Considering buying an Electric smoker

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by greenersport, Jul 26, 2016.

  1. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    You're not only more than welcome to, you're even MORE than more than welcome to! Quick story: my wife and I found this great little restaurant in Portland, OR. The owners are demi-celebrity chefs. They're about to release their first cookbook. The food was so good we bought an advanced, signed copy. One of the recipes is smoked meat candy. Yes, when I make it I'll post about it with Q-View.
  2. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    I have read of doing that trick with charcoal if you have issues with the pellets going out as well, it is very interesting, but I will have to remember that tid bit in case I ever find myself near the summit of a peak smoking something hehehe

    And that is really cool about your family ham history, my son was not at all interested in radio, it was all electronic gadgets and gaming, I could never convince him that some of the finest electronic gadgets were communications grade radios and gear, he used to be fascinated by me talking across the world but never interested enough to get involved, almost got him at a couple of DX Competitions off in the woods, but never stuck.
  3. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Couldn't find the original posts. But my questions are: how large a wood chunk and how long does the chunk burn before it needs to be replaced? How many charcoal briquettes does he break up and how does he light them? Just curious because I don't plan to try this myself.
  4. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    Sig will have to answer what his son does regarding size of chunks of each for the high elev stuff, but the article I read on it for the pellets is broken up briquettes about half the size of a marble, maybe a tad smaller, then just mixed with pellets, as the pellets smolder it lights the little bits of charcoal and keeps the pellets from extinguishing, I think most useful ( as I interpreted it ) in high humidity and when using water in the pan ( I never use water ), no need with brining. 
  5. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    Here is a explanation of the pellet version as opposed to wood chunks :

    Recommended to be mixed with any flavor wood pellets in order to enhance the smoke ring on your meat and facilitates a hotter/cleaner burn. The charcoal, when burned, produces a natural nitrate that enhances the smoke ring, a characteristic that wood pellets lack.

    Recommended Ratio: 1/3 Charcoal to 2/3 Wood Pellets

    The Charcoal used above was "charcoal pellets" but the person actually just pulverises charcoal briquettes to about pea size and mixes them accordingly, and I am not sure about the pellets lacking the nitrate as if you are cooking over 250 or near the wood pellets blacken thereby being coal in reality so their burn should produce the same nitrates as charcoal, my opinion of course, once I do a roast we will see, low temps the pellets do not blacken, so at or below 200 you would not have that, but I have heard of many achieving rings with pellets, so not so sure of the charcoal tale.
  6. greenersport

    greenersport Newbie

    Thanks N4YNU and everyone else!!  This info is really great, but overwhelming. 

    I am leaning towards buy an MES and trying to figure out which one;

    1. MES 30 with Front Controller (w/meat probe temp).  Lowes $199

    2. MES 30 with Rear Controller (no meat probe) Lowes\Home Depot $199 ish

    3. MES 30 with Front Controller (Bluetooth temp thing) Lowes $269

    N4YNU - Can you post the part number for the stack mod?  A buddy of mine has an MES and has had great success with it (other than his pellets not keeping burning\smoking - air issue?). 

    Really being new, can you explain\show me the AMNPS?  I would like to understand whether I should use the side loader or something else.  Even if I just get a slow smoke release it would be nice.

    Thank you!
  7. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper


    Here is the Smoke Stack Mod :  

    AMNPS Pellet Smoker here

    All the Mods I have done are on my Profile at the bottom listed in the "Albums" and there are links at the bottom of my post in my "Signature"
    I got my AMNPS from Cabela's but they are sold all over the place.

    The AMNPS is cool because it does not require constant attention, if you are cooking under 250 degrees it will last about 9 hours, if low temp drying it will last 10-11 hours, when you cook over 300 degrees it accelerates the burn a bit by blackening pellets and the burn time is about 2 1/2 hours which is really plenty of time to cook anything at that temp, so any way you slice it, you just load it, light it and never have to open the door [​IMG], that alone is the the biggest perk, because every time you open the door, temps fall, then it has to recover which exposes your meat to higher temps and the recovery time increases your cooking time, so always best in my opinion to close the door and let it cook which the AMNPS allows you to do.

