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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cardboard Smoker - Alton Brown Style

This has been quite the ordeal. Not building the smoker, mind you. That was easy. For instruction on building your own cardboard smoker, please refer to the Good Eats episode Where There's Smoke, There's Fish, and jump to about 12:40.
Anyway, it was the hot plate giving me the trouble. Finding one was hard enough. I wanted to buy one at a store and didn't want to wait for shipping, but where to find them? I tried Ace first, which Alton had suggested on Twitter. Nope. Then I tried Lowe's, and they were telling me hot plates were sold mostly at places like Fred Meyer and Target. Luckily, I found one at Fred Meyer: this model , which had some decent reviews, but one major flaw: A safety feature that automatically shut off the machine when it got to a certain temperature. I tried smoking the fish regardless (I'm doing the trout application, found here) but when it turned off, the smoking would stop, and the internal temperature of the box never reaches/reached 160, where it needs to sit at in order to cook/smoke the fish effectively.
So, here lies the dilemma. The fish is not cooking - we needed an immediate fix. We couldn't buy something else at the store - there was nothing. The only other option was to open it up and see if we could remove the temp auto shut off. Justin and I have very little experience with electronics beyond basic computer components. This was actually much simpler, as there is no computer chips involved.

This is how it looked after we fixed it

This is what we had to remove in order for it not to shut off. But it also connected the other wires together. So, we had to take the wires out of the protective case and wrap them together

This is a pic of how the sensor looked in the unit. It was just screwed in. Those four wires u see above it were attached inside the box, before

Crude, but effective. Hopefully it works and it won't burn up or auto shut-off any longer

So, as of right now, I'm smoking my trout. I think it's working. Still need to get the box up to 160 degrees.

Wish me luck! If this works, I'm moving up to some bigger items, such as Salmon, and eventually, Pork Butt - if I can get the little hot plate to reach 220.


We were completely wrong lol. Well, not completely. It still auto-shut off, and we realized that it was because of this little nipple-shaped piece near the knob. It would begin to bend as the heat rose inside the unit, which touched another piece, thus separating them and cutting the electricity. So, we thought it would be a simple fix: Bend out that piece of metal so that they would have no chance of touching. However, I believe that stopped the unit from being able to vary its temperature, and the only way to turn it off was to unplug it. (Also, we put the temp sensor back in and put the wires where they belonged, because we knew that wasn't the problem) It worked for a while. The box even got up to about 180 degrees accidentally (it still skyrocketed even after I unplugged it), but then, it just died completely. Not even after it cooled down would it start again. So, we looked inside. Nothing was melted or burnt. It had to have been the sensor. The thing about removing the sensor though, is that you can't just remove it - it breaks the connection to the other wires. So, when we removed the sensor, we rewired the unit back up (using thermal crimpers to hold the wires together this time) and it turned on just fine.

I think I was lucky that I had really thin pieces of fish!! Even with all the hassle this created (after it stopped functioning, I just took the fish out and cooked it under the broiler for about 3 minutes) the fish was cooked and tasted smokey and was so damn delicious. I would do this again in a heartbeat. Now that the unit functions, I'll try my hand at smoking more trout, and as long as that works, I'll move onto salmon!

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