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2nd attempt at a cook with it and still struggling, with the Smartfire! (Sealing the Proq Solved it)!

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Did a 15 hour cook with it the weekend, still not perfect and I am struggling to get an even 225F with it over that time. First basket of lumpwood lasted about 7 hours and didn't really get above 215F for that first part of the cook (the fan was on for most of that 7 hours as well), switched to ProQ cocoshell briquettes for the second half, second basket gave a steady 225F for 3 hours of the remaining 8 hours of cook, but varied between 200F and 260F for the rest of the time.

For the first part of the cook, the 2 remaining vents were fully open and the second hotter part only one vent was slightly cracked open? Used sand for the first time as well, due to the length of the cook.

I am sure i have got to just find the right technique and settings, but struggling at the moment to find the right option. Also couldn't get it to pick the wifi up in the normal position I have my smoker and had to bring it nearer the house, which was a bit disappointing.As there is only so much you can do at 11pm in the pitch black to try and sort it.

smartfire.thumb.png.1f700a2d9559ef6ff8fde8a84fe2f980.png

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27 minutes ago, sotv said:

I am sure i have got to just find the right technique and settings,

I feel the same at the moment,  I'm thinking of buying some lave rock (small grade) to try in the bowl.  Could your problem be you changed to sand, used the SF and a long cook??? it may be any one of these??? will watch to see how it turns out.

Ice.

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Weber briquettes. Worth a try? It is a learning curve but you will get it dialled in. Well done so far. Of course there is some variation as the sun shines and wind blows etc. I do not worry to much about some variation.

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3 hours ago, sotv said:

Did a 15 hour cook with it the weekend, still not perfect and I am struggling to get an even 225F with it over that time. First basket of lumpwood lasted about 7 hours and didn't really get above 215F for that first part of the cook (the fan was on for most of that 7 hours as well), switched to ProQ cocoshell briquettes for the second half, second basket gave a steady 225F for 3 hours of the remaining 8 hours of cook, but varied between 200F and 260F for the rest of the time.

For the first part of the cook, the 2 remaining vents were fully open and the second hotter part only one vent was slightly cracked open? Used sand for the first time as well, due to the length of the cook.

I am sure i have got to just find the right technique and settings, but struggling at the moment to find the right option. Also couldn't get it to pick the wifi up in the normal position I have my smoker and had to bring it nearer the house, which was a bit disappointing.As there is only so much you can do at 11pm in the pitch black to try and sort it.

smartfire.thumb.png.1f700a2d9559ef6ff8fde8a84fe2f980.png

What BBQ are you using?

Might be worth investing in a Wi-Fi range extender (I had similar issues and this solved them).

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I have the ProQ Frontier Elite 2016 model. Have spoken with yourself/rep? before buying and they said it should be fine with the daisy wheel attached and just fit the cake tin adaptor over it. But I have noticed that when you do up the screw though, it pulls the adaptor across slightly, and though it covers the holes, it doesn't create a perfect seal and there is a gap between the wheel and the adaptor, and although not a huge escape of air from it, you can feel it  coming from of  the rim. Considering if that is why the fan is working so hard in some circumstances and if removing the daisy wheel via the rivet is actually the way to go? But if I do that there is no coming back from that really, if it still doesn't seal properly

I can buy a wi-fi extender, but  the first cook it did drop the signal for about half an hour during the cook but worked ok for the rest of the it and found the wifi ok. I am 100 yards from the Openreach green box and have 78 Mbps fibre broadband and a strong signal on fibre. I use the smartfire on the 2.4ghz at 20mhz bandwith. My old Maverick worked ok, but I do have the smoker about 125ft away from the router, but as you say an extender maybe needed.

