Buy Cheap Buy Twice... or Maybe 4 Times?

Discussion in 'Pellet Smokers' started by kenafein, Apr 13, 2015.

  1. When I first got into smoking meat, i used my gas or charcoal grills with aluminum bags filled with chips. After that I got an Old Smokey, and it made pretty decent party ribs(fall off the bone), but I wanted to go for the competition style that I'd been reading about.  At that time, I bought a MES 30", 1st Gen, with the 650 watt element.  I wasn't completely happy with it and I started hearing lots of good things about pellet grills.  I bought a Traeger Jr, with the upgraded electronics.  Eventually, I gave away the Old Smokey.  

    I have never been happy with the Traeger.  I've called tech support a number of times about the wild temp swings and reading on these forums, it just looks like that's a normal thing.  The food seems to turn out dryer than my other methods and the smoke flavor is also weak.  I added a AMTS to amp up the smoke and I started using CookingPellets brand, and it's better, but I still have the terrible temperature control.  I tried buying a Savannah Stoker, but they said it won't work in my unit.  

    I drug the MES out of mothballs and tried cooking some spares on it yesterday with the AMTS.  I'd mothballed it mostly because of creosote problems, but I thought the AMTS might fix that issue.  Then I remembered another problem, horrible temperature control, even if I don't peek, and on a warm day.  The smoke flavor provided by the AMTS was pretty mild.  I also didn't like cutting my racks in half and I think this thing is a bit of a chore to clean up afterwards.  I see that they do have a cold smoker attachment, which might be all I need, but I've seen some complaints about these units breaking down, more cheap MasterBuilt wiring?  Also, no smoke ring.  I know it's not as important as taste, but it's nice to see.  I tried adding a few kingsford briquets, but no dice.  

    Now, do I buy a 4th smoker?  I was looking at the RecTec, which seems to be universally loved.  Or the MES 40" with, hopefully, all the bugs worked out.  The RECTEC, is a bit expensive for me, but if I'd bought something like that from the get go I'd probably not be writing this post right now.  The MES is only 309 and I already have an AMTS.  The company is not known for reliability, however.  One thing that concerns me with pellet grills is that the pellets aren't cheap.  If I do a 24 hour cook, then I'm probably spending an extra 15-20 bucks in fuel costs.  The operating costs would be substantially less for an electric.

    I know there are some similar posts to this one, and I've read quite a few, but please forgive the newbie for asking some targeted questions.      
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2015
  2. ak1

    ak1 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Talk to Bearcarver. He's been making fantastic smokes on an MES. for years.
    kenafein likes this.
  3. Maybe I should play with the MES some more. I have it and the RecTec isn't going anywhere. Maybe I will try a bearcarver brisket.
  4. Kenafein,

    Like you I started with grills and tin foil bags.  I remember when I moved up to a stainless smoker box to put in the grill, I thought I was all that.  Then I decided I wanted a "real" smoker and did a bunch of research.  I didn't want to break the bank but also didn't want to buy based on low cost alone.  So I ended up with a Camp Chef Smoke Vault, not a lot of money, but not the cheapest option.  Of course, I fired it up as soon as I got it, cooked some food and it was good, not great, but good.  Then I went into learning mode and I think that's the key.  Like your MES, a lot of guys get great food out of them, but they have to know their equipment and how it works.  Once you understand that, then you can determine if it's the right tool for you.  That said, I still have my Smoke Vault but have moved on into the pellet world with a Rec-Tec.  Same deal with the research, how do I get in for a good price with good results.  Now this is my only foray into the pellet world so far but I can tell you, it is very easy to learn and the equipment is simple.  I like using my Smoke Vault when I have a lot of time and want to "tinker" with my cook, the pellet cooker I just set it and go.  Like you said, check out what you have, make sure it truly will or won't work for you, then you can make a better decision.
    kenafein likes this.
  5. chef willie

    chef willie Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Bear has a Gen 1 MES....just sayin'. I'm using a poor mans Rec Tec....a Char Griller pellet pusher for $450. Pellet consumption is not an issue IMO, I get large bags of GMG for a few cents a pound and also have available another brand for $8.88 a bag. I do like electric smokers, having a Smokin' It model #3 which is full of Slim Jims at the moment and has been on overnight with no worries on my part. I don't think one piece of gear cuts it....but that's me.....Willie
    kenafein likes this.
  6. The Camp Chef 24" sounds pretty tempting.  Masterbuilt and Camp Chef both have propane smokers with big wide shelves.  I wonder why they don't make electrics that way.  Cajun injector made a double door smoker, but I don't trust their reputation.  I'd love to have a vertical smoker that I could throw a few whole shoulder clods on though.  I guess I got a little turned off of propane smokers because I'd read guys going through a whole tank on a long cook.  Getting propane is a bit inconvenient for me and it's also pretty expensive.  

    I noticed from your sig that you have an Anova Sous Vide.  I bought one too, lots of fun.  I saw one guy who cooked a brisket flat for 36 hours and then seared it.  I want to give that a try, soon.  
    I did use my MES quite a bit when I got it, but there are a lot more resources now.  I'll play with it a bit more.

    The Smokin-it 3 looks like a great unit.  The internal dimensions look like i could smoke whole racks of ribs(at least baby backs).  How well does it maintain temps?  How often do you have to change chunks of wood?  How easy is the cleanup?

