If you like smoked meats, then, well I guess we can be friends. But not everyone has the room for a big wood-fired smoker or the time to tend the fire for a long cooktime. For convenient home smoking and consistently delicious reults, the Masterbuilt 30-inch Electric Digital Stainless Steel Smokehouse might just be the solution for you!
Now I’m a fan of smoke, fire and meat from way back and have used a wide variety of devices to cook for years, some of which I’ve reviewed here at Gear Diary. So when the opportunity arose to put the Masterbuilt smoker through its paces, I jumped at the opportunity. A little background first in the interest of full disclosure: when I published my first book last year, I was fortunate enough to get to go on the “In the Kitchen with David” show on QVC. While I was there, I got to meet John McLemore, the founder of Masterbuilt and their head pitchman.
McLemore is on QVC constantly, and his products are consistent sellers. I was already a fan when I met him, but getting the chance to talk barbecue and experience his passion for his products was a real treat. Unlike some cooking shows where the food is prepared mainly for show, the staff at QVC looks forward to John’s visits because the dishes that come out of his smokers are always a treat to be enjoyed after the show.
Unlike most smokers that are huge, heavy cast iron boxes that are unwieldy to move and a bear to clean, the Masterbuilt is designed for ease of use and is ideal for urban smokers or people with smaller outside areas to cook in. The whole unit is about the size of a large dormitory fridge and shipped to me in a well-protected box that didn’t even tick off my UPS man when he delivered it to my front door.
Assembly was quick and easy thanks to clear directions and the fact that much of the smoker is already put together in the box. The only tool I needed was a phillips head screwdriver and within fifteen minutes I was ready to preseason my grill. Preseasoning is a necessary process to coat the interior of the cooking chamber with a thin layer of smoke to eliminate any metal or plastic flavors that might be present from the manufacturing process. Basically, all you have to do is add a small handful of wood chips and fire it up to 275 degrees for three hours. After it cools, you’re good to go.
Setting the cooktime and temperature is simple thanks to a keypad located right on top of the smoker. All the controls are sealed to protect them from the elements and make them easier to clean. Thanks to attached wheels on the bottom of the unit, it’s no problem to wheel the smoker to a protected corner of your deck after use for further protection. If you’re really lazy (like me), there’s also a handy remote control unit that you can use from your couch to adjust time and temp, as well as monitoring the internal temperature of whatever you’re cooking using to the included temperature probe.
Four adjustable and removable racks can hold everything from a mess of ribs to an entire turkey, and you can also smoke different types of meat at the same time in different parts of the cooking chamber. There is a removable tray at the bottom of the smoker to collect drippings from the meat and another grease tray that drains through a hole in the back of the unit for easy cleanup. A water tray sits between the heating element and the racks to help provide moisture to the cooking environment to keep your beef from turning to jerky.
A sturdy external latch holds in both the smoke and the heat, which is a major benefit over other cheap charcoal and wood smokers. This allows you to use much smaller amounts of wood chips at a time to bathe your meats in delicious smoke. Just a handful of hickory, apple, oak, cherry or really any hardwood can add so much character and nuance to your foods. It even works great with vegetables. Try smoking green beans or a sweet onion for a real treat of a side dish.
The smoker box slides in and out of the heating element so that your chips can heat slowly and evenly. Unlike other smokers, you don’t have to (and really shouldn’t) soak your chips with water in advance. The reason you would want to do that with charcoal smokers is so that your chips smolder instead of burning. Hot white smoke from an actual fire is acrid and doesn’t improve the flavor of meat. Instead you want the gentle gray smoke that comes from the slow combustion of wood at lower temperatures.
Unfortunately, one of the only small complaints I had about the Masterbuilt smoker was the fact that the smoker box is made from flimsy sheet metal. I’m sure this is to save cost and weight, but my first attempts to use the smoker were less successful because the metal warped under the heat and didn’t sit properly on top of the heating element to properly combust. Customer service at Masterbuilt was extremely helpful and immediately sent me a replacement box.
But you know how sometimes you just get jinxed when you’re trying to make something work? I was feeling snakebit because the replacement box arrived pretty dinged up and still didn’t work very well either. Neither I nor Masterbuilt customer service was ready to give up, and they promptly sent me a third smoker that arrived intact and worked perfectly. If there was one thing that I would suggest for improvement, it would be to toughen up this fairly flimsy part since it is the critical element for producing the smoke that differentiates the Masterbuilt smoker from just a nice outdoor electric oven.
The internal temperature probe is very useful, and in several tests vs. my favorite electric thermometers and my iGrill probe, it proved to be accurate with a few degrees. That’s more than good enough for us amateurs.
