First couple smokes with my new 2012 MES40 (Brisket/Pork Butt) with Qview and lots of information (W

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Original poster
Jul 1, 2012
Midwest Chicago Area
Hey guys,

Newer member here.   Wall of text ahead but worth the read if you're new to smoking like myself or would like to just laugh at the green horn mistakes I made.  I will include a TLDR version at the end for those of us with short attention spans (including myself)

I thought I'd share some thoughts, lessons learned and of course, Q-View.  Again, if you're like me...You enjoy BBQ and are looking at getting into smoking stuff for yourself, have spent time on this or other forums doing "research" and are getting ready or maybe already have jumped into this awesome and rewarding past time this is the post for you.  Please read it all.

First a few notes on Acronyms used:

MES40 = Masterbuilt Electric Smoker 40" version.

AMNPS =  A-MAZE-N Pellet Smoker

TLDR = Too Long Didn't Read (a lot of lengthy posts tend to zone people out or simply won't get read, this is for you)

I had looked at the MES40 for some time and spent even more time looking over these forums soaking up as much info as possible.

I went ahead and pulled the trigger on the 2012 MES40 from Bass Pro Shops.  After all was said and done I spent almost $500 dollars on the smoker, a cover, and some basic supplies (wood chips, generic meat therm, aluminum drip trays, etc)

I seasoned it using some apple wood chips and using the stock wood tray and loader.   I didn't have anything proper to smoke so I grabbed the first thing I found in the fridge...Oscar Meyer Wieners (don't laugh),   I set the MES to 225 got to temp, loaded up 4 plain dogs and a palm sized load of half apple wood, half jack Daniels chips.  2 hours and 2 more loads of chips and I figured they were done.  Pulled them off the smoker, they were smaller and looked DARK...but i said hey, what the hell.  Gave them a shot and they weren't bad, kind of like eating a larger smokey link in a hot dog bun.  Again, not too bad. 


So I went to the store and the local Sam's had a killer deal on a 10lb (I think) Brisket.  I bought it, brought it back and started the prep for smoking.  I know doing a brisket first is like getting in an F-18 Super Hornet with no flight experience except playing some flight sims on the PC.  I like to learn the hard way (not really but that certainly seems to be the case

I covered it in Blues Hog Dry Rub.  Wrapped it in plastic and let it sit in the fridge over night.  The next day at about 7 am I set the smoker to 225 let it get to temp, loaded up some more apple wood chips and started the fun. 

The following information is loosely based on bad memory because this was well over 3 weeks ago.  I had to add chips about every 45 minutes.  This was a pain in the ass, I stopped at 5 loads.  The temps just were not climbing like I expected, but I didn't change anything, i just let it takes its course.  It stalled at about 160F some 5-6 hours in.....this is where my A.D.D set in.  I opened the door several times constantly checking the temps of the $10 meat thermometer I stuck in it right away(I know, more on that later) it hovered at 160F forever....I was convinced this was the dreaded stall i had read so much about.

By now it was about 5 pm and I had something come up and had to leave.  So I loosely took the advice of some on here, wrapped it in foil with some apple juice, removed the alum drip pan i had under it (more on that terrible mistake later) and let it go because i figured id be back in a few hours.  When I got back I I noticed there was quite a bit of smoke coming out of the vent, and it was white, and kind of thick...remember, there's no chips in this thing at this point....

I open the smoker and check the temps and realize my foil job wasn't that great and I had a drip at the front-right part of the foil...this was dripping brisket sauce all over the wood chip tray cover and splattering, then burning with each drip...I have no idea how long this had gone on but the amount of black char in the lower right of the smoker was enough evidence.
  As you can guess this is not the good smoke you want on the meat or in the smoker.  However, because it was wrapped the damage was minimal.  I checked the temp and it was about 175F...A.D.D sets in again, I decide its time to pull this thing and let it sit in a cooler covered in towels for 2 hours.

I let the time pass and by now my friends are really getting hungry.  I, on the other hand, am starting to panic that this might be a complete failure.  

2 hours later I pull it out of the cooler, throw it in the oven with some apple juice covered in foil to get it up to about 185F.  When i get it out of the oven I realize I had smoked and cook this thing with that layer of fat that should be on top, on the bottom the entire time.  This means less smoke/heat penetration.  DAMN IT!   I start to slice it, here's the end result below.

I'm thinking this doesn't look too bad, seems done....we eat. 

