Smoke Generator

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COLD SMOKE GENERATOR

I have been making summer sausage and other smoked sausage products for over two decades and the area that requires the most attention for my humble operation has been applying hickory smoke to the smoker cabinet.  The problem is keeping a good supply of smoke without increasing the cabinet temperature, whereas if your cabinet temperature goes above 165 degrees F. for an extended period of time, you start to render the fat content of the sausage into grease which ruins the sausage. 

External smoke generators have been around as long as folks have been smoking sausage products and some are very pricy and many are just "plain Jane" models aka low tech with marginal results.  I researched the internet and found plenty of YouTube videos showing various designs and ideas and went down the low to middle of the road as far as technology goes.  In a nut shell, you have to have some method to move air, a chamber to hold the fuel source; e.g., wood chips, pellets, sawdust, etc. and a means to ignite the fuel used and to pipe the smoke into your smoker cabinet.  The movement of air in this type of smoke generator is more or less the venturi effect.  If this smoke generator does not perform as expected, I will spend about 400 bucks on a commercial smoke generator mainly used for the sawdust medium.  Since I am creating this page after the fact, that will not be necessary at this time.

I purchased an aquarium air supply, stainless steel canister for the fuel chamber, stainless steel mesh wire, various 1/2 inch NPT pipe fittings, brass hose barb, stainless steel bolts and nuts.  I already had a piece of scrap 3/8 inch outside diameter copper tubing and only had to cut it to the proper length.  You don't have to use a drill press but it makes drilling the holes in the stainless steel canister much easier.

Below is pix of some of the raw materials:

The first order of business was to cut a 3/4 inch diameter hole in the lid of the stainless steel spegatti container for the 1/2 inch NPT iron pipe "T" connection.  I had to remove the small handle that went across the lid that was spot welded in place and used an antique Dremel tool with a friction cut-off blade which worked fine.  I then used a 120 degree single flute countersink to get a hole started, drilled a 15/64 inch diameter hole and used a 3/4 inch diameter Greenlee hole punch to enlarge the 15/64 inch diameter hole to 3/4 inch.  You could use a step drill bit to accomplish the same thing.

Click on thumbnail pixs below for a larger screen view:

GOING BACK IN TIME TO THE 1970s

The above Greenlee 3/4 inch diameter hole punch along with a Greenlee 1/2 inch diameter hole punch was loaned out to a local ham radio operator back in the 1970s and it took nearly thirty (30) years, maybe longer asking him to return them without success.  I finally embarrassed him in front Bill Donathan, proprietor of Smith's Cleaners one day while picking up some clothes and followed the dude home across town and took possession of my hole punches.  He had no trouble finding the hole punches and knew exactly where they were.  He did not have any intention of ever returning those hole punches.  I have had very bad luck over the decades loaning out tools and various things of which many I never got back loaned out as early as 1964 being a set of York barbells, dumbbells, extra 45 lb. weights  and have received all kind of excuses as to their current whereabouts.  I loaned a book that was a study reference for the FCC commercial maritime radio exam while I was in the US Navy about 1967 to a Senior Chief Petty Officer about to retire who was killed in a private airplane crash, of which I never got the book back.  I still remember two animal live traps, steel jaw traps, trapping books and manuals, archery and knife making books, post hole diggers, short handle shovel, car jack, etc., that have acquired new homes never to return.....grin if you must!  I loaned a DeVILBISS EGA-502 spray gun out and when I finally got it back, the threads for the air gage and/or air fitting were stripped out and had to replace the entire spray gun.  I had a "friend" store a 400 pound +- Universal brand commercial food mixer in his out building/barn before 1989 and when I went to get the heavy mixer years later, he could not find it in the barn.....imagine that!  It took both of us to load and unload the large floor model mixer using an incline wood ramp.   That was the end of that friendship as far as I was concerned.  It took over fifteen (15) years to get a fly fishing book back from one of my cousins, (now deceased) and was badly worn with water stains.  The above are some of the things I remember and I am sure there are others.  Family and friends are the culprits because I doubt you would loan something to a stranger!  You can also use the same analogy when loaning aka giving away money!  "Experience is a tough teacher but the lessons learned stay with you forever."  I got a chance to vent and that is a good thing to do every once in a while without getting belligerent and bellicose; I had much rather grin instead!

