When making a decision to invest in any pellet grill, it should take into consideration price and quality. MAK Grills is a US based company (out of Oregon) that takes the best of design and cooking consideration and created one of the best engineered cookers in the pellet smoker category.
We have been cooking on pellet grills for over 10 years. And we have learned that not all pellet smokers are the same. And yes, there is the budget factor to consider, and we have a guide to pellet grills by price category for consideration and where we also discuss how a pellet grill works (like how to avoid the dreaded flame out for example).
Full disclosure, we are paid ambassadors for MAK, and there is a good reason. They are awesome machines. All opinions are our own.
Pellet grills offer incredible convenience, and the flavor is outstanding. The same cooking methods are used when smoking proteins, like a brisket or pork ribs, as with other cookers. And when answering questions at events or chatting online with our community, not everyone has the time or desire to manage a charcoal and wood fire. For those of you in that category, a pellet grill is a perfect option.
Over the years we have really come to appreciate two key factors specificay in using a MAK Two-Star General pellet grill.
- Range of Heat
- Durability of Construction
When we bought our first pellet smoker (not a MAK), we not only spent a fair amount of money on it, but soon realized we needed to upgrade the temperature control unit. We also learned that it did not sear easily (despite the advertising), so we had to buy some special infrared grill grates. To avoid that trap, it’s important to understand up front what you are getting so you don’t have to spend all that extra money on accessories. Likely for a little more investment up front, you can get those same things, and more, in a base model of a higher quality grill.
If you have qualified the pellet grill is the best option for you let us share with you what we have learned about the MAK Two-Star General. And it’s not just out team that loves these grills. Check out Amazing Ribs review highlighting the features.
Range of Heat
Before buying a pellet smoker, check the disclosed heat ranges. It should be clearly stated on the manufacturers website. The ranges go from low to high, with the lows focused on infusing smoke flavor to the protein, while the high temperatures start to get into the ranges for searing and high heat cooking (especially important with fish and pizzas). MAK discloses a range of 170 degrees Fahrenheit to 600 degrees, which is a great range from smoking to searing for direct grilling.
With the MAK Two-Star General we have seen a low range of 160 degrees Fahrenheit (F) which has been great for smoking nuts or delicate fish. We have also had it as high as 610 degrees F which is amazing for things like searing a steak or making pizzas.
MAK also has a few key components that start to separate them from the competition.
Temperature Control Unit
The lifeblood of a good pellet smoker is the electronic unit that controls the temperature. MAK uses the Pellet Boss controller that manages the temperature very accurately. And when setting the temperature you can set the ranges from “smoke” (targeting 170 degrees F), to 5 degree increments all the way up to the “grill” setting, which will reach the ranges of 600 degrees (or more in our experience). We rarely have the need to cook over 600 degrees. Compare that to a similar unit that only maxes out at 450 degrees and you’ll find that the added heat is really important if you like high sear cooking from time to time. That precision also makes it great for baking, like our corn bread with smoked honey.
The igniter is also an important component. In prior experiences with pellet grills, the igniter would often burn out, leaving you stuck with no heat. The igniter on the MAK reaches 2000 degrees F in seconds and brings the unit online quickly so you have less warm up time.
I also can’t stress their lifetime warranty as well. The peace of mind that if it ever goes out, you can get a new one, is an amazing feature.
MAK enlisted feedback from users who mentioned they would like to fine tune temperature swings (all smokers from pellet to offsets have swings). So they engineered a roaming thermocouple that tracks the ambient temperature of the smoker wherever you are cooking. Simply remove the thermocouple and move it next to the item being cooked and get the most consistent temperature needed for the perfect cook.
Built in K Probes
We know that cooking to temperature is the golden rule of low and slow. With built in K style probes, you can monitor the temperature of brisket, or anything you are cooking, right from the control unit. It also can be used to set alarms and provide updates as to when you need to wrap or pull a finished shoulder off the grill.
This is, hands down, one of the best parts of the design and temperature. Most pellet grills that do get higher in heat have limited the actual surface area that gives access to the heat source. They either created a door or slide out shelf over the fire pot, or they engineered more heat to push into the cooking chamber (which is still technically indirect cooking).
The FlameZone are two covers that can be removed. Under them are holes that provide direct access to heat across the entire cooking area of the grates. This means you can throw steak over any of the grates and still get a hot sear, versus in just one small portion of the grill.
This is a standard feature on all MAK Grills as of May 1st, 2020.
Durability of Construction
The investment in the temperature control systems are important. But additional off the shelf investments also make these grills family heirlooms, much like a good cast iron pan is for cooking.
Rust Proof 16 gauge 304 stainless steel body and cooking chamber makes even the wettest Northwest winter a non issue. No need for touch up paint to keep the rust off. It’s easy to keep clean. Wipe it down after each cook and be sure to use the right stainless steel and degreaser products to keep it showroom shiny for years. We use a combination of SD-20 ALl purpose degreaser and Diversey Break Up available at stores or on Amazon.
The steel is also thick, you can hear it when you shut the lid. That thickness helps control temperature to burn the fuel as efficiently as possible. Other units have much thinner metal that is not as efficient, which means you burn more fuel over time to keep the same temperature in our experience.
The hopper holds the pellets, and it is large (easily holding a 20 lb bag of pellets in one sitting). There is a side access door as well that easily opens so you can drain the hopper with one pellet and replace with another in different cooks. This is much better than having to scoop it all out by hand, as is the case with other smoker brands. The angle of the hopper is just enough so all the pellets fall into the auger, avoiding a flame out because the pellets didn’t all fall in correctly.
This is one of the better features. You can easily remove the fire pot from the grill by simply removing a small pin and then dumping any ash that accumulates over time inside the fire pot. This saves from having to vacuum after every cook and keeps the fire pot clear for each cook. (We still vacuum around it to be safe every few cooks.) This also means few, if any, flame outs when the pellets die out and they start to accumulate ash in the fire pot.
Cold Smoker/Warmer Box
Every Two-Star General has a unique add-on that is a great feature. It has a warmer box, or cold smoker, that also doubles as a shelf. The heat and smoke travel through the main chamber and then passes into the warmer/cold smoker. This is great for nuts and cheeses. Or, if some of your food is done early, you can keep it in the warmer until ready to serve.
WiFi Upgrade Option
There is also an upgrade you can get that allows you to remotely control the temperature and monitor the cook from an app on your phone. This is very handy when you’re busy, or multi-tasking, and looking to quickly see how your cook is progressing.
Accessories for MAK
Most pellet grills will offer some accessories. Here are three of our favorites for the MAK.
You can add more shelving or upper grates in the cooking chamber and remove them when you don’t need them. This is great when doing things like ribs and adds a ton of extra grilling space.
A great addition if you like to make breakfast or smash burgers. Just set over the direct heat in place of the grates and cook away. They now have a full version as well to turn it into a wood fired flat top.
Super Smoker Box
This one we are really excited about. This durable add on sits right on top of the warmer box and extends your cold smoking ability. With temperatures that still sit as well around 200 degrees with more heat, you can add smoked sausage or fish for slowly cooked jerky. It’s such an awesome add on.
When it comes to pellet grills and smokers, a lot goes into your decision. We have been cooking on our MAK Two-Star General for years and will be doing so for years to come. When it comes to quality and the long term investment in a reliable outdoor pellet cooker, this is hands down our favorite in the pellet smoker category.
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