Masterbuilt Smoker Controller - Buttons Unresponsive / Won't Power On - Fix

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geostriata

Meat Mopper
Original poster
SMF Premier Member
May 18, 2021
177
98
California
The MasterBuilt MES controller is horribly vulnerable to moisture/smoke/corrosion. A couple days ago, mine went out, as the temperature button stopped being responsive (after a few days where it was flaky). After opening the unit and looking inside, I was immediately shocked by how little thought they placed in weather protection. These guys showed no thought to this.

When I first opened it up, I had rusted screws and the back of the enclosure had condensation and smoke residue buildup (apologies I missed a photo of this). After taking the board out, I saw rust all over the switches and more smoke residue on the board. These switches were cheap and not weather resistant, so that was the problem. I fixed it with the following steps:
  1. Splashed isopropyl alcohol over the buttons
  2. Scrubbed switches with a brass brush.
  3. Repeated one and two, but clicked the buttons while I scrubbed. I scrubbed left side, then top, the right, then bottom on each switch.
  4. Splashed isopropyl alcohol on the back and scrubbed that (lightly). That fortunately got most of the rust off.
  5. Wiped residue with a paper towel, and confirmed it worked by plugging it in.
  6. Added sealant to the perimeter of the enclosure, sealant to the cable, and sealant to the screws.
  7. Remounted the unit. I shouldn't have to fix this particular problem again.
1712004912538.png

Above: What it should look like after scrubbing

1712004940383.png

Above: Sealed enclosure. I just added lock-tite modified silane (stick-and-seal), but you can use silicone of course. I like stick and seal since it mostly cures in like 10 mins. Then I added electrical tape around the perimiter, because why not. And a half-assed seal around the cable.

1712005046621.png


And before folks say just buy a new controller, I figured I'd acknowledge this isn't the best controller, but also say this is useful to know if you need to smoke while you're waiting on your new controller :) Either that, or you spent it all on meat :P

Anyhow, hope this helps someone in the future!
 
The MasterBuilt MES controller is horribly vulnerable to moisture/smoke/corrosion. A couple days ago, mine went out, as the temperature button stopped being responsive (after a few days where it was flaky). After opening the unit and looking inside, I was immediately shocked by how little thought they placed in weather protection. These guys showed no thought to this.

When I first opened it up, I had rusted screws and the back of the enclosure had condensation and smoke residue buildup (apologies I missed a photo of this). After taking the board out, I saw rust all over the switches and more smoke residue on the board. These switches were cheap and not weather resistant, so that was the problem. I fixed it with the following steps:
  1. Splashed isopropyl alcohol over the buttons
  2. Scrubbed switches with a brass brush.
  3. Repeated one and two, but clicked the buttons while I scrubbed. I scrubbed left side, then top, the right, then bottom on each switch.
  4. Splashed isopropyl alcohol on the back and scrubbed that (lightly). That fortunately got most of the rust off.
  5. Wiped residue with a paper towel, and confirmed it worked by plugging it in.
  6. Added sealant to the perimeter of the enclosure, sealant to the cable, and sealant to the screws.
  7. Remounted the unit. I shouldn't have to fix this particular problem again.
View attachment 693295
Above: What it should look like after scrubbing

View attachment 693296
Above: Sealed enclosure. I just added lock-tite modified silane (stick-and-seal), but you can use silicone of course. I like stick and seal since it mostly cures in like 10 mins. Then I added electrical tape around the perimiter, because why not. And a half-assed seal around the cable.

View attachment 693299

And before folks say just buy a new controller, I figured I'd acknowledge this isn't the best controller, but also say this is useful to know if you need to smoke while you're waiting on your new controller :) Either that, or you spent it all on meat :P

Anyhow, hope this helps someone in the future!

I think maybe the above is not a long term fix. The switches are mostly working now, but they still fail to activate a portion of the time. Fortunately, I found that replacements are pretty cheap, so I just ordered on for $25: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0B5YVWPQ4

But at least the IPA + brass scrub approach got me able to smoke this batch. I think, as soon as I get the new one, I'll seal it with the above approach and it'll last much longer.