I remember a couple trades back in the mid 1970s when I had my musical parts and accessories mail order business and did a set of inlays for a well known musician and banjo builder in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.  He was pleased with the inlays and offered to trade a piece of curly maple for another set of abalone inlays.  I shipped the inlays and never got the curly maple banjo neck wood and he never responded to my letters or telephone calls.  He has been dead quite a few years.  Also, there was an individual in Narrows, Virginia that did some machine shop work for one of my friends in Athens, West Virginia and was highly recommended.  I had my friend trade him 300 dollars worth of parts and/or banjo inlaid fingerboard and pegheads that I left with him who delivered the items to trade for building me a stainless steel drill fixture for the Gibson pre-war tube.  Never got the drill fixture, however my friend offered to pay for what his friend did not deliver but I told him "No", it was the other persons responsibility.  There are many dishonest people and sooner or later you will get some experience from dealing with them!  I still have that archived unpaid invoice dated 06-03-76 in my friends file from West Virginia of which I sent the invoice to the person that lived on Rowland Street there in Narrows, Virginia which was a wasted postal stamp.

Leaving this paragraph on a positive note, I have some friends that I have loaned things to and received them back in a timely manner but that is the exception to the rule and I certainly do respect individuals of that moral character and fiber.  

THE BEST 35 DOLLAR INVESTMENT TO DATE

One of the best investments I made in the early to mid 1970s was repairing a fellow musician's Gibson flat top guitar, replacing the bridge and after the repair and receiving only partial payment, he still owed me about 35 dollars, not exactly sure of the amount but think I am correct.  Before finishing this investment story, I played Dobro guitar with his part-time band and one Sunday, the guy showed up with a couple car loads of the band members and their families unannounced and stayed the entire day.  I believe my bride used up a weeks worth of groceries trying to feed the hungry crowd and there were several young kids with them too.  Their kids tore up our son's favorite music box and had our kids toys strewn out in the back yard and field.  

After that infamous visit is when I did the guitar repair for the band leader.  I was still working with the NC Telephone Company and when I would have to travel to Matthews, NC for something job related, I would stop by his home and small antique business in Waxhaw, NC and before I would get to their front door, I could see the curtains move and knew that someone was home and his station wagon was also in the driveway, however he never came to the front door!

I never saw the guy after that guitar repair and that is one of the best 35 dollar investments I have ever made.  I also loaned them several LP vinyl Bluegrass albums and forgot about those until now!

BACK TO THE SMOKE GENERATOR CONSTRUCTION

It is just my nature to get side tracked when writing and now back to the smoke generator construction.  After the 3/4 inch diameter hole was punched into the lid, it was time to start the assembly of the 1/2 inch NPT iron pipe which draws air (smoke) from the fuel source chamber and moves it into the smoker cabinet.  The air supply comes from a Sonic model 9908 air pump and I used a 1/2 inch NPT reducer to accept a 3/8 inch x 5/16 inch brass hose barb although many use a portable air compressor which does circulate more air flow.  The air tube from the air pump fits inside the brass hose barb real snug but had to enlarge the existing hole in the threaded portion of the brass barb using a 3/8 inch diameter drill bit to fit a 3/8 inch outside diameter copper tube to facilitate the movement of air (create a draft) through the 1/2 inch NPT iron pipe.  The copper tube output has to be on the other side of the T to effect drawing air from the fuel chamber.  I fabricated a couple 1/2 inch NPT nuts from a right angle fitting and used my Milwaukee PortaBand saw to remove a portion of the threaded ends which functions as a nut.  Regular bolt nuts will not work because pipe threads are tapered to allow the threads to compress against each other creating a tight seal for usage with liquids or gas.

The spegatti stainless steel container needed holes in the base for air flow and also holes in the side to ignite the fuel source which in my case is hickory sawdust.  Also, I used 1/4 x 20 x 1 inch length stainless steel bolts and nuts to be used as legs to allow for the air flow and stand offs to support the stainless steel mesh wire screen.  I ordered some stainless steel # 20 mesh wire to have the sawdust suspended off the bottom of the container for better air flow.  I later ordered # 30 mesh wire screen because the fuel chamber was not getting enough air flow even though I opened the wire mesh openings by using an ice pick aka weapon of choice used back in the 1950s by some demographic groups locally.

After the bolts were installed for the legs and the screen wire mesh fuel support, it was time to give the unit a field test.  To ignite the fuel source (hickory sawdust), I used a propane torch and applied the flame to the holes that are drilled into the side of canister for that purpose that are located where the sawdust terminates on top of the stainless steel mesh screen.  First impression was that it wasn't getting enough air flow and opened the holes up in the mesh wire screen which did help.  I later made a circular mesh wire basket without a bottom; sides only to contain the sawdust which left an air space between the sawdust and the walls of the canister which did help but it still wasn't quite enough.  I then ordered # 30 mesh wire screen which worked much better.

The # 30 mesh stainless steel wire bottom screen in operation above.

Above pix of the stainless steel # 30 mesh wire basket which has about 1/4 inch space between the walls of the container.  It was secured into a circle by a piece of 16 gauge soft annealed wire. 

I used a cheap step drill bit to bore a 7/8 inch hole into the outside of the smoker cabinet which was about right and went "brain dead" on boring the inside hole which I bored out to 1 inch in diameter that was 1/8 inch larger than needed but it worked ok even with the extra slop.  The inside of the ole 1953 International Harvester refrigerator cabinet has a very heavy enamel coating and very difficult to bore the hole with the step drill bit but finally got it cut.  I will cover the top of the 4 x 4 wood support block with a piece of sheet metal for extra safety aka fire prevention since the bottom of the canister does get hot.

FIELD TESTING THE SMOKE GENERATOR

You can see the smoke coming from the smoker cabinet which the home made damper is 3/4 of the way closed.

I opened the smoker cabinet door and took a quick pix before the smoke went into thin air.  I believe this smoke generator will supply plenty of hickory smoke for doing a batch of Venison Cajun Blend Summer Sausage with just one fill of hickory sawdust.   The sawdust basket was not filled up and will later measure how much the basket will hold and also how long a single burn time is.  I fired it up around 0820 and it is still generating cold smoke and it is now 1:41 P.M.  The smoke coming out the tube is less than 125 degrees F. and is definitely classified as cold smoke.  The only problem with these types of cold smoke generators including commercial ones, is a built up of tar inside the smoke chamber, around the lid and exhaust tube which will have to be cleaned once the build up is a problem.

I have ground venison and some Boston butt meat thawing out to start a 30 pound batch of my Venison Summer Sausage Cajun blend this evening which has to rest in our basement game refrigerator for at least 80 hours and will begin the regrind, stuffing and smoking process this coming Saturday which takes another 24 hours to complete.  Sausage making is definitely a labor of love.

Web published by Bill aka Mickey Porter on 06-21-16.

SMOKE GENERATOR IN OPERATION

I started the final stages of a 30 pound batch of my Venison Summer Sausage - Cajun Blend on the morning of 06-25-16; e.g., regrinding, stuffing into fibrous casing and placing the stuffed casings onto the racks of the above homemade smoker.  My biorhythms were way off today but managed to get by with a few glitches along the way like loosing my grip on the stuffing tube/fibrous casing and having the handle on the 18 pound stuffer come off when doing a fast reverse of the handle to relieve pressure on the stuffed casing in order to remove it from the stuffing tube and then twist the end finishing off with a hog ring in hog ring pliers.  I just had to grin at myself and keep on going.

Everything started looking up until it was time to start the smoke generator and I knocked it over a couple times while it was on the concrete floor and had to scoop up the hickory sawdust placing it back into the smoke generator wire basket.  BTW, the wire basket in the smoke generator chamber holds 4.5 cups of sawdust and burns for a good 4 hours. 

To stay on the negative biorhythm cycle, my latest digital thermometer started reading 273 degrees sausage temperature, whereas the actual sausage temperature was 133 degrees F. and the digital thermometer was in operation less than eight (8) hours.  I had to make a trip to Walmart and purchase another one.  I had an old one by Pyrex brand but wanted to use the same brand that I am currently using.  The braided cable and probe is definitely bad and will get my money back for that one.

I was totally stoked and impressed with the way the smoke generator was "coughing" smoke through the smoker cabinet and it billowed smoke like a small wood burning steam locomotive going up a steep incline for a couple hours and then settled down into a good steady smoke stream until the hickory sawdust was finally spent.

Below pix taken at 5:18 P.M. of the casings hanging in the smoker while I loaded another 4.5 cups of hickory sawdust in the smoke generator fuel chamber.  You do not need to open the smoker cabinet door when refilling fuel in the smoke generator but wanted a pix for this short story.  One filling of sawdust would normally suffice but wanted to go for the extra hickory smoke flavor gusto this time.  With this smoke generator, you more or less, "Set it and forget it" like an ole Ronco commercial.   

The summer sausage will take at least 12 additional hours with the smoker cabinet temperature at 160 degrees F. to get the internal sausage temperature to 152 degrees F.  So far, the thermostat is working as it should regulating the smoker cabinet temperature, plus or minus 5 degrees F.  The insulated cabinet space between the inner and outer wall of the ole heavy metal refrigerator really holds the heat in.  It might look like a rat turd in a flour sack but this contraption works great!

Web published update by Bill aka Mickey Porