MES temp issues - First time smoking

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by johnmeyer, Nov 20, 2015.

  1. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    My chicken refused to get hotter than 154 degrees. See my story below.

    I have a new MES 30". After initial seasoning, I decided on smoking a whole chicken and also cooking some beans. I used the MES recipe as the starting point for the chicken, and used the time and temperature in Dutch's baked bean recipe for the beans, although I didn't use most of his ingredients because I wanted to fully understand what flavor the smoking was adding to the beans.

    I set the MES to 220 degrees, and added chips every 45 minutes, checking to make sure the previous set had turned to ash.

    Prior to doing this cooking, but after doing the initial seasoning, I ran the MES for a few hours, without any wood chips, after putting four pyrex cups filled with a little cooking oil into the smoker. I monitored the smoker temp and the oil temp using my Maverick remote thermometer. According to my Maverick probes, the smoker was running around 235, instead of 220, and even the MES showed a temp of 225, despite being set for 220. I have read a lot about people building their own PID controller to get better temp regulation, so I was aware that temperature  control was going to be an issue.

    However, despite these findings, I decided to proceed with my first recipe without making any compensation to the MES temperature settings.

    I split the chick in half, as recommended by MES. I put the beans (just one can) in a small casserole dish. I put my Maverick probe in the chicken breast, set the MES to 220, and then monitored the temperatures every thirty minutes. I added two cups of water to the water tray. My goal was to cook for three hours.

    The first issue is that the MES wouldn't quite get to 220 degrees. This is odd because, during my tests with the cooker empty it got hotter than 220, as I already noted above. I decide that this was due to the water in the pan. The hottest it ever got was about 215, and would sometimes dip below 210.

    The big issue is that the chicken refused to go above 154 degrees. It stalled out at this temperature after about three hours, and after four hours had gone up exactly one more degree, to 155 degrees. Thinking there was some problem with the Maverick probe, I brought out my Thermapen and stuck the chicken and it gave me the same reading. The beans weren't very hot either.

    I don't understand the thermodynamics of how the surround temperature can be 210 - 215, and yet not have the meat rise above 154.

    I finally brought the chicken inside and we ate it. The meat was very moist and not underdone, so I can't complain.

    Unfortunately, the smoke flavor, while tasty, was overpowering. The rub I used was completely and totally obliterated. I could have used anything and I don't think I would have tasted it.

    So, while a little disappointed, and certainly very puzzled, I'm going to keep on plugging, although I think I will be only smoking for a very short amount of time having now learned that most definitely is such a thing as too much smoke.

    I wonder if not using the water in the pan would decrease the amount of smokiness. It is my understanding that the moist environment is part of what helps the smoke adhere to the food. Should I not use water in the pan?

    I'm all ears if anyone has suggestions or comments.
  2. redsmoke

    redsmoke Fire Starter

    It's a learning curve for sure

    I don't use water when I smoke in mine and never get dry food.
    Smoke I add chips not sawdust or big chunks every hour to 1.5.
    I did 3 chickens and had temp at 250 for atleast 4 hours.
    I've found that I need to run my smoker at a hotter temp to get results like most recipes
    It's trial and error nothing set in stone till you figure out how yours runs. Rember take notes
  3. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    In an MES definitely don't use any water in the pan.

    Many hours of light smoke is Great, but a short time of heavy smoke can be bad.

    It depends on where your probe is in the smoker to get different temps.

    For chicken you should use higher temps than 220°---Maybe 250° for a couple hours---Then finish it with 275° until 165° IT.

    Maybe some of these will help:

    Just click on "Bear's Step by Steps".

    Last edited: Nov 21, 2015
  4. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic


    Many thanks for the useful input. I did read conflicting advice about the water. MES shows using the water pan in some of their videos, usually filling it with cider vinegar. However, I read a lot of posts in this forum with your advice of leaving it dry.

    I'm not sure how to get light vs. heavy smoke using the standard MES electric chip smoker. Not sure if you are suggesting using an AMNS, or just simply saying I should use fewer chips per charge. Or, should I soak the chips? That seems to not be needed with an electric.

    As for different temps top to bottom, that's why I did the test with the cups of oil, and it showed surprisingly little difference from top to bottom, but that was in an empty cooker with no smoke. I can see how a heavily loaded smoker could have some seriously different temps from one place to the next.

    Based on your last comment I will definitely be more aggressive about increasing or decreasing the temperature, as needed.
  5. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    You'll fight & fight & fight trying to get consistent smoke with the chip burner:

    From Nothing to light smoke, to medium, to heavy, to too heavy, to medium, to light, to nothing.

    Add more chips & start cycle again.

    With an AMNPS, Learn how to light it properly, fill it, light it, watch it smoke real nice for up to 10 or 11 hours.

