2019 has rolled around and it is time to look at the current electric smoker offerings from Masterbuilt.
Trying to figure out the differences between the Masterbuilt electric smokers is a nice way to get your head to explode. Masterbuilt has two sizes of electric smokers, 30 and 40 inch, and they dress them up with different features and branding to end up with about sixteen to twenty different products (MES 130B, MES 140B, MES 230G, MES 340G, etc).
Combine this with the fact that excess inventory is still available from older designs and you now have about thirty different model numbers to sort through.
The confusion is real.
Rather than try to detail the differences between every single model, let’s take a look at the high level design features of these smokers so you can buy the best one for you and avoid the few stinkers in the lineup.
The Temperature Controller Is Critical
Masterbuilt offers their smokers with three types of temperature controllers:
- Analog Electric
- Digital Electric
- Digital Electric With Bluetooth Connectivity
You want to buy a smoker with a Digital Electric or Digital Electric with Bluetooth temperature controller.
You do NOT want to buy a smoker with an analog temperature controller.
What is Wrong With an Analog Temperature Controller?
An analog temperature controller has a dial that can be turned to “High, Medium, Low” settings. You can not set a specific temperature with this controller.
If you want to smoke ribs at 225F then you need to dial the controller to somewhere in the Low/Medium range and wait 30 minutes to see where the temperature settles. Then you will need to adjust the dial up or down and wait another 30 minutes and see where you land.
Once you get the temperature exactly where you want it you can take a permanent marker and mark the spot on the controller for next time. Of course, if the weather is different (windy, cold) then you are going to need a different amount of power and will have to go through the whole dance again.
Do You Want Bluetooth?
Personally I would NOT buy a Bluetooth enabled smoker.
The current Bluetooth smokers have some nice design features including a built in meat thermometer, a viewing window on the front as well as some bright LEDs to help you see inside the smoker. You can download an app to your phone and use the Bluetooth connection to monitor the internal meat temperature, smoker temperature and change the temperature if desired.
I am turning into a grumpy old man and the idea of downloading apps and syncing a smoker with my phone is not something that I ever want to do.
Another reason that I wouldn’t buy the Bluetooth smokers is because of the window on the front door. All that window is going to do is get filthy and make you feel like you need to get down on your hands and knees and scrub it clean.
Seriously…that window gets absolutely covered in smoke and grease and will just look ugly after a few serious smoking sessions.
But hey, if you like apps and gadgets then go for it.
Double Walled Construction With Side Loading Wood Chip Design
All of the Masterbuilt electric smokers with digital controls come with double walled construction and a side loading wood chip tray.
The double wall construction has a layer of insulation between the walls. The insulated double walls let this smoker operate efficiently and hold steady temperatures even in cold weather.
The side loading wood chip tray is a patented feature only available on Masterbuilt smokers. You can use the tray to add more wood chips to your smoker in the middle of a cook without having to open the smoker door and losing all of the heat.
30 vs 40 Inch Electric Smokers
Which size smoker you want to buy is the biggest decision you need to make. For most people I believe the best choice will be a 40 inch model.
The “30” and “40” in the names of these smokers refer to the approximate height of the smokers in inches. This makes the MES 30 smokers about 2.5 feet tall and the MES 40 options about 3.3 feet tall.
While the height differences are interesting they are not very important. What is important is the differences in the WIDTH of the smokers. The cooking grates on the 30 inch models are 14 inches wide while the grates on the 40 inch models are 20 inches wide.
The difference between a twenty and fourteen inch cooking grate is massive. A full packer brisket will easily fit into a 40 inch model. You will have to cut the brisket in half to fit it onto the grates of a 30 inch model. Same goes for a full slab of pork spare ribs.
There is no way around it…the 30 inch smoker is small. It is great if you just need something for making beef jerky or smoking summer sausage but if you want to get serious about barbecue then eventually you are going to wish you had the 40 inch smoker.
Masterbuilt Pro, Adventure and Signature Series Electric Smokers
There are four brands of Masterbuilt electric smokers that were literally designed to create confusion in the marketplace.
- Masterbuilt: This is the product line that can be purchased from Masterbuilt, Amazon and Wal Mart.
- Pro Series: This is a product line that is only sold through Home Depot.
- Signature Series: This is a product line that is only sold through Lowes.
- Adventure: This is a product line sold through Ace Hardware, Bass Pro Shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods and a few other places.
The differences between these product lines are almost non-existent and come down to branding and a few insignificant cosmetic features.
These brands were created to try to stop consumers from doing price comparisons on their cell phones while they are in the big box stores. If you are in a Home Depot and see a Pro Series smoker that you like then there is no way for you to check Wal Mart or Amazon for a better price since Home Depot is the only outlet for the Pro Series.
Slow Smoker Kit Accessory
If you buy a Masterbuilt smoker that has the side loading wood chip tray then you need to know about the Slow Smoker Kit that is sold separately as an accessory.
One of the few problems with electric smokers in general is that they typically have small wood chip trays that need to be refilled every 30-45 minutes.
The Slow Smoker Kit fixes this problem by having a high capacity wood hopper that is loaded directly over a heating element. The kit attaches to your smoker where the side loading chip tray enters and gives you hours of uninterrupted smoke time.
When you use the Slow Smoker Kit you control the temperature of the smoker with the control panel on the main smoker. There is no temperature control on the Slow Smoker kit. It is either On or Off.
Another nice trick you can do with the Slow Smoker kit is use it for cold smoking. The Masterbuilt digital smokers normally have a temperature range of 100-275F. While that range is great for most things it is too hot for cold smoking cheese and other foods where you just want to add smoke but don’t want to cook them.
By turning the Slow Smoker kit on but leaving the primary smoker off you can cold smoke with ease. If you really want to make sure you have low temperature for cold smoking then you can fill the water tray with ice cubes.
Other Brands of Electric Smokers to Consider
Masterbuilt makes the best selling electric smokers but they are not the only game in town.
Char Broil has a couple of good models to choose from and they are the closest in quality to Masterbuilt that I have seen. Char Broil also has a smoker with “SmartChef Technology” that can sync with your phone but the functionality isn’t that great. Prices bounce around all of the time but on average the Char Broil smokers are more usually expensive than Masterbuilt.
Smoke Hollow makes some nice digital electric smokers that are budget priced. The Smoke Hollow smokers don’t have Bluetooth or integrated meat thermometers but they are solid on basic functionality.
Pit Boss has recently started selling electric smokers but the initial reviews have not been that good. The folks at Pit Boss are pretty aggressive when they enter a new market though so I suspect they will get things turned around pretty fast.
Two brands that I absolutely do NOT recommend looking at are Cajun Injector and Bradley.
Just don’t do it.