This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time. Just under two years ago I was on the Egghead Forum. It’s the one of the online crack houses for members of the Cult of the Big Green Egg. While on the site I came across a wholly remarkable video made by a guy named Eric Reinhart. He had built a robotic damper to fit the top of a Big Green Egg. It differed from other smoker controllers I’d seen in that it was completely passive. There was no blower or anything to change the way the smoker worked. All it did was adjust the top damper in order to maintain a temperature.
I love my Egg in that I can easily dial in a temp for the first six hours of a cook. And, to be realistic, six hours covers an awful lot of cooks. But the thing is stupidly efficient with fuel and long, long (12+ hour) cooks are perfectly within reach — if you’re willing to futz with the damper after that six hour window is up. Why six hours? I’m guessing ash buildup, but it’s just a guess. Anyway, I was looking for tips and tricks so I could contemplate such a thing and still have some possibility of getting sleep. The idea of getting up every couple of hours to check on a fire isn’t nearly as attractive as it was a few years ago. And then I saw that video.
I dropped him an email asking what his plans were. The forum thread was already getting lengthy and there was a lot of interest. I emailed him and said I’d be interested in buying one if he ever decided to build them. I heard back from him within a few days and he said he was going to put some together. I told him I was absolutely interested. Nearly two years goes by. We emailed back and forth every few months. He’s doing this on his own time and his own dime and it wound up being more complicated than he thought it would be. It’s really his story to tell and I don’t want to say too much about it. I do know Eric has burned a sizable percentage of some forest in lump charcoal working out the algorithm that drives this thing.
I’ve been fortunate enough to use two units. The first one was based on the original hardware and it was an amazing experience. I’d wanted to just build a fire and see how well it worked, but when I was three or four hours in I was seeing how rock solid it was holding the temperature, I ran up to Kroger and bought a pork butt to throw on. I’d wanted a small one since it was nearly noon, but they didn’t have any. So I got like a six-pounder. My first run at using this thing and I wound up doing an overnight cook. I dropped the temperature from 220 to 190 (took about a half-hour) and let it run overnight. It apparently stayed in a stall all night because the next morning I had to kick it back up to 220 to get it up to it’s target temperature by noon. The fire went 28 hours. The butt was on for 23:45. I was hooked. I am hooked. This thing rocks.
Christmas Eve I got a second unit. It’s essentially the same until that will be going out in April. The software was a little wonky, but I’ve done several really nice cooks with it. That’s what I used in the video. The software issues have been worked out. That’s not to say there might not be more issues lurking. That’s why this is a pre-production beta. Now you can monitor your cook using your smart phone. You can see a near-realtime (+/- 15 seconds or so) graph of the cook (pit temp and two food probes) on a website. The data are archived. It just works. I think one of the biggest challenges they face is getting people to actually trust it and leave the cooker alone. You get so used to screwing around with them it’s hard to just walk away. But that’s what you need to do.
I volunteered to do a demo video as well as some instructional materials for the folks who will be participating in the Beta. I can honestly say I don’t really know what the plans are beyond the beta testing, but I’d love to stay involved with it somehow. Since I’ve hung out a shingle to do instructional materials for organizations needing instructional materials, this is a good portfolio opportunity for me. I’ve gotten to know Eric and his business partner Curtis (who’s doing a lot of the software work) a little bit and they’re good guys. As I said, I don’t know what the plans are but if and when they start selling these things, they are move a boatload of these things. I feel lucky to be able to participate early on.
So with no further ado, meet SmoBot, your smoker robot.