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Obsessing over pit temps?

Big Poppa

Administrator
OK one of the first things that happens to a pellet cooker is that they become temp freaks. Obsessed with pit temp. Unlike the old days of smoking where there wasn't even a temp dial we now have digital readouts, secondary digital pit probes with remotes,Taylor oven thermometers to give a third opinion... at that point and only at that point can they possibly cook good bbq. It's so hard to explain that the readouts on most pellet cookers use an algorithm to give you an average or monitor one spot of the pit and report that.

That being said they have lived their life with an oven at home that has swings that are crazy.... They just never knew it because Mom or whomever cooked was busy with food and not thermometers. It is the nature of heating a small box to sometimes ten times the outdoor ambient temp...even with insulation the heat has to drop to bring the temp up....Think about it...if you set your oven to 325 and added heat you would be hotter than 325. Heat is as hot as the source...your oven doesn't make 325 degree heat. The temp has to drop to kick in the new heat. Now lets take a smoker....you have add fuel to create smoke...either by adding pellets or controlling your draft and constantly burning a larger fuel source (logs, charcoal, and all that stuff)

Many of you either started on Traegers or still cook on them. Their temp swings are legendary. They still turn out great food though. MAK and Memphis and others have much, much smaller temp swings but they are a fact of heating a small box. Also remember to make smoke you have to make fire. This isn't a cop out...read the article below.

The moral to the story.... The most important temp is the temp of your product on the smoker/grill. As long as during a long cook you are averaging your desired cooking temp. The great cooks feel the food...smell, look, touch, sound...this is also why I always suggest to know your pit. The biscuit test is the best still. If you are still unsure please use a thermometer for the food...that is the only one you should be concerned with...I can cook without a thermometer in the food but I always use one...why not follow what your food is doing and take the guess work out of it?

Tom Colicchio the great chef in his first book explains cooking on a stove top with a skillet that one should listen to his/her pan... generally speaking it shouldn't be whispering...nor yelling. That was the best advice I ever learned after 25 years of cooking. Obviously a simmer is a whisper, frying is yelling.

I found this article on Slate....it explains it brilliantly
Bake at 350 degrees? Oven temperature is uncontrollable, and we should stop trying to micromanage it. - Slate Magazine
 

SmokinSteiny

New member
SO......... I shouldn't look at buying a MAK 2 Star General from BPS to replace my Traeger Deluxe BBQ 300, I should just suck it up and accept the 20-30 degree temp swings?????????? :)
 

Big Poppa

Administrator
not at all...Just once and for all explaining ovens and smokers! The mak and memphis swings are much less than a traeger and they get hotter!
 

jimsbarbecue

Moderator
Temp Swings

Check the swings here
Viking-Range-at-250-M.jpg


These are from a Viking oven set at 250º
 

muebe

New member
I work with ovens everyday. It is part of my job and what I have been trained for. So I have a bit of knowledge on this subject.

Most of your ovens around today use on/off thermostats and rely on "average" temps. If you take the highest and lowest swing in temp then add those two numbers together and divide by two that will give you your "average" temp. If you were to sit and watch a fluke reading the temp changes in your oven you would think there is something wrong. But this is normal and how they work. I have customers who will put a oven thermometer in there and then complain it is not accurate.

The older ovens with a constant pilot used a modulating thermostat like I have in my gas smoker. These ovens can keep a constant temp. The capillary tube is filled with fluid that expands when heated. As the oven gets closer to your set temperature the modulating thermostat will continue to reduce the size of the flame until it reaches the set temp. These thermostats are also used in many commercial ovens for restaurants because they offer very even temps and consistent cooking results.

When electronic ignition came into play and there were no longer standing pilots the modulating thermostats went bye-bye.

Electric ovens also have swings because of the slow cooling and heating of the electric element. Electric ovens that have a PID controller can keep temps with 1 degree because the thermostat is "smart" and knows how fast the element can heat the cabinet and will throttle power to the element to keep a constant temp. However those are usually specialized ovens(I have a PID on my Bradley) in manufacturing where very accurate temps are critical.

