Something genuinely good is happening today. It’s nice to be able to say that. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve had to step back from the world a little to maintain my own sanity. But today something good is happening. Something that makes me happy.
In May of 2014 I saw a video on one of the Big Green Egg forums by a guy named Eric Reinhart demonstrating a gadget he’d built. It was an automatic damper controller for his Egg. It controlled the temperature inside his egg by controlling how much air was being drawn in to feed the fire. Like any kind of grill, the Egg takes in air from one damper to supply the fire oxygen and expels it out another as really good-smelling smoke. On an Egg (and other similar kamado-style cookers) the air goes in on the bottom and out the top. One of the reason people love this style cooker is that they’re very fuel-efficient. The heavy walls (typically ceramic or very thick metal) allow a very small fire maintain a temperature for a long time. I’ve gone longer than 24 hours on less than 9 lbs of lump charcoal and had fuel to spare.
I have heard tell of people who can set the dampers once and walk away until it’s time to pull the food off the next day. I am not one of those people. I can dial in a temperature that will hold for about six hours before it starts wandering. Realistically, I’d probably do better just to leave it alone and let the thing find it’s own equilibrium, but I’m not that person either. I mess with things. It’s what I do. The gadget I saw Eric demonstrating neatly solved the problem. I wanted one. So I emailed him to find out what the deal was.
The deal was that this was his hobby. He had a full-time job that kept him busy and (I later learned) a daughter on the way. He was exploring the idea of building a few of the things and I asked him to put me on the list. I was completely paranoid about an announcement email going to spam and missing out, so every six months or so I’d email him to see what was happening. He’d always respond quickly and reassure me I’d not missed out. He’d been busy. Life is life , after all.
Then one day he emailed me (and it didn’t go to spam! Yay!). He was finally pushing ahead on building some units and asked if I was still interested. “Oh HELL yes!” I thought, though I was slightly more restrained in my response. But only somewhat. There are other temperature-assist units out there. What they have in common, though, is that they force air into the smoker using a blower. People who use them love them, but it somehow seems like cheating to me. It’s not. There is no “cheating.” There’s not a rulebook.1 It’s just a personal preference, but it’s the one I have and I’m going with it. I wanted to hold out for a passive system.
I learned as we chatted that Eric had joined up with Curtis Pope to refine and, eventually, market the gadget. It had a name now: SMOBOT. And a logo (though it changed later). I got to try out one of the Alpha-stage prototypes and was instantly hooked. I learned that part of the reason the timeline had stretched on was Curtis was working to wi-fi enable the device and that meant the control unit was basically rebuilt. The Alpha was Bluetooth-only, and even that was wonky. You could reliably control it remotely from up to four feet away. As long as you were outside. The Beta units would be controllable via wi-fi. When I got my hands on an early Beta, I threw together a video they were able to put up on their website to explain what the thing did. Anytime you can use the words “robot apocalypse” in a project you know it’s going well.
It was definitely a beta unit. New software would be pushed out, and sometimes we’d get an email a day or so later saying “Um. You might not want to do that update if you haven’t already.” It only happened a couple of times, but it was still a work in progress. I’ve pretty much quit using my Egg without the SMOBOT attached. The Beta units are powered by two 9V batteries and the original leads were terrible. Eric came up with better ones and I sent mine back to him to be retrofitted. I made sure I did it when we were traveling so I wouldn’t have to be without the thing when I wanted to cook.
A little over a month ago Curtis and Eric contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in cutting their Kickstarter video. I jumped at the chance. Some of the copy from my original video made it into this one, but this is a lot more polished project. I guess I should disclose that I have gotten paid for this, but the negotiations were pretty much “whatever is fine.” These units are also going to be more polished. The Beta cycle taught a lot of lessons. You’ll be able to power it using anything that can charge a cell-phone, for example. The wi-fi has always been solid, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been done with it using an upgraded chipset.
So the Kickstarter is live as of now. I think I’ve told everyone I know who has a kamado-type smoker, but in case I’ve missed you: BUY THIS!
1Please don’t yell at me if you have a blower-type controller. Your happiness with what you’re doing is all the justification you need to use what you like. Seriously. I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, because … well … you just aren’t. This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one.