My second attempt at all-grain brewing turned out to be a disaster. It still made it into my fermenter (the ingredients cost almost S$70!) but my all-in-one brewing kit was almost ruined. A painful lesson which, hopefully, you can avoid.
I tried a Pilsner brew this time and little did i know the malt was going to cause so much trouble. The recipe calls for only the Pilsner malt. After mashing and sparging, i can’t see it from the top, but a lot of greyish sediments were created. These probably got stuck to the bottom where the heating element is. When i tried to initiate the boiling, there was a burning smell, and the heating was cut off. I thought the heater was kaput, but thankfully it still worked upon testing after cleaning up. The pump did not function also during sparging but it kicked into action when tested afterwards also.
If you’re reading this and wondering if you must get an all-in-one brewing system, i think the answer is just maybe. You can save a lot of money by just getting an electric boiler (there are plenty of these on Taobao), a Nylon bag and a bucket with false bottom (or just a false bottom plate). That is really all you need. You can even do without the electric boiler and just use your stove. Caveat: it works for me because i use the minimum amount of liquid for the entire mashing, sparging and boiling processes and then dilute it in the fermenter.
Anyway, having the heater and pump does mean you will not have to transfer the brewing liquid elsewhere and it stays within the system throughout the process, BUT you still need to lift the mashed grain out of the kettle/bucket, place the false bottom plate before putting the mashed grain back inside again. This step is a MAJOR PAIN. Unless you can get someone else to help, you will end up sticky sweet juice dripping all over the place.