You cannot consistently cook BBQ to time. You have to cook to temp. Different meats and fat content will determine how long it wants to be cooked.
Now, as you get some cooks under your belt, you'll start to get an idea of how long to keep something in the smoker. Even ribs are hard to pin down on time. Most of us say 3-2-1 for pork spares and 2-2-1 for baby backs, but yesterday it took almost 6 hours for my BBs to be where I wanted them and I was at 235 degrees...
Like my signature says, when cooking BBQ or sausage, the only thing you need with numbers on it is a thermometer.
If I am feeding guests, I try to plan to have the meat done 2 hours before the boss tells me we are going to have dinner. If it takes longer than planned, I've got time. If it is done on time or early, it'll keep in a cooler wrapped in towels for 2-3 hours. I have wrapped a but and taken it out of the cooler 2 hours later and it was still steaming when I pulled it! Happy smokin', David.
I am with these guys. I always take what I think it will take and add 2 hours. Pretty much Everything will hold, 2-5 hours, in a cooler except Med/Rare Beef. That you rest tented with foil on the counter or in a cold oven. Even two hours, there are no safety issues. Serve some Hot Au Jus or Gravy and you are good to go with room temp Beef...
When I was a total newbie Culinary Student I was worried about having my food done on time. I asked the Chef Instructor, " How long do I cook a Baked Potato? " With a very serious look he answered, " Until it's Done! " There are just too many variables to EVER say, " This or that Meat will take X number of hours. " Experience will get you close, but a 2 hour Pad will CYA!...Most of the time.
You've already gotten some good things to think about. Here's a few more things to consider....
The MES 30 has a comparatively low power output so opening the door more than absolutely needed can really slow things down. The old adage that "If you're looking, you ain't cooking!" is rarely more thru than with a relatively low wattage smoker. The amount of time needed to recover to cooking temperature can add up to a good portion of the overall time.
The starting temperature of the meat can have a lot to do with cooking time. Colder meat and thicker cuts take longer than meat warmed on the counter for few hours or thinner cuts. Beef and pork are good cuts for pre-warming, poultry and fish usually aren't. BTW, the opposite counts for things like steak or a really juicy burger. A few minutes in the freezer to reach the "frost crust" stage and out onto a screaming hot bed of coals or cast iron griddle and you will be rewarded with a great crust on a rare to medium rare steak.
Whether the smoker is exposed to wind or low ambient temps matters, too Convection cooling can result in a lot of energy going into trying to get to and maintaining temps, especially on a cold day.
When cooking in an electric smoker I usually don't wrap cuts like brisket or butts in foil if I need to hold them for a later serving time. I just dial the temperature down to around 160 to keep them above the temperature danger zone.
Lastly, take plenty of notes while learning and when trying something new. I started out trying to figure time by weight and found out that thickness and toughness of the cut of meat (time to break down connective tissue and render fat) mattered more.
Lance, you added some great info...EXCEPT This...The starting temperature of the meat can have a lot to do with cooking time. Colder meat and thicker cuts take longer than meat warmed on the counter for few hours...
Two to Three Hours on the counter, " Does Not ", save 5-6 hours in the Smoker! The Convected Heat in the Smoker will take that same cut from 38°F to 70°F in an Hour or two, tops. Where is your savings? A pound of Fuel, One or Two KW's at $.15 per KWHour? In the Worst Case, an Injected or BRT Butt, just spent 2-3 hours sitting in the Danger Zone. Now have a malfuction in the smoker and a piece of meat that could have been saved, going Directly in the Smoker, has 6+ hours of Bacteria growth. There is only ONE situation where warming meat before Smoking is a Benefit, other than quick forming a Pellicle, and that is for more even doneness, edge to edge, of Beef that will be served Medium or less. Sorry to contradict you but Warming is not a good idea...JJ