With a charcoal smoker, the primary way to adjust the temperature is by opening and closing various vents to adjust the airflow to the fire. Since the Masterbuilt has an electric heating element, it’s really not necessary to open the vent at all because you want to keep all that good smoke in contact with whatever you’re cooking. I mainly opened it after cooking to help speed up the cooling process so that I could clean it. I could have just opened the front door to cool it quickly, but I discovered that my poodles liked to stick their heads inside to lick up the tasty meat drippings and I couldn’t have my babies burning their tongues, right?
It’s fortunate that I didn’t have to adjust the top vent often, because it represented my only other small complaint about the Masterbuilt. Since it is also pretty flimsy and the vent adjuster is made of plastic, I scratched my fingers on the rough edges where it was sloppily cast. Again, no big deal. Just be careful or take an emery board to sand of any sharp edges.
Better designed is the ingenious wood tray system. Another drawback to many other traditional wood and electric smokers is that you have to open the device up to add more wood chips to keep smoke flowing throughout the cook. This allows smoke, and even worse, heat to leak out and can severely increase your cooking time. When you’re already talking about 12-16 hours to smoke a pork shoulder, adding 30 minutes because you drop the cooking temperature by 50 degrees every time you open the lid is a huge deal. Remember, lookin’ ain’t cookin’ so fight the temptation to peek at your meat every hour to see how beautiful it is turning. With the Masterbuilt, you can gaze longingly through the front glass door without affecting the smoking process.
To add more wood chips to the Masterbuilt, all you do is rotate the handle of the cylindrical shaped chip delivery device in side of the unit. It’s about the size of a Pringles can and slides easily out to accept a handful of chips at a time, enough for probably an hour of cooking. After dropping the chips into the reservoir, you just slide it back in and rotate it again to dump the chips into the smoker box on top of the heating element. Voilà! Instant smoke with no mess or heat loss.
But most importantly, how does it cook? After I got the smoker box issue fixed, I’ve used the Masterbuilt several times with a variety of meats ranging from fish to chicken to pork ribs to tenderloin. In each case, I have found it to be a remarkably easy and rock-solid smoker. Since you’re not cooking with real fire, it’s a little difficult to get a crispy skin on your meat or the mahogany color that is so desirable among competition cookers. But you’re not in this for prizes, right? You just want delicious smoked meats cooked fast, easily and safely. For that, the Masterbuilt is ideal.
I wanted to see how consistent the heat was in the cooking chamber, so I wired up my iGrill to graph the cooking temperature vs. the internal temp of a pork tenderloin I was cooking. Since the heating element is electric, it regulates temperature by turning the element on and off. Contrary to what most people believe, most cooking heat sources aren’t actually variable. They are either on or off, and if you want something to get hotter, they stay on longer. (That’s similar to how your a/c works in your car, although no matter what I tell my girlfriend, she won’t believe that setting the thermostat at 60 degrees doesn’t cool it any faster than setting it at 72 degrees. It just makes it run longer and wastes energy. /rant)
You can see the cycling on and off of the the element in the top graph. It kept the smoker within a fairly tight temperature range of about 10-15 degrees, but more importantly is the fact that it slowly and steadily raised the internal temperature of the meat as evidenced in the bottom graph. Slow and low, baby! That’s the way we smoke!
John McLemore is more than just as clever inventor and a marketing genius; he’s also a cookbook author. His Dadgum That’s Good and Dadgum That’s Good, Too books are full of recipes and procedures that are specific to the Masterbuilt smoker, but also other recipes for the grill, for side dishes and even desserts. He also tells stories about his family and the development of all the Masterbuilt products. I found these books to be a valuable resource when using the Masterbuilt.
Will this be the only way I smoke meat in the future? Probably not since I love my Primo grill and my Big Green Egg. Part of the fun of smoking meat is wrestling just a little bit with the fire to get the desired smoky effects. Plus I need an excuse to tell my girlfriend why I need to stay on the couch watching football for 16 straight hours while I tend to a Boston Butt on the smoker.
But for the convenience and ease of use, I will definitely turn often to the Masterbuilt. Come Thanksgiving there might well be a big old bird smoking in the chamber. I just need to figure out how to time it to come ready at halftime…
The, on Amazon, QVC and at many other retailers and outdoors stores.
What I Like: Ease of use. Cleans up with just a damp towel. As a self contained unit, you can be cooking in a quarter of the time of a wood or charcoal smoker, and cooktimes a shortened by excellent design and insulation.
What Needs Improvement: Some of the parts are a little flimsy, but with careful use should not affect your cooking process.
Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample