MAK Grills have the distinction of being Meathead's favorite pellet smokers. He tested their 1 Star General and 2 Star General Residential Pellet Smokers. MAK also makes a large double firepot 3 Star General and a commercial size 4 Star General. Here is Meathead's review on the 2 Star General.
The MAK is definitely well thought out and well built. The most important feature is its temperature control system. Temperature control is at the heart of good BBQ cooking. Many pellet smokers use the confusing and imprecise radial Ortech controller, or even worse, a three position controler with no thermostat. Not the MAK. Their Pellet Boss controller is custom made and the new version on the current models is the best in the biz.
It is a sealed touchpad that is easy to learn and very intuitive. Just load the hopper, plug it in, press the on switch, and the unit ignites itself. The thermostat is highly accurate and fluctuates less than my GE oven in the kitchen. Heat distribution is very even all across the cooking surface although it is a bit hotter at the edges where the inlet vents are. It also comes with one meat probe and has ports for three meat probes, so you can load 'er up with three different thickness meats with three different target temps, say a beef brisket (190°F target), precooked ham (140°F target), and a turkey breast (170°F target), and monitor all three meats.
The controller can even be programmed. You can put your Thanksgiving turkey on at 325°F, when the probe hits 155°F, it can drop the oven temp back to 165°F, let the meat rise to that temp, and hold the bird there until you're ready. Set the temp in 5°F increments, set a timer, set an alarm for a time or an internal temp of the meat, set a program so that the unit changes temp at a predetermined time or meat temp, spend some time with the family for a change.
MAK Grills Mobile WiFi option, released in 2013, is an upgrade to their previous Remote Boss bluetooth remote control. MAK Mobile enables owners to control and monitor their MAK from any device with an internet connection, anywhere in the world. It requires easy installation of a chip and antennae. Remote Boss can be upgraded to MAK Mobile.
At 60" wide, 49" high, 25" deep, weighing in at about 185 pounds, there is a 14" tall 429 square inch cooking area. You can order slide-in upper racks for the cooking chamber. There are few backyard cookers built so well. Solid. I cannot see vulnerability to rust. Fit and finish are very good. This is clearly not the standard cheap Chinese-built unit designed to cut corners and drive down price as are so many others on this page. All parts are heavy and built to last. Several parts are made from high grade heavy duty stainless steel, and the rest are thick steel and well powder coated. Assembly took about two hours, but the only tools needed were two hex wrenches and a crescent wrench, both supplied. Many nuts are welded onto the body, so you only need to twist in the screws. Minimal fumbling. I only needed my wife's help for about 30 seconds to get the thing off it's back and standing upright on the casters after I attached the legs. The cooking chamber and hood are thick high quality 304 stainless steel and the rest is long lasting thick high-temp powder coated aluminized steel.
We caught up with MAK's Bruce Bjorkman, aka Mr. Barbecue, at the 2015 HPBExpo in Nashville who was kind enough to give us a tour of the newest model MAK 1 Star which is a smaller version of the 2 Star and shares many features.
As you face it, the left shelf contains the 20 pound capacity pellet hopper. You dump pellets in it and its funnel shape gravity feeds them to an auger that moves them to a fire pot in the center of the grill. There you find a glowing element that lights the pellets and a blower controls oxygen supply. On a 50°F day I got it up to 485°F, so on a hot summer day it should go well beyond 500°F. The problem with pellets is you can go through them in a hurry at high temp. Cooking ribs on a 68F day I went through about one pound an hour for a four hour cook including warmup and cooldown. It burns about 1 pound of pellets per hour and they cost about $1 per pound plus shipping, so that's a bit more than $1 per hour at low temps.
The MAK also has a door to remove your pellets so you can switch wood types when you switch meats. Want alder for salmon and hickory for pulled pork? No problemo.
The hood is a roll top, so it doesn't need extra clearance behind the unit as with some other grills. The cooking chamber is tall enough for big turkeys and whole hams. The heavy duty stainless steel grates will last forever, the sloped drip pan has perforations so bare flame can reach the food if you want. If you don't want, there are two covers for the holes. Unfortunately, you need to remove the food and the grates if you want to expose the cooking area to direct flame. The heat deflector that covers the fire pot must be taken away before putting back the drip plate and grates. With no deflector over the burning fire pot you can see the live fire through the holes in the drip plate. With the holes covered you essentially have a large convection oven and there is no need to turn the food. They clearly have worked hard to defeat the bane of the first generation pellet burners, hot spots (see bread test below).
