How to DIY modify my electric smoker to control cooking temp.?
August 6, 2009 6:07 PM   Subscribe

I have an electric smoker grill, with 2 setting - on / off. Is there a way to regulate how hot the heating element gets, in order to control the cooking temperature?

I bought a bullet style electric smoker a little while ago, and it works great. The only problem is that I would like to lower the cooking temperature; It smokes about 25 - 50 degrees too hot, depending on how long it's cooking. The heating element, in the bottom of the grill, is basically an over-sized hot plate.

Is there some kind of DIY modification I can make to have more control over the temperature?? I was thinking there would be some kind of gadget/ electronic something, I can put between the wall outlet and the grill's plug to regulate how much electricity is flowing to the hotplate...? I was also thinking of wrapping the heat element in foil, but not sure if that would work either.
posted by savagecorp to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might be looking for a variac.

This has a guy using it for a smoker (scroll down). He says he's found some in the $25-$50 range, but I did a quick search and couldn't find one that cheap.
posted by SAC at 6:35 PM on August 6, 2009

An automatic reset disk thermostat could be wired inline with the element. This is the technology that clothes dryers use and depending on the temperature you want you might be able to source the disc at an appliance parts place.

You also may be able to repurpose an oven thermostat though they are much more money new though a used one would work if you can get one.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 PM on August 6, 2009

I don't have any specific suggestions, but if I were to google for an answer, one of the terms would be "duty cycle"
posted by gensubuser at 6:41 PM on August 6, 2009

posted by 517 at 7:08 PM on August 6, 2009

+1 on the variac/variable transformer doing the job, but they are spendy. Another option might be a router speed control for $20
posted by rama at 8:43 PM on August 6, 2009

Those rheostats are far too wimpy for the wattage an "over-sized hot plate" will pull. As variac guy's page says: "use a dimmer switch for this and you will have an electrical fire on your hands".

Wrapping the element in foil will do nothing: it's still pumping out the same amount of heat.

Variac guy knows what he's doing. Follow variac guy.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:40 PM on August 6, 2009

The following idea might be a tad more expensive than the variac, but much much lighter, more portable, and more awesome. Buy yourself a temperature controller, one of modern engineering's truly magic black boxes.

You input mains power, and a thermocouple, and set the desired temperature with the buttons and LED display. Then, it pulse-width-modulates the heating current which goes to your smoker; using feedback control it quickly heats to the desired temperature, and then locks it there. So, even if the environment changes, or you buy a new smoker, you won't have to re-experiment with variac settings.

Plus! You can buy a controller with extra features, like a timer that will automatically kill the heating after some time. If you need help picking one, or figuring out how to wire everything up, mefimail me. I used one to power this 6kW `smoker'.
posted by fatllama at 1:45 AM on August 7, 2009

I've used two methods -- one overkill (and AWESOME!) and one that makes a lot more sense.

First, you can use a PID controller/thermocouple to drive a solid-state relay to turn on and off the burner and regulate temperature. This gives me about +/- 2 degrees fahrenheit over the course of a brisket, so long as the lid is on.

The other, much saner method I've used is to cannibalize the probe thermostat from an electric fry pan. These are less precise -- you get a 15 degree or so +/- over your set point -- as they are solely On/Off, making no attempt to smooth out the temp curve. To use one of these, wire an outlet into the controller's power circuit -- really easy, just solder onto the pins themselves where the fry pan would plug in. Plug your smoker into the controller, stick the long probe in, and you're good to go.

MeMail me if you need help.
posted by piro at 7:41 AM on August 7, 2009

Thanks for all your answers. Definitely going to check out the Variac, as it seems pretty easy and i don't have to take anything apart.
posted by savagecorp at 8:41 AM on August 7, 2009

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