    Now, on the models that have the auto feeder chip tube, you have to add chips about every 30 minutes and it has a separate heater for the chips, and for the models with the chip tray, they use the element to heat the chips, the tray is just above the "S: bend in the heating element and the chips get heated and produce a very light smoke, but this smoke is generally very intermittent as the only time the smoke is really generated is when the element is heating, which for low temp is not very often, and for high temp they work kinda well but they need replacing more often, and again the regular replacement time is 30 minutes.

    This is why the AMNPS is so nice, fill the tray, and light, and forget, you have beautiful smoke consistently throughout the cook or smoke, and if doing low temp drying then just remove when you have the required smoke on the food you want and you can put them out with water and use the rest later, or refill to replace the used up pellets and relight and start again.

    Now for the Smoker

    I got the MES Sportsman Elite Analog from Cabelas on sale for $142, regular is like $179, I liked this model better because of the rack design, I have a MOD on my profile for that as well, here is the link :  

    I bought it for that reason so I could do the Rack MOD I had in mind and have 8 racks all the way to the top

    And ........................

    The other reason I got this Analog Version is for the simplicity, it has a 1500W element which is very nice, will cook to temps right at 400 degrees which is above what I would use but it clearly gives it a bonus as it has plenty of wattage to keep temps constant which it does very well.
    The controller for this unit is like a electric fry pan controller, so you have no wiring in the unit to go bad and no controllers on the smoker that are pricey to replace, I have a extra controller and element in case they fail, both cost $50 total and a few bucks shipping, so very cheap, but bigger than that, if they fail, I can replace them in minutes, the controller in seconds, the element with one tool and 2 screws removed I can replace in less than 5 minutes and I can even leave the meat in the smoker, all I have to do is remove the bottom tray, remove 2 screws, replace element and re-install 2 screws, and with a pair of gloves I do not even have to wait for it to cool down and I am back smoking in a flash !

    Now the other reason I went with the Analog is that I would buy a Dual Probe In Oven Meat Thermometer that was remote operated (wireless,infrared or bluetooth) anyway so I could monitor my meat and box temps, so I figured why get the electronics and spend more money when I could get the same without all the later wiring and electronic failure issues I have read about in forums, now some have had a long life but many have failure issues and wiring issues early and I did not want to deal with that, so I got the Analog and did the MODS, and I am a happy happy camper and can use my wireless Dual Probe Meat Thermometer at a distance of 300 ft, so I sit on the porch while I am smoking in the backyard [​IMG]

    Now, if you do the Smoke Stack MOD you need to plug the original exhaust vent (that is in my MOD) and then you can use the plugged vent to route your Dual Probes into the smoke box without having to drill any holes or run thru door messing up the operation of the smoker with a big door leak.

    And what made me choose this over maybe the Bluetooth is again I read many posts on many forums that showed people were not really happy with the Bluetooth Controller on the other units, so again, I did not want to deal with that, and again I do not like to have more potential for problems with electronics mounted on a box that gets pretty hot and then the wiring in the walls and base of the unit as well as a second heater element for the chips on the auto feeder version, I would rather keep it simple, and the Cuisinart Temp Probe I got for $65 at Lowes works great, and if I need a new probe, easy to replace !

    In the end you need to make up your own mind, but whatever you choose in the Master Built Line I would get a AMNPS for sure, you will not be sorry.

    Master Built makes a good product, taken care of should last years and years and years, hence why I was not going to spend considerably more on stainless or any of those other fancy schmancy models, why should I when this will do the same job and with the Rack Mod it has more rack area than most all of them anyway :)

    My decision was reversed engineered, I did all the homework, researched the MOD I wanted to do (parts availability and price), researched all the models and forum posts on issues with each.

