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Getting Frustrated with Temperature Control

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  • Satchelpig
    Club Member
    • Sep 2018
    • 24

    Getting Frustrated with Temperature Control

    I am new to using a Kamado, and after reading reviews, I bought the SNS deluxe earlier in the year with the idea of it being my primary charcoal-fueled device. In particular the ability to use it in “old school” Kamado style, as well as with a true 2-zone setup, held special appeal. As far as I could tell, the choices in that group amount to the SNS or Primo, and SNS is what I picked.

    Since that time, I have found things I think it does particularly well (pizzas and kettle-style grilling), but I have thus far failed to use it effectively as a smoker, which is at least theoretically supposed to be a strength. I repeatedly hear that temperature control of Kamado is a supposed strength, but either I have totally failed to figure it out, or there’s something going on with my cooker that I need to solve.

    Which brings me to yesterday and some ribs I ruined because I could not maintain a consistent, low-and slow temperature. I was shooting for 225-250, and as you will see in the attached chart, no matter how I set the vents, I could not get it there and keep it there. In hopes that someone might be able to help, I want to specifically explain how I set the cooker up, which I believe is consistent with the instructions I’ve seen for this and other Kamado grills.

    (1) Because I was cooking 3 racks of ribs, I needed the full surface available, so I went into traditional Kamado mode.
    (2) I filled the basket completely with Kingsport lump briquettes, and deposited two paraffin cubes, one left-center, one right-center, and lit them.
    (3) After giving the coals 10-15 minutes to heat up, I put the diffuser plate over them, closed the lid, and put an ambient temperature sensor, connected to a FireBoard, and asked it to shoot for 250 degrees, but to alert me if the temperature went over 275 or under 200.
    (4) My FireBoard is connected to a 12V fan that is securely installed into my lower vent. When I use it, I close the bottom vent entirely, and set the upper vent to a fairly low level — 1 or 2 at the most. In theory, this should allow the fan to regulate the bottom vent airflow to maintain a proper temperature.
    (5) The result: total chaos, high temperature alerts all day and night, and overcooked, mediocre-at-best ribs with overdone bark, despite having started out looking promising. No matter how far down I choked the vents, I couldn’t get the temperature down. If you look at the chart I’ve attached, you’ll see that the temperature is moving all over the place.
    (6) The most glaring illustration of this was post-cook, when out of curiosity I left my ambient probe in the cooker after all vents had been totally shut and the fan disconnected. What happened, as can be seen in the attached chart, is that the temperature actually went UP, dramatically, and stayed there for hours, not only not containing the temperature but wasting charcoal.

    I can’t figure this out and need some help.

    I have three theories.

    (1) despite the tight seal on the 12v motor, there’s some way that air is getting through the lower vent even when it’s closed. The reason I don’t think that’s the case is because (a) I can’t find any evidence of that, and (b) the reason I added the blower in the first place is that I was having trouble maintaining consistent temperatures.
    (2) There is something wrong with my technique that is not consistent with the instructions or good practice that I don’t understand.
    (3) there is some kind of issue with the cooker that is enabling air into the chamber even when the vents are fully closed.

    I would very much appreciate any tips/guidance advice, because I want to use this cooker to its potential and I’m frustrated.

    Attached Files
  • LA Pork Butt
    Charter Member
    • Dec 2014
    • 5297
    • Grew up in New Orleans, lived in Texas for 20 years, lived in Mandeville, LA for 22 years. I now liv

    #2
    While I don’t have the same Kamado cooker or controller, let me suggest a fourth possibility. There is something malfunctioning with either your controller or your ambient probe. I have two different controllers and and have on two different occasions had something go wrong with the controller one time and the ambient probe another. For something like ribs which would fit into the 6 hour range at 225, you could test things by manually adjusting you vents. On my Big Green Egg that would mean starting a small fire in the center and adjusting the bottom vent open 1/4” and the pebbles on the top daisey wheel set at 1/2 to 1/4. Also, I use lump charcoal which produces less ash than briquettes. I would be interested in what you discover, since if I ever win the “Give Away” the SlowNSear Kamado would be in the running.