While not completely dry, it is much tougher than the brisket you would get at even your worst local BBQ joint.  It's edible and we eat most of it...but when you try pulling it apart its like its glued together and there's sort of a funk on the smokey side of things that I'm not happy with, I seem to be the only one who notices and perhaps it was just confirmation bias.  Not a total failure, my friends love it, but I'm not satisfied and I have only myself to blame(or so I thought-more on this in the next section where I smoke a bone-in Pork Butt

What did I learn on this brisket?  Patience, repeated heavily on these forums, is key.  It did not reach ideal temps for breaking down the fats and muscle glue and it was on the tough side.  Keeping a drip tray so that the juice from your meat does not drip on to a hot/heat shield portion of your smoker so you don't spend an hour cleaning off ash and char from your heating element and other hard to reach places.  Not cleaning this off results in more creosote style smoke that will ruin your day. 

Last but not least, BUY AN A-MAZE-N PELLET SMOKER-THIS WILL BE YOUR BEST FRIEND.  I have found that having to babysit wood chips is not fun, if you have the time and patience for that, good for you.  I ordered a 5lb bag of Todd's Pitmaster Blend pellets and the AMNPS, Todd threw in a 2lb bag of oak, that was a nice surprise and greatly appreciated.  Also worth noting is I paid for UPS shipping, he sent it USPS (which was the cheaper option than UPS) I sent him a note about it, he explained it would come quicker with USPS and promptly refunded the difference.  Had I known he threw in free oak pellets and his reason for sending it that way I would have never asked (and technically didn't, i just wanted to verify which was used) for the measly 4 bucks!  SORRY TODD!


Ok, so a few weeks pass and I decide it's time to give smoking another go..after the brisket I was a little bummed out and a little deterred.  I pick up a 7 3/4 lb bone-in pork butt.  I still got plenty of Blues Hog Rub left so I get it out, smother it, set it in the fridge for about 6 hours. 

I calculate the approx cook time to be around 11.6 hrs - 15 given the weight of the butt.  I decide to start this thing around 1am.  So this thing should be done around 1pm-4pm right?   The best laid plans....

I followed the instructions with that came with the AMNPS regarding the burn off, the lighting procedure, followed it to a T.  I loaded 2 rows up in the tray (AMNPS says about 11 hours of smoke on a full load, I decided to go 2/3 or roughly 6 hours of smoke. About half of my total estimated cook time)  I had to re-light the pellets 2 times using a propane torch.  Embers kept going out.  The was no breeze to speak of so that wasn't helping.   I had the MES40 set at 225, AMNPS Embers glowing and smoking, Vent fully open, wood tray pulled out an inch and chip loader pulled out an inch.  There are 4 racks in the MES40, I removed the OEM drip tray and water pan, one unused rack, stab the meat with the MES meat probe, the same generic meat therm, set it all up and let it go for an hour.  I recheck the AMNPS and the smoke had stopped.  So I pulled it out, re-lit it with the propane torch going deeper into the pellets and getting a bigger flame, set it back in the smoker and this time pulled the chip loader out another inch or so so that the chip half pipe is exposed about an inch.  This helped increase air flow and kept the AMNPS going while in the smoker.  I check it in another hour, MES40 reads 234, meat therm is at 50F Internal temp, smoke is nice and I'm tired.  I go to bed and let this thing go for the next 6.5 hours. 

So I've got the butt on the 2nd rack down (top rack is out of the smoker, less to clean), AMNPS on bottom rack on the left away from heating element to avoid igniting prematurely and a 9x13x1 aluminum drip tray on the middle rack

Here's where it gets kinda scary so before any of you stop reading here and start yelling at me for how stupid I am.  I know and I'll explain. 

I wake up around 7:30 am and Immediately go check on how things are going.  AMNPS burned through all the pellets (as expected and nice to see).  Here's the troubling part.  Meat thermometer reads 120F...yes 120F after 6.5 hours.  This seemed low to me, I would have expected around 160F at the very least after so long.  I check the MES40 temp and it reads 234F again and i have it set at 225F I had to go to the store and get some BBQ sauce and apple juice as I planned on setting the OEM water pan with about 3 inches of apple juice on the rack just over the heat shield for the heating element. 

I start wondering, as I've read from other MES40 2010 owners if my set temps and actual temps are reading way off.  Yeah, I never bothered to check the accuracy of the meat probe and temp setting before doing anything.  This would prove to be a big mistake.  I purchase a $10 oven thermometer to check what is actually going on inside the MES compared to what it's set at.  The oven therm reads just under 200 inside(ofcourse after letting is sit for 30 minutes to allow the temps to recover), on a rack

just in front of the meat, my MES40 says its set at 225, reading 230 something according to the digital display.
The internal meat therm reads 140F now.  I said ok you son of a bitch, and set the temp to 265 to raise my temps inside.  after an hour I check the oven therm, it now reads 220.  I turn the MES up to 275 (its max) and I barely achieve 225 on the oven therm.  I decide to let things go their course.  I set up the water pan with apple juice, remove the AMNPS and check on things every hour or so, not opening the door however.  I suddenly realize how to get the meat probe temp from the MES40, you have to hold it down (blonde moment).   MES meat probe internal temp reads 180F, meat therm internal reads 170F....10 degrees off...