    And his was my result, in the end, a 8 rack MES 30 Sportsman Elite with over 1200 sq inches of rack space, and total price of all the MODS and the Cuisinart Dual Probe Wireless unit is under $260

    Hope this helps, check my profile, under albums, click "View All Photos" and it will show all the MODS, not sure why it only shows 4 now but anyway they are all there, just have to click on the "View All Photos" to the right of  "Albums"

    Got to go stir my ribs in the brine and spray dome weeds lol, if you have any further questions, would be happy to help, will be back in a little bit 

    And you can get the Smoke Stack by calling Lowes and ordering it, look in the Smoke Stack Mod I did and linked at the top of the thread, I give all the info you need to order that Smoke Stack  :)
  8. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Haven't  found Sig's post but that's OK. I understand the theory behind the charcoal and from what I'd guessed when I read about mixing it with pellets that they would be smashed into small particles. Not sure if I want to try this because I would bet charcoal flavor would be imparted to the smoked food. Now, I love charcoal flavor when grilling but I don't think I want that as part of a smoked food flavor profile. Anyway, the primary reason why pellets in the AMNPS go out is lack of adequate airflow. Given that, I don't see how the bits of charcoal briquettes would keep burning in the same oxygen-poor environment inside the smoker. Seems to me they'd go out along with the wood pellets. Even though some smokes have been hassles with keeping the pellets lit, typically I eventually prevail.
  9. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper


    Sigs post above yours here in the quote, he does not give particulars but sure he would share some if he knows more  :)
  10. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    That's OK, Guy. If I was really interested I could figure it out.
  11. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    All good, like me LOL, I like to do the homework, then I remember a little better, but I have to take notes, brain injuries are not forgiving, when it comes to short term memory, I have been trying to get that back for 20 years now, it refuses to submit, so lots of notes and a hurricane of thoughts I keep alive so I will not forget too soon  :)
  12. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic

    Sorry I've been AWOL from the thread for a while!

    My son didn't elaborate too much about his use of the charcoal in the AMNPS, but he is at 7200 feet elevation these days, and wasn't having any luck just burning the pellets.

    So he started breaking up charcoal (not sure if it's briquettes or lump), and placing it in the bottoms of the rows in the AMNPS.  Then he puts chunks of smoker wood on top of the charcoal.

    He doesn't use the pellets at all.  Just wood chunks like one often uses when using a charcoal powered smoker.

    He said he soaks the wood chunks in water first.  I used to do that when I was using a charcoal powered smoker, so it makes sense.

    He also said he will often lay in different types of wood, so that as the charcoal burns along the bottom of the AMNPS, it burns its way under different wood chunks at different times so he can get a blend of different wood flavors over the course of the smoking session.

    He didn't go into a lot of detail about the size of the charcoal chunks, but I'd imagine something as mentioned above, in the area of 1/4" or "pea" sized ought to work really well.  Charcoal may well burn better in a low oxygen environment than do wood pellets.  And as that charcoal glows under the wood chunks, it probably makes them smoke nicely.

    I'm not sure where he came up with the idea.  He may have read about it, or maybe he's been in contact with other folks where he lives to find out how they get their smokers to work.

    When I lived in Laramie, we had no problem grilling on charcoal.  So I just think it's a more positive and forgiving fuel than the wood pellets are.

    Really, when you think about it, the wood pellets are kind of an odd thing.  On the one hand, they're meant to burn on their own, like a fuel.  But on the other hand, they're meant to smoke and smolder, the way chunks of wood do when you put them in on top of charcoal in a charcoal smoker.  You don't want them to burn too well, or you get no smoke.  But you don't want them to go out, either.

    So they're always on that fine line between burning with a flame and going out!  So I do think they're kind of touchy as far as conditions of humidity, air density, temperature, etc.

    It's sort of a miracle that they work as well as they do!
  13. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    I am finding they are a bit finicky, especially on these high humidity days we have been having out here and they seem to like the cook temps below 250 or they get char coaled and burn a bit faster, but have not had any flare ups with them, but I am totally impressed with the flavor from them and the consistent smoke, even though the high temps cause faster consumption, it is still far better than opening the door every 30 minutes which really destroys box temps and lengthens cook time rather drastically.
  14. frankly