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1 minute ago, sotv said:

I have the ProQ Frontier Elite 2016 model. Have spoken with yourself/rep? before buying and they said it should be fine with the daisy wheel attached and just fit the cake tin adaptor over it. But I have noticed that when you do up the screw though, it pulls the adaptor across slightly, and though it covers the holes, it doesn't create a perfect seal and there is a gap between the wheel and the adaptor, and although not a huge escape of air from it, you can feel it  coming from of  the rim. Considering if that is why the fan is working so hard in some circumstances and if removing the daisy wheel via the rivet is actually the way to go? But if I do that there is no coming back from that really, if it still doesn't seal properly

I can buy a wi-fi extender, but  the first cook it did drop the signal for about half an hour during the cook but worked ok for the rest of the it and found the wifi ok. I am 100 yards from the Openreach green box and have 78 Mbps fibre broadband and a strong signal on fibre. I use the smartfire on the 2.4ghz at 20mhz bandwith. My old Maverick worked ok, but I do have the smoker about 125ft away from the router, but as you say an extender maybe needed.

Ok great...

If you bend the vent tab up, towards the middle of the vent, the cake tin should fit flat against the base... locate the vent hole that will keep the cake tin in position and then attach using the screw.

What Pit have you got it set to? see attached images. Make sure it's set to ProQ Frontier.

All other vents on the base should be closed. Top vent 1/4 open. This allows the SF to control the airflow, by the looks of the graph your temps were fluctuating all over the place, I think this is caused by air coming in from elsewhere.

Don't run it with water in the pan, as this will have the water and the SF fighting each other for temp control (water in the water pan is designed to keep the unit at around 220 - 250F. Use sand, or a dry foiled waterpan.

Settings.png

Settings 2.png

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Will try that with wheel. I do have the top vent fully open, so will close that to 1/4 open and close the other 2 vents fully, but as I said in OP I had to have the 2 bottoms fully open just to get to 215F with the first basketful. I know that lumpwood without the smartfire comfortably got to 225F in the past, plenty of times and maintained it with just one bottom vent 2/3rds open and the top vent fully open so don't think it is the restaurant lumpwood I use being the problem.

It is set up for ProQ Frontier in the BBQ drop down menu

Thinking out aloud, have I put to much sand in the waterpan filled it about 2/3rds full of builders sand? .

Can't think of any other reasons for the problem. as i said 225F with a waterpan of water for over 2 years has been no real problem for me, never struggled certainly in warm conditions to get there and maintain it for 4 hours, just thought the smartfire might extend it a bit by burning all the charcoal in the basket, before  temp starteddropping off rather than 65-75% I got without the smartfire, before temperature started dropping off iyswim

p.s. Is sand usable more than once, as first time really used it (gone rock hard. after the cook) or put fresh in every time, it was covered with foil so no grease contamination, just gone quite solid

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4 minutes ago, sotv said:

Will try that with wheel. I do have the top vent fully open, so will close that to 1/4 open and close the other 2 vents fully, but as I said in OP I had to have the 2 bottoms fully open just to get to 215F with the first basketful. I know that lumpwood without the smartfire comfortably got to 225F in the past, plenty of times and maintained it with just one bottom vent 2/3rds open and the top vent fully open so don't think it is the restaurant lumpwood I use being the problem.

Let the SF do the work from the start, set up minion method and the other 2 vents closed. I doubt charcoal is the issue, but if Lumpwood has been sitting for some time it does absorb moisture. usually the fan will ramp up to about 30F before the desired/ set temp (100%) then back off until it reaches the desired temp. Looking at the graph it appears that there were a few times the lid was opened, try to avoid opening the lid until it's got up to temp.

7 minutes ago, sotv said:

It is set up for ProQ Frontier in the BBQ drop down menu

Great! That's often my problem as I run several different types of smoker and forget to change the setting.

 

9 minutes ago, sotv said:

Thinking out aloud, have I put to much sand in the waterpan filled it about 2/3rds full of builders sand?

That should be fine. The more sand in the pan will just increase the time it takes to get up to temp. I run mine around a 3rd - Half full. It's fine to re-use the sand if it's been foiled (no contamination).

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Thanks for your help, will see how the next cook goes and update. I would be interested, if you remember, to see a picture of how you have loaded the charcoal in the basket before lighting. To see if it is done any different to how I do it.

