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  1. #1

    Default the Geek with Fire Command Center...

    [Disclaimer: This got long winded awful fast. If you don’t like all the verbiage, just scroll down to the pictures]

    Something that has been my passion for over a year now, started out as a simple data log. I wanted something that I could capture my temperatures and store in a database so I could understand this whole “plateau” thing. That lead me to use a probe to measure the pit temperature….which led me to the question: If I know what the temperature is…and I know what I want it to be, why can’t the computer figure out how to make the magic happen for me? I did some extensive research (I mean like no sleep for days at a time) and started learning about things like PID loops and commercial systems like the BBQ Guru and the Stoker.

    I liked the idea of the Guru (either the Stoker wasn’t out yet, or I never saw it), but I thought, for the money, I wouldn’t get everything I wanted. I wanted to control multiple pits, log/trend temperatures, set remote alarms, and I knew it wouldn’t stop there.

    So I started designing a command center application to accomplish the data log and temperature control first. I’ve come a long way since my first prototype, which was a servo duct taped to a table, controlling the knob on an electric skillet. I now have a “snap on” unit that has a servo actuated damper and a blower fan (all be it, way to large) that can be controlled from 0 to about 150 CFM.

    Here’s the rig (here's a short video of it running). It uses a single machine bolt to mount to the existing damper hole, so I don’t have to modify/damage what I mount it on:


    The command center application is written in VB.NET 2005. It currently can read temperatures from Thermocouples (I have 2 very accurate TC’s) and el cheap-o thermistor probes I get out of the really cheap digital oven thermo’s. I like the TC’s because they are very accurate and fast. Thermistors are nice because they are inexpensive, but not very accurate and I find that they can take up to 60 seconds to return a measurement. Anyhow, here’s a shot of the application:


    The data log was probably the easiest part of the project. I save all of the temperature readings to a local Access database, usually every 30 seconds. Here’s the results of one of my earlier tests. The spikes are when I lifted the lid to spritz the food. The stager at the end is when I raised the desired temperature (click the image to see the full log):



    I’ve added a couple of things to the program that I’ve tested only in the “bat cave” and not actually on the smoker. Will hopefully get to them in the spring:
    1.) “Bang-Bang” type relay controller for an electric grill (for cold smoking)
    2.) An automatic spritzer rig (code named: the Pee Shooter) to spray the meat down every so many minutes, so I don’t have to lift the lid and lose heat and smoke.

    All of this works very well for me, and I never smoke without it. It isn’t for everyone, and I certainly don’t want to take away from the essence of BBQ. I make sure that whatever I automate NEVER takes away from the result, which is great food cooked right; never sacrifice the quality!

    I’m hoping there are others out there doing similar things. I enjoy this kind of thing and look forward talking with others who feel the same way.
    Josh
    AKA: Geek with Fire


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Posts
    448

    Default

    Geek that is an AWESOME machine. What a ride learning how to get all the controls going in the same direction. Thanks for sharing your information with us. Hope we have some more gaget geeks out there too.

    Q

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    DFW, Texas
    Posts
    2,661

    Default

    I've heard of Greek Fire, but this is my first experience with Geek Fire!

    Looks like an interesting system, much more complicated than I could have come up with. Obviously, this is for personal use at this point. Are you looking at marketing it, like the Guru systems? You might have a good product there, if you an make it at a reasonable price.

    Looking at your graph, the blue line is smoker temp and pink is programed temp. Is the yellow line the blower speed? Only thing missing is a graph for meat temp. Might be interesting to see a graph of temp alongside the other info. Maybe have a feature to change cooker temp to hit a specific meat temp at a preprogrammed time.
    Rob - TX Sandman
    Plank Owner, TQJ

  4. #4

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by TX Sandman View Post
    Looks like an interesting system, much more complicated than I could have come up with. Obviously, this is for personal use at this point. Are you looking at marketing it, like the Guru systems? You might have a good product there, if you an make it at a reasonable price.
    Probably at some point, but if I ever do, I will just sell the software. I'm trying to make it do things in such a way as to allow people to whatever they need. Unfortunately, the hardware I'm using works well, but is expensive:
    I/O Card = $80
    (2) Servo controllers = $30 (ea)
    (2) Thermocouple controllers = $80 (ea)
    (2) Thermocouples = $50 (approx. ea)
    (1) Speed control = $25
    (1) Servo = $15

    Now, when I started, I only used the I/O card and 1 servo controller and servo (so, about $125 + enclosures and such). Now, I really don't use the I/O card unless I'm smoking a bunch of stuff and need to read several different temperatures (the card will let me measure 8 more probes). So, now I'm using about $260 ($340 with the I/O card).

