Electric smoker safety questions - help save tomorrow's BBQ!
June 29, 2013 5:14 PM   Subscribe

I just plugged in my Craigslisted electric smoker for the first time and it melted my (short, heavy duty, indoor/outdoor, properly rated) extension cord. Do I buy another extension cord and try again, or is this thing a fire waiting to happen?

I bought a used Meco electric smoker (similar to this one, but without a temperature control --- it's just on / off) on Craigslist for $30. I have not used it before (but it has been used by previous owners).

I was all set to smoke a pork butt in it for a 4pm BBQ tomorrow afternoon. I plugged it in and got it going but the temperatures kept getting too high and two of my wood chunks caught on fire. I unplugged it, waited for the fire to go out, got rid of the old wood chunks and put some new chunks in a foil packet poked with holes to (hopefully) avoid this problem. When I went to plug the smoker in again, the female end of the extension cord melted (picture). It's so warped that I cannot plug the smoker back into the extension cord.

The cord was 10' long and rated for 1625A. The smoker is 1500A. Home Depot is open for another two hours. Should I go out and buy another extension cord, or is the smoker going to melt that one too? Is this a $30 learning experience, or can it be salvaged?
posted by rossination to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
Did the foil cause any sort of bridge with the electrical parts of the smoker?
posted by supercres at 5:42 PM on June 29, 2013

Also, in the future, try soaking your chunks to keep them smoldering instead of burning.
posted by supercres at 5:45 PM on June 29, 2013

It sounds like you have a short somewhere. Check the wiring on the smoker closely. Something may have gone awry when you moved it.
posted by COD at 5:57 PM on June 29, 2013

More concerning is the fact that your fuse didn't blow / breaker didn't trip. That should've happened long before anything melted.

If you have circuit breakers, go turn them all off and back on. Each one, not just the master -- this exercise will help keep the parts from developing stiction which would prevent them from tripping in case of an overload. Having to reset your VCR's clock is worth the safety.

If you have fuses, there's something pretty wrong, as they don't suffer from the above problem, and should happily melt (blow) before your cord does. Having an electrician look things over might not be a bad idea.

Anyway, as for the immediate question -- is there a chance that the smoker wasn't plugged completely into the cord in the first place? Marginal contact will make a high-resistance joint, which will heat up as soon as you draw substantial current through it. Could also be a bad cord; I love the ones with the clear ends because I can see that the crimps were done properly.
posted by Myself at 6:33 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is that a 16 gauge cord? It might be rated for 15amps, but not continuously. You want 12 or 10.

Did the rest of the cord get hot?

But I agree, you probably have a bad extension cord. (Assuming your breakers/fuses are in working order.) A circuit will get the hottest at the point of highest resistance, which is going to be the plugs. But it shouldn't have that much resistance. An extension cord would get melty, gooey hot before the whole plug fails. Another indicator that it was that specific plug that was bad is if the wall plug was not burnt. The plugs, if working correctly, should be more or less identical, and would heat up pretty similarly if there was that kind of excessive load on the connection.

A heater can only draw what it draws. It's just a big resistor. Any failure of the heating element that would cause it to draw excess power would cause it to short and likely open up. The metals just can't handle (very) much more current than they are designed for. (An exception is if you plugged a 110v heater into 220v current- it might work for a while before something blows out. But it still should be the element or breaker that blows first.)

But more practically, I don't think a proper smoker wouldn't have a temperature control. It kinda maybe seems like the seller just rigged up a cord. Or there is a missing piece. I would find the model number and look it up to see if it came with a temperature control. I don't even think the UL would allow something like that without at least one if not two temperature cut-outs.
posted by gjc at 7:12 PM on June 29, 2013

My intuition is a bad cord -- as was said, the breaker should have tripped, and the cord is a more likely failure point than the breaker.

Here's a (somewhat unreliable) way to check if your smoker is drawing WAY too much current somehow (but failing to trip the breaker for some reason), if you have access to your electric meter. You probably have at least one other appliance that draws about 1.5kW -- perhaps a microwave or electric teapot (check the power ratings). Turn off as many lights and power-hungry appliances (e.g. electric stove, A/C) as you can for the test. Plug in your test appliance, and try to estimate the speed at which your electric meter turns while the appliance is on. Leaving all other lights and appliances as is, disconnect your test appliance and plug in the smoker. Repeat meter reading. It should not be substantially faster than with the test appliance.

Also, pretty sure you meant 1500W rather than 1500A.
posted by Behemoth at 7:27 PM on June 29, 2013

Response by poster: Hey everyone - I was wrong about the original extension cord - it was actually 25 feet, which I know is not ideal. I got a 10' 10 gauge extension cord at Home Depot and everything is going well now. I will post back with photos tomorrow!
posted by rossination at 9:02 PM on June 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

More concerning is the fact that your fuse didn't blow / breaker didn't trip. That should've happened long before anything melted.

This. You have a problem inside your walls. You probably had a bad cord, but if you were drawing enough current to melt the extension cord the breaker or fuse should absolutely have tripped/blown. You're lucky the extension cord melted first and not one the cables inside your walls. This is a risk for fire and you should get it checked out.
posted by three blind mice at 12:54 AM on June 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Nthing three blind mice. I was surfing this as I was about to fall asleep and this post upset me.

As per my many previous posts of my parents managing a shitty apartment building when i was growing up, one of the big issues was awful wiring and breakers. The fire department showed up several times because an entire apartment would smell like melting wiring, it caused serious problems and safety issues.

You should absolutely get an electrician in to test your breakers. They're like car tires, they go bad after X number of years or blows. Also similar to belts on cars. They're like far out of spec if that cord melted like that.

I'm happy you're rocking out ok with a shorter cord and less resistance. But that breaker should have woken up and gone "what the FUCK man"way before your old cord was a smoldering heap. This is a serious safety concern.

I really doubt the wires in the wall, or the outlet that cord was plugged into(does it look totally cool? I doubt it "a little brown and melted" is bad) are doing super great right now either. I've definitely scraped some "melty" wires off the side of a fucked up outlet several times with my dad, and that's about as safe as smoking crack out of foil once it happens. As I said, maybe I'm just paranoid. But I've seen shit short out and fill my entire house with smoke and start to actually be burn-ish without the breakers blowing. Do not go there.

I'm not an electrician, but I am a mad man. And I have to draw the line somewhere. I've ridden hot rodded mopeds with no seats at highway speeds helmetless and I would be FREAKED OUT if this didnt blow my breaker. I'd be getting the entire system inspected and probably the entire breaker panel replaced and maybe even some of the wiring re-pulled. Seriously. I'll sit here drinking my home made absinthe and knowing my house won't burn down due to faulty breakers.
posted by emptythought at 1:58 AM on June 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not an electrician, but... The time this happened to me, it was corrosion on either the male plug from the electrical thing (in your case the smoker) or the contacts inside the female part of the extension cord. Corrosion -> resistance -> heat -> melt, all at the connection point. No over-current, just a lot of heat where it didn't belong.
posted by skyscraper at 11:16 AM on June 30, 2013

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