How easily should pellets burn in AMNPS?

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by redoctobyr, Aug 17, 2017.

  1. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    I recently got a Gen1 MES30, and an AMNPS 5x8 pellet tray. Both are good so far, but I'm having some trouble keeping the AMNPS going. I apologize for the length of this post, but wanted to provide some details. 

    Twice the AMNPS has gone out after 4-6 hours, with it sitting in the smoker, to the left of the heater. I've had foil above it at the water pan, so nothing can drip on the pellets. No water in the pan, chip loader tube pulled out some, and one time I removed the chip tray entirely. I typically run the top vent fully-open. 

    I'm using Lumber Jack pellets, their mix of Maple, Hickory, and Cherry, all together. I'm storing them in a sealed container, with a desiccant packet inside, to keep them dry (hygrometer shows 25-30% humidity in the container). 

    I assumed that poor airflow within the smoker was part of why the pellets went out after a while. I just finished my "mailbox mod", but using a toolbox. I raised the AMNPS up off the floor of the box, so air can get under it. The smoker is on Masterbuilt's stand, I'm using 3" flexible ducting to the toolbox, which is on the ground. I made (5) 9/16"-diameter holes at one end of the toolbox, for airflow. I have to think that's a reasonable amount of air supply. The air should flow across the tray, to the exhaust duct, located at the top other end of the toolbox. 

    But even with that, I couldn't keep the AMNPS going this weekend, running at 180F. And I've tried some more this week, with similar results. I sealed up some of the gaps on the toolbox, to try and force all the air through my vent holes, so it flows across the tray. I get what seems like a good amount of air coming out the top of the smoker, but the pellets keep going out after a while. 

    The last 2 nights I used leftover pellets, which were still sitting in the toolbox from the night before, so they weren't dried. I will try again with fresh, dried pellets. 

    But am I missing something? Even with controlled airflow, and trying to direct it over the tray, I'm still having trouble. Do I need even more vent holes? I saw a post with the popcorn tin method, it didn't seem like airflow was a problem for him, and I think 4 holes were mentioned, though I don't recall that a size was specified. 

    I wonder if perhaps my pellets are tougher to keep lit, maybe due to the Cherry wood in their mix? For an easy-to-compare test, if I just left the AMNPS outside, on the ground, should it continue smoldering for hours like that? That's a way to take the toolbox, etc, out of the discussion. If mine kept going out like that, for instance, then maybe my pellets are making things tougher. I do have some A-Maze-N Competition Blend pellets that came with the AMNPS, they're the only other pellets I have available, for comparison. 
  2. Rings Я Us

    Rings Я Us Master of the Pit Group Lead

    Man, that must be frustrating. Did you read up on some other posts in here with same exact trouble? I think Bearcarver here in the forum has helped a few with that problem. I never had pellets before but I will soon.
    Do you know the microwave trick to make sure pellets are extra dry?
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
  3. Hi Red,
    Maybe I can help. I also have a MES30 and had the similar problems with the amnps staying lit.
    The 1st thing I did was to put on the exhaust a tin can about 5-6 in.tall hoping to increase the draw in the smoker.
    I then pulled out the chip tray and mounted a round electrical box cover to control air intake. (Pics to follow)
    The other thing is to load your AMNPS and put it in the smoker unlit while the smoker warms to temp to dry out the pellets then light and re-insert in chamber.
    Can't seem to upload pics?
  4. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    Thank you both. 

    - I have done some reading of posts about issues with staying lit, but I'm sure I haven't seen everything, or maybe even the most important stuff. Suggestions that I remember reading discussed damp pellets, and airflow, at least. 

    - I have not tried the microwaving trick, that's on the list of things to try. As I mentioned, they're stored in a container with a silica drying packet, and the humidity in the container is quite low, so my hope is that I'm getting them dry. But I will definitely give microwaving the pellets a try. 

    - Putting the pellets in the smoker while warming up is an interesting idea. This morning, actually, I'd realized I could put them in my convection toaster oven, to dry them. The air circulation would likely help dry them more quickly. 

    - I hadn't thought about an extension at the top of the vent, thank you. It *seems* like there is a good amount of air coming out of the vent, but this is my first smoker, so I can't compare with anything. The electrical cover is a slick idea for regulating airflow. 

