, the slide piece goes under the 2 horz. bars, and the tray slides in above the heat element but on the side closest to the door, the element is actually touching the bottom of the tray. So I have zero problems with chips burning properly. In fact my tray is warped in a couple of spots from so much heat.
See if you can bend the chip tray down to actually touch the element. I would think this is more likely the problem than the air holes, since those holes are all drilled by a machine with the same bit, and most other MES owners are not having your problem.
If your vent is always wide open, then basic fire physics takes over, to have fire you need "fuel" - "heat" - "oxygen". Well you have fuel "chips",
you most likely have "oxygen" since other MES owners have the same openings. That leave "heat", solve that problem and you should be good.
This is an error! The flat slide piece of metal slides between the two horz. bars and the slide rail you can see on the left, and deep in on the right. That rail prevents the element from actually touching the chip tray (in most cases). In my case I believe the center part of the element is either touching the chip tray or is a hair short of touching. DO NOT TRY TO BEND THE ELEMENT IT WILL BREAK. If those slide rails are too high then chips would have trouble getting hot enough.
If your pans are in the right places based off of the other posts and pics, I would suggest using less wood to start with. Like deltadude said I think heat is the problem too. It's a trade-off.
Here's an example.
If you have a fixed amount of heat (say a match), and oxygen is plentiful, then you have to adjust your fuel to the type of heat source you have.
You wouldn't try to start a fire with a match using 12" logs. You would use kindling of some sort- fat wood, pine cone, starter cube, paper, straw, or even small pieces of wood.
Say you decide to use the small pieces of wood. You would want very small pieces that would have a lot of surface area to size ratio so that it would light easily, like toothpick size to start with.
Then after that small fire was lit with that small match, you would progressively add bigger and bigger wood to it as the fire built up and could handle it.
How does it handle it? You have "made" more heat by slowly adding more fuel to the original fuel, the match. You have to manage your heat to your fuel at all times or the fuel absorbs too much of the available heat, lowers the heat to a level that is not sufficient to burn, and bang, no more combustion. No combustion, no smoke.
With the MES you have a limited amount of heat based off of how long your coil is on and what size it is, at least to start with. That heat is divided up into going into your smoker, going into your meat, going into your water pan, going out the vent, leaking out any cracks, fighting back the cooler temps coming in from the outside through the walls, and yes, going into your fuel. So, you can see it's still a pretty limited amount of heat you have, particularly at the start when everything is needing as much heat as it can get.
So, try preheating your MES for half an hour or so, so that the water and the inside walls and air come to temperature (or a bit higher so that you have some "reserve" heat) and don't need as much of your limited supply of heat later. While it preheats, leave your meat out for that half hour to hour to get it up to 40 degrees or better. Since there is nothing inside, keep the vent shut while you preheat so you don't lose heat out of that.
When everything is preheated, put your meat in with as little time-waste as possible so that you keep as much of the heat reserves as you can and don't waste it out the door (have the meat close to the smoker for example and the camera turned on and ready for Qview shots).
Then put in some wood chips, small pieces, or small sticks and open the vent enough to let air flow smoothly, which isn't necessarily all the way open but might be (the more it's open, the more of the limited heat you have available you are losing through it). Once you start seeing a good amount of smoke, and it won't take long if you just start out with about 5 bits of small wood, you can add more remembering that the more you add, the more of the heat that is in the burning wood is going to transfer over to the new wood. Like the example, don't add that 12" log to your first matchstick sized base or the heat will all transfer over and your "fire" will go out.
After the first hour, adding more fuel say 2-4 times over that period, you will have a good base going and better yet, a separate heat source from your element. Mgworks suggested putting a briquette in there and I do that too sometimes. It "might" give you a better smoke-ring, but it also helps to keep a stable heat source after your sticks/pieces are hot enough to transfer enough heat to the briquette without getting too cold. Think of the briquette as your 12" log. Get it burning and you can have a really good source of heat that's hard to put back out. And just because 1 briquette might be good doesn't necessarily mean 2 are better. It might get too hot that way for the MES internals, or the 2nd one might not get hot enough and will keep trying to suck the heat from the first one.
Long-winded reply, but hopefully it put some "heat" on the issue.
My son bought me a 30" MES for Christmas. I've tried smoking almost every weekend since. The wood chips get black, but rarely any ash. Also little if any smoke flavor. It comes up to temp like it should and holds its temp throughout the smoke. I really want more than an outdoor oven. Masterbilt customer service (I've contacted them 3 times) says the unit works like it should and they can't do anything to help. My son's unit burns the wood to ash. I've tried 4 different kinds of wood chips (all Hickory). Any suggestions or should I try to return it to Bass pro Shops? Thank you. Phil
Assuming your MES is in fact working as advertised, it pretty much comes down to temperature, air flow or fuel. What temperature are you smoking at; what sized wood pieces are you using, and is the top vent open all the way?
I have the same problem when I cooked my rib-eye roast on Sun. Cooked at 225 and got black chunks also. I had to empty the tray every other time I added wood.
Sorry to hear there is no solution other than take it back.
I will try some of the things I read here but I think I did them all ready.
That said I like all the other things about the unit. I will get this worked out.
I start out at 270 or 275 and bring the unit up to full temp. Then I put in the wood chips (small chips, not chunks) with the vent open about 1/3 of the way. After the unit starts to smoke I put the meat in and turn the temp down to 250. I use a meat thermometer with a probe on a wire. When the meat gets up to 140 I turn the temp down to 220 and close the vent to finish the smoke. Any ideas? Thanks Phil
The one thing you stated that you do may have a bearing on the combustion of the chips. The chip loader tray should be dumped and left in the down position. I took another look at mine and if you are turning it back up with a load of chips in it, it isn't going to get air from the holes provided. It creates a barrier between the chips your trying to burn and your air intake. I see that you took the unit back and that the new one is working properly, but for those of you who are having a problem you may want to take note. Not sayin this is the problem but if you are turning your chip loading tray to the up unlocked position you are not getting the benefit of the air intake holes at the end of the loader.
All the experienced MES owners run their vents wide open. The 3 little air intake holes are sized to provide just enough combustion with the Vent wide open. Any setting less than full open is restricting combustion.