Long before pellet smokers arrived on the barbecue scene and exploded in popularity, electric smokers were the go-to option for the backyard cook who wanted a more convenient option than the traditional offset smoker.
The largest manufacturer of electric smokers has been Masterbuilt, based out of Columbus, Georgia in the United States.
After weeks of testing and cooking, we are going to take a look at the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker (model number MB20071117) and see how well this low-cost option performs.
Masterbuilt Digital Smoker overview and frirst impressions
For the purpose of this review, we selected the base 30-inch model.
You can upgrade to a 40″ model, or go for the 30″ model with a window and leg stand.
The larger 40″ model would be a good choice if you want the room to smoke a full rack of ribs without cutting them in half or a large packer style brisket.
Don’t be fooled by the total square inch numbers. We’ll go into more detail on the layout later on in the review.
Let’s take a look at the full specs of the 30″ Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker:
|Item Dimensions||19.88 x 20.47 x 33.26 inches|
|Item Weight||45.90 lbs|
|Rack Dimensions||15 x 10 inches|
|Space Between Racks||5 inches|
|Price||Check Latest Price|
What I like:
- Simple and easy to use – I’m not a cook that likes too many options on their equipment. Plug it in, add your wood chips, put water in the pan, set your desired temperature, add your meat, close the door and wait.
- Patented wood chip loader – Occasionally you have to add more wood chips and this smoker has a nice feature where you can add your chips without opening the door which is not only convenient, but allows for minimal temperature loss helping to mitigate wild temperature swings.
Adding more chips is easy, simply turn the knob on the loader counter clockwise, pull it out and set chips in the small tray. Slide the loader back in and twist clockwise to feed the chips on the burn plate.
- Minimal temperature swings – I only noticed mild temperature swings and that was when more wood chips needed to be added. Otherwise, this smoker held temps nice and steady.
What I don’t like:
- Build quality – This is a low cost option and right out of the box, it shows. From the plastic controller to the thin aluminum walls let’s just say you wouldn’t want to drop this thing on accident. However, the materials may be inconsequential to the cook so we’ll see later if Masterbuilt cut corners in the right places.
- The timer – Unfortunately you have to set the timer in order for the smoker to turn on. Anyone that smokes knows that your meat is done when it is done, time is irrelevant. It’s a minor annoyance, but you have to make sure your timer doesn’t wind down before your cook is done, otherwise the smoker will stop cooking.
The Masterbuilt 30″ gets the top pick for best electric smoker in our main roundup thanks to its low price point, and ease of use.
While you can nitpick the build quality, for the price this is a fantastic smoker for anyone who wants to get started, or just doesn’t want to drop a tonne of money on an expensive smoker.
Unboxing and setup
Upon opening the box and removing all the protective packaging, I was taken aback at how small this smoker was. No larger than a typical wine cooler.
Out of the box, the smoker appeared to be protected well from the wild journey any product takes through the shipping process.
The outside of the box had several dings and holes from careless delivery practices, but there wasn’t a dent on the product itself.
Setup was a breeze and took a mere 15 minutes with 2 people. This due to minimal parts which were very intuitive to put together. I’m sure this smoker came with assembly directions, but we couldn’t tell since we had no use for them. The only tool needed was a standard sized philips screw driver.
Cooking on the Masterbuilt Digital Smoker
My buddy who was used to cooking on gas smokers, soaked the wood chips for 24 hours prior to doing the initial burn off. Don’t do that because he couldn’t get them to catch fire. Our 2nd attempt was a success as we only soaked the chips for a half hour this time.
After the burn off we decided to do a test cook with a 6 lbs cut of corned beef my buddy had in the fridge and make smoked pastrami sandwiches. Corned beef is made from the flat part brisket and was the perfect size for this smoker.
The cook itself went off without a hitch. We had to add wood chips every hour or so, but were able to maintain a relatively even temperature of 275°F which is the highest setting available.
For the next cook, we decided to try St. Louis Ribs. We had 2 full racks of ribs which we had to cut in half in order to get them to fit on the 15-inch wide stainless steel racks in the smoker.
5 hours later we had another successful cook in the books (adding wood chips every 45 minutes to an hour to maintain temperature) and some great tasting ribs as well.
For the final test, we smoked 2 whole chickens which were approximately 5 lbs each. Same experience with even temps and no fuss, although the skin came out rather rubbery since the smoker does not reach the roasting temperature necessary for crispy skin.
Temperature variability and accuracy
I measured temperatures with a Weber iGrill thermometer which in my experience tends to be more accurate than stock temperature probes that come with any smoker.
Initially, I thought there wouldn’t be much of a difference in ambient temperatures due to the small size, but there was up to a 20°F difference from the top rack to the bottom rack with the top rack running cooler.
Ease of operation
As previously stated, this machine gets high marks for ease of operation. Add that with the convenient and very practical wood chip loader, cooking on the Masterbuilt is welcomely simple.
Space and function
As I mentioned earlier, this smoker is on the small side so you definitely don’t want to volunteer to cook for a big backyard bash with this being your only option. With that said, you can cook up to 4 racks of ribs (each rack cut in half), 2-4 full size chickens, 4 smaller brisket flats, or 2 medium pork butts.
The water pan (which catches drippings and helps retain moisture) fits conveniently below the bottom rack, allowing for full use of all 4 cooking racks.
Realistically you’re not going to be able to match the flavor from your favorite Texas Style BBQ restaurant. While convenience is the biggest perk for cooking on a digital smoker, I would say the flavor is on par with any pellet grill. The smoke flavor is subtle yet adequate.
Cleaning is pretty simple. There’s no pellet ash to remove, no heavy heat shields to clean, all you have to do is clean the racks and wood chip plate after every cook and clean the sides (get a scraper) and water pan every few cooks.
It’s a much easier process than cleaning a pellet grill, however, so if you’re just looking for a convenient device purely for smoking, then a digital smoker is a great option.
Alternatives to consider
If you want the option to cook full racks of ribs or packer brisket you should definitely upgrade to the 40″ model.
Those of you who want to be able to control your smoker with your phone will be better suited with the Masterbuilt 40″ Bluetooth Smoker.
The Bluetooth model is a nice smoker, but at that price, you are getting into pellet grill territory.
Pellet grills have several advantages over electric in my opinion. The main advantage is that you don’t have to reload wood chips every 45 minutes. At the budget price point look for something like the Z Grills 450B
Check out all our recommended pellet grills here.
Should You Buy the Masterbuilt 30″ Electric Smoker?
The Masterbuilt is a nice, entry-level smoker for the weekend cook who is looking to add a little more flavor to their favorite rib recipe without having to master managing a fire or shell out hundreds of dollars more for a pellet grill.
Just make sure you pick the larger 40″ size if you plan on cooking any larger proteins.
It also makes a nice reverse sear option for thicker steaks. Simply smoke your favorite ribeye until 125°F internal temperature, then sear it on your propane grill and walla, you have an amazing, restaurant-quality steak that pays for itself within a few meals.
And if you decide to go with the Masterbuilt electric smoker we have a guide to seasoning your new electric smoker.