There are those who I think would say, just get an Auber controller, and I'd probably agree that that's better, but I'm also lazy right now and the above thing works.
 
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My experience with MasterBuilt is they cheap out somewhere in their products. Obviously the electrical units cheap out on the electrical/electronic components. I have one of their short lived pellet poopers and the temp control is dismal.
Sorry, I don't have great faith in after market products either.
 
My experience with MasterBuilt is they cheap out somewhere in their products. Obviously the electrical units cheap out on the electrical/electronic components. I have one of their short lived pellet poopers and the temp control is dismal.
Sorry, I don't have great faith in after market products either.
The weather resistance on the unit is appalling, not even a gasket or sealant. The buttons were like 5-10c instead of the ones with a little moisture protection at like 40c each. Still I think the main culprit here was the enclosure. If that was solid, even the cheap buttons would last 20,000-40,000 clicks or so.

I think maybe their temp control is all over the place in that you can't trust a given unit and it's a roll of the dice, but fortunately after a bit of thermal analysis, it looks like I got lucky in that regard.

Fwiw, the $25 unit does look like an OEM part, but without modding the enclosure a bit, would likely fail again soon I think.

No doubt this leads me to thing that in general, their products are crap. Of course, I just needed a cheap box to learn on, and to see if I'd be into smoking meat at all, and it got me that at least.
 
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I bring the Auber PID inside when still warm after use on my Mes 40 so it cools in dry a/c air. Same with the stock controller with my Mes 30. I mount the controller on two wedges of wood to view up on the table and connect/disconnect the pin connectors every smoke. Humidity finds its way in through wood, concrete and when it gets in the sealed up controller through the braided fabric conduit around the pin connector wires it'll never get out. A conformal coating, burying the components in a silicone or hardening product to keep dust, humidity/water off traces etc is the way to go. I use a pvc 6" coupling over the top vent that hangs over the back and side edge of the smoker that's supported by the handle of the smoker. It's a wind block for the top vent and gets smoke/water vapor up away from the controller without creating a draft through the smoker. Being heavy and round wind can't budge it.
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I bring the Auber PID inside when still warm after use on my Mes 40 so it cools in dry a/c air. Same with the stock controller with my Mes 30. I mount the controller on two wedges of wood to view up on the table and connect/disconnect the pin connectors every smoke. Humidity finds its way in through wood, concrete and when it gets in the sealed up controller through the braided fabric conduit around the pin connector wires it'll never get out. A conformal coating, burying the components in a silicone or hardening product to keep dust, humidity/water off traces etc is the way to go. I use a pvc 6" coupling over the top vent that hangs over the back and side edge of the smoker that's supported by the handle of the smoker. It's a wind block for the top vent and gets smoke/water vapor up away from the controller without creating a draft through the smoker. Being heavy and round wind can't budge it.

Smart! It's absolutely insane that the controller has basically a "vent" from the smoker for moisture to accumulate. Moving it further a way makes sense.

One approach that hot-tub controllers use is to literally submerge the entire controller in silicone. And even then, I had moisture get in there and corrode the leads... so you're absolutely spot on in that "humidity finds a way." Still I think one could take the same approach with the MES controller and avoid corrosion for 10 years or so. The buttons should still be clickable under the silicone (though you may need to exercise them a bit as it sets...).

Also definitely agree with conformal coating. I love my MG chemicals 422B silicone conformal coating, and used it to make waterproof drone speed controllers (it feels similar in protection, but less viscous than the modified silane based product I mentioned above from LocTite).
 
Smart! It's absolutely insane that the controller has basically a "vent" from the smoker for moisture to accumulate. Moving it further a way makes sense.

One approach that hot-tub controllers use is to literally submerge the entire controller in silicone. And even then, I had moisture get in there and corrode the leads... so you're absolutely spot on in that "humidity finds a way." Still I think one could take the same approach with the MES controller and avoid corrosion for 10 years or so. The buttons should still be clickable under the silicone (though you may need to exercise them a bit as it sets...).