And it is very important to pre-heat newer ovens...

I had a customer that complained her new oven needs to be calibrated because she has burned several trays of brownies. I asked her did she wait until the oven was pre-heated before putting the brownies into the oven and she said yes. So I placed the thermocouple from the fluke meter on the rack and started the oven. After 12 minutes the oven ramped up to 485F and then to my surprise the oven controller beeped indicating the oven was pre-heated. The digital display on the oven showed it was at 350F but that was not the true temp. It took another 15 minutes for the oven to finally level off to reach an average of 349F. So the lady was placing a tray of brownies in a 485F oven and that explained why her brownies were burned. It was not out of calibration just the way the oven operated.

So the old saying "know your pit" can also apply to your home oven.
 

BigSuhr

New member
I'm absolutely ADD and obsessive compulsive so count me in as a temp watcher.
So hard not to foil the inside to keep it clean but I'm resisting Big Poppa!
I know I'm wigging about the temps as well but as an engineer I do understand it.
I think when they give you the ability to have a roaming probe it will ease people who are temp watchers

I also heard a Mak rep say that the new cover plate design does run hotter in the middle of the unit than the other design. He was also working on a 1 piece large cover plate.
Only question is if you really want to keep it around a certain temp like 225 where do you set it?
Mine seems real stable with fluctuations no greater than 5degrees but runs about 35 degrees hotter on the upper grill according to the readi check when set at 200, the mak grill temp is very close 195~200. I did clean off the probe as well.
So for 225 I set it to 200 and it seems pretty solid around 235. This should be fine for my 6 hour baby back ribs, yes wife insists on fall off the bone ! So I'm thinking this is pretty normal? 4 hours to go!
 
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Big Poppa

Administrator
yes John....you will be fine. WE have a long theromouple for comp and put it exatly below the fook we are cooking and I still sometime omonitor it with a maverick and ride the thermostat.
 

Sam U Rye

New member
NEWBIE Trying to take the first plunge

I just assembled my Brinkmann Pellet Smoker and Ortech Digital Controller, and am trying to make sure that my "inaugural" BBQ dinner won't be a bust. My smoking experience (BBQ,s, that is) is confined to a fifty dollar special, bullet type water smoker that rusted out in about a year. Fast forward ten years later, and I decided to take the plunge again, perhaps to afficianados, I just put my foot in the water, not wanting to make a $1000+ expenditure. Still, the Brinkmann seemed to have equal to or better than build as the Traeger's I saw at the local Barbeque's Galore. (It didn't help, that the Owner's comment about the Traeger was confined to, "This is the one I'd get!", that seemed to be based upon "This is the one I carry and have in stock.", when asked what the comparative benefits were)

Anyway, I digress. I've been unable to follow some of the suggestions of the BBQ Bible Cookbooks, that recommend "seasoning" the grill, because the smoker doesn't heat up unless and until one puts pellets into it. Hence there's no "dry run" or "break-in" mode. Consequently, I've got to take the plunge and just go for it.

If I believe what the Ortech folks tell me, I should have tight temperature parameters. I want to go with baby-back ribs for my first go around. Do you have any recommendations on temperature? Any hours per pound parameters?

Thanks in advance.
Sam U Rye
 

jimsbarbecue

Moderator
225 to 275. Baby backs can be anywhere from three to five hours. Depends on temps and how you like them, how long in foil etc. I would do the first 2 hours then foil for a hour then without foil until they pass the toothpick test.
 

scooter

Moderator
I always go 275 for ribs and I agree with Jim's timeline of 2-1-?. With me, the ? is usually 30 mins for St Louis spares which is all I ever cook. What helped me big time in the beginning is going by temp between the bones. mid to high 190's produced a perfect KCBS tug off the bones. If you want fall off the bone then go up to 205-210. The temp test is not perfect. Ribs that are lean will throw off the temps and give you a lower temp reading. I am in the minority here as most will never recommend going by temp between the bones. It worked great for me but I had a Thermapen which helped dramatically. I recommend you buy one quickly if you don't already have one.
I was never comfortable with the toothpick test. Don't know why just never got the feel of it.
The bend test was pretty reliable. Grab the rack from one end with tongs with the end of the tong in the middle of the rack. Pick up the rack off the grate and let the other end dangle. It should bend and the surface meat nearest the tong end should crack a bit. They're done at that point.