    I forgot to mention that I light them with a torch, and let them burn/sit for 10 minutes. The flame is usually out by that time, I'm not sure if that's normal. If they *should* continue burning with a flame for 10+ minutes, then maybe that helps indicate something with the pellets themselves? Anyways, then I blow on them to get them glowing nicely, and put the tray in the smoker or toolbox, which has already been warming up. So I'm trying to go through the proper process to get them going. 
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
  5. dr k

    dr k Master of the Pit

    The mailbox mod may not be something you want to do but was my solution. Since all the air inside your smoker has to pass the Amnps with the mailbox mod to get inside the smoker I've never had pellets go out. I have Traeger pellets, all kinds of Todd's A-maze-n pellets and when I got his 20lbs. of Hickory I dumped it into two buckets. All my pellets that came in a ziploc style bags I seal and all the others are stored open. All my pellets are stored indoors. No issues with the Amnps once lit. Smoking at a little higher temp have helped others with the increased convection/draft.
  6. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    Dr K, that's the sort-of frustrating thing. As described, I just finished my "mailbox mod" (except I used a toolbox). So I'm trying to force the air to flow across the pellets, but I'm still having some trouble. 

    I will try again with freshly-dried pellets, and the larger air-holes that I made in the toolbox since the weekend. As well as with having sealed around the gaps of the toolbox, trying to make as much air as possible come in through my holes, and then flow across the pellets. 

    Thank you for the feedback on the types of pellets you've used, along with how you store yours. It definitely makes sense that higher smoker temps would draw more air through the "mailbox", to better feed the pellets. But some people apparently use their mailbox mod for cold smoking, so there would presumably be much-less draft available in that scenario. So my hope is that, say, 225+ temps aren't completely required. 
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
  7. biaviian

    biaviian Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    I had issues until I started lighting from the bottom instead of the end/side.  I even tried drying the pellets in the oven because I thought they had too much moisture and that didn't work.  I also remove the chip loader.
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
  8. Rings Я Us

    Rings Я Us Master of the Pit Group Lead

    You live high up in the Andes mountains? 😉 elevate the maze a 1/4 inch ?
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2017
  9. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    I torch the top, as well as the side a little bit. I can try hitting them from below as well, that's certainly worth a shot. I never removed the chip loader tube entirely, but I'd pull it out some, and I currently have the chip tray removed entirely.

    The tray is elevated maybe 1/2" or so off the ground, and I'm near sea level :)
  10. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    This one even confuses me!!!

    Normally if you can get it to burn for 4 to 6 hours, it will just keep on trucking' until it runs out of pellets.

    And it sounds like you've done all the things I'd recommend.

    However I rarely recommend a Mailbox for anything but mail, except one like this. That might be your target.

  11. Rings Я Us

    Rings Я Us Master of the Pit Group Lead

    Oh.. and there is the charcoal trick.. lol
  12. candurin

    candurin Smoke Blower

    I fill my tray and put it in the MES while preheating.

    Then just before I'm ready to load the food, I take it out and light it. Once the food goes in, I blow out the flame and make sure the ember/cherry is good to go:

    Hasn't failed me yet with any wood or wood blend I've tried.

    Charcoal pellets work wonders as well (and help get the smoke ring in the food as well).
  13. tallbm

    tallbm Master of the Pit

    You can try a few simple things.  

    1. Microwave no more than 1 rows worth of pellets at a time.  Microwave 1min, wait 2 min, stir around and microwave for another 1 minute.  Repeat for additional pellets

    2. Light from the side and underneath.  I have noticed that when lighting from the hole the pellets at the bottom for a few inches actually get lit or toasted real good and help keep things going.

    3. ENSURE you get 10 total minutes of flame.  This was a key for me at first.  I noticed that if I had problems with the flame going out then I would have higher chances of issues burning pellets all the way through.  Microwaving DRASTICALLY improved my initial light and burn times.  In other words, the flame did NOT go out for the first 10 minute burn.  Also make sure you torch real good for the total 45 second count.

    4. Make sure your pellets are stacked up tightly to the top of the walls (not overflowing though) and ESPECIALLY around the corner bend/turn from row 1 and 2, or any corner bend/turn.  Many people in the past reported pellets going out after about 3-4 hours which coincides with the turn and the issue was that they failed to pile the pellets up in the turn

    For me the proof that I was improving the ability of the pellets to burn without issue was the initial 10 min burn.  I rarely have an issue with pellets holding a flame for the first 10 minutes now that I microwave pellets.  Without the microwaving I had pellets that would not hold the flame and would have a higher likely hood of going out on me.

    Best of luck :)
  14. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    Thank you all for your help, I really appreciate it.

