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SimonP

Callow/Cook4All Mk III first cook

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Posted (edited)

Hi all,

Took delivery of a callow version 3 (two top vents, three bottom vents and a wire-rack-bottom charcoal tray) last week, cured on Saturday and had the first cook with it on Sunday. I thought I would share my experiences in case anyone is thinking about picking one up, and I would appreciate if anyone had any thoughts on where I'd gone wrong.

I picked up what the butcher had available, just as something to try it with - I got a 2.2lb pork shoulder to pull and a rack of baby backs. Both came out fairly enjoyable for a first go, but the ribs really could have been better on texture.

So attached are a few pictures, and here are some issues:

Temperature management

Contrary to what I've read about the original Callow, I couldn't get this one to stay low enough. My aim was 110, but try as I might with vents and even removing a few lit coals, I couldn't get it down that low. The graph attached shows me trying - between 13:20 and 14:00 I got to having all bottom vents pretty much closed and the top ones dialled back as I was running out of ideas. Only when I removed 4 lit briquettes at around 14:20 did it look like coming back down at all, but the damage had probably been done by that point. (The big dip at 15:30 was me removing the pork and ribs to wrap both, at which point the ambient probe was hanging outside of the unit and thus obviously reads wrong.)

  • Fuel: Heatbeads. Started with a 4Kg bag. I just weighed the remainder of the bag, which was 1270, so I used approx 2.7Kg split between lit and unlit minion. I did it by eye, and now realise this might have been too much. Reading the low and slow guide in the manual, it recommends 0.5Kg lit, 1.5Kg unlit, so I was a little over. However, I started with 14 x 40g briquettes lit in my chimney, which is 560g - only just over what the manual suggested, however:
    • I've since read that heatbeads burn hotter - should I start with 9 or 10 lit briquettes next time so I'm less at risk of overshooting 110 when preheating the smoker and then trying to bring it back down? How many briquettes does everyone else start with?
    • My reasoning for choosing heatbeads was that I've always read about the thick smoke given off by coals when first lit is unhealthy, toxic and taints food. With a Minion, this would surely be a problem with the unlit coals. Therefore, I thought I should buy a 'branded' reputable natural briquette, even though I had some basic ones in the garage, so as they lit throughout the cook the smoke would be natural(?). What are everyone's thoughts on this? Would switching to Weber briquettes help? Not quite as hot but still natural (I think...?).
  • Vents. The 3 bottom vents don't seem to fit too well - even when closed, there seems to be a gap around the circumference of the rotating damper that allows air to get in behind. I don't know if this was affecting my ability to regulate airflow. Also, because the mechanism is simply a bolt and nut, adjusting the vent will either loosen or tighten the nut, so in the middle of the cook one vent came completely loose and I had to prop it up with a nearby housebrick to hold it in place. I could add a washer, but this would push the plate even further away from the smoker body. Need to do some work on this.
  • Water pan - started off with about 1L of boiling water. However this fizzled out part way through the cook and then burnt the remaining fats and grease on to the pan. Should have put foil on from the start I guess. I need to figure out how much water to put in and anticipate when it might dissapear so I can refill.

Baby Back tenderness

I aimed to do these 2-1-1, and added brown sugar and a little honey in the foil for the middle '1'. They came out with a flavour I was very happy with, the meat wasn't dry at all, but I wanted it to pull clean off the bone. Instead, it stuck to it - I'm sure everyone knows what I'm talking about.

Here are some things I reckon might have done it:

  • The elevated cooking temperature
  • The cut wasn't very generous. 4 or 5 shiners, not a lot of top meat at all. I understand that, for the UK market, butchers will want to prioritise their loin chops over ribs, but I'd like to know where to get a nice generous rack of baby backs.
  • When I wrapped, I was lazy and put them in a foil tray and covered with foil (with brown sugar and a little honey inside). Maybe wrapping them tight would have been better, with a little apple juice or something as well.
  • I could have done 2-2-0.5 rather than 2-1-1.