There is very little ash, but occasionally it must be removed. Cleanup is a bit of a pain. You need to remove several parts to empty the cup of ash and vacuum out the interior. But MAK's heavy stainless steel firepot can be easily removed to dump ash and additional accumulation can be swept directly into the slide-out internal grease drawer that replaced the more common external grease bucket.
A very cool feature. The right shelf holds a warming box that can keep one dish warm until the others are done. For example, I put some raw minced potatoes in a perforated pan on the grill about an hour before the chicken breasts went on. I thought they'd finish about the same time, but the potatoes were well done before the meat. So when they were done, I moved them to the warmer, and they held there until serving time. At the time of this writing, no other pellet burner offers this warming box.
Now this method is not foolproof. The main cooking chamber was chugging along at about 300°F, while the warming chamber was about down at 180°F. So when I brought in the taters and the meat to the dining table together, they spuds got cold quicker. I also noticed that when I knocked back the oven temp to about 200°F, the holding temp got below 140°F. That's in the danger zone for microbial growth. Probably not an issue because they had been heated well beyond the kill temp of 155°F, so the potatoes were safe, but this is something a good cook will need to be careful about. Another great feature of the warming chamber is that it gets low enough for cold smoking or cheese. But don't make the mistake I made. I smoked some cheese in the warmer while I had some salmon in the main cooking chamber. I got salmon flavored smoked not-so-gouda.
A note about repairs. The igniter rod on mine crapped out. MAK had preemptively sent its customers replacements because it had decided that the factory installed igniters had a defect. I was not looking forward to replacing this part, expecting a knuckle buster. But the MAK website has some fine step by step videos that walked me through the process, and taking apart the pellet feed system gave me a greater appreciation of their design and build skills. In 2016 MAK introduced their FlashFire igniters on all new models, (left). FlashFire is said to be impervious to moisture and corrosion. MAK claims it will be good for 90,000 on/off cycles providing many years of dependable startups.
Pros. Well built in Oregon, will not rust. Doesn't need a cover. Highly accurate temperature control, and control of temp is the most important thing in good cooking. Versatile programmable controller with lots of bells and whistles. Large capacity pellet hopper, easy to change wood types. 14" overhead cooking space, enough for turkeys. Cooking range is advertised at 180 to 500°F depending on ambient temp and how much cold meat is in there. The warming box can be used for cold smoking cheese or fish. Comes with a three year warranty.
Cons. Price. At about $2,600, this grill is four times the price of a good Weber gas grill. And, as with other pellet smokers, it just does not get hot enough to properly sear a steak. Modest 19.5" deep x 22" wide, 429 square inch cooking surface will not handle a large party. They sell an optional upper grate that can get you up to 858 square inches. That there is no handy place to store the electical cord is another minor aggravation.
Wish list. I'd like to see a double layer of metal in the lid to improve heat retention and reduce pellet usage. I'd like to see a thermometer in the warming chamber. It would be nice if the cart had sides and a door for dry storage. A rotisserie would also be cool. I wish there was an easy way to slide out the burn pot for cleaning without having to remove so many parts.
Question marks. There is the eternal question for digital controllers on outdoor devices: How well will they stand up to the elements, especially winter in Chicago?
Bottomline. I have had a LOT of iron on my deck and it is one of the best cookers I've ever used. This new device has already spawned a following at PelletSmoking.com. Go there to read more.
Cooked On It
We have hands-on experience testing this product. We have also gathered info from the manufacturer, owners and other reliable sources.
MAK Grills makes four very impressive residential pellet smokers and one large commercial smoker. They are Meatheads favorite pellet smokers and earned our AmazingRibs.com Best Value Gold Award. MAK took the pellet world by storm and quickly developed a reputation as a best in class producer largely due to their sophisticated "Pellet Boss" controller. The Pellet Boss is easy to learn, intuitive and highly accurate. It also has some useful added features like three independent meat probe inputs and wireless capability. Furthermore construction is solid, durable and effectively holds even, set temps.
In 2016 MAK introduced their FlashFire igniters on all new models, (left). FlashFire is said to be impervious to moisture and corrosion. MAK claims it will be good for 90,000 on/off cycles providing many years of dependable startups. Standard igniters are prone to failure. Although FlashFire costs a bit more, if they last as long as MAK states, they are well worth the additional expense. A retrofit kit may be purchased to upgrade pre-2016 models.
MAK Grills is a family owned business that grew from MAK Metals, an Oregon company engaged in precision metal fabrication since around 1990. They have about 70 distributers, mostly in the northwest.