See a Cheap Smoker get an Automation Power Up

[Jason] learned a lot by successfully automating this meat smoker. This is just the first step in [Jason’s] smoker project. He decided to begin by hacking a cheaper charcoal-fed unit first, before setting his sights on building his own automatic pellet-fed smoker. With a charcoal smoker it’s all about managing the airflow to that hot bed of coals.

Custom mount for servo was actually one of the more challenging things to get just right.

[Jason] started by making sure the bottom was sealed off from stray airflow, then he cut a hole into the charcoal pan and attached a length of steel pipe. The opposite end of the pipe has a fan. Inside the pipe there is a baffle separating the fan from the charcoal pan. The servo motor shown here controls that valve.

The pipe is how air is introduced into the smoker, with the fan and valve to control the flow rate. The more air, the higher the temperature. The hunk of pipe was left uncut and works fine but is much longer than needed; [Jason says] the pipe is perfectly cool to the touch only a foot and a half away from the smoker.

With the actuators in place he needed a feedback loop. A thermocouple installed into the lid of the smoker is monitored by an Arduino running a PID control loop. This predicts the temperature change and adjusts the baffle and fan to avoid overshooting the target temp. The last piece of hardware is a temperature probe inside the meat itself. With the regulation of the smoker’s temperature taken care of and the meat’s internal temperature being monitored, the learning (and cooking) process is well underway.

There are many, many smoker automation projects out there. Some smokers are home-made electric ones using flower pots, and some focus more on modifying off the shelf units. In a way, every PID controlled smoker is the same, yet they end up with different problems to solve during their creation. There is no better way to learn PID than putting it into practice, and this way to you get a tasty treat for your efforts.

Hacking your grill for performance and features

Summer is winding down, which means that sales will be beginning on grills at stores all over the place. For those that enjoy the outdoor cooking experience, a nice new grill is always tempting. If you’re anything like me though, it can be hard to justify the expense. All you need is some fire right? Well, not if you want to smoke foods, or do long controlled jobs, basically anything but quickly searing something.

[Joe Brown] over at Gizmodo found himself wanting to upgrade from simple coals/wood to something fancier, but really didn’t want to shell out the $2,000 that he found would be necessary to get the mic features he wanted. So, he set out to find a good platform to mod and added the features he wanted separately. The end result was a nicely performing out door cooking appliance that only cost him $540.

This hack is on the simpler side, but his modification really did add some great features. Many of you could build the addons from scratch, which makes me wonder, how would you improve a grill, dear Hackaday Reader?