It could be that I needed to leave it a bit longer to get the 'flop'. I was trying to decide whether I'd already missed the boat on that and the thin cut of ribs had already tensed up, or whether they would indeed flop. However, given the elevated cooking temp and lack of any pullback, I decided to cut my losses and try again next time.

So there we go - any thoughts appreciated!

Thanks

Simon

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Edited by SimonP

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WOW there's a lot going on here....I'll put in my 2 cents...

 

4 hours ago, SimonP said:

Fuel: Heatbeads.

I use them, but I love good quality charcoal...what works for me in my ProQ great may not work for someone else?. It's a learning curve.

4 hours ago, SimonP said:

Vents. The 3 bottom vents don't seem to fit too well - even when closed,

Most of us have had to work on mods for most makes/models of smokers out there. Use fire tape on any gaps,  the problem with the bolts on the vents are they fitted with a lock nut???

4 hours ago, SimonP said:

Water pan

Most guys I know use sand in the pan,  water is a PITA...you have to refill it and if it burns dry, which it will, you're left with a crap pan. Try sand cover it with foil any drips from the food will hit that, keeps the sand nice & clean.

Baby back.....I don't use them, too small, no meat,  again you'll find guys buying from the online butchers, or local C&C like Bookers I buy their large box of meaty ribs, you get 4 or 5 large ribs full of meat. As for cooking again it's trial & error, when I started I read ribs are best done 3,2,1,  not for me it ain't,  they came out looking like the charcoal in the smoker. I go for 1.5 maybe 2...then 1.....then 1, watching the temp on the probe most the time.

As I said..just my two cents, hope it helps. 👍

 

Ice.

 

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I think Ice’s advice is good.

I would say on the fuel source, Heatbeads are popular by all accounts but they seem to be pricey, I’ve not used them personally. I use CO2 neutral briquettes, I got them at bbqworld at a good price. If you are concerned about the smoke taste then these might be a good idea to use. They are also cheaper than heatbeads so not a bad choice to practice.

How many cooks like this have you tried? There’s still cooks where I get it wrong. Keeping a set temperature isn’t easy and takes time.

I think you might also have to do some modifications on the callow. 

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@Wade is your man for the Callow.

Ribs, at the second stage, I normally foil and add some moisture, like Apple Juice, This way you get a steaming effect in side the foil. Then remove, add sauce if that’s your preferred option, an then back on to form a bark.

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Thanks all. Still regard it as a successful cook and I enjoyed it, I'm just always looking for the next thing to improve on.

17 hours ago, Icefever said:

 the problem with the bolts on the vents are they fitted with a lock nut???

Just a simple M4 bolt and plain nut. A double nut might work, if I can get the tension right. A nylock would be ideal in any other scenario but I guess the nylon would melt! This shouldn't be too hard to solve with some tinkering in the garage.

17 hours ago, Icefever said:

Most guys I know use sand in the pan,  water is a PITA...you have to refill it and if it burns dry, which it will, you're left with a crap pan. Try sand cover it with foil any drips from the food will hit that, keeps the sand nice & clean.

I have a spare unopened bag of basic builders sand in the garage - I will try that, thanks. I did like the water idea under the pretence of keeping the meet moist, but now I think about it, I guess the kind of moisture we like comes from the collagen and fats etc in the meat breaking down during the cook rather than being added.

17 hours ago, Icefever said:

local C&C like Bookers I buy their large box of meaty ribs

Ah yes...I wish I had a card :/

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15 hours ago, Simon said:

Heatbeads are popular by all accounts but they seem to be pricey,

To be honest I found them reduced on a closing down sale at a nearby GoOutdoors by chance and took the punt (Stockport FYI, closing for refurb in approx March, lots of things member discount + another 30% until then). I got them at £5.30 for a 4Kg bag, which seemed a good price. I'll keep an eye on those ones you mentioned.

15 hours ago, Simon said:

How many cooks like this have you tried? There’s still cooks where I get it wrong. Keeping a set temperature isn’t easy and takes time.

This was the first. Indeed, but that's part of the fun of it. I'm treating it as a hobby/craft to learn, rather than wanting instant perfection right away. That said, I don't want to get *too* caught up in the science of it, once I've got a setup and method that works for me then I won't want to mess with it and instead put my time in to trying different cuts and recipes

15 hours ago, Simon said:

I think you might also have to do some modifications on the callow. 

