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December 20th, 2018, 10:14 am
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The goal for these articles is to give an understanding of how the Yoder Smokers Pellet cooker(s) were designed to function in relation to heat, temperature and cooking, as well as the resultant effect of introducing pan(s) and placement of meat into the cooking chamber. The findings and explanation in this article are directly related to conversations and correspondence that the Yoder Smokers Customer Service Team has fielded from thousands of customers around the world.

First and foremost, photos and test results are from a well used Yoder Smokers YS640 that was built in early 2012. This cooker has cooked thousands of pounds of meat, burned through tons of pellets, and has been the guinea pig for engineering and programming changes. It is currently running U29 firmware and configured like the cookers currently leaving the factory, with the exception of the original prototype of the 2 piece diffuser. The pellet fuel that is exclusively used is a 50/50 mix of BBQR's Delight pecan and cherry. In consideration of this, if the reader attempts to exactly duplicate the listed results, there will be differences and variations in the data, but the overall findings should be the same.

Cooking food requires heat. When you fry bacon in a pan on the kitchen stove, the "heat" comes from the burner directly under the pan. The bottom of the pan transfers this "heat" directly to the bacon so that it may cook. This direct transfer of "heat" allows for precise control of the cooking process, as there is direct contact between the bottom of the pan and the bacon, with no air gap to skew the transfer of "heat". With trial and error you may find that setting the dial on the stove top burner to "4" allows the best frying experience, in the timeframe you find acceptable.

When you bake a cake in the oven, the "heat" comes from a burner that is either in the bottom or the top (or both) of the oven, with the cake placed some distance from the heat source on a shelf. The "heat" is not directly applied to the cake, but rather radiates toward the cake through an air gap between the burner producing the "heat" and the cake. The "heat" may be influenced by changes to the air gap, so the effective "heat" that cooks the cake may deviate up or down. This deviation of the effective "heat" is what prompted the introduction of the convection oven, which introduced a mixing fan to circulate the "heat" in an attempt to neutralize the "heat" deviations caused by the air gap. When following a cake recipe, you may find that the suggested cook time is too short, or too long, which illustrates that setting your oven to 400 degrees as the recipe states, may or may not be accurate for your oven.

The Yoder Smokers pellet cookers are a hybrid, somewhere between the two cooking methods outlined above. The introduction of "heat" into the cooking chamber comes from a large firepot that is offset on the left side of the cooker. The resultant "heat" and flame are directed up and out of the firepot at an approximate 45 degree angle. This" heat" and flame come in contact with a metal diffuser plate that spreads (diffuses) the" heat" and flame in all directions, with the majority being forced down the length of the diffuser plate to the right side of the cooking chamber (chimney). Correlate this process to the direct transfer of "heat" like frying bacon in a pan on the top of the stove. This is called cooking from the bottom up (if the "heat" is introduced into a cooker from the top, it is called cooking top down)

Now that we have a "heat" source in the cooker, we need to discuss how this "heat" is applied to the cooking process. First, there are fans that blow into the cooking chamber, that provide oxygen to the fire, and create a positive air pressure in the cooker to force the "heat" and flame across and down the heat diffuser, through the cooker and out the chimney. These fans are somewhat like the mixing fan in a convection oven, but dissimilar in that rather than functioning just as a "heat" mixing fan as in a convection oven, they function as an integral part of providing oxygen for fire combustion and also pressurize the cooking chamber to direct airflow through the cooker and out the chimney. Cooking grates are mounted above the "heat" diffuser plate (the "heat" source), creating an air gap. Correlate this to cooking in an oven with an air gap between the heat and the cake, as explained above.

When cooking, there needs to be a manner of controlling the process, and this is where temperature control is essential. When pan frying, the temperature control is at the physical "heat" source and directly affects the cooking surface in the bottom of the pan and ultimately the cooking process.

When cooking in an oven, unlike pan frying, the temperature control is approximate given the size the oven, i.e., size of the air gap between the "heat" source and the food being cooked. If the oven "heat" source is on the bottom of the oven, the air directly above the heat source will be hotter than the air at the top of the oven. All ovens have vents that bleed off heat, which is just one of the reasons the temperature in an oven is not consistent throughout (remember convection ovens were created to help with this). When setting the oven to 400 degrees, where in the oven is it actually 400 degrees, directly above the "heat" source, in the middle of the oven, or the top of the oven? If the oven is actually 400 degrees at the center grate position, then cooking below the center grate will be hotter, and cooking above the center grate will be cooler (most ovens are vented from the top). Knowing where the actual temperature correlates to the temperature you set on the dial is essential, as cooking at a higher temperature will potentially be destructive and cooking at a lower temperature will require time modification to compensate. Temperature is gradient, which means that if the center grate location is 400 degrees, then a cake pan that is 3 inches tall on the center grate will potentially have 400 degrees applied to the bottom of the pan, while the top of the pan will be somewhat cooler (convection ovens help to overcome this).

Yoder Smokers pellet cookers introduce "heat" into the cooking chamber from the bottom of the cooker, so they are classified as "bottom up" cookers. This means that the temperature is hottest in the bottom of the cooker and cooler at the top, just like a kitchen oven. Because of this, the hottest spot in the cooker is at the lower grate surface, i.e., closest spot to the "heat" source that food may be placed to cook. The controller is programmed to display a calculated approximation of the physical lower grate surface temperature, using proprietary algorithms and programming, and the output of the thermocouple.

There are many more variables that need to be taken into consideration when discussing temperature in a cooker. One of the most important is achieving temperature normalization in the cooker. This is where the entire metal mass of the cooker achieves a sustainable temperature without being a parasitic drain to the generated "heat" utilized for cooking. Once normalization has been achieved, the metal mass of the cooker will promote more stable temperatures in the cooker, and help to speed temperature recovery, like after opening the lid. Normalization can be achieved in a Yoder Smokers cooker because of the thick and heavy metal mass, which is a huge plus, especially in colder ambient temperatures.

To sum up; The Yoder Smokers cookers are "bottom up" cookers, the controller displays the approximation of the physical grate surface temperature, like a kitchen oven the temperature in the cooker is gradient from bottom (hottest) to top (coolest), the heavier metal mass and achieving normalization are both huge advantages.


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