Don't get hung up about having everything turn out perfect! You're in a huge BBQ learning curve now. You will make many mistakes along the way and that's perfectly fine as even the mistakes are edible most of the time! Learn from everything you do right and wrong! And most importantly, keep a detailed log of EVERYTHING you do so you'll be more able to repeat success than failure.
Take lots of pics.
 
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SmokinSteiny

New member
Saw this one pop back up with activity so I thought I'd throw in my 2 cents as kinda an update on my situation. My Traeger when cooking doesn't matter weather will swing 20-30 degrees either way, adjusted the "P" setting with no real change. My 2012 MAK 2 Star General is a champ! I've noticed that she sits about 10 degrees lower then the set temp, which is no problem there easy to adjust temp. Also, the swing is very lil maybe 5-15 degrees usually 5. All and all I believe you get what you pay for!!!

If I wouldn't of found this forum I would of probably still been cooking on my Traeger and pissed off about it's lack of performance.....

Thanks BPS for the forum and Great products!!
 

BBQ Bill

New member
While we're on the subject of pit temps, when it comes to the stick burner guys I see on TV. (I have a built in stick burner too) Why don't they build a fire in a separate fire pit like one for sitting around, and use the embers to load their pits? I see these guys throw logs on that shoots their temps up 100 degrees or more. If they were to just add hot coals they could control pit temp much more accurately. Aren't they suppose to be the "best of the best"?
 

Big Poppa

Administrator
bill the temps dont riose 100 degrees it is a controlled airflow chamber that is choked down when each log is added then opened as the log dimishes...also you dont get the smoke from the embers.
 

stewart040

New member
This is timely for me. I have a GMG Daniel Boone I got last November. It usually fluctuates around 5 degrees. Today I had much bigger swings almost 20 degrees. I did use an Amzn Smoke Tube so not sure if that threw it off.

I have also noticed that my pit readout is usually 20 degrees below what the thermometer says on the grate. I have used both an oven thermometer and a digital probe to verify. Also, when I use the meat probe (works of GMG controller) it also reads about 15-20 degrees lower that the actual meat thermometer in the meat. Is this normal?

Kind of bummer thinking your cooking at 180 and your really cooking at 200.
 

TentHunter

Moderator
stewart040 said:
I have also noticed that my pit readout is usually 20 degrees below what the thermometer says on the grate. I have used both an oven thermometer and a digital probe to verify. Also, when I use the meat probe (works of GMG controller) it also reads about 15-20 degrees lower that the actual meat thermometer in the meat. Is this normal?

If it was just the pit temp that was off, I'd say maybe your temp sensing probe is dirty, but a 20° difference in the meat probe as well seems pretty off to me. You might want to call your dealer.
 

stewart040

New member
Thanks. I called the dealer and they will send a new meat probe.

After I did a long slow smoke at 180 (and had these wild variations), I bumped it to 250 to finish it off in the foil. At 250, the pit and thermometer almost matched. The pit also held at +/- 3 degrees like it always does. I'm thinking that maybe my GMG does not like cooking at 180, even though it says it can. Next time I will follow the advice on the on the BPS brisket thread and try 225 the whole time. I used an Amaz-N Tube for more smoke and got an excellent smoke line, so I don't think I will waste the time and pellets on going lower than 225 in the future.

Ted, I see you have a Stoven. I got mine last summer, its what got me started on pellet grilling.
 
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