I received a few requests for pics/explanation of the automatic temp control system I have for my smoker. So here we go.
At the heart of the system is a Stoker from Rock’s BBQ. This guy lives in my basement, near the rest of my network equipment. It has several ports for sensors/fans and an ethernet port, through which you can gain access to the data and control the unit via a simple API. The Stoker uses 1-wire type sensors which means that several devices can be on the same bus and be queried and controlled individually by the controller. Because of this, I only need to run one cable (the Stoker uses standard stereo .25″ phone plugs for all of its connections – so I just got a few ends from Radio Shack and some three-conductor wire from Home Depot and made myself a nice long cable) from the Stoker itself outside to my smoker.
Moving outside, here’s what the smoker itself looks like. It’s a Weber Smokey Mountain, and it’s 100% pure awesome. It’s a charcoal smoker (the only way to go), so it takes a bit more tending than a propane/electric smoker would. The product is *much* better, though. The thing is built really tight and as such, a load of charcoal can last 12 hours or more, depending on how hot I’m running the smoker.
The shiny thing on the bottom of the smoker is the blower (which is one of the three devices connected to the Stoker). I have it covered with foil to try and guard it from snow or moisture. I believe this is a 5 cfm model. Here’s a closeup of the blower:
In one of the above pics, you can also see the two thermometer leads entering the smoker. One of those is for the “pit” temperature and one is for a probe thermometer that gets put into whatever beast you’re cooking. Here you can see the business end of each of the thermometers.
Here are all the connections outside. I try to keep them in a ziploc as much as possible to minimize shorts caused by moisture.
For a minimalist, that’s all you’d need to get automatic temp control. One can use the Stoker’s web interface (very spartan, but functional) to set your target temperatures and monitor the temp progress of your meat. I like to take it a bit further, though, so I use a program called StokerLog. StokerLog is, more or less, just a nice “skin” on top of the Stoker’s core functionality. It allows one to remotely control the temp set points of the Stoker and it also queries the Stoker periodically. With the temp data, it can do cool things like generate graphs, send email alerts, Twitter progress updates, etc.
And that’s about it! Though I use the smoker fairly frequently, I really only pull out the Stoker system when I’m going to be doing a really long cook. This weekend, I fired up the smoker at around noon on Saturday and it’ll be running for about 27 hours straight. Needless to say, it’s very nice to have the auto temp control when I’m doing an overnight smoke. It’s also very nice to be able to check on the status of things (via Tweetie on the iTouch) without leaving my bed in the middle of the night.