    If you're at a High altitude, get an AMNTS (Tube). If not get an AMNPS 5 X 8 smoker.

  6. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Welcome John...I have to wonder how big a load of chips you were using getting 1.5 hours of smoke? When I used chips I only added 1/4 Cup, 12 +/-, small Chips. These started generating clean Thin Blue Smoke quickly but had to be replaced every 30 minutes. I am thinking a big, full tray, load of chips may be the issue with the heavy flavor. Too many chips burn slowly and inefficiently causing a Creosote laden smoke that gives a strong and acrid taste. Add a lot of moisture in the smoker and you got what can easily perceived as over smoked meat. For smokes over 30 minutes, TBS is the only way to get good flavor without blowing away the meat. Without going into the Science of it, Moisture help smoking gasses penetrate the meat for a good Smoke Ring, but Dry meat takes on the best flavor and color. This is why you will see so many recipes for Chicken and other meats that say, " Dry in the refer overnight to form a Pellicle..." As far as smoke ring, chips don't generate enough of the needed Nitrogen Gasses to get one in an Electric Smoker so you are unlikely to see one anyway. Wood, Charcoal and Propane are the only smokers that make a good smoke ring. Choice of wood is important too. Hickory and especially Mesquite are strong flavors. Fruit woods are much more mild and a good choice for Poultry. Welcome to the MES Learning Curve...JJ 
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2015
  7. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    I was filling the MES chip tray about 2/3 full. I got pretty good TBS after each charge; nothing heavy at all. Every 45-50 minutes I opened the charger opening and looked to see if there were any chips left. If it was all ash, I recharged, but if there were still some black chips, I waited for ten more minutes.
    The people at Cook's Illustrated, who are big on science, also make this point. However, a lot of people using MES equipment say not to use moisture.

    I read a few posts in other parts of this forum which seem to blend the best of what you and Cook's Illustrated recommend, with those who say not to use water at all. The idea I'm going to try in the future is to only use about 1-2 cups of water. Actually for this first smoke, I only 2 cups of water which I boiled before pouring it in, so as to keep the smoker as near its set temperature as possible. The idea is to let the water boil off, and not replace it so you get the first part of the smoke wet, followed by dryer smoke. I think that is even the title of the post I read: wet & dry.

    The same Cook's Illustrated article also points out that, even with TBS (although they don't call it that), the smoke later in the cook imparts a more bitter taste because the meat has already reached a saturation point, so the chemical reaction with the later smoke is different. Interesting, if true.
    I plan to get some Apple the next time I'm at the store. I only have the two you mentioned, which I have been using in my gas BBQ, prior to getting the MES.
    There sure are a lot of people using this add-on. I think I'll get a few more smokes under my belt before I go buying more equipment, but the AMNPS sure gets a lot of posts in these forums.
  8. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Quote: The same Cook's Illustrated article also points out that, even with TBS (although they don't call it that), the smoke later in the cook imparts a more bitter taste because the meat has already reached a saturation point, so the chemical reaction with the later smoke is different. Interesting, if true.

    I love that show and it's sister show America's Test Kitchen.  If you apply good clean TBS, there are flavors that penetrate until the surface reaches about 140°F. The meat proteins then coagulate and effectively seal the further combination of smoke gasses and meat juices, Myoglobin in particular. A Wet environment extends and speeds Nitrogen penetration but then letting moisture evaporate lets the meat dry and cook without extending the cook time from evaporative cooling. Additionally, smoke is made of flavorful Particulate Matter and other components that continue to settle on the surface increasing the smoke flavor. If the smoke is clean, as in tastes good, there are very little bitter components to start with so not much to build up. There is no real Chemical reaction taking place later in the cook, the surface is Dry unless you Spritz, as much as layering of flavorful smoke components...OR...Layering of nasty stuff if there to begin with. Heavy Smoke on meat like heavy Garlic, Salt or Pepper is not to everyones taste, and not applicable to every cook. There are many folks here that smoke for a few hours then just let the heat do it's thing. I like a stronger smoke flavor, even with mild woods, and make smoke the entire cook. Last point, clean smoke keeps imparting good flavor. If not there would be no one smoking Bacon and Country Hams for Days and sometimes Weeks for the last couple hundred years...True?

    You have a pretty good grasp of how smoking works and will have things dialed in very soon. Take care...JJ 
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2015
  9. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    As an engineer, I love posts like this. I learned a lot that I can actually use. Thank you!
    True, although after skimming several hundred topic titles, I note there is something called "cold smoking" which I assume is what is used for those long smokes in an actual smokehouse. At those low temps, I don't think the changes in chemical reactions you talk about at 140 degrees would happen.

    Since you understand the science and are interested in it, perhaps you would like to see exactly what they said at CI. However, you need a subscription to view the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen material, so I've copied the short section here so anyone can read it.