    frankly Fire Starter

    Green - I am no where near as experienced and knowledgeable as the other guys posting here, but in my opinion - just go with option 2 and start smoking the way the instructions with it say to (along with some advice from here...).  You can buy the AMPNS and upgrade to other equipment later.  I think the best thing to do is just jump in at the basic point, experiment and progress up the complexity and then really figure out what you want to do long term.  That's been my approach and working well for me so far.  The MES with a back control (I assume is a Gen1) has worked well for me so far.
  15. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Is this your post or a copy/paste of someone else's? My understanding is that anyone who uses wood pellets will never get a smoke ring, regardless of the cooking temperature. Wood pellets can't emit enough of the gases required to create a smoke ring. I think large chunks of wood could do it but offhand I don't know what the smoker or grill cooking temp would need to be.
  16. daricksta

    daricksta Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Wood pellets can present problems with going out. I have that problem the most with cold smokes or with hot smokes at a low temp in my MES 30. I think it's more of an airflow problem within the smoker under certain weather/outdoor temp conditions. I can light a pellet tray and have the pellets burn and smolder for hours if I let it. Many times I'll put the tray in my smoker and the pellets will burn fine. Other times the pellets keep snuffing out until the interior temp gets hot enough to get the air moving around. But then there are times when even cooking at 250° doesn't help.

    What your son did with the charcoal is exactly what some other people have done in the pursuit of a smoke ring. I wonder if pellets made from Jack Daniels whiskey barrels would do the same thing? Those are charcoal pellets, not wood. They're made from the charred insides of the barrels. There are people on SMF who use them but I haven't read of anyone reporting a smoke ring from those pellets. But then I don't read all the posts here.
  17. sigmo

    sigmo Smoking Fanatic

    That's what I've run into.  In the past, with very low humidity (which is more normal around here), for both cold and hot smoking, I've had no problems as long as I pre-dried the pellets, got them burning very well, had the AMNPS up on the rails in the smoker so it's got good circulation below it, had the pellet hopper pulled out most of the way or even removed, had the chip tray open somewhat, and did NOT use the water pan in the smoker.

    But recently, I've had the pellets go out, even with all of that done.  The one variable has been high humidities.  So I think the pellets absorb the moisture during the smoking session, and after an hour or so, they've absorbed enough moisture that they're no longer able to burn at this elevation.

    But when it all works, it's great.  Nice smoke, not needing to open the door, and burning for a very long time, too!

    I'll tell you what has made mine flare up, though!  I've been drying the daylights out of the pellets in our convection oven.  Then I light the AMNPS with a MAPP Gas torch.  That get's 'em going pretty good!  Then, I take a computer fan, holding it in my hand, to "blow" on the  pellets to REALLY get them going.  With the pellets so dry, and after using the fan to really get the cherry scorching along, they'll often burst into flames!  I can then NOT blow them out.  There's just too much hot smoke coming off of the cherries to not burst into flames.

    I have to close the door on the smoker to get a reduced oxygen situation for a minute or so, and then I can usually blow the darned things out!  But this only happens because I've got the pellets so extremely dry at that point.  Since it's been humid, lately, this "problem" soon corrects itself, and then I'm back to having a hard time keeping them burning at all.
    That's probably good advice.  You've got to start someplace, and then work your way into things as you see what's working or not for you, at your location, with your weather and elevation, etc.

    The AMNPS or (as I probably should get for myself), one of the tube smoke generators just adds a bit of control because you separate the smoke generation from the cycling of the heating element.  I'm going to start a thread about some of this, with one of the main points being that ideally, we set things up to have separate control over every variable to give us the most control.  But, again, you have to start someplace, and then learn what works best for you in your particular situation and with your particular preferences and styles of cooking.

    I started with an inexpensive Brinkmann (ECB) using charcoal and wood chunks.  It actually served me very well.  But I soon modified it to get it to work better for me here.  And it worked even better for me for some time.  Then I got an electric because I had seen them at the local Sam's Club, and I had bought a big pork butt, and as I pondered it, I decided that I really should just go get the electric and give it a try.

    Over time, I've tweaked things and am still tweaking and modifying things to try to get what I want.  The cooking and the results are fun and worthwhile.  And the tinkering with the process and the equipment is another dimension to the hobby, just like anything else.  It's fun to experiment, build things, and modify both the equipment and the processes.