    Quote Originally Posted by TX Sandman View Post
    Looking at your graph, the blue line is smoker temp and pink is programed temp. Is the yellow line the blower speed? Only thing missing is a graph for meat temp. Might be interesting to see a graph of temp alongside the other info.
    The purple/magenta is the desired temperature
    Dark blue is the current temperature
    Yellow is the meat temperature

    Quote Originally Posted by TX Sandman View Post
    Maybe have a feature to change cooker temp to hit a specific meat temp at a preprogrammed time.
    I do have a really crude process in the program to operate with events. Like "when probe 1 hits 140 set pit temp to 250". Or "maintain pit temp 300 for 30 minutes then pit temp 225". I just add records in the access database and the program picks it up. It ain't pretty, and at this point, not controllable from the front end of the program, but works well.
    Josh
    AKA: Geek with Fire


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    DFW, Texas
    Posts
    2,661

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Geek with Fire View Post
    Probably at some point, but if I ever do, I will just sell the software. ... Unfortunately, the hardware I'm using works well, but is expensive:
    Very common with 1st generation equipment. Maybe you could figure out a way to use it with standard digital therm probes.

    The purple/magenta is the desired temperature
    Dark blue is the current temperature
    Yellow is the meat temperature
    Ah, I see. I thought maybe it was blower speed, blowing faster as fuel burns out. Jag at the end being where you added more unlit fuel to get the higher temps. Thanks for clearing that up.

    I do have a really crude process in the program to operate with events. ... It ain't pretty, and at this point, not controllable from the front end of the program, but works well.
    Sounds great to me. Wish I lived closer to see this in action. Thanks for posting the video link so I can at least see it digitally!
    Rob - TX Sandman
    Plank Owner, TQJ

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    South of Peculiar, MO
    Posts
    6,737

    Default

    All right Geek! I like it! Maybe now I won't darken your door step to check out this rig.
    Then again, keep your eye out for an old fat guy on a lava red Harley dresser. Can't tell.
    "If you can't smell smoke it ain't a barbeque joint" peculiarmike

    TQJ Plankowner

    "Life's tough.....It's even tougher if you're stupid."
    - John Wayne

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    Tulsa
    Posts
    1,328

    Default

    hey josh,
    I'm sure you'll be developing pits for the commercial industry soon. Despite my "purist" beliefs,
    I'm always intrigued with the new gadgets.
    Any progress on the spritzer?
    VDS aka "IT"
    Brinkman Smoke N Pit Pitmaster
    Kegerator(retired)
    OUTDOOR GOURMET 11-PIECE COMBO FRYER SET
    KCBS Certified BBQ Judge
    Formaly "The Q Joint" BBQ Team (The Butt Man)
    There's no place like 127.0.0.1
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    Jeremy
    .

  8. #8

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by glued2it View Post
    Any progress on the spritzer?
    Nope, the pee shooter is still in the bat cave. Probably pick it back up in the spring when it won't freeze. I guess I could switch to straight rum, but the thought of generating fine mist of pure alcohol in to a fire pit scares me.....then it excites me
    Josh
    AKA: Geek with Fire


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    USA
    Posts
    97

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Geek with Fire View Post
    Nope, the pee shooter is still in the bat cave. Probably pick it back up in the spring when it won't freeze. I guess I could switch to straight rum, but the thought of generating fine mist of pure alcohol in to a fire pit scares me.....then it excites me
    Yeah! The visuals are good!

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    Posts
    1

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Geek with Fire View Post
    I/O Card = $80
    (2) Thermocouple controllers = $80 (ea)
    Can you provide information on the I/O Card and Thermocouple controller you are using.

    Thank you

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