Today’s wisdom is again on the practical level – it may not change your life on a grand scale, but it may well make you a better cook and could win you some kudos from your neighbors when you get together. Today we’ll be looking into the Masterbuilt Electric Smokers — since there are A LOT of different models, it can get confusing, but fear not because I’ll give you some tips that may help you determine which model could be right for YOU!
First some housekeeping notes:
This article assumes you have already made the decision to choose an ELECTRIC smoker over the alternatives (for example the more ‘traditional’ charcoal smokers like the Weber Smokey Mountain, an old school barrel smoker, or even a macked out Komodo or BGE). The skinny on that is simple: if you are just starting out and want to begin to learn the craft of smoking and/or you don’t want to be tied to managing the pit all day (aka you want to essentially ‘set it and forget it’), then you choose an Electric smoker. After doing my research and considering all my options I found myself in this category and thus I chose Electric.
This article also assumes that you have decided to buy a MASTERBUILT electric smoker. I researched a LOT of brands prior to deciding on Masterbuilt. Eventually I boiled it down to Masterbuilt, Bradley, Smoking Tex, and Big Chief. Ultimately I decided to go with the Masterbuilt brand (hereafter referred to as “MES”). To be brief my reasons for choosing MES were: overall consistent quality of positive reviews on consumer sites and smoking meat forums, reputation of the brand, variety of options, positive price to value ratio, and availability of the product. Assuming you have decided on an MES as well, then keep reading.
Please understand that I don’t profess to be some sort of pitmaster, nor am I claiming to be an expert on the subject of smoking. I am just an average dad who likes to cookout with friends and family. I was in the market for a smoker, did a lot of research, and feel like I learned quite a bit, but during my search I found all the different MES models to be a bit confusing. If you are also confused by the many different models then this article will help you.Perhaps some of the other ‘quick tips’ I share will help you as well.
I’ve learned quite a bit after my purchase, so sure to read to the end of the article and see a bunch of accessories I’ve found to be useful – these tools can help you get the most out of your smoker.
And finally, if you’re curious, you’ll see the model I purchased at the end of the article.
The Basic Differences to Be Aware of:
Before look at the different model types, let me give you a few basic features to keep in mind so you can better compare the models and determine what will meet YOUR needs best.
SIZE: for the most part you are looking at either a 30-inch model or a 40-inch one (there is a 24-inch too but it’s non-digital and doesn’t include near the same features as the bigger ones). In terms of the cooking area, you’re looking at about 720 inches for a 30-inch model vs 975 for a 40-inch. BOTH models come with 4 racks to cook on, but obviously the 40-inch model has wider racks.
Quick Tip: if you tend to cook for a group of 4-8, then the 30-inch should do just fine. If you cook for larger groups, want to cook giant cuts (for example a full rack of ribs without cutting them in two), or you just want to show off, then go for the 40-incher.
COST: realistically you’re looking at $150-400 for the 30-inchers and $300-500 for the 40-inchers. As you can probably imagine, a lot depends on which model, what features you want, and where you buy from. Obviously only you can decide what you want to spend, however I would just point out that you may be very satisfied with one of the lower cost models (especially if you are just starting out) because even the $150 models offer MOST of the key features of their higher priced brethren.
Quick Tip – be sure to consider big box stores like Sam’s and Costco which sometimes feature the 40-inch model with lots of extras (including a stand) for a discount price!
HEATING ELEMENTS (HE): most of the models will offer from 650-1200 watts, but you may occasionally see up to 1800watts on special models. The HE is not only want causes your wood chips to smoke but also controls the temperature range of the food (as well as how fast it can reach that temp). For the most part, higher would be better.
Quick Tip: in my opinion most people would likely benefit from choosing a model with 800-1200watts. In addition, some models provide easy access to the HE in the event you need to clean it (or change it if something goes wrong), while others (especially older models) make it a bit difficult to access the HE – you may want to verify this on the models you are looking at.
DOOR TYPE: do you want stainless steel or black for your door color, do you want a window, etc? Regarding the window – some people believe it causes a loss of heat – that may well be true but I haven’t found it to be an issue on my unit (which does have a window).
Quick Tip: personally I like the window it offers you the chance to look in on the food without having to open the door — of course this assumes that you that you remember to CLEAN the window! And dt worry, it’s not hard to clean.