As i said, it never really got above 215F for the first part of the cook, and most of the lid openings were 2 different meats with different cook times, so one added 90 minutes after first one and the extra probe needed, loading of a 2nd basket of charcoal all done by torchlight (not the easiest) 😀  and some spritizing of the pork shoulder in the latter stages of the cook along with wrapping and needing to remove goat shoulder 2 hours before the pork.

Not easy doing 2 pieces of different meat, 1 for the first time and not something I would try again, I don't think. 😀 But catering for 20 odd adults at my grandsons 2nd birthday, thought I would give it ago

p.s. Noticed the fan was operating between 4-10%  at 230F sometimes when I was only aiming for and it was set to 225F? on the second basket of charcoal

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Not sure how to upload short videos, as I have some that show my method of lighting the ProQ Cocoshell, but I'll try and remember to take some pics next time. I'd suggest doing a dry run (no food) just to see if everything I've suggested works.

9 minutes ago, sotv said:

p.s. Noticed the fan was operating between 4-10%  at 230F sometimes when I was only aiming for and it was set to 225F? on the second basket of charcoal

I think the SF was a bit confused by air coming in from other areas :)

 

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5 hours ago, Mack said:

Not sure how to upload short videos.

 

You can not load a video direct.

Load to YouTube then copy and paste the code in to the Forum.

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So, for what its worth (after all, this is Ian's kit!) my experience is this.

For 225F I use 1/3rd of a pan of sand (foiled) and a terracotta saucer (also foiled. Normally, this catches the drips etc and is the only part that needs cleaned up. By cleaned up i mean throw away the foil and put some more on). The sand might clump up as it is dries, but shouldnt be a problem. My top vent is open a small amount (2-3mm maybe?) , bottom 2 vents open a very small amount (1-2 mm). Wind gusts will affect the temp, and you can get small rises as a result (it forces more air in the open vents).  

I use Pro Q coco charcoal and with the above settings, i can get more than 14 hours. There was (a small amount) of fuel left after this. 

April.thumb.png.aa3354273b89ab696c36282a30655cd3.png

You will get it dialled in and you will be away!

Phil.

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Thought I would just try a burn using it last night with a little success, but not brilliant. But got a bit more understanding of it and will try a basket of briquettes later today, to see if that is any better.

Followed the tips I had been given on here. . Bent the vent tab back to create a better seal, Added 6 lit chunks of ProQ cocoshells to opposite end of basket to the smartfire, closed all vents on the bottom and cracked the top vent 1/4 open.

IMG_20190702_162150441.thumb.jpg.f2200a037e19396d700ad0e271017be2.jpg

 

This is my graph from the burn

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Took a while to get it to 225F it plateaued around 150F after about 90 minutes, could see it wasn't go to get any higher anytime soon so lifted the stackers allowed some air to ignite it a bit more and put a few unlit coals over the burning area, climbed to 225F pretty quickly after that. (Will add some unlit coals to the 6 lit proq ones I added at the start, next time as I think that will probably help.

From 1807-2137 worked brilliantly, you could see the smartfire working to keep it at a steady 225F which it did and all was good, then all of a sudden it dropped off and needed a manual save as it lost nearly 50F in a matter of half an hour, so lifted the stackers off again and it started climbing. Lasted about 90 minutes before fading out again (gone to bed by then, so no more I could do).

Got up this morning had a look at what was left in the basket

IMG_20190703_062714118.thumb.jpg.2f745e49d1cc5f2755251db31e5c7ea7.jpg

I would estimate nearly half a basket of untouched lumpwood. If I had been awake, I could have saved it, by cracking a vent or something, but bought the smartfire hoping it would be able to keep a burn going with no interference from me.

Learnt a few more things today with the kind help of the posters on thread. A few charcoals can get it going, the vent set-up did give a very steady 3.5 hours of burning at 225F. Getting beyond that is my next trial with some briquettes as I used to get 6-7 hours without the smartfire before. 