    Comment

    • Satchelpig
      Club Member
      • Sep 2018
      • 24

      #3
      Originally posted by LA Pork Butt View Post
      While I don’t have the same Kamado cooker or controller, let me suggest a fourth possibility. There is something malfunctioning with either your controller or your ambient probe. I have two different controllers and and have on two different occasions had something go wrong with the controller one time and the ambient probe another. For something like ribs which would fit into the 6 hour range at 225, you could test things by manually adjusting you vents. On my Big Green Egg that would mean starting a small fire in the center and adjusting the bottom vent open 1/4” and the pebbles on the top daisey wheel set at 1/2 to 1/4. Also, I use lump charcoal which produces less ash than briquettes. I would be interested in what you discover, since if I ever win the “Give Away” the SlowNSear Kamado
      would be in the running.
      Thanks. I can certainly test the probe to be sure, but as you can see from the attached photo — used with a pork butt done in a pellet smoker just a week prior that came out beautifully — it seems to measure consistently and logically elsewhere. Also, of course, is the matter of the fuel, which continued to burn.

      Attached Files

      Comment

      • Red Man
        Club Member
        • May 2018
        • 1007
        • Western Washington

        #4
        I don’t have a kamado, but the temp spiking after the vents are closed makes sense to me. By closing the vents, you abruptly stop venting the heat, causing a rise in cooker temp. The coals go out and the temp begins to slowly drop. A kamado will come down in temp very slowly.

        Comment


        • LA Pork Butt
          LA Pork Butt commented
          Editing a comment
          Satchelpig Once you over shoot on a Kamado it will take a long time for temps to come down. Over shooting by 100 could take 30 minutes to an hour + to come back down to your target. I am not sure if the dynamic changes using briquettes verses lump. I do know lump burns faster and hotter than briquettes.
      • DavidNorcross
        Club Member
        • Nov 2017
        • 1428
        • Virginia
        • Rec Tec RT-680
          Coleman RoadTrip LXX
          Javelin Pro Duo
          More Cast Iron than I care to admit

        #5
        I have the same cooker. I can honestly say that I have not used it without the SnS. There is a learning curve for sure but I have found it to be very forgiving. I read your post a couple times but I am reading from my phone so may have missed it. What was the temp when you closed the lid just after starting the coals? I have found that I leave the lid up longer and then when I close I have both bottom and top vents open. As the temps begin to rise I will reduce the top vent slightly and then when I am 50 degrees from temp I cut the top draft way back and control using the bottom vent until I hit temp. Once I hit temp it holds great for me. If I have had a frustration it is reaching the higher temps of 350 and up for longer cooks.

        let me know your thoughts. I will also tell you that their support is fantastic.

        Comment

        • Texas Larry
          Club Member
          • May 2017
          • 1371
          • Wilson County, TX
          • Kamado Joe Bog Joe 2
            Weber 22” Premium
            Weber Jumbo Joe
            JoeTisserie
            Thermoworks Smoke
            Thermoworks 2K Thermocouple
            Thermapen
            Thermapop
            Thermoworks Dash
            Too many gadgets, accessories, and tools
            Favorite beer: Alaskan Amber

          #6
          The kettle/SnS combo has been a go-to for me for a while. Yesterday it held in a 16 degree range (232-248*) for over 6 hours for a small pork shoulder roast. Very little fiddling and had about half the fuel left. Had some moderate wind. Have run it longer. Have not yet sprung for a fan controller. Might have to for a really long cook.
          Last edited by Texas Larry; May 24, 2020, 12:46 PM.

          Comment

          • smokin fool
            Club Member
            • Apr 2019
            • 1688
            • Mississauga, Ont

            #7
            My BBK is famous for LA Pork Butt theory
            once the temp runs away it takes forever to cool down
            Learning how to use the dampers takes awhile on Kamado’s at least on mine it did and it’s still throwing curve balls
            Last thing is temp wheelhouse Kamado’s have a mind of they’re own my Keg prefers to cook at 300-325. It’s a miracle if I can hold a 250 for a full cook maybe get down to 280 but that’s acting alot
            Its new your going to have to learn each other

            Comment

            • LA Pork Butt
              Charter Member
              • Dec 2014
              • 5297
              • Grew up in New Orleans, lived in Texas for 20 years, lived in Mandeville, LA for 22 years. I now liv

              #8
              smokin fool if you start too large of a fire it can be difficult to get into the low range. I usually start mine with a BBG like starter square set on edge running left to right and buried with just the top showing. I’ll light the two exposed corners and when it flames out I put in the diffuser in and set my vents. It will take about another 30 minutes to stabilize at 225.

