The Masterbuilt 30" Electric Digital Smokehouse with Top Control, (also made with the Cabela's label), is a clever concept, with flawed execution. We get regular emails from people whose MBES are malfunctioning, more than any other grill or smoker. They have a few other electric models and all have some interesting features but Buyer Beware! We bought two of these back to back. The first one died. After testing, we gave the second one to a local fire station where it burst into flames. On July 18, 2013 Masterbulit recalled a simliar model to this due to Fire Hazard: http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Recalls/2013/Masterbuilt-Manufacturing-Recalls-Electric-Smokers/
This Top Control Smoker is a compact front-loading steel cabinet with plastic trim. The exterior is black and the interior is aluminum. Outside dimensions are approximately 19" x 18" x 34" including 2" for the controller at the top. It weighs about 50 pounds. Rear legs are adjustable but there are no wheels. Internal dimensions are 26.5" high x 15" wide 13" deep for a total of 2.5 cubic feet. Unfortunately the four chrome plated shelf racks are not big enough for large slabs of ribs without cutting or rolling them. A small slab of baby backs can fit if laid corner to corner. It has a 650 watt element.
The hardiness of this unit is the major concern for an otherwise good concept. There is a digital thermostat with a range of 100 to 275°F, a 0-24 hour digital timer with auto shut-off, and a simple control panel on the top that allows you to set the time and temp. The LEDs are a little hard to read in bright light and, alas, after a winter and summer outdoors under a waterproof cover, the thermostat and LEDs on our 2006 model failed. We got emails from several other buyers complaining of the same problem on more recent models. The warranty is for 90 days. We bought a replacement controller for $33, but calibration was off and the unit ran about 20°F below the set temperature. So we bought a new smoker and after a year it was also about 20°F off with no apparent way to recalibrate. But once it hit a temp, it was very good at holding it so we just dangled a digital probe in the chimney vent and used it to set the controller. Our second Masterbuilt Electric Smoker was used only rarely. It sat outdoors in Chicago under a cover through the winter. After two years the LEDs in the display on the digital controller began failing, making it hard to read the numbers. After three years the controller died. In five years we had two MBES die on us.
You get what you pay for with Masterbuilt, so make sure you order a cover (a Weber kettle cover will work), and consider taking it indoors in winter if you live in a cold climate.
The MBES has an adjustable door latch and door gaskets that make the box very tight. It is well insulated and had a clever wood chip tray for adding wood from the side without opening the door. This keeps temp and moisture in the cooking chamber constant. You can also look into the hole and see how much wood is left inside. Neat. There is a small stainless steel water pan that is easy to clean. The drip pan on the bottom drains to a grease tray located on the rear. This location might make it awkward to get at if you plan to install the unit under a counter. On the other hand, if you leave it in the open, you and your dog will have no trouble getting at it.
There is a damper on the top but no instructions on when to open and when to close it. We recommend you leave it wide open to prevent creosote buildup. You can run cables for a digital thermometer through the vents. An ash removal tray makes cleanup easy, and the fuse is easy to access.
Speaking of the manual, it is a bit lean and many owners point this out. There are some simple recipes, but none for brisket, just exactly the type of heavy clod of meat that electric smokers like this excel at.
When smokers and grills come from the factory there is often oil and other residue from the manufacturing process on the metal parts. To break it in, you should fire it up to a high temp, load in some wood to create smoke, let it burn for a few hours, and then let it cool. Here again, the manual gave no instruction for a break in and seasoning procedures. But sure enough, when we fired up the MBES, it pumped out noxious fumes for 30 minutes and almost certainly would have ruined the first meal. Since we complained to our readers about this matter MB apparently began inserting a flyer on the subject in the box and have now included seasoning instructions in the manual. For more info read Calibrating and Seasoning Your Grill.
Finally, it must be stated that we found their customer service to be poor, and reader comments seem to agree.
Cooked On It
We have hands-on experience testing this product. We have also gathered info from the manufacturer, owners and other reliable sources.
Masterbuilt is known for manufacturing low priced cookers, made in China for frugal people in the USA. They've always produced some models with a few unique features that provide a little bang for very little buck, but most of their products were largely more of the same cost driven stuff with a different logo on the lid. However, in recent years Masterbuilt has taken a step up in quality and innovation. In fact, some of their new products are starting to win our top awards. They are a company on the move, grabbing our attention.
Masterbuilt is widely distributed online and at brick and mortar outlets, including big box stores.