Desperately need help in deciding...

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by collinh, Mar 4, 2016.

  1. collinh

    collinh Newbie

    Greetings, ladies and gents. I'm ready to get a new smoker but am having a beast of a time deciding which one. I'm over-researching and over-thinking this, I know. (It's a problem.) Hoping y'all can help.

    First, a few introductory tidbits so you know my experience and objectives.

    I'm not new to smoking. We had an electric ECB years ago which saw a lot of action until the bottom rusted out. For whatever reason we never got around to fixing/replacing it. As a result we got out of the habit of smoking. (Incomprehensible, yes.)

    I have a virtually unlimited supply of oak and hickory at hand, so whatever I get needs to be able to burn chunks, or at least chips. I don't want pellets.

    Budget is max $300, preferably closer to $200 or less.

    I'm perfectly capable of doing modifications, but I have a bit of a problem in principle with buying a brand new smoker that needs XYZ done to it before it's useable at all. What that means is that I want to buy a good smoker than I can modify to be great. I don't want to have to turn a poorly designed pile of junk into a good smoker.

    This will be used most frequently for pork butt/shoulder, ribs, brisket and drunk chicken, though I'd like to experiment with other goodies.

    Now, as far as the heat source...

    Wood/charcoal. I'm a purist at heart, so stick burners really appeal to me. Our grill sees frequent use, and it's charcoal. That said, the busy-ness of life at the moment dictates I can't tend a smoker fire for hours on end, particularly for overnight smokes. Anyone with a simple, non-sleep-depriving answer to this?

    Electric. I like the consistency and ease of electric but am concerned about reliability of digital control panels and whatnot. I'm also concerned with reviews that some models don't produce enough smoke. I understand the AMNPS fixes that, but again, I don't want to have to use pellets.

    Propane. Aside from the roller coaster cost of propane, I'm concerned with being able to keep temps low enough (target 225). A family member has a Master Forge vertical propane and while it made a killer brisket he had to futz with the burner control almost constantly to keep it from overheating.

    Here are a few models I'm considering, although I'm wide open to suggestions:

    MES 30 (20070910)

    Masterbuilt dual fuel (20050412)

    WSM 18

    Smoke Hollow 38202G

    Dyna-Glo DGY784BDP

    Need more info? Ask, please. Any and all help greatly appreciated.
  2. mike5051

    mike5051 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    I vote for the WSM.  Charcoal, wood chunks, overnight smokes, no mods required.  It's a no brainer....but I am biased of course.  I LOVE mine!

  3. Vote number 2 for the WSM.
  4. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    I have two MES40's but with your budget and fuel choice...WSM would get my vote...JJ
  5. c farmer

    c farmer Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I would build a mini wsm. I as well as alot of others love them. Cheap and cook like a champ.
  6. collinh

    collinh Newbie

    I have to admit at first I dismissed the WSM as a much more expensive cousin of the ECB, but I'm coming around to it. Hard to ignore the solid reviews on Amazon and—even better—all the recommendations here.

    OK, y'all almost have me convinced. A few follow-up questions:
    1. I assume it's designed to burn primarily charcoal with a few wood chunks on top of the fire. I can experiment on my own of course but am wondering if any of you have tried a more wood-heavy mix—perhaps even 50-50, chunk/lump/small stick wood and charcoal? I'd love to get it going with charcoal and then switch to more wood for the long burn. I can cut the wood to whatever dimensions will burn best, no problem.
    2. Mike, you mentioned overnight smokes. Assuming an established bed of coals, are you really able to load it up with more charcoal/wood, set the vents and go to bed? How long will it burn steady without reloading or otherwise needing attention? I don't mind getting up once or even twice in the night to tend it but don't want to be napping for an hour at a time between checks.
    3. The top-load arrangement seems a little cumbersome vs the side-load cabinet smokers. Worked OK with the ECB but the wife has lovingly reminded me that I used to complain about it. Comments?
    4. How accurate is the built-in thermometer? I've got a digital probe for meat temp but am wondering if I'll need to do something separate for the cook temp.
    5. Is the gasket kit for these necessary or just helpful?
    Thanks all. Love the forum and really appreciate the help.
  7. bbqwillie

    bbqwillie Smoking Fanatic

    1 - Yes, designed to be used primarily with charcoal. BUT you could pre-burn your wood and add as coals. If you're adding raw splits, trying to maintain temps will be a bear (you're gonna get big spikes).