Also definitely agree with conformal coating. I love my MG chemicals 422B silicone conformal coating, and used it to make waterproof drone speed controllers (it feels similar in protection, but less viscous than the modified silane based product I mentioned above from LocTite).
I've heard people making a conformal coating from RTV high heat silicone in the automotive isle in big box stores. I have 3 stock controllers since The Mes 40 is the same as the Mes 30 and I was given a warranty replacement many years ago from MB. My rf remote would no longer pair with the controllers so that has me manually operating the controller on the MES 30 since the unit gets to 275 whereby others don't. I have shorting issues with these so one controller meat probe button shuts off the smoker, the other controller light button shuts of the smoker and the third controller shuts off from either light or meat probe buttton. Since the rf remote is history then no accidentally pushing those on the remote and all has been good. Plus the Mes 30 is for smaller short smokes so it's fine with the stock. Time to cut the stock meat probe out of the Mes 30.
 
I've heard people making a conformal coating from RTV high heat silicone in the automotive isle in big box stores.
Exactly! You can just get a tube of that and fill it into your controller enclosure! Although since general purpose silicone is fine to 200C, I think you don't need to splurge on the high heat stuff. You'd be melting the enclosure plastic at those temps.

It doesn't quite work as conformal coating for me since you still need to smash/work it in to whatever you're trying to seal (I got leaks), but if you have an enclosure with walls for the silicone to push against, I'd think it'd work great (e.g., my hot tub enclosure).
 
Exactly! You can just get a tube of that and fill it into your controller enclosure! Although since general purpose silicone is fine to 200C, I think you don't need to splurge on the high heat stuff. You'd be melting the enclosure plastic at those temps.

It doesn't quite work as conformal coating for me since you still need to smash/work it in to whatever you're trying to seal (I got leaks), but if you have an enclosure with walls for the silicone to push against, I'd think it'd work great (e.g., my hot tub enclosure).
The Permatex 700* Ultra copper is $5 a tube. 70% of it solidifies in the tube from a one time use., then cut the hardened tube into 3/4" pucks and bake them in the smoker to off gas them. Put a tiny hole in the middle and slide pit probes through them so the wire grips in the hole to hang from top rack at any level near your food.
 
The Permatex 700* Ultra copper is $5 a tube. 70% of it solidifies in the tube from a one time use., then cut the hardened tube into 3/4" pucks and bake them in the smoker to off gas them. Put a tiny hole in the middle and slide pit probes through them so the wire grips in the hole to hang from top rack at any level near your food.
I was talking about sealing the MES controller, which is located outside the smoker and doesn't have any wires directly going into the smoking chamber. In this case, there are lots of options and those of us who already have good sealants won't need to buy anything new.

Sounds like you're talking about something different. If you're putting anything inside the smoker (e.g., third-party probes), you'd definitely want to buy a high-temp rated sealant if you don't already have it.
 
PID comes indoors after every cook and the MES sleeps in a waterproof breathable cover.
 
I was talking about sealing the MES controller, which is located outside the smoker and doesn't have any wires directly going into the smoking chamber. In this case, there are lots of options and those of us who already have good sealants won't need to buy anything new.

Sounds like you're talking about something different. If you're putting anything inside the smoker (e.g., third-party probes), you'd definitely want to buy a high-temp rated sealant if you don't already have it.
I'm also taking about what to do with it if you don't use it all and it turns into hardened Room Temperature Vulcanizing in the tube. I wouldn't fill the entire compartment shell. This is what I'm taking about. Conformal coating.
 

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I'm also taking about what to do with it if you don't use it all and it turns into hardened Room Temperature Vulcanizing in the tube. I wouldn't fill the entire compartment shell. This is what I'm taking about. Conformal coating.
Oh, interesting. All the conformal coating I've heard about relates to electronics (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conformal_coating). That is why I mentioned MG chemicals 422B, which is a conformal coating I've used and it works well. As such, you could use the 422B on the circuit board to improve it, and it would be standard practice to do so (of course, Masterbuilt didn't in this case).
 
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