    TallBM, it's funny you should mention those.

    Just before reading your post, I microwaved a little over 1 row's worth of fresh, dried pellets, giving them a minute at 50% power, let them sit, stirred, and gave them another 30 seconds. I did actually fill the row deeper than usual. I didn't realize they should be filled to near the top, thank you. I'd seen some people talk about the fire jumping rows, so I'd stayed somewhat below the top.

    I torched it fairly hard, including the bottom, and the sides. It was probably around a minute total (more than I do sometimes). It gave a big flame, and 10 minutes later, I was surprised to see it still actually making a flame (albeit smaller). Just as you said. I blew out the flame, and blew on the coals for a bit, then put it in the toolbox.

    We'll see how it goes, both in tonight's test, and this weekend. But as you said, the microwaving appeared to give a little better result during the initial burn, I can only hope they'll perform better. And if not, well, I'll keep trying to figure it out.
  15. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    I was hopeful, but no success yet. Drat. Running at 180F, it smoked pretty well for about an hour and a half. Checked it a little before 2 hours, and the smoke had stopped, and there was just one little glow when I opened the box and blew on the pellets. It burned through maybe 40% of one row.

    Next time I can try microwaving them for longer, to see what that does. As a test, I can also temporarily seal all the toolbox seams after putting the tray in there, to help ensure all the air flows in through the holes I made, and across the tray. The smoker's door seems to seal pretty well, I don't see smoke seeping out of it, so I don't think that's allowing air to sneak in (bypassing the toolbox).
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2017
  16. tallbm

    tallbm Master of the Pit

    That sucks to hear that it went out. 

    Getting a better initial burn may be a good sign though.  It may signify that the issue is simply airflow into your toolbox.

    Is the toolbox elevated at all?  If so are there holes under the tool box so air flows from below the tool box up through the pellets?

    It may just take a little finagling to get air to flow properly.  If you have a little fan you can set it up some distance away so air will continuously be flowing to/through the toolbox.  If that works then I think you have identified an air flow issue is the culprit and you just need to figure out how/where to add holes to get it to work :)
  17. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    The attached pics show my current setup. 

    I can certainly add more holes to the toolbox. Steel is easy to take away, it's tougher to put back, so I was trying to avoid simply going crazy with the holes. There are no holes in the bottom surface of the toolbox at the moment. I could do that, though I liked the idea of keeping the bottom of the box closed, to help contain ash, embers, etc.

    An easy test is to slide the tray close to the toolbox wall with the holes, so that the air comes in right below the tray, as well as in front of it. And if I want to non-permanently simulate a bunch of extra airflow (albeit not forcing that air across the tray), I can prop the toolbox's lid open a little, to see what happens. 

    If I can figure out a decent way to push air into the top of the smoker's vent (while it's running), I could look for where the smoke escapes. That might help tell me if I have an air leak somewhere else, allowing air to enter, without actually flowing across the tray. The elbow fits tightly into the chip tube hole. And the other duct connections have hose clamps around them. I wrapped some tin foil around the duct where it enters the toolbox, to try and minimize gaps there, then installed the hose clamp. 

  18. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    At this point it's all about Air Flow for you, Red O,

    All of the normal tips, like Nuking pellets, lighting from underneath & the sides, how long you let it burn before putting it in don't have anything to do with it going out after 4 or 6 hours.

    Those things are for keeping it going in the first hour.

    If your pellets are wet, it won't go 4 hours.

    If you aren't getting it lit properly, it won't go 4 hours.

    If you aren't letting it burn long enough before putting it in, it won't burn 4 hours.

    See what I'm getting at??

    I fill mine to between 1/4" and 3/8" evenly, all around & in the bends & corners. That height will keep it from jumping rows & is high enough for full burns.

    So as long as you're filling it that high, you're good to go, except for getting your air flow right.

    I would think your best bets would be some holes below the AMNPS in your tool box, and if necessary maybe an add-on chimney to your top MES vent. That should eliminate the need for the hassle of having to mess with a fan.

    Luck be with you,

  19. redoctobyr

    redoctobyr Smoke Blower

    Thank you Bear.

    I'll probably try propping the toolbox lid open, to see what that does for me, since it's a simple, reversible test. I can certainly add more holes if needed, or enlarge these.

    I'd prefer passive solutions, like a chimney, if required, vs "forced induction". I could certainly try a fan, and I have to expect it would definitely help, but at the same time, it seems like that shouldn't really be necessary, and it adds a layer of complication. 

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