    2 - You should be able to get 4-6 hours on one load without trying. Using charcoal and the minion method closer to 8+ hours on a load.

    3 - Add handles to the drum; takes a lot of the work out of it.

    4 - That's the 64,000 dollar question. Only way to know is to do the ice/boiling water test to tell. I never count on them being accurate.

    5 - Helpful (especially the door seal), after a few burns it will seal up nicely. Expect the first few cooks to be hot until the unit seals up. After that it should settle into the 225-250 range.

    OH! I'll add a vote for the WSM.

    You could also look at something like the Dyna-Glo 47" offset (around $200). Some people here have them and so far the reviews are somewhat positive. I think you could probably get away with burning splits in it.
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2016
  8. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I love my mini-WSM's, and my 18.5 WSM. I haven't really times a full burn on the 18.5, but have got 14 hours out of the Mini. The 18.5 I had over 20 hours when I pulled the therms. My 18 doesn't have a built in therm. I use my iGrill2. I have heard hit and miss on the factory therm . One thing to consider is the therm is in the lid not lower where the cooking grates are. So one would assume a bit of difference even if it was accurate. Take the therm off and test it (assuming it is already installed) re-install. I'm a firm believer of having your pit therms where you are cooking your meat, not somewhere else.

    As for temps and controlling them the worst enemy is wind. If you can block wind your WSM will be rock solid.

    If you are wanting to use wood, look into running lump. It's pre burnt wood. Some have experimented with using small splits. I have actually used the base as a fire pit during fire season when camping to appease the officials.

    I do not have the gasket kit and the door on mine is tweaked. I can still maintain temps with ease. I would like to get a new door from Cajun bandits. I'll do that one of these days.
  9. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    I vote WSM, for the money you just can't beat them. 

    I could write line after line, but it's all been said. I have 3 of them.

  10. mike5051

    mike5051 Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    1. Mike, you mentioned overnight smokes. Assuming an established bed of coals, are you really able to load it up with more charcoal/wood, set the vents and go to bed? How long will it burn steady without reloading or otherwise needing attention? I don't mind getting up once or even twice in the night to tend it but don't want to be napping for an hour at a time between checks.
    I fill half the basket with KBB, add the chunks of smoke wood and cover them with more charcoal until the basket is full.  I spread an upside down chimney of lit coals on the basket and assemble the WSM.  I don't use water, just foil the water pan.  Top vent fully open, one of the bottom vents open less then half way, the other two vents closed.  I use a Maverick ET733 to monitor the meat and the smoker temp.  The lid them has not impressed me.  I set the smoker temp alarm for 225-250 and go to bed.  I usually wake up around 6 hour later and check the Maverick, it's usually close to the 225 lower set point.  I'll open that one vent a little more and go back to sleep.  I get about 12 hours out of a full load.  My last two butts took 18 to 20 hours and required adding some fuel to finish the smoke.  That's my overnight smoke routine.

    As the other fine folks have stated, WSM or build a mini.  Both work great, just depends on how much meat you need to fit.

  11. collinh

    collinh Newbie

    I had to look up the Minion method to see what that was all about. Makes sense and definitely what I'll try. The fact that y'all are getting even 6-8 hours out of a load at consistent temps without much fuss answered my biggest concerns. Anything beyond that is spectacular.

    So... my WSM is on order. Should be here in time to initiate it this weekend!

    Thanks again to all of you who took the time to read and respond.

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