What do we think of the Masterbuilt 560 smoker after 7 months

We’ve had quite a few grills in our backyard over the years, from kamado to shichirin and from gas barbecue to pellet grill. Each of these barbecues has its purpose and excels at something. That may be why some grillers are often massive hoarders. If the backyard were big enough, we probably would have kept them all.

Unfortunately, that is not the case, and that is perhaps for the better. In general, we can do everything we want with 3 or 4 barbecues. Maybe two, but don’t tell my wife that. The only thing we missed was a reliable smoker that does it’s work while we are doing something else.

In mid-2019, we were surprised at the Spoga with the Masterbuilt 560 gravity fed smoker. It worked according to the gravity-fed mechanism in which a hopper of glowing charcoal gives off its heat to a kettle. It’s a so-called offset smoker but one that you do not have to adjust or keep an eye on. Gravity-fed smokers have been used for years by, especially American professionals in restaurants and barbecue competitions.

how the masterbuilt gravity series 560 worksIn the spring of 2020, we got the opportunity to try one. Matthijs was lucky to grill on it for a few weeks. He was pleased with it, and we wrote a review about it. You can try a lot in a couple of weeks, but to find out whether it is still a good smoker after really intensive use, we have to use it for a longer period. Unfortunately, the Masterbuilt smoker had to be sent back. But because Matthijs was so enthusiastic, Masterbuilt thought it was a good idea to put another one in our backyard.

Now that we have used the smoker longer, we thought it was time for a more extensive conclusion. If you don’t feel like reading everything, we can already tell you here. We are still impressed with this smoker and have a few areas for improvement.

Assembling the Masterbuilt smoker

Matthijs received the Masterbuilt 560 ready to use. No need to assemble anything. We got a whole new one in the box. So we had to build it up ourselves. We love construction sets, but this one was difficult at times.

This was partly due to the sometimes difficult to understand instructions. But also because there are many parts that you have to put together. In the end, we build it in an hour and a half. And maybe that’s because we may not be very handy.

We like it when large parts have already been build right out of the box. But this is certainly not the case with the Masterbuilt 560. When you’re done, you will almost have had all parts in your hands except for the computer.

So if something ever happens, you know exactly where everything is. Every disadvantage has its advantage. But if you don’t feel like tinkering, find a handy neighbour. And promise her or him a set of spare ribs when the Masterbuilt is ready to grill.

You can quickly start grilling

Once the smoker is on its feet, you want to get started quickly. Then it is good to know that lighting the Masterbuilt smoker is very easy and fast. If you have ever used a fire starter, you can also start this smoker. You put the plug in the socket and switch it on. Fill the hopper with charcoal, put a few burning firelighter cubes under the hopper of charcoal and dial in the temperature. The smoker will do the rest.

The first time, you have to burn the smoker clean. This way, you burn off the leftovers of dirt and grease that may have been left behind during manufacturing. After that, you let the Masterbuilt cool down, and you can get started. After lighting, you are at 140 degrees (284F) in ten to fifteen minutes. If you want to grill, because that is also possible, it takes 10 minutes longer. In no time, the Masterbuilt is roaring at 350 degrees (660F).

Before starting this whole process, the only thing to keep in mind is to remove the slides that make the hopper airtight. If you leave the slides in place, none of the above will work. These slides shut off the hopper from the outside air so that the charcoal extinguish after a barbecue session. That way, next time, you can start with the leftover charcoal.

If you do this, make sure there is not too much small grit at the bottom of the hopper. This obstructs the airflow, so the temperature will not rise fast enough, and you will get an E4 error message. If you do not see or hear this message, you will probably notice a lot of smoke.

So before you start your next barbecue session, shake the grid at the bottom of the column so that it falls into the ash pan. It sometimes helps if you poke it from underneath with a short screwdriver.

When the Masterbuilt smoker is burning, you will notice a minimal amount of smoke coming out of the kettle. Unlike pellet smokers, for example, with the Masterbuilt smoker, you don’t have to worry that the neighbours have reason to complain.

By the way, it doesn’t matter what you feed the Masterbuilt 560 smoker. It accepts charcoal as well as briquettes as long as they are bigger pieces without too much grit. If you like to use tube briquettes, make sure you put them upright so that the oxygen can pass through.

Smoking on the Masterbuilt 560

The Masterbuilt smoker does not smoke on its own. You can smoke whenever you want and at any temperature by adding smoke wood. For example, a pellet smoker smokes most below 120 degrees (248F) and much less above that. Wood above 120 degrees no longer smoulders but burns and then hardly emits any smoke.