ELECTRONIC CONTROL PANEL: other than a remote (if your unit comes with one), the control panel is where you set the temp, time, etc. Generally you can find it on the top of the door (aka ‘integrated’ into the door) or sticking up on the top rear of the smoker (opposite from the door).
Quick Tip: Does this matter much? Overall probably not, the newer models seem to feature the ‘integrated’ panels now and they do appear to be less exposed than the older ones that stick up higher, but I wouldn’t let this make or break your deal.
REMOTE: some models have a remote and some don’t. For me this wasn’t a make or break deal, and instead I consider it more of a ‘nice to have.’ The one I purchased did come with a remote but I don’t find myself using it all that much.
Quick Tip: The newest ones also feature ‘bluetooth’ remote options as well so you can control it from your phone or tablet.
MEAT THERMOMETER: Personally I think this is a nice feature since it allows you to see what’s going on with your meat without having to open the door to check the temp. Granted you could purchase a third-party probe on your own but why go to the extra expense if it’s already built in?
Quick Tip: remember that every time you open the door you will lose smoke and temp – having a built in temp probe lets you avoid this problem.
DRIP TRAY LOCATION: newer models tend to have easier access to this by putting it in the bottom center of the unit, while older models make it a bit tricker by having it in the back.
Quick Tip: Look closely at the pics of the models you are researching and you’ll see the differences right away.
AIR DAMPER LOCATION: (aka where the smoke comes out) – some feature the damper on the top, others on the side.
Quick Tip: does this really matter? Some may argue a certain position of the damper could help with airflow (and this could be something to consider if you are using an A-Mazen pellet smoker inside your MES as a smoke source because those can be finicky if your airflow isn’t just right – but that is another topic beyond this discussion). Overall, I wouldn’t let the location of the air damper determine your purchase.
WHEELS/HANDLES: The handle could be on the door (for the obvious purpose of open/closing the door) and/or it could be attached to the top/back of the smoker (for the purpose of moving it around). Most of the MES models do not offer a handle on the door and it’s really not an essential (more for aesthetics really because you have to open the side latch either way). Most of the MES models also do not offer wheels and a transportation handle but this could be a big deal if you need/want to be able to move your smoker around – otherwise you’ll be stuck keeping it in one place or going through a lot of hassle to move it. In my opinion wheels and a transportation handle was an important consideration for me so be sure to look for it if you need it too.
Quick Tip: if you don’t need to be able to move it around, consider buying a stand – it looks nice and will save you the hassle of bending down so much (your back will thank you!). Here’s one example: Masterbuilt Smoker Stand
Quick Tip #2: You’ll probably also need a cover as well. Here’s the nice-looking and low-cost Cover for your MES Smoker I purchased on Amazon (this cover is made for a 40-incher but it fits my 30-inch model with the handle and wheels attached perfectly!):
MISCELLANEOUS: BOTH the 30-inch and 40-inch models feature the following: insulated walls, easy to read exterior digital thermostats, temperatures that go up to 275-degrees (however if you can find a 1800-watt unit you may reach even higher temps and at a faster rate).
The Top Selling MES Model Types You’re Likely to See:
30 inch model WITHOUT window. You will mostly see these offered in all black or with a stainless steel door. Be sure to examine the pics of the models you are considering because there are LOTS of models/options here. Older models will usually have the control panel on the top rear and the drip pan will be harder to find (it’s not on the bottom front like the newer models as you can see in the pics below). The older models will likely be priced in the $150-185 range while the newer ones will be in the $180-250 range — shop around and you can find good deals because there are TONS of these out there. Keep in mind all of these models should still offer 4 racks and 720 inches to smoke on, 650-800 watt HE’s (which reach temps of 250-275 degrees), and more. However you may or may not get a remote, meat probe, wheels/handle, or certain other higher-end (possibly non-essential) features.
Here are some pics of the older models.
Here are some pic of newer models in black without a window: (I couldn’t find a pic of a newer model SS since most of those now have a window as you’ll see below).
2) 30 inch model WITH window. You can find both older and newer models in this category (aka older ones with the rear top control panel and hidden drip pan or newer ones with the control panel integrated into the door and the drip pan on the bottom front). Once again, these models will all still offer 4 racks and 720 inches to smoke on, 650-800 watt HE’s, and more. In addition, most of these smokers (both old and new) DO come with remotes, meat probes, and wheels/transportation handle so that is a nice bonus, but be sure to read the specs on the actual models you are considering to make sure. Prices here can range quite a bit – from around $180 to well over $300 so definitely shop around!
