Saturday, September 20, 2014

Some of you may have seen that Chinese amazon/eBay competitor Ali Baba had its IPO this week. Coincidentally, I decided about a month ago to see how good their hardware deals really were. About a month and $30 (including shipping) later, I have 3 of these little pneumatic cylinders and solenoid valves. They seem to work great, and one cylinder alone would have cost me more than $30 at any other vendor I know of. Anyway, the "get cool parts cheap" thing worked out awesome. Any suggestions on what I should DO with these little guys? Once I get the right hose barbs, they should be pretty powerful little actuators...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Cold smoker update

I had mentioned a while ago that I wanted to try using my smoker as an offset firebox, feeding a cold smoking cabinet.  Well, a while ago I got around to giving it a shot.

I built a cabinet out of old wood paneling that used to be in my living room  I drilled a bunch of ~1.5" holes in the bottom, and then layered a couple sheets of aluminum foil over the outside of the bottom, to protect it from the heat of the smoker.  After the first tests, I had to drill a few more holes, but otherwise it works great!  Only current downside is that it's very hard to refill the wood chunk bowl, so you have to make sure you load it up enough for your full smoke run at the beginning (which isn't a huge issue, really).

Here are a couple pics of the setup in action:

and here are some deer and hog sausages I made and smoked (for about 8 hours at 120*F)



Also on that topic, here is the sausage stuffing plunger I made to replace the one that came with my kitchenaid meat grinder:

It works MUCH better than the stock version.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Smoker controller + crock pot = sous vide?

So, for the last year or 2, I've been hearing a lot about "sous vide", which is essentially the process of vacuum sealing raw food, then immersing it in a temperature-controlled water bath at the desired final temperature of the food, for long periods of time (from 20 minutes to 3+ days).  The idea is that you get the meat to the temperature you want for the reactions you desire to take place, and you just leave it there.  It's a bit of an overly french thing, but it always sounded interesting, and shares some DNA with smoking (low quality cuts of meat, cooked low and slow, etc).

anyway, I kind of figured that my smoker controller could totally make a crock pot into a sous vide system.  So I thought I'd give it a try:

I have an aquarium air pump ($13 or so) to help circulate the water and avoid hot and cold spots. 

My first attempt, unseasoned beef shortribs, was delicious!  Tender without being mushy at all, I though the texture was somewhat akin to a good prime rib, pink, flavorful, and generally really good.  It was good enough that I forgot to take pictures...

I've got some beef shanks in there now with some salt and cracked pepper, and I have a bunch of beef chuck with various herbs ready to go in next.  Also, I am excited to try making gravy out of the meat juices left in the bags.

Anyway, I'll update when I have some results pictures, but for something tossed together from parts I more or less already had lying around, I'm really happy with the ease of use and results.

Edit:  here's a nice blurry pic of my delicious beef shanks:

For a cut of meat that's often nearly inedibly tough, this was delicious.  The gravy made from the captured meat juice was great too.  The marrow was the icing on the cake. Very happy with this setup, from both a tastyness-of-results perspective, as well as a ease-of-setup one.