    This forum is fantastic because you get to see everyone else's ideas and inventions and you get the benefit of their experience and recipes!
    My experience has been just like yours.

    High temperatures (or rather a large difference between the temperature in the smoker and the outside air) creates better draft up through the smoker.  If the air in the smoker cabinet is warmer than the outside air, then it will be at a lower density than the outside air, and that denser, heavier outside air will want to come into the bottom opening of the smoker chamber and displace that lower density air that's already inside.  That creates a good draft, and you get good circulation and fresh oxygen-rich air constantly siphoning into the bottom to keep the pellets burning.

    I've had great luck cold smoking here when it's really cold out.  I've smoked cheese, for example, when it's cold outside because just the heat of the smoldering pellets warmed the inside of the smoker enough to create a draft.

    I've done some cheese smoking when it was so cold outside (well below zero) that I had to intermittently turn the smoker on to keep the interior temperature up around 50 degrees F.  The heat from the smoldering pellets was not enough. (I need to modify the smoker so I can set temperatures to anything I want. The factory control won't let me set it below 100 degrees F, which is too hot for any cold smoking).

    In both cases, I had good draft through the smoker, which kept the pellets burning just fine.  But, it's usually very dry here when it's cold outside.  So I had reasonable draft and low humidities.

    But recently, I have had pellet burn failures due to high humidity.

    In one case, I was making jerky at about 150 to 160 degrees.  But it was warm and humid outside.  So even though there was some draft, it wasn't enough to compensate for the extreme humidity.  I ended up using a small computer fan to force air through the smoker, and that helped both to keep the pellets going and to let me dry the jerky.  The poor draft and high humidity were making the drying take forever, but with the fan, it dried in just a few hours.

    In another case, I was trying to cold smoke with no heat from the smoker.  So I just left it off.  It was about 68 degrees F out, but again, rather humid for here (about 40%).  Of course, there was absolutely no draft because the smoldering pellets weren't enough to create a good draft on their own.  Not enough temperature differential between the inside of the smoker and the ambient outside air, therefore, no density difference to create the convection draft.

    So I used a small fan again, to force a draft through the smoker.  This made the pellets burn well.  Perhaps too well!  And it helped to keep the temperature in the smoker lower.  On the one hand, I could have used a higher inside temperature to get the draft I wanted, but on the other hand, I was smoking some butter, and didn't want the temperature to go above about 75 degrees F.  So the fan-forced setup was what I needed. I also ended up putting a pan of ice in the smoker to help hold the temperature down, and that worked beautifully.

    I'm not an expert on the smoke ring, but from what I've read, it's a chemical reaction that you get between myoglobin in the meat and some products of combustion that are rich when you heat with charcoal, and to some extent with gas, but of course, not at all when you heat electrically.

    Just the smoldering pellets or chips don't really create those products of combustion enough to get to the concentrations you need in the smoker to get a smoke ring.

    And even if you used some charcoal to keep the pellets or wood chunks smoldering, it still may not be nearly enough to achieve the concentrations necessary to get that reaction.

    But the "smoke ring" isn't really a good indicator of anything other than the fact that the meat was cooked in an atmosphere rich in those particular products of combustion.  It doesn't, in itself, give the meat any flavor, and it doesn't indicate whether or not the meat will have good flavor, either.  So it's just a visual thing only.  I don't worry about it at all because it doesn't affect the flavor or aroma of the finished meat.  But I do know that people are often conditioned to look for it.  You see the judges on those TV shows commenting on the "nice smoke ring" when judging the appearance of the meat.

    They should do a smoked meat contest where only electric smokers are allowed!  Or have a blindfolded contest where the judges only rate the meat on its flavor, aroma, texture, etc.  No peeking! [​IMG]
  18. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    I started with a Brinkman too hehehe

    I start my AMNPS outside the smoker and let it get going well before I put in the box, the one time it was finicky was when I was doing 12 large chicken breasts, I do believe it was humidity but I opened the stack one notch and no more issues, and I am only 188 ft above sea level so altitude issues I think I am free from LOL

    And I added the Smoke Stack which solved my air flow issue in reality as I can open it and induce a draft with very little heat, like the AMNPS, now if I just run the AMNPS, I open the Stack Damper all the way and get a very good draft, this is why I was planning to do that MOD when I bought this, although I liked the small exhaust vent it had, I also realized it would hamper drying as it was not in my opinion large enough to allow the needed air flow to dry well, and as well not enough to provide adequate air for the AMNPS as I had gathered that from reading so many posts.