With the Masterbuilt, you can smoke in 2 ways. The easiest method is to throw a chunk of smoke wood into the ashtray, where the glowing embers fall from the hopper. These embers hit the smoking wood and cause the wood to smoulder and smoke without burning. The smoke dissipates a bit on the way to the kettle, so you get a lighter smoke.

If you love American barbecue and a strong smoky flavour, throw a few chunks of smoke wood in between the coals in the hopper. The smoke then enters the kettle more directly, so you can be sure of a good smoky taste.

By using these two methods, you can smoke when and how much you want. With the first-mentioned method, you can also smoke at higher temperatures. Which just isn’t possible with a lot of other smokers. If you’re going to barbecue low and slow but want less smoke, that’s possible too. No smoke at all is, of course, not likely. There is always some smoke coming from the charcoal. And lots of smoke when the charcoal is damp

Temperature control is excellent. We tested several sessions with the Smoke thermometer, and the temperature we set in the app was also the temperature in the kettle. And it remains very stable. We are satisfied with a difference of a few degrees while smoking for hours. And if you have to open the cover every now and then, you really see the benefit of the external heat source. After closing the cover, the temperature is back up to temperature within 10 seconds.

In the middle of the grates, the heat is slightly higher than on the sides, but not very much. It is something to consider if you have the kettle full of spare ribs or have a whole pork shoulder in it. Then you keep thicker parts more in the middle or occasionally change the meat’s place to get an even cooking.

In the middle of the grates, the heat is slightly higher than on the sides, but not very much. It is something to consider if you have the kettle full of spare ribs or have a whole pork shoulder in it. Then you keep thicker parts more in the middle or occasionally change the meat’s place to get an even cooking.

According to Masterbuilt, you should be able to smoke for 12 to 15 hours with a fully filled hopper of charcoal, but we have not yet made that happen. After about eight hours (sometimes nine), we have to fill it again. That’s fine, of course, but something to keep an eye on if you plan to run the smoker all night. So before you go to bed, you fill it up, and you’ll be fine.

Refilling is also very easy. Remove the latch from the hoppers lid, and the fan will immediately stop blowing. You refill the charcoal or briquettes and close the lid again. The fan then starts working without the temperature in the kettle having dropped.

The Masterbuilt 560 is reasonably economical when you are running low and slow. If you want to cook at higher temperatures, your fuel will go quite fast. That makes sense, of course, because the hopper is a large controlled fire starter.

Blue tooth connection of the Masterbuilt smoker

Like any modern barbecue or smoker that is digitally controlled, the Masterbuilt smoker also has a blue tooth connection with an app. The range of this connection is approximately 10 to 12 meters. Just enough for most houses. In the open air, you can reach at least 16 meters.

Much more interesting is that there is WiFi on the smoker. If you have a good WiFi connection in the backyard, you can control the Masterbuilt wherever you have internet. We think that is a much better option than Bluetooth. It gives a lot of peace if you can check what the temperature is while walking the dog. It hasn’t happened yet, but we like the idea that you can run home if you see on the app that something strange is happening.

We hear that a lot of people find the functions of the app somewhat limited. We like it. You can only set the temperature or time, and the app indicates whether this temperature has been reached. If you want more, you can set timers. There is also a recipe book with hundreds of recipes. A nice addition would be to add your own recipes.

Maintenance of the Masterbuilt 560

In addition to cleaning occasionally, the smoker does not require any maintenance. Besides the fan, there are no moving parts that can break. And cleaning is effortless. You can easily pull the ashtray out and empty it. You brush the grates clean as with any other barbecue and scrape the kettle with a plastic spatula or flat piece of wood, after which you can remove and clean the drawer and the grease tray.

Cleaning the kettle regularly is advisable. The fat that falls to the bottom during a cook cakes up and can cause some situations. You will not notice this during low and slow cooks, but if you grill at higher temperatures, that layer of fat can ignite and cause a pit fire.

Should this happen, turn off the grill and place the slides back. The fire will then go out immediately. We have experienced it once and now regularly clean the kettle. That was a good learning moment and cost us a probe.

If you do not have the option to put the barbecue inside after use, we recommend purchasing a cover. The Masterbuilt 560 is not waterproof. The lid of the kettle closes on top instead of behind it, allowing rainwater to run into the kettle. It is not much, but moisture combined with the cast-iron grates is not a good idea. We also see some rust spots on the hinges. A dry place is, therefore, a must.

Our conclusion

Apart from a few points to keep in mind regarding maintenance, this is still an excellent smoker in this price range. You get lots of space, smoke when you want and very easy to use. We use it more and more when we feel like taking it easy but still want to enjoy good barbecue.

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