 

 

 

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Sotv, it looks to me like you haven't got enough of the charcoal going to start with. Also I would have put the lit charcoal right near where the air comes in from the SF (hard to tell, but from what I can make out you've got it on the opposite side).

You may have a bad batch of Lumpwood, or it's got too much moisture in it, this can happen when it's been sitting around for quite a while, either at your home, or in the shop you bought it from.

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Wondering if the smartfire, just isn't suited to 225F and 250F + is a more realistic operating target for it.

I am used to cooking at 225F in the majority of cases and my ProQ even on hot days like today and it operates quite happily at 225 +/- 5F for 4 to 7 hours before temperature drops off

I have changed my techniques of lighting the charcoal in the basket and the vents to what I am used to but temperatures seem to climb way past 225F every time

I have done 2 further tests today with ProQ Cocoshell Briquettes the first with sand in the pan and it climbed to 282F and maintained that for over 1 hour, gave up on that test. Emptied all that out and started again with a full pan of water and it has been at 285F for over 1 hour now. I have never reached beyond 250F in over 2 years with a full waterpan and nearly all the time hit and maintain 225F with ease, with my ProQ.

I am absolutely stumped to why this is happening and after being a confident cook on my ProQ and how it works. I feel I have gone back to being a novice, that doesn't know what he is doing, all very frustrating and disappointing tbh

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I can imagine the frustration @sotv. I am confident you can run at 225F because i do it. 

Post the graphs up. Lets see what it was doing.

You are seeing a different issue now than with the lumpwood. Clearly the coco is burning hotter/more consistently just too much!

Before, it wasnt burning enough and needed even more help!

What would your normal vent setup be before the SF? What were the vents set to for these tests?

 

Phil.

 

 

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As running almost consecutive test with the one from yesterday, tried cropping and at least managed to show the current test with water and the end of last one with sand

test3.thumb.png.bf03fa84027d23472a8d224c2f0188d6.png

 

1st test was at 11am ish 2nd test was at 1351 with a fresh basket of proq briquettes and about a dozen lit Cocoshell briquettes, from the previous basket. I have just opened both vents over 1/2 each in frustration and just something to do, more than anything  😀 as started with both closed and top 1/4 open it has started to drop to 249F currently and held that for 20 minutes  from 280F but to have to wait 3 hours before you can reach not a perfect, but a suitable cooking temp isn't ideal in my book and I want 225F anyway.

The dip at 3pm approx was to top-up the waterpan  again and try to let some heat escape as I could see the continuous temp climb, and have never experienced  280F with a waterpan in all my time of using it?

I'm just a little peed off, at the moment, with a burnt tip off finger, from changing basket 😀 and having to pay £1100 for a new clutch and flywheel on my car. but tomorrow is another day, and I feel such a beginner all over again at the moment 👍

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1 hour ago, sotv said:

As running almost consecutive test with the one from yesterday, tried cropping and at least managed to show the current test with water and the end of last one with sand

test3.thumb.png.bf03fa84027d23472a8d224c2f0188d6.png

 

1st test was at 11am ish 2nd test was at 1351 with a fresh basket of proq briquettes and about a dozen lit Cocoshell briquettes, from the previous basket. I have just opened both vents over 1/2 each in frustration and just something to do, more than anything  😀 as started with both closed and top 1/4 open it has started to drop to 249F currently and held that for 20 minutes  from 280F but to have to wait 3 hours before you can reach not a perfect, but a suitable cooking temp isn't ideal in my book and I want 225F anyway.

The dip at 3pm approx was to top-up the waterpan  again and try to let some heat escape as I could see the continuous temp climb, and have never experienced  280F with a waterpan in all my time of using it?

I'm just a little peed off, at the moment, with a burnt tip off finger, from changing basket 😀 and having to pay £1100 for a new clutch and flywheel on my car. but tomorrow is another day, and I feel such a beginner all over again at the moment 👍

I am sure we can crack this. Sorry in advance for the long post. 