    And though it seems like so many seek the smoke ring, out of all the beautiful rings I have produced from my CharGrill on meats, I have never had a single person comment on the ring, only the flavor of the meat, I have never paid attention to it either, as you said, it has no effect on flavor and is just a result of certain cooking fuel uses, so I too agree with you when I say it makes no difference, it would be like judging meat on the color of the BBQ sauce rather than taste, juiciness and tenderness, I too agree that judges have no sense at all using that as a determination of a winning cooked meat, it is rather stupid if you ask me.

    And as far as the charcoal, I would not use it to achieve the purposeless ring, I would use it to achieve what I had read in the article, that small chunks mixed with the pellets are ignited and burn hotter that the pellets as they smolder, thereby allowing the burning process over all to be improved, and many are saying it is solving their pellets going out issues, I will surely try it if I need to, but only once I have had the issue and the Smoke Stack damper adjustment took care of that  :)

    My next mod will be that of a temperature control other than the type that is on the controller, it works fine but the issue here is the stat for the controller is in the nose of the controller, not where it should be in my opinion which would be higher in the box.
    So I will be looking for a T-Stat with a remote bulb, and one as you pointed out would be settable to a temp as low as possible, not sure if they have one that goes down as far as 100 hehehe, but again I am like you, the lower the better, this way I will have a temp dial, again, I do not want electronics, the temp dial and remote bulb for the stat will allow me two things I currently do not have, a relative temp setting I can dial in consistently, and better temp control mid box instead of being governed by a probe that is in the very bottom of the box.

    And yes, what fun would it be without Modifying stuff, I have lived modifying everything, engines in cars, motorcycles, small engines, various controllers in various electronic and electro-mechanical applications, not to mention my boat LOL.

    All that said, got 10 lbs of chicken today and going to throw some smoke at em !

    We have managed to miss the farm meat buying expedition for 2 weeks now, hopefully me and the wife can get on the same page this coming week for some eye of round for Jerky and maybe a couple of full briskets, can't wait !

  19. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    I am not concerned with a smoke ring but this is what I found on a thread where it was being sought after using pellets, but at the same time this thread was addressing the extinguishing of the pellets from low air, absence of external heat and low oxygen issues, it is said that by mixing the charcoal bits with the pellets that it stops allot of the extinguishing issues most were having with the pellets, but it would seem most were due to low oxygen issues, the whole reason I put the stack on my smoker, I have only had one issue where it extinguished, it was incredibly humid but all I had to do was open the stack damper one notch and it was solved [​IMG]
  20. n4ynu

    n4ynu Meat Mopper

    My MES Sportsman Elite will reach 400 degrees, it has a 1500W element, not all MES's are alike :)
    Could care less about a smoke ring as it adds no quality or taste to the meat, just cosmetic, but when I get this Brisket cooking here soon will let you know, because I too have seen these produce rings, but again, I am not concerned with a ring unless it adds something to the cook besides feeding my ego that wants to be like everyone else, I am only concerned with the taste reviews, not cometic looks that no one tastes or even sees, my CharGrill would ring the crap out of everything, but one one ever said "nice ring man" LOL, but they always said, awesome eats man !
    Just make up your mind, take your time, I just got this one because it fit my budget and will cook like all the others, and I did the rack Mod so I have 8 racks, and the Smoke Stack Mod so now I can dry faster and eliminate pellet issues in high humidity, before the Stack and the Humidity I had no issues with pellets going out, but when the humidity caused a issue I just opened the Stack one more notch and the AMNPS never went out again :)

    My thoughts on your last comment is, if you have the money and want a Cadillac Smoker then get one, but these Master Builts will last the same amount of time with proper care and cook the same food.............the choice is yours  :)

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