    This quote was from a "Smoked Chicken" recipe for BBQ smoking, rather than a pure smoker, but I think the science still probably applies.
    So, that's their explanation, not mine. They do have some science people on staff, but having said that, they also don't have any recipes for smokers (although they've reviewed traditional kettle smokers), so I'm not holding them up as an authority on this subject.

    P.S. That same article also has something to say about water:
  10. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Quote: True, although after skimming several hundred topic titles, I note there is something called "cold smoking" which I assume is what is used for those long smokes in an actual smokehouse. At those low temps, I don't think the changes in chemical reactions you talk about at 140 degrees would happen.

    The chemical and flavoring reactions are with hundreds of components in smoke. These are generated by the wood and whether the gases and particles contact hot or cold the flavor changes take place. Heat speeds up the reaction, hours vs. days, but either way the flavor components of smoke are there, hot or cold. The color fixing reaction of Myoglobin and Nitrogen Dioxide takes place but is only really seen in the cooked Bacon or Ham. If this didn't happen the cooked product would be gray as no smoke is applied in the pan or oven.



    Smoke contains both water- and fat-soluble compounds. As the chicken cooks, water evaporates and fat drips away, eventually halting meat’s capacity to continue absorbing smoke flavor. Once that happens, any additional smoke flavor that’s not absorbed by the meat gets deposited on the exterior of the chicken, where the heat of the grill breaks it down into harsher—flavored compounds.

     What they fail to realize or at least point out, there is a big difference between throwing a couple chunks of wood in a closed Kettle with a restricted air flow and purpose designed Smokers. They will not get the same result with a well designed smoker. Smokers are designed to make smoke and heat, move them to and past the meat and exit the smoker. They are trying to make a grill perform as smoker. What is the old adage... Jack of all trades and master of none?  I suspect the issues they encountered were with Creosote and not the compounds they vaguely describe. Some additional info... There is just too many components and to many smoke generation and air flow variables to point a finger at a few and say this is why it tastes bad. Cook's Illustrated is a well written magazine that goes beyond providing a Recipe and and step by step production but smoking article is still designed to pull off a reasonable facsimile of Smoked Chicken for the average home cook with limited equipment...JJ
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  11. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hi John,

    I gotta agree with every part that JJ said that I understand, and I will only add that:

    In some Smokers a water pan should have water in it, but not in an MES.

    It's insulated so well that it holds a lot of Humidity. Condensation is always on the inside of the window in the door, in fact I'm in the process of investigating why my new MES gets way more water on the inside of the window than my 5 year old Gen #1 did.  LOL--I'm on it !!!

  12. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    You sure are right about the condensation. After my first smoke, the concrete under smoker was swimming in water that had condensed on the door and then run downward and exited through the gasket at the bottom. I tightened the latch one turn to reduce that for the next time I use the smoker.

    However, from what you are saying, there will be enough water from the food to keep the humidity at a good level in the cooker. This was especially true in my first smoke because I had a pan of uncovered beans in the smoker at the same time as my chicken, and the pan containing 2 cups of water.

    I'll be putting aluminum foil under the door until I get this all figured out.

    I'm sure learning a lot by reading these forums. One of the best I've found.
  13. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    This shows it.

    I just took this from my last "Prime Rib" Step by Step.

    It was the first Prime Rib I did with my new #2.5 MES 40.

    I already had that caption above that picture back when I Smoked that Prime Rib:

    Note condensation on inside of glass, without adding water, showing why water is not needed in an MES Water Pan:

    Here's that whole Step by Step:

    --Smoked Prime Rib (Panned #3)   

    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  14. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I agree with Bear. Don't use the water pan. Keep it empty and foil it over. But keep it in place because it does help to properly distribute the heat inside the smoker.
  15. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    Working on a tri-tip right now. Not quite willing to give up on the water, given all the different advice I've seen, and given that Masterbuilt does show the pan being filled in their videos. So, I put only one cup of boiling water in there, and don't plan to re-fill. There were several posts about this technique somewhere in this forum ("wet & dry"), along with the rationale, and it seemed to make sense. We'll see how it goes. Hard to screw up tri-tip.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  16. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    Finished my second smoke, this time tri-tip.

    I started with a fairly small 2.9 lb tri-tip. I removed the fat cap.

    I used the standard 1:1:1 pepper:salt:garlic powder rub.

    While doing all this, I preheated the smoker to 275.

    After much thought and discussion I decided to use a small amount of water in the pan which I boiled before adding.

    I put the tri-tip on the middle rack, set the smoker to 225, and smoked until I got an internal temp of 145.

