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First test MES + AMNPS + Mailbox mod

Discussion in 'AMNPS Tester forum' started by Michael Cohen, Jan 9, 2019.

  1. Hi all,

    I recently bought the 5x8 A-Maze-N pellet smoker and went all in on the mailbox mod. Below are some pics. All in all I'm pleased with the initial results and I'm looking forward to further testing. Here are a few things I noticed.
    1. I only wanted to smoke a couple of chicken breasts and a section of pork loin, so I only filled the first row of the maze. Ended up lasting roughly 2 hours, but I didn't really completely fill the first row, so that's about what I expected.
    2. I preheated my smoker at 275 and put the pellets and tray in to dry them out for about a half hour. Then I removed the pellets and lowered to 225 for the cook.
    3. I used a torch to light it but the flame was half way down the first row after only 5 minutes so I blew it out and placed it in the mailbox.
    4. I needed way more airflow than the three .5" holes I had drilled, so I ended up leaving the door open slightly. After adjusting, I finally got consistent thin blue smoke out of the top of the smoker, but I also noticed a lot of smoke escaping out of the front of the mailbox. That's probably due to the geometry of my setup, but I think I'll install a length of pipe for a chimney to see if that helps improve the draw.
    5. The chicken smoked up really well with no bitter taste at all (yay TBS!) but ended up with a leathery outer layer on the meat. I think this is because I usually put the meat on a grate inside a pan on the rack in the smoker, but this time I put the meat on the grate on the rack with the pan on the rack beneath. I was trying to get better, all-around smoke but I think it just ended up drying it out.
    6. I hardly noticed any smoke flavor on the pork! I used a spice rub that did taste really good, but the end product tasted almost identical to what usually comes out of my kitchen oven. I'm not exactly sure why the chicken smoked up ok but the pork did not. I didn't think a simple spice rub would prevent smoke from entering the meat, but clearly something was off. Maybe the airflow inside the smoker was to blame, since the chicken was on the top rack nearest the exhaust while the pork was sort of in the middle.

    Thanks to everyone who has posted information on this type of setup. Like I said, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out and I can't wait to use it more. Cheers~
    sky monkey and SonnyE like this.
  2. daveomak

    daveomak Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Looking good.... If you have any trouble keeping the pellets lit, elevate the AMNPS... Solved my problems...
    Good idea to enlarge the 3 holes..... Works for me....
    LEGS 4.jpg Mailbox mod 2.jpg
    fivetricks likes this.
  3. Yep, that's pretty much the first thing I did when I got the tray. It seemed to stay lit with no problems. :)
  4. Winterrider

    Winterrider Smoking Fanatic SMF Premier Member

    Looks like your setup should work fine. Put legs on my tray like Daveomak. Seemed to help the burn.
    That green grass looks inviting also. Couple more months of snow cover here yet. :emoji_confounded:
  5. Thanks! I'd gladly trade. We're pretty snow-starved here in southeast PA, and I'm one of those types who really digs winter weather.
  6. SonnyE

    SonnyE Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    I might be able to help with your draw problem.
    I spent a good part of my younger life heating with and burning wood. When you do that, you learn to make your stoves and fire places draw.
    When I first began playing with my MES 30 when it was brand new, I thought it quite odd there was no provision for a stack on it. So I corrected that after a few experiments.
    Just a single piece of 3" single wall ventilation pipe worked fine. Then a vent cap from the water heater venting section.
    Mine looks like this, and works great.

    Also, try using dust made from pellets for a better tasting, better penetrating smoke.
    See Daveomak's post here. https://www.smokingmeatforums.com/threads/making-dust-from-pellets.271863/
    I do believe that after several smoking's with Dust, I am a total convert to dust.
    My favorite at the moment is Apple Wood.
  7. I need to do this so my AMNPS works better. Thanks for the post, I'm inspired to finally take the leap and cut a giant hole in my beautiful smoker.
  8. SonnyE

    SonnyE Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Not necessary, Sky Monkey. Lots of ways to skin a cat.
    I found a Bean Can was about a perfect "flange" for the 3" aluminum dryer vent. So I mounted my experimental can, onto my "mailbox", and bored holes to allow the smoke to exit the "mailbox" and go into the duct hose.

    Here's a picture during my brain storming. (Which amounts to a fart in a hurricane...)

  9. tallbm

    tallbm Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Hi there and welcome!

    Keep tinkering. As with any smoker and setup you gotta learn the quirks and you will get it down. this is true even when using the AMNPS and a mailbox mod :)

    Here is some input on some of your points you discuss:

    1. You may want to add more pellets to your AMNPS, that row looked a little skimpy. Also you may want to turn the flame way down on your torch. I find mine does best in lighting while not burning too far down when it is more of a flame rather than a torch blast. Maybe just a slight "hiss" going but your torch may be different, just play with it some.
    2. Zapping humidity out of the pellets is a good idea and you have a process that looks to work
    3. Again more of a flame and less of a torch blast will help. You DO want to try and get a flame for 10 minutes like the directions mention but you don't want half the row to be burned down, try to keep it under 2 inches of flaming /burned pellets.
    4. Keep playing with your airflow. I use a wall hanging mailbox that has holes in the bottom that seem to help it out. Keep at it and you will get it solved.
    5. If you mean leathery chicken skin then my friend welcome to the club. Chicken skin wants to be cooked at hotter temps of like 325F to be edible. Your MES has a max temp of 275F if it is even hitting that. A few guys are lucky and have MES units that get closer to 300F or a little higher when set to 275F so their chicken skin is edible. The rest just smoke the chicken to like 140F and then throw on a hot grill to finish the skin and the chicken off.
      Now if the meat itself was tough then that is a different issue.
      Also if you are cooking chicken breast, whole chicken, or pork loin you will likely want to brine it for 12 hours or so, heck even a couple of hours may help. The simplest brine is just salt dissolved in water. You pull out of the brine, pat dry and season with a NO-SALT seasoning and you should produce nice juicy meat that generally tends to dry out :)
    6. I believe poultry tends to take on smoke a bit better than pork. I believe fish seems to take it on more easily than anything else. What I am saying is that the meat and the cut of the meat matter.
      What I like to do with my AMNPS on super fast smokes is burn 2 rows at once (1st and 3rd row). This should help in those kinds of situations. That or just turn down the heat to provide longer times in the smoke. When you have a smoke that is less than 2 hours I think you may want to give the 2 rows on the AMNPS a shot. (Secret here, I do 2 rows on anything less than 4 or 5 hours and have yet to over smoke anything hehehe )
    Another thing to seriously consider is to use a good dual probe (or more probes) thermometer. I always recommend the ThermoPro TP20 as a great wireless dual probe option but there are other options out there that will work and many with additional probes.
    The MES is notorious for the smoker and it's meat probe to just be flat wrong. If you have at least 2 probes you can use one probe to measure the real smoker temp at meat/rack level and the other probe to measure the Internal Temp (IT) of the meat. Most MES owners use a good dual probe (or more probes) thermometer and the AMNPS.

    Best of luck, keep at it, and let us know how you get things sorted out! :)
  10. Awesome, thx tallbm! I am using a dual probe thermometer but it wasn't pictured since this was just the smoke testing phase. It's got a wireless receiver as well, which is super handy. Also I'll have to give your chicken advice a try the next time, that sounds excellent. Cheers~
  11. I'm curious if you put the rib right on the pork, if you used mustard or oil first, and if you let it sit overnight.

    It's believed that wet takes on smoke better.
  12. I usually take out the cut of meat, give it a rinse, pat dry and then spice rub right before going in the oven or smoker. When I tried this last time on the grill (with a smoke box full of chips) it came out pretty good, so I think I just need to tweak my airflow in order to max out the smokiness inside the MES. Also maybe next time I'll try the spice rub mixed with oil. I'm using applewood btw.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2019
  13. johnmeyer

    johnmeyer Master of the Pit

    First of all, congrats on the mailbox mod build. The results look really pro.

    Here are few things you might want to experiment with.

    1. I don't think leaving the door open is the right way to deal with the minor issues you are having. This lets a huge amount of heat escape, and lets more fresh air in which may decrease the amount of smoke left on the meat.

    2. Your tray is burning quite a bit faster than mine. This leads me to this question: why did you think it needed even more air? Most people get around three hours per row. Two is a pretty fast burn. Actually, mine is burning slower than that, and I'd kind of like to speed it up a little, so I'll keep an eye on what you do and maybe I can learn something that will help.

    3. While you posted a still photo and not a video, that photo of the top of the exhaust, with the black car directly behind, makes it look like the smoke is coming out at a very fast velocity. Most of the videos I've seen of the MES, whether with internal chips or external mod, usually show a more "lazy" smoke plume. Here is a video I did showing how I used the AMNPS (before I built my own "popcorn can mod"). I've cued it up to show how the smoke looks coming out of the exhaust:

    Before you drill any more holes in the mailbox, you might want to consider attaching a "vent control" to the front of the mailbox, similar to how the vent control in the top of the MES works. You'll find all sorts of examples of this in the various mailbox mod builds in this forum.

    4. What sort of pellets are you using? I am not certain, because I haven't tried this myself, but I think the Traeger and other similar pellets that are designed for heating may tend to burn faster. After lots of research and after reading a lot of posts on this site, I decided to stick exclusively with Todds pellets, a decision I've never regretted.
  14. Hi John, thanks for replying. With the mailbox closed, there are only 3 half inch holes in the front and one slightly smaller one where I took off the flag (a friend actually needed the flag), plus the tiny holes in the bottom for mounting. With the tray inserted, door closed, and top MES vent fully open I was getting tons of that white, billowy, acrid smoke. I actually tried sequentially covering up the holes with tape to see if maybe it would help, but after removing all the tape and propping open the mailbox door slightly, the acrid stuff disappeared and I was rewarded with the good stuff, TBS. That's why I don't think my tray was getting enough air inside the mailbox, but I needed to test it for myself to be sure.

    I am using pellets from the same place as the tray, A-Maze-N. You're right, next time I'll shoot a little video for smoke comparison, but there was a definite difference in the volume and speed of the smoke before and after I introduced more air into the mailbox (faster, white and billowy before, slower, wispier and bluer after). I do like the idea of installing a vent control on the mailbox--that seems like a pretty elegant way to solve this problem, thanks!

    And as for the cart, it steers just like a grocery cart (swivels in front, straight wheels in the back) and makes it super easy to wheel in and out of the garage. I dabble in a bit of woodworking, and whipping up things like that just make me happy, so thank you for noticing. :)