Yes, and the sub-£100 price makes me feel OK about grabbing some tools and patching it up where needed.

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Interesting reading, thanks for the write up. I usually struggle to keep heat up with my mk 1 so it's interesting to hear how things have changed with the latest model.

I would say a combination of overfuelling and leaky bottom vents is definitely a recipe for too much heat. 

I don't have a lot to add on those points that hasn't been said or isn't obvious, but you did mention wondering about minion method giving off thick smoke from coals freshly lighting inside the smoker. It's a very good point, and I've never heard a satisfying answer. I don't do minion, instead I put about 15 coals in to start (roughly I think), then when I want to more I light them in my chimney first and add them all once they have an ash colouring. If it's something that concerns you then you could do the same.

What did you use for logging your temps like that? And some pics of the smoker, especially the bottom vents, might help.

Cheers and good luck with future cooks, I have loved getting to know mine and modding it here and there - nothing hardcore, but it's amazing what a few little tricks here and there can do.

Like smokin monkey says, Wade is the callow guru, will be interesting to see what he might add on this.

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Posted (edited)

No worries - thanks for your input. It just so happens that I finished the first smoke that I was properly satisfied with a few hours before you posted that (4th use of the Callow in total). Things have come some way since my original post.

Re. minion unlit coals - that is a good idea for the future. I've kept with the minion up to this point, but I'm going to switch to your method for the next one. Me and the wife are trying to regulate intake of smoked food, so after two smokes in two weeks, this might not be until later in Summer. One of the things that has put me off this approach is that I only have a full size chimney, which doesn't seem to work quite as well with just one sparse layer of coals in the bottom. I think I might make myself a small one from a large food can and some coat hangers as per videos on youtube, so I can light up smaller batches and add them throughout the cook as you say.

Temp control has improved quite a bit - I got some stove tape from amazon and sealed around the door, which now fits great. I've just learned to manage the air intake as the temp starts coming up and stop it overshooting, it just takes a bit of practice I think. I can't get it to sit stable any lower than about 117, but I'm fine with that. To make this better, I could look at improving the vents on the bottom, but I've kind of learned to live with them - as long as I only turn them clockwise, the torque on the nut doesn't loosen and they do OK. When I upgrade in the future I won't miss them, but for the price, they are fine.

For logging, I just used an Excel spreadsheet, with a graph set to plot data in real time from the columns I'm putting values in. I was working at my laptop on the kitchen table anyway, and the thermopro TP17 was visible through the kitchen window! There is a handy keyboard shortcut (can't remember it right now) to auto-insert the current time, so it's very quick to do ALT-X (or whatever), 114, Enter and carry on. Now that I've got a feel for how the temps react, I've stopped logging it and just head outside once in a while to look at the readings.

So last night I managed to make some ribs I was happy with. Back when I bought them, I had asked the butcher for a rack of spare ribs as opposed to baby back. There was some misunderstanding, as he asked if I wanted ribs from the belly, and so I said yes - I guess they are from the belly, so that will be fine. What I got was a whole rack of spare ribs with the whole pork belly still attached to the top of it! Certainly more than I bargained for, but it was too late to send back - I thought I'd take them and see what happens - I did trim the rind off though. My Mrs sarcastically added "at least you don't have any shiners...?". So yesterday they were defrosted and I had a go, lighting up at about 9:30, food on for 10:30. Had to split the rack in two across both grates to avoid blocking all upwards airflow. I did 4 hours at 115-125, then wrapped with apple juice and back on for 3 hours. At the end, there was no resistance to the probe, so I called them done and let them rest for 20 minutes. After unwrapping, all bones and cartilege pulled out clean and meat was massively juicey, so I now feel some 'closure' on my rib quest!

The only other thing I really need to do now is build a BBQ trolley - with hooks to hang hot cooking grates during meat swaps etc. Maybe a project for the summer.

What mods have you done to yours?

 

 

Edited by SimonP

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