So first, the amount of fuel you lit was at least double the amount i have ever used. Next run, try 6 cubes. My first ever attempt was with 2! And it still worked, just took more than an hour to get up to temp! Did you buy the 10kg pack of coco or the camping 3kg pack?

@Mack @ProQ-Ty Are the coco cubes the same size? I read somewhere they were not. (https://hotsmoked.co.uk/charcoals/proq-cocoshell-briquettes.html) I did not realise this. I order the camping packs because i prefer the smaller pack sizes. The info i read suggested that the 3kg cube size is half the 10kg cube size. If that's the case and you have the 10kg size you might only need 3 cubes !!!!

Next, i have never used water in the pan with Smartfire. I had already moved over to sand before Smartfire. I realised i could never achieve a full overnight cook with water in the pan. 

Vents. I found the photos from my first ever test i did with Smartfire. This was my top vent. IMG_20190417_094945.thumb.jpg.7d0e53772022638c02d4af737daf102b.jpg

The others were fully closed. Afterwards Mark @ Smartfire suggested to me to open the other two bottom vents 2mm because the fan on its own was struggling and working very hard to keep 225F. (I know all this because i posted my experience on FB and his comment was on there!) You can see that on the graph here. 

Screenshot_20190417-151915_Smartfire.thumb.jpg.adcbaacd8961cb73f09ad1738513e74d.jpg

You can see how hard the fan worked to go from 2 cubes of coco to 225F and then had to work quite hard to keep it there.

This was with 1kg of fuel. (The 3kg packs are in 3 x 1 kg plastic bundles inside) You can see the gap on the far right where i placed the lit cubes. 

received_2057493287885782.thumb.jpeg.cfe23d6e84e7ca45e911a3d5d16b37a5.jpeg

The next picture was actually from the next day, but i would have done exactly the same. Its only more recently i went up to 6.

1946161672_IMG_20190418_164229(1).thumb.jpg.d1dc660747a1c2ba2b4eb9a7c17f66d4.jpg

So.....based on my experience, a few cubes of coco, sand in the bowl, a top vent similar to my photo above and the other 2 vents open 2mm, you should get a better result than that! 

I've got my fingers crossed for you.

Sounds like you had a rough day. It's easy to overlook things and miss the woods for the trees. :) Lets see what tomorrow brings. 

Phil.

PS One last thing. This is the layout of my SF vs top vent. IMG_20190419_201344.thumb.jpg.3bfb006cc66d51b09603653e7d7f50a9.jpg

They are on opposite sides. You can see the SF near the bottom left and top vent at top right. I am not sure if this is important. But i did try one cook with the SF at the front under the top vent to make my probe cables neater. I struggled with that cook. I had temps all over the place massively struggling to get up to temp and then overshooting. I think it was the only thing i changed. On the next cook, went back to above and i have been stable since. I would love to know if this is actually a thing or coincidence. Phil.  

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@Phlashster  words of wisdom mate....I'm taking all of this on board ready for my first cook with the SF....your experience comes through clear...just hope that @sotv comes out the other side and gets it sorted,  this maybe me in a weeks time....😨.

Ice.

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Thanks  ice and Phil for your detailed post, put today's experience down to learning how not to use it.

I did use the camping pack cocoshell cubes today, 2 x 1kg packs per burn, 6 lit ones on the first cook and around 10-12 on the 2nd all put next to the Smartfire this time as per an earlier advice post. Switched from sand to water on the second cook. Maybe putting them so close to the Smartfire  is why it got up to 280F (never known it go so high with water in a waterpan before)?

I do tend to have the top vent over the smartfire position, so will try switching it 180 degrees next time. Had both vents fully closed, (cracking them did drop it from 280F finally) so will try both couple of mm open next time, It did drop to 225F after 5 hours but only held it for 2 and a half hours (fan having to work hard 70-100% constantly on for the last 90 minutes to keep it above 220F) and finally dropped off at 2113 with the fan at 100% and 200F so switched it off. So basically got 2.5 hours cooking temp I wanted for a 7.5 hour burn.