At this point I'm thinking with the amount of money I spent on just the unit alone, I really expected things to be a bit more accurate.  Remember that brisket that stalled at 160?  yeah, maybe it was a stall, or maybe it was the variance in temps between the several tools I had.  I'm guessing the latter.

I come up on around 3 p.m checking temps, these forums and various you tube videos checking on the problems I had. 

I had read about the "Danger Zone" and glanced over it like I'm sure many others have done.  Do not glance over this phrase.  Remember how I said my meat was only at 120F after 6.5 hours?  There is a rule/guidline whatever you want to call it regarding this.  It's called the 40-140 in 4.   Simply put, you're meat should reach 140F in about 4 hours. You especially increase this risk by inserting things into the meat while its raw (meat probes, injecting, met therms) because you essentially collect and push any bacteria into the meat with these objects.  Hindsight is 20/20 so from now on I will not be sticking any therms or probes into the meat for a couple hours after being in the smoker.   Not achieving 140 in 4 hours runs the risk of your meat growing and producing lots of nasty things that can cause you to become ill and/or land you in the hospital.  I learned this towards the end of this Pork Butt adventure.  I also learned how to properly calibrate a thermometer in a glass of ice water.  I tested the generic meat therm and it was right on point.   In this time I've learned a lot about safe food handling, curing meats, Knowing the risks, I forge ahead and decide to take my chances (again, save the lecture, remember, I'm posting this so others don't make the same uninformed mistakes I did)

So again, its around 3pm, MES reads 275, Oven therm reads 225, MES internal meat probe reads around 201F, meat therm reads around 180F internal...the smoking process has been done for several hours and I'm getting impatient, I've read that for pulled pork you should achieve temps of 205 or so (I know this is subjective).  I decide to pull it out of the smoker and finish it in the oven.

Here's what it looked like.

It goes in the oven at 350 for about an hour, the time it takes this home made Buttered Ritz Cracker Crumb Mac & Cheese to finish baking.  Meat therm still reads around 180 and once again my A.D.D kicks in. The entire time this thing is in the oven and having my new found knowledge of food safety/handling I really struggle with throwing it out.  I have had food poisoning before and its not fun.  I explain all this to those of us who are here and waiting to eat.  EVERYTHING.  What I've read, what happened, what the risks are.  We all agree to take the risk and eat it.  We have good insurance why not put it to use? 
I let it sit and start to shred the butt for serving. 

So here's the end result.   All (Danger Zone) things aside this thing was juicy, tasted amazing, perfect amount of smoke and didn't even need the BBQ sauce.  No one got sick (thankfully). 

I know this post has been long and there's plenty here I can be corrected on or chastised about.  I do not consider my thoughts gospel, but rather simple notes for things people like myself might overlook.   I feel if there's anyone else out there in the same position I was in before all this started and I can help them then that's all that matters to me.  As always do the research for yourself and go from there. 

Here's the TLDR version:

I'm not very patient, but you will have to learn patience.  It is key for any BBQ to be successful.

MES40 is a great smoker, and it does the trick.  However here's what you should know (and this may not apply to all)

More often than not what you set for a temp is not what you get inside.

You will have to calibrate or verify the temps provided by the MES and the probes you use.  There are plenty of links on these forums regarding this.  USE THE SEARCH. 

Be prepared to spend the money on things you didn't think you'd need.

You will need the AMNPS unless you feel like loading chips every 45 minutes or so. 

I just bought a Maverick et-732, so should you(or at least something very similar).  The smoker temp and meat temps are crucial and unfortunately it seems you can't rely on OEM equipment to do the trick.  It will require more testing.  If i have to set my MES40 to 275F to achieve roughly 225F internal smoker temp to cook stuff, this means that I can't get it to go above 225F to cook poultry....not sure what I can do here.  I've read that Masterbuilt lacks in the support department...I will have a better idea whats going on when my Maverick arrives and I've gone through the calibration process with boiled and ice water and go from there

I would not advise, like so many others of starting with a brisket.  If you're impatient or are new you will likely have issues. Pork butt or similar meats are much more forgiving.

Food safety/Handling is ABSOLUTELY KEY and something I was VERY VERY naive about.  Having zero culinary experience and simply wanting to reproduce great BBQ for myself instead of buying it from an establishment I simply over looked this very basic step.   Don't be like me and find out about this 3/4 of the way into your 2nd serious smoke attempt.  Spend the time and educate yourself on the 40-140 in 4 rule and other safe food handling procedures before even starting.

All in all I've spent roughly $750 on everything so far.  I've learned loads and a lot of it has been the hard way.  I hope this helps some people

Thanks for reading.

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