Pros: Excellent value for price, significantly improved previous flaws, uses any wood
Cons: Customer service department still very weak, instruction booklet sparse.
I was lucky enough to have caught a LOT more salmon than I'd planned and needed a bigger smoker, fast. My little chief was fine for small batches but lacked any real temp control which often affected results. After reading reviews here I finally decided to buy the Masterbuilt digitally controlled smoker. The only question was where. I called Masterbuilt 3 times in one day to try to track down a local retailer in Oregon. Each time I was given different answers and all three times the information provided was bad. In frustration I decided to give up and sent my wife to Joe's Sports to buy a more expensive competing model that I didn't want but was short on time. She called from the store to let me know they had about 20 Masterbuilt smokers in stock! :-| BTW, I'd called Joe's at step 1 to see if they had it and the retail clerk said they didn't carry that brand. Life shouldn't be this hard, but onto the smoker...
They only had the black model (not stainless) but at $199 I couldn't pass it up. It was less than half what I was going to be paying for the competitors stainless unit. It arrived 1/2 hr. later and I couldn't have been more pleased. After seeing the finish I decided Stainless would have been a waste of money - the coating on the black unit is quite robust. I was also VERY pleased to see improvements to the door design (discussed in other reviews) where there is now a screw adjustable hard latch that seals the door perfectly. There must be a change in the smoker chip pan as well since the review that complained about the chips being hard to remove didn't apply - it was trivial to pull the pan out and dump the ashes and partially burned chips.
Unpacking and setup took 2 screws and no more than 5 minutes. The controls were simple and easy to use. I wish you could have multiple "steps" programmed through the controller (say 2 hours at 125 degrees then 2 hours at 175 degrees) but you have to do them one at a time - but again for the price, this was a lot of smoker.
Racks are thick and sturdy - they'll hold a lot of weight. Drip pan, drain pan, water pan - all nicely constructed - I really was very pleasantly surprised. I achieved excellent results with the salmon on first try - the temp control appeared to work just as it should.
The only thing I thought was odd was that the unit heats to a much higher than target temperature (I started the fish at 125 degrees) for several minutes then lowers itself down (slowly - it's well insulated) to the programmed temp. I think this must be to get the chips going but I didn't see an explanation of this in the book.
The booklet is actually scant (nice when you're in a hurry) but I was surprised that it didn't have more tips and recipes, etc. Maybe salmon smoking is an obscure use in Georgia?? It could have used a bit more detail or a tips and tricks section at least.
All in all it's a great unit and I'm very happy with it - I just wish it hadn't been so nearly impossible to track one down locally. I did learn at one point in all those calls that there is a special Sam's Club only unit that is a bit larger and stainless for just $300 or so that I would have bought but the nearest Sam's Club is in Seattle (3 hr drive) - I still almost did it and after seeing this one I'm pretty sure that one would be a great buy too.