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Noetic Toe
30 August 2014 @ 06:25 pm
I took the day off to babysit a pair of shoulders. This is the first thing I've cooked on Sparky, so I kept it close to the vest; I didn't want to inflict anything inedible on anyone else.

That was definitely the right choice. Sparky worked great, but the 'cue turned out only slightly better than moderately good. Definitely not the best I've ever done. It was flavorful and wonderfully smoky, with a deep burgundy smoke ring, but large parts of it were tough, chewy -- plainly, it had not gone long enough.

I blame technology. I cook primarily by instruments and I used new, untried, uncalibrated, cheap probe thermometers. I need to invest in higher quality tech. The probes were reading 200+ degrees when I called it done, which should have resulted in fall-off-the-bone tender, sweet, lip-smacking meat.

For fuel, I used charcoal, spiked with hickory and pecan chunks for smoke production. I did a simple overnight rub on the shoulders, mostly paprika, salt, and brown sugar.

The day started early: I was out of bed by 6:00 a.m. getting things together. My goal was to have butts on the grill by 7:00 a.m. Alas, that proved to be fairly optimistic. By 8:30 a.m., I had finally hit the target temperature and the meat was on the grill.

And then I settled in for the long wait.

I have a small grill set up beside Sparky on which I kept a chimney-starter full of live coals ready at all times. I replenished the coals and smoking wood about once an hour, on average. I kept the air vent fully opened and the chimney baffled for the entire session, manipulating the temperature by the amount of burning coals added at a time.

My strategy was to heat up to about 300 degrees and then let it coast downwards, hitting it with some fresh coals whenever it got down below 240 or so. I imagine the average temp hovered between 250 and 275 most of the time. I never spiked above 290 after that initial burn and never fell below 235 (I hit the bottom when I left the lid off the firebox for an extended period).

I had (the cheap) probes at the grill level opposite the chimney and in each shoulder. I have a spreadsheet with temperatures recorded every 15 minutes throughout the session. The session lasted for 10 hours.

In the middle of it all, we cranked out a batch of ice cream (Cookies and Cream, aka vanilla with crushed Oreo cookies) and I whipped up a batch of Lexington-style dip.

We ate purchased slaw. Don't judge.
Noetic Toe
09 August 2014 @ 12:29 pm
Several have wondered about my classification of Sparky as "she". I refer you to these words of the late, great Ian Fleming, in his classic work of gender studies entitled Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964):

It's funny but all bits of [functional structure] that people love are made into females. All ships are 'she.' Racing drivers call their cars 'she.' Same thing with airplanes. Don't know about rockets or sputniks—somehow they don't seem very feminine to me—but I bet the rocketeers and sputnicators, or whatever they call the sputnik experts, I bet they call their spaceships and things 'she.' Odd isn't it? I used to serve in a battleship. Gigantic great ship stuffed with guns and radar and so on. Called the George V. But we called her 'she.'
Noetic Toe
08 August 2014 @ 11:52 pm

Today was the day! I took a break from the office in order to fire up Sparky. I wanted to season Sparky's innards and verify whether adequate heat will flow through the structure for proper barbecue making. I needed a stretch of several hours with no rain and today was the day.

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Bottom line: I can cook on this! It is responsive to the controls. It will not take an inordinate amount of time or fuel to heat up and keep the temperature going for 12 hours (at least, during warm weather). It looks like my design works as intended. It will be a few weeks before I have time to actually try it out with a couple of pork shoulders, but I'm looking forward to it!

Noetic Toe
03 August 2014 @ 09:53 pm

And, with the advent of sunshine, and the waning of the raining, Phase II has come to its belated end. The steel lids are painted a lovely, gleaming obsidian black -- as black as space, as black as the recesses of my benighted soul. (That's hyperbole: my soul is not all that benighted and I'm working hard on illumination.)

Everything is ready for ... FIRE! Phase III commences as soon as I have a stretch of weather-free, work-free time.

Noetic Toe
03 August 2014 @ 05:45 pm

With a brief respite from the eternal rain, I managed to get the lids scraped of the recent rust patches, cleansed with mineral spirits, and painted with Rust-Oleum's high temp paint.

Noetic Toe
31 July 2014 @ 03:05 pm

Sparky's steel covers were delivered today, courtesy of my bro-in-law. They look lovely! A coat or two of high-temp Rust-Oleum will have them ready to roll.

If I can get then painted on Friday, I'll be set to launch the initial fire test on Saturday.

Noetic Toe
25 July 2014 @ 08:17 pm
A little work this afternoon and evening has Sparky almost done. I added the pea gravel to the bottom of the smoking chamber, filled in various gaps and crevices with rock wool batting, and adjusted the fit of the chimney, etc. It all looks very good.

I decided to go with steel plate for lidding the firebox and smoking chamber. Those pieces are being fabricated. Once I have them in hand, I will paint them and THEN I'll do a several hour test run -- with fire! -- to season the internals and get a feel for how she takes the heat and smoke.

And then ... fleshmeats! (Probably after August 15.)
Noetic Toe
24 July 2014 @ 07:30 pm

And the grate is installed.

Noetic Toe
21 July 2014 @ 08:29 pm
Phase II is piecemealing along. But got the smokestack today.

photo (5)
Noetic Toe
19 July 2014 @ 10:08 am
A few interlocutors asked for more pics of the innards of Sparky. Herewith, then, they are:

This is the cooking surface. The grill grates are installed. There should be plenty of room in the smoking chamber for smoke and heat to circulate freely around the meat. You can see the open channel for the chimney at the top. The block that will channel the heat and smoke through from the firebox is visible below the grates.

photo 2
Here's a view of the firebox with the top off. The channel into the smoking chamber is visible in the center. The block on its side at the bottom will provide air intake. It is partially obstructed by the floor of the firebox and will be further blocked if need be to provide regulation to the fire.

photo 5
Same firebox. Different angle. Apologies for the shadows.
photo 4
Firebox again, with a closer view of the construction detail. A cast iron grate will sit on the floor of the firebox to hold fuel.
photo 3