              Comment


              • smokin fool
                smokin fool commented
                Editing a comment
                I’m much the same lighting my fire but I can be accused of using too much fuel once and awhile
                Another problem with my Keg it’s an older unit dampers are missing rivets and the gasket let’s air bleed thru
                I’ve learned to live with it
                I’ve stopped using a diffuser get better results without it seems
            • LA Pork Butt
              Charter Member
              • Dec 2014
              • 5297
              • Grew up in New Orleans, lived in Texas for 20 years, lived in Mandeville, LA for 22 years. I now liv

              #9
              smokin fool its time for you to win the ”Give Away” or buy a ceramic Kamado. I’m pulling for you.
              Last edited by LA Pork Butt; May 24, 2020, 07:15 PM.

              Comment


              • Argoboy
                Argoboy commented
                Editing a comment
                He is in the wrong country to win anything.
            • IowaGirl
              Club Member
              • Dec 2018
              • 595
              • Northeast Iowa, USA

              #10
              There are marked differences in your initial starting conditions. I wonder if this was the reason why the controller did a poor job on the rib cook, but worked fine for the other cook.

              By the time you activated your controller for the rib cook (that's the point that you circled with the note "On", right?), the initial temp for the rib cook had overshot your target temp and I suspect the fire was going pretty strongly.

              You can see the controller tried repeatedly to slow down the rate of combustion, but every time the temp reached your low setpoint of 200F, the controller was forced to open up before the fire was truly smothered enough to start behaving itself.

              If you had (a) manually readjusted the coals to reduce the rate of combustion or (b) temporarily reduced the low set point so the controller had enough time to truly slow down the fire, either of these actions might have gotten the fire tamed enough that the controller could then effectively control.

              For the other cook, it looks like you activated your controller well before the temp had risen into the desired control range, so the controller could rate back the combustion early on. That let the temp remain in good control before the fire got burning too strongly. Try it again and get the controller on board before the temp has a chance to run away on you.

              Comment

              • SmokeyGator
                Club Member
                • Jul 2016
                • 825
                • Miami, FL
                • Primo XL
                  Cyberq controller
                  Sierra Nevada IPA

                #11
                I haven’t ever used anything but lump in my primo. For low and slow I start off with a small fire. I don’t use starters, a propane torch or cheapie harbor freight heat gun works.

                with the heat diffusers in place the fire will get very hot before the grill is up to temperature. If you start with a large fire by the time the heat plates absorb enough heat to radiate it the fire will overshoot the desired temperature. What I do for 225 is leave the fan damper and top vent wide open with the heat plates in with a very small fire and only 1/2 of the grate in. At 150-175 I lift the plate on the fire side, add the wood, replace the heat pate and put in the other grill grate. Then I set the top vent to the daisy wheel at 1/2 and close the fan damper until I don’t see smoke leaks from anywhere except the top vent. Then let it slowly get to 225.

                once it’s there give it 15 or 20 to settle in then throw in the food. At this point I’m not sure the fan damper does as much, the top vent controls airflow. As long as the fan damper isn’t closed or set lower than about 1/3 open the fan should be able to supply enough air.

                its a bit of a learning curve.

                Comment


                • Skip
                  Skip commented
                  Editing a comment
                  I agree SmokeyGator , I've had trouble maintaining a 225-250 temp in my BGE with a controller until I lit a smaller fire and closed the fan vent to 1/2 or less so the fan didn't over feed air to the lump charcoal. You'll get there Satchelpig .
                  Last edited by Skip; May 25, 2020, 05:38 AM.
              • Satchelpig
                Club Member
                • Sep 2018
                • 24

                #12
                Originally posted by IowaGirl View Post
                There are marked differences in your initial starting conditions. I wonder if this was the reason why the controller did a poor job on the rib cook, but worked fine for the other cook.

                By the time you activated your controller for the rib cook (that's the point that you circled with the note "On", right?), the initial temp for the rib cook had overshot your target temp and I suspect the fire was going pretty strongly.

                You can see the controller tried repeatedly to slow down the rate of combustion, but every time the temp reached your low setpoint of 200F, the controller was forced to open up before the fire was truly smothered enough to start behaving itself.

                If you had (a) manually readjusted the coals to reduce the rate of combustion or (b) temporarily reduced the low set point so the controller had enough time to truly slow down the fire, either of these actions might have gotten the fire tamed enough that the controller could then effectively control.