Here are some pics of older models with windows (with black or SS doors):
Here are some pics of the newer models with windows (almost all seem to feature SS doors like these – as an FYI the one on the bottom has the bluetooth remote option).
3) 40 inch models WITH or WITHOUT Windows: let’s be honest, most people have probably not read this far in this article – if you actually have then you must be really committed to buying an MES smoker (or just really bored) – either way I appreciate your interest (and I’m sure Masterbuilt appreciates it even more!). That being said, the fact of the matter is that while you’ll find both older and newer models in this smoker class, and most of the 40-inch models you’re going to see out there are going to come with a window and a stainless steel door. The 40-inchers (both old and new) will likely have almost every feature available (with the exception of the bluetooth remote option on only the newest models) – so that means you should expect to get at least a basic remote, a meat probe, and wheels/transportation handle. Here you’ll find HE’s in the 1200 watt range (with all newer models at 1200). Expect to pay from about $350-500 (but be sure to look for the package deals that offer you a stand or other options too).
From a visual perspective here the pics don’t really look much different than the 30-inch models (but obviously in real life they do because they’ll be taller!). Nonetheless, in the interest of being thorough, let me show you a few pics of the 40-inch models available today (old vs new):
4) OTHER Models? There are a few other models in the MES electric lineup and they’re called “analog” smokers. They are in the 24 and 30 inch category. The basic appeal of analog smokers seems to be that they have thicker “dual-wall” insulation that may offer an advantage in harsh weather conditions and they are often lower in price (sometimes below $150 depending on the model). The 24 inch models only has a 650 watt HE and less than 540 inches of smoking space on 3 racks. The 30 inch models range in features with 1500-1800 watt HE’s and you may also see these models under the ‘Cookmaster’ brand as well so just FYI. The 1500 watt model can actually reach temps of up to 400 degrees and would be better than the 1800 watt model because even though the latter has a higher HE it doesn’t actually don’t have insulated doors. That being said, unless you live in the tundra and/or must have the higher temps, I’d skip the analog option. If you wanna see what they look like, here you go…
But wait, there’s more…TOTALLY OPTIONAL (but possibly really helpful) ACCESSORIES
a) STAND: we already talked about the stand. Here’s a reminder of one option to consider: http://amzn.to/20S67nB .
b) COVER: again we mentioned this too. Here’s the one I have: http://amzn.to/1XdKfFp You can get this in either a 30 or 40inch model – remember I bought the 40inch one even though I have a 30inch model because the bigger one allows me to keep my handle on, if you don’t have a handle and want a really snug fit then get the 30inch cover for your 30inch smoker.
c) COLD Smoker attachment: http://amzn.to/1VugoXC (one option for cheese, fish, etc – you could also use the A-Mazen pellet smokers for cold smoking as well – in which case you won’t need this attachment).
e) PELLET Smoker accessory: A-Mazen Maze: http://amzn.to/1XNUb74 The A-Mazen 6-inch tube: http://amzn.to/1TWtLif The A-Mazen 12-inch tube: http://amzn.to/1Vuhjr0. You could use any of these instead of the normal wood chips and they may offer you more options (for example cold smoking without using the HE of the smoker even turned on) and/or longer smoker times (versus having to keep refilling the wood chips each 1-3 hours as required with normal MES smoking). As an FYI, I have both the maze and the 12-inch tube. I find myself using the 12-inch tube the most. In addition, there are tons and tons of wood pellet options and a wide variety of flavors. Here are a couple flavor ideas: http://amzn.to/1O3H9k6 and http://amzn.to/1O3HvHi and http://amzn.to/20S9Q4x and http://amzn.to/1r2ds7J
I bought a newer 30-inch model with SS door and window. Model #20077915. It was around $225 at Lowe’s and it has pretty much everything I wanted including an 800watt HE, remote, meat probe, wheels/handle, front drip tray, integrated control panel, etc, etc.
I couldn’t be happier.
Well, that about does it. So did you make a decision yet?
Let us know what you decided and how it all worked out for you. And BTW, if you have any comments, spotted an error on this page, and/or just want to say hello, we’d love to hear from you. Cheers!