As I said I would expect to get well over a 6.5 hour cook from a 7.5 hour burn time , doing it manually. So going backwards not forwards with it. Not giving up yet though, just hope it isn't the case that the smartfire works better with the 2018 model and isn't at it's best with the 2016 model? Such a big outlay if this is the case.

Do you use 2 packs of cocoshell in the basket now or still one pack as per picture and just use 6 lit cocoshell briquettes instead of the 2 I remember seeing a picture in another thread, you posted and it looked approx 2 packs iirc?

I was a bit frustrated with everything today and the news of the car just finished me off I think😀 Not sure I will do anymore testing as those cocoshell briquettes don't come cheap and used nearly 5 x 1kg packs today I will . Think just cook some ribs on Saturday and see  if I can get the magic constant 225F for 7 hours, that I want and indeed used to get before that damn orange thing entered my life.😀

 

 

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20 minutes ago, sotv said:

Do you use 2 packs of cocoshell in the basket now or still one pack as per picture and just use 6 lit cocoshell briquettes instead of the 2 I remember seeing a picture in another thread, you posted and it looked approx 2 packs iirc?

The picture showed just one pack of 1kg (I am reasonably sure). It was my test burn. I normally put as much as i can fit in basically. Its about 4kg using my haphazard loading method. Once the cook is finished, i close all vents, remove the Smartfire and place the orange rubber snuffler in the adaptor end. The fire extinguishes and I can reuse whats left next time.  

When you do want to do a test next time, just use 1kg. On my test run, i got over 4.5 hours of usable cook time out of it. Limit your costs. 

I hope we get this cracked for you fella. The two together make for an amazing bit of kit.

Perhaps Ian or Ty can comment for you, if there is any difference with the 2016 vs 2019 model of Frontier that might be affecting things. 

Phil.

Edited by Phlashster
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14 hours ago, Phlashster said:

@Mack @ProQ-Ty Are the coco cubes the same size? I read somewhere they were not. (https://hotsmoked.co.uk/charcoals/proq-cocoshell-briquettes.html) I did not realise this. I order the camping packs because i prefer the smaller pack sizes. The info i read suggested that the 3kg cube size is half the 10kg cube size. If that's the case and you have the 10kg size you might only need 3 cubes !!!!

They're different sizes, the 3kg packs have smaller cubes.

10 hours ago, Phlashster said:

Perhaps Ian or Ty can comment for you, if there is any difference with the 2016 vs 2019 model of Frontier that might be affecting things. 

There's no difference to how the 2 versions operate, so this shouldn't be a factor.

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1 minute ago, Mack said:

They're different sizes, the 3kg packs have smaller cubes.

Thanks Ian for confirming.

I never realised that. I have only ever had the camping packs. :) @sotv also has the camping size, so no variable there. 

I am very happy with how they burn. Are they suitable for ceramics? I know traditional wisdom is not to use briquettes in ceramic because of the amount of ash. Your coco produces tiny amounts though. Any other issues in ceramics?

Phil.

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1 minute ago, Phlashster said:

I am very happy with how they burn. Are they suitable for ceramics? I know traditional wisdom is not to use briquettes in ceramic because of the amount of ash. Your coco produces tiny amounts though. Any other issues in ceramics?

Yes they are fine for use in ceramics... You're right the major reason people advise against briquettes in ceramic is the issue caused by ash which clogs airflow. If your getting ash from briquettes this means that the manufacturer has used fillers (could be just about anything, including cement 🙄) Our briquettes are 99.999% coconut with a very small percent being a natural binder. This does make them a bit more difficult to light, but we've discovered that being square is not a bad thing 😁 https://www.dropbox.com/s/g8799662iewy6w2/Lighting ProQ Cocoshell Briquettes.mp4?dl=0 (Hope the link works, we're working on editing a proper version which we'll upload to our YouTube channel).

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