I love meat, juicy, tender fall off the bone type of meat and a while back I decided I would like to be able to smoke meat without using my Weber Kettle grill as a make shift smoker. So in a possibly less than ideal state of mind I decided that I would like an electric smoker, really I just wanted a smoker but found and electric one on Craigslist and bought it without thinking about it enough. I ended up with a Brinkmann Gourmet Electric Smoker. Once I got it home, I cooked up some mighty fine grub, but noticed Brinkmann really gives you no method to tame this beast. It can cook up some wicked fish or BBQ with the risk of the fluctuating temperatures murdering a otherwise perfectly acceptable piece of meat, so I stuff it back in the corner of the garage and bought a charcoal version of the same from a friend, then a propane conversion kit for that to make impulse smokes a little more possible.
Well that was all well and good until I decided that there will come a time when I will need more than 1 smoker, or I will want to smoke something (cheese) below the conceivable temperature range of the other smoker or something delicate (fish, and I like smoked fish) and I decided I needed to tame this bright red machine from Brinkmann. That is when I consulted the Google and was offered up a couple of options. The first was well so painfully obvious I about smacked myself upside the head, add a thermostat! An example of this can be found here. The idea of the thermostat, was well simple and seemed like a good idea, you dial in the temperature and then just leave it set until your food is done or you need to add chips. Great!
My problem was I wanted intelligent temperature control, I wanted something to control temperature and predict ahead how the element would heat the smoker and shut off the burner before we reached and blew by our target temperature. So I was on the cyber prowl again and found an excellent tutorial of how to use a PID controller to intelligently control the temperature in a smoker. That article can be found here. It was to be the perfect solution at around a $100 it was far more than I had paid for my smoker initially, but it had blinky lights and a couple of temperature readouts and looked like overkill.
Well I had my options and I decided to go the PID route and ended up using the following parts:
- Auber Instruments 1/16 DIN PID Temperature Controller – $44.50
- Auber Instruments 25A Solid State Relay – $15.00
- K Type Thermocouple with 4″ probe – $11.95
- K Type Thermocouple panel mount – $4.90
- A terminal strip from Radio Shack
- A project box from Radio Shack
- A power tool replacement cord from Home Depot
- An extension cord end from Home Depot
- Hole Grommets for cord pass through
- A scavenged CPU cooler for SSR heat sink
- Some misc. bolts to hold cooler on SSR
- Thermal compound for SSR to heat sink contact
All of that came to around $80 when all said and done, and then came assembly which was not hard but after taping up the project box with masking tape and marking out my cutouts. I grabbed the Dremel, cutout all the holes to mount the required components, drilled some holes in the lid for the cooler to mount to over the SSR and wired the beast up. In the end I was glad for the panel mount connector for the thermocouple, it will allow the thermocouple to be mounted to the smoker and the controller to be stored elsewhere. I followed the directions found in this article to assemble the controller, after all I am a programmer not an electrician. It was really quite easy and when I gave it the trial run and auto tune recommended by the manufacturer I couldn’t have been more happy.
Once the controller was dialed in it had no trouble holding the temperature +/-1°F inside of my garage, external factors may force more deviation from this such as wind or sunshine but I could easily hold temperatures as low as 140°F in my trial and right up at 225°F the temperature remained steady. My Maverick thermometer (although a little slower than the thermocouple) confirmed the accuracy of the unit.
The only thing that remains to be done is mounting the thermocouple permanently in the smoker body, while this is an easy task, choosing a location that will not interfere with the contents of the smoker remains quite a challenge.
Hopefully tomorrow I will get the chance to smoke something with this new found control over the previously untamed Brinkmann Gourmet Electric Smoker.
For all things electric smokers, be sure to check out The Electric Smoker Guy.