                For the other cook, it looks like you activated your controller well before the temp had risen into the desired control range, so the controller could rate back the combustion early on. That let the temp remain in good control before the fire got burning too strongly. Try it again and get the controller on board before the temp has a chance to run away on you.
                Just to clarify: the second cook shown was on a pellet grill, and "ON" signifies adding the meat, not when I turned on the controller.

                Comment


                • IowaGirl
                  IowaGirl commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Thanks for the clarification. I wasn't sure. Take what I had to say that works for you and leave the rest.
              • Satchelpig
                Club Member
                • Sep 2018
                • 24

                #13
                Originally posted by IowaGirl View Post

                If you had(a) manually readjusted the coals to reduce the rate . . .,these actions might have gotten the fire tamed enough that the controller could then effectively control.
                So this and a similar comment from gator about fire size and coal arrangement gave me an idea about the possible problem. As I said I lit the coals with two paraffin cubes spread out, so each had plenty of fuel and together they had access to the majority of the coals. But at a temp that low, that might cover too much area out of the gate to control heat. If instead I used one cube on one side of the tray, and let the fire naturally spread among the coals as necessary to hit the target, control might be easier. I'm running that experiment now.

                Comment

                • Mosca
                  Charter Member
                  • Oct 2014
                  • 3305
                  • PA
                  • Large Big Green Egg, Weber Performer Deluxe, Weber Smokey Joe Silver, Maverick 732, DigiQ, and too much other stuff to mention.

                  #14
                  Originally posted by Satchelpig View Post

                  So this and a similar comment from gator about fire size and coal arrangement gave me an idea about the possible problem. As I said I lit the coals with two paraffin cubes spread out, so each had plenty of fuel and together they had access to the majority of the coals. But at a temp that low, that might cover too much area out of the gate to control heat. If instead I used one cube on one side of the tray, and let the fire naturally spread among the coals as necessary to hit the target, control might be easier. I'm running that experiment now.
                  Exactly this. You started too big a fire.

                  This is part of the normal learning curve for the type of cooker. Things move slooooow with kamados. If you try to hurry them you are not in sync with the tool. Use one cube and plan on an hour to reach your temp. By then you will have a hot small flame front that should hold a rock solid whatever temp you want until it runs out of coal. On my BGE I can move the temp a couple of degrees, like from 237 to 240, by tapping lightly on either vent. Tap it lightly back and a few minutes later it is at 237 again. I’m talking almost imperceptible movement, but the fire perceives it.

                  That’s because the cooker is controlling the fire. Think about that for a second. We aren’t cooking with a kamado. We are cooking with a fire. We are using a kamado to control the fire, but the cooking is being done with the fire. So, keep the fire within the boundary of the tool we are using to control it. In the above example, I can also move the temp from 237 to 337, and it will get there in about 5 minutes... but going from 337 back to 237 will take about an hour, if I shut the thing down completely.

                  I’m not familiar with your fan and controller, but I do use a DigiQ. I keep both the upper and lower vents throttled down pretty low. The Pit Viper fan has an adjustment for that, and I’m rarely over 1/4 open. These things really need very little air. Once the shell heats up, it’s just maintaining what you already have.
                  Last edited by Mosca; May 24, 2020, 11:00 PM.

                  Comment


                  • ecowper
                    ecowper commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Your comment that we are cooking with a fire, not with a kamado is brilliant. And it applies to all cooking, actually. Whether on a kamado, a kettle, a gas grill, or your kitchen stove. You are not cooking with the stove, you are cooking with the heat created by the burner. The stove controls the heat. The heat cooks the food. You have to control the tool and it will control the fire.
                • Henrik
                  Founding Member - Moderator Emeritus
                  • Jul 2014
                  • 4247
                  • Stockholm, Sweden

                  #15
                  I think both IowaGirl and Mosca are spot on.

                  1. Start with a smaller fire. One cube, in one spot.
                  2. Close the lid and start choking down vents well in advance, 50-70 degrees before target temp
                  3. If using a controller, get it plugged in way before, so it gets a chance to monitor how slow/fast the temp
                  goes up during startup
                  4. Turn off the alarms for now, and sit with it to see.
                  5 I would switch to lump charcoal, especially when doing longer cooks to avoid the ash clogging up the vent holes in the bottom.

                  Comment

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