    I was planning to go to a lower temp, but the internal temperature skyrocketed rather quickly. I turned down the smoker temp to 200, but it still went up fast. This is strange, because one of the main reasons I started this thread was that in my first smoke the food temp stalled out and wouldn't increase. By contrast, in this case the meat got too hot too fast.

    I then cranked up the BBQ and gave it a 3 minute/side sear. My old Weber, unfortunately, is not capable of doing a good flash sear. Perhaps I'll use a blowtorch next time.

    The finall result looked pretty good, although I'd prefer a better sear (I could also use the cast iron skillet, I suppose):

    I would have preferred the final result to be slightly more rare, a little more juicy, and a little more tender. However, it tasted fabulous, and when cooled and slightly frozen, I'll feed it to my slicer and make super-thin slices for sandwiches. (Anyone have a good tri-tip sandwich recipe?).

    I'm still very much in the learning mode, so any comments or suggestions are most welcome.
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2015
  17. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    First, I never put water in the water pan because it isn't needed. But why did you use boiling water? If you choose to pour a cup of water into the pan it doesn't need to be boiling.  The problem with the water pan is that it's too large for the MES 30 Gen 1 and just serves to steam the food as it slow cooks. You can't build up bark in a humid cooking environment, at least not in that smoker (the same one that I own). Boiling water only exacerbates the problem.

    How quickly did that IT rise?  How many minutes/hours were you into the smoke when you lowered the temp to 225°? There are quite a few top BBQ restaurants that will smoke their meats at 225° but for me that's too low. I prefer 235-240. As for preheating your smoker to 275° I never do that.

    That tri-tip--although a gorgeous hunk o' meat--was a relatively small roast compared to a beef brisket, a chuck roast, or a pork shoulder. All 3 of those need to be cooked to an IT in the range of 190-200°. You can't sear a tri-tip in a smoker but you might be able to get some bark by applying a dry rub. Is that Weber a propane grill? I know that with my Weber kettle charcoal grill I can easily and quickly get searing temps. I once smoked some bone-in ribeye steaks in my MES 30 and finished them on the Weber. You could also have finished the tri-tip under the broiler in your kitchen oven or in a cast iron or stainless steel skillet over a stove top burner set to medium high or high.

    But, the tri-tip looks perfectly cooked. What type of wood chips did you use?  However, after you get tired of adding wood chips every 20-30 minutes you'll want to look into getting a pellet smoker to place inside your MES.
  18. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Smoking Fanatic

    I used boiling water so that it would boil off before the smoking and cooking was finished. My inspiration for having part of the smoke be "wet," with water in the pan, and the second part "dry," with no water in the pan, was this article:

    Wet-to-Dry No-Foil Smoke Chamber Method
    Really fast. It was up to 120 degree, from room temp, in less than 45 minutes. I started at 225. That was as hot as I ever set the smoker. I then lowered it down to 200 degrees after about 75 minutes. I used 225 degrees because most of the beef recipes at the Masterbuilt site suggest this as the temperature to use:

    Masterbuilt Smoked Beef Recipes
    I was simply following the directions given by Masterbuilt in their instruction manual. Here is the direct quote:
    • "Pre-heat smoker for 30 to 45 minutes at max temperature before loading food."
    I would think that if you started cold, and then put the food into the smoker and also the chips, the electric heater would absolutely nuke the wood chips resulting in way too much smoke during the first part of the process. By having it preheated, assuming you don't leave the door open for five minutes, the heater should only cycle on for a relatively short time during the first 10-15 minutes, resulting in much more even smoke. I'm sure this is why I didn't have to add chips until over an hour had gone by, and even then, I still had TBS.
    Wow, that seems pretty high IT to me. I've cooked meats to that temperature when I want them to fall apart, like a pulled-pork recipe. I still wanted to be able to slice this. There sure wouldn't be any pink left at that temperature, and I would think the meat would get quite dry. I actually thought it was a little dry, even at the 140 IT.
    Yes, it is a natural gas grill (connected directly to my house gas line), but 21 years old. It doesn't have a "super high" sear setting. I did mention in my initial post that I might try using a blow torch or a cast iron skillet to provide a better sear next time.
    I used hickory. I definitely didn't need to add chips every 20-30 minutes and didn't add a second lot until 65 minutes into the process. I don't find this a particularly difficult thing to do, so at this point, I haven't found the need for the add on smoke device. I'm sure I'd feel differently if I were doing an 8-10 hour smoke.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2015
  19. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

  20. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    That's one of the things wrong in Masterbuilt's book.. That and they say to soak chips---Another bad idea. These are not just my ideas. Just trying to shorten your learning curve.

    Also, You can't do a Wet & Dry smoke with an MES. Putting water in the pan in the beginning would make a Real wet & and still real wet, because without water in the pan, it's still too wet.

    See my picture above again----No water was added !!


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