Temp Controllers: Smokers, Fermenters, and Mashes, OH MY! #homebrew

I’ve been playing with temperature controller ideas for a while.  But the need really came to me this spring.

One of the many advantages of living in the Pacific Northwest and brewing beer is that we basically have ale fermentation temps year round.  Bit cool in the winter, move the carboy inside.  Bit hot in the summer?  Find a cellar room, or wait a day for summer to pass.  So unless you are lagering, the pressing need most homebrewers have for temp control doesn’t hit until  you want to dial a beer in, or you are a gadget freak…

Last spring my wife decided to go look at smokers.  I was thrilled!  Paleo diets for spouses are awesome to induce this kind of behavior (previously she did not like BBQ, let alone smoked meats and veggies).  The only problem was I knew this would invoke a 5-6 hour research project for me, and it did.  I spent the time reading reviews on sites like Amazon and I found a simple hierarchy to smokers:

  1. Gas/charcoal — Better for chicken since it can go higher temps, worse for fish
  2. Electric — Better for fish, harder for chicken, but easier to control the temp.
Both had issues with access: how many doors you opened to put in more wood or water, as well as cleaning.  Metal cabinets do not hold heat as well as ceramic..
I liked the idea of smoking for long periods of time, but not leaving an open flame near the house. So I looked into Electric and the order seemed to be:
  1. Temp Control
  2. Time Control
  3. Remote sensing
  4. Multiple Thermometers
  5. Temperature Range
  6. Alarms
  7. Weatherproofing
As you add each of those items in, the price goes up.  And weatherproofing was probably the most important issue.  If you read 1-2 star reviews of the products you will almost always see the review is for a purchase over a year, and things started breaking, especially the controls, even more so when the author lived in the PNW.  The more electric controls and sensors and displays, the more things broke.  This explained why so many people I know, round here, with smokers, do it on their front porch:  it is the only truly covered area for many of the houses!  So this meant paying a lot of money for a smoker, or getting a year out of it (bringing inside after done is just not going to happen).

That’s when it hit me, I have need for temperature control for brewing (Mash temps, natural Lacto souring, Saisons), as well I wanted to start cooking sous vide, and I already made a remote temperature sensor for the hot tub.  So clearly I just needed to make a temperature controller that would meet all of these needs and then make it remote accessible! Well 6-7 months later, I’ve succeeded 🙂 More in future blogs.

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