    The pellets i use are all 50 to 75 cents per pound.  RecTec says they burn less than 1lb per hour @ 225, but if I assume 1lb/hour, on a 24 hour cook, that ends up being 12-18 dollars.  Where are you getting your bags?
  7. chef willie

    chef willie Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Yep, you can get whole racks of St. Louis styles in there. The controller is analog so there will be swings. Very debatable issue with no discernible difference at the end of the cook IMHO. Many add Auber PID's plug & plays for pin point accuracy if that's important to you. It's recommended to use only 2-3 ounces of wood in this smoker and I will attest that's plenty for this household. I put about 2-3 chunks of apple or cherry in and that's it. Clean-up?? hardly none.....I use disposable aluminum grill grate liners from Home Depot and foil the very bottom with HD foil. I use a disposable drip pan under my meats to catch drippings which gets added back into the PP or au jus. Minimal clean-up, nice because a nasty job I don't wanna do...smoke smarter, not harder. I get the pellets brand is Lil Devil, $8.88 for 20 pounds & Green Mt Grills is a bigger bag with 28 pounds. Probably .50 a # but more flavors available. I'm not sure many will run a pellet pusher 24 hours....I could be wrong but that's a long time. Consumption varies with temp selection. Here's GMG chart
  8. I guess this is the last day before a price hike on the Smokin It #3.  I hope it's not too dramatic.  I'll play around with my MES a bit longer before buying another electric.  Those aluminum grate liners look great.  I could use those for korean bbq on my grill.  How long does it smoke on 2-3 ounces?  MES is doing something wrong because it eats wood chunks and pumps out creosote, at least on mine.  When I first got it the smoke was really clean, but after awhile it started putting out creosote.. The AMNPS seems like a must for my MES at this point(or some other smoke generator).  

    I've seen those Lil Devil pellets at home depot, I will give them a shot.  

    As for 24 hours, I have been trying to get a beef shoulder clod perfected and that's a 22+ hour cook for one of those.  It would be significantly less in a MES because I

    d have to cut it in half, but 18-24 hour cooks are something that I do.  I don't sleep well those nights, because my hopper doesn't hold that many pellets.  I considered getting an extension, but, if I'm not going to keep the Traeger, then I don't want to spend any more money on it.  I'd love a set and forget method for long cooks.  I almost considered a WSM or a stick burner simply because i'm constantly tending my equipment anyways, but I'd love a set and forget solution for long cooks.  

    Thanks for that graph.  
  9. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    set it and forget it at it's finest. and cheapest.
  10. Yours is a charcoal UDS?  Is it better than a WSM w/ minion method?
  11. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The charcoal UDS is basically the home made WSM - both work great and will hold temps a long time. If you have the tools and a little skill a UDS is a great way to go... and it saves you some $$.

    .... or you can be lazy like me and buy the 22.5" WSM.... lol.
    kenafein likes this.
  12. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    I would not say it's better. I would say the same but half the price. All you need to make one is a drill and some parts. They are really simple to make. You would need to find a good drum. That is the hard part it seems for a lot of folks in other parts of the country. Check out the UDS section of this website. There is some pretty neat stuff there.
    kenafein likes this.
  13. I'll check it out.  Looks like I can get a drum off ebay, for $88, shipped, worst case.  22.5" is a great size.  
  14. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    If you go this route do some research. Try to find a drum that does not have a liner in it. It makes no difference what was in the drum because you will be taking it all down to bare metal anyway. I find that petroleum drums are usually unlined. You want open head with two holes in the lid. One 2 inch hole and one 1 inch hole. Some guys use 22 inch weber lids but you have to do a little extra work to make them fit right. I just use the stock lid and it works great. I have never had to pay for a drum. Feed stores, auto parts stores, shipyards, equipment dealers, you name it almost always have drums kicking around. No need to get a brand new one. It won't save you any work to get it ready. If you can find a used 22 inch weber kettle you have most of the parts to make one right there.
    kenafein likes this.
  15. bonzbbq

    bonzbbq Smoke Blower

    Im with timberjet on this one, I have several smokers, small electric, large gravity feed, and huge stickburner, I use the uds for the majority of my cooks, real happy with it, something to consider maybe
  16. Thanks for the tips, Timberjet and bonzbbq. I'll give it some serious consideration, if I can build it cheap enough.  I suppose the kettle lid does give you the advantage of having room enough for another rack, but simplicity of build is also attractive.  
  17. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    the flat lid gives you enough room for 2 racks.
    kenafein likes this.
  18. bregent

    bregent Smoking Fanatic

    I'm not sure why the Savanah doesn't fit the Jr. but you might want to look at the Pellet Pro controller - Give them a call and I'm sure they'll know if it fits the Jr. If you try it and it doesn't work out, you could always resell it on Ebay and recoup most of the money.

    A PID should fix the wild temp swings, which could also be a reason why the meat is drying out. But it's not going to fix the lack of smoke flavor which is inherent in all pellet grills. In fact, many believe that PID controlled grills produce even less smoke and thus less smoke flavor than simple timer controlled pellet grills. If you want more, you either need to use a supplemental smoke device or start off in low smoke mode for a while. 

    With my Camp Chef DLX, I get about 85 minutes per lb at 250F and I'm paying about $0.50/lb for Bear Mountain pellets at Cash and Carry. So a 24 hr smoke would cost about $8.50.

    That's probably much more than it costs to run my natural gas GOSM, but the ease of use makes it worth it for me.  
    kenafein likes this.
  19. Thanks, bregent. I will check out that other PID. I recently started to supplement with a tube smoker, but I think it escapes a bit too easily from the jr and doesn't permeate as well as I would like. I tried blocking off one of the exhausts. Starting at 180 is something I have done with the Traeger since calling their tech support years ago, but I often have severe temp swings as it cycles at this temp. Maybe sealing up some of the traeger leaks would help everything.

    Timberjet, I think I have found a source of barrels for $20. I am pretty tempted if I can build one in the 150-200 range.
  20. bonzbbq

    bonzbbq Smoke Blower

    I have built them for as little as $80, good luck and post pics of the build, looking forward to seeing them, love a good smoker build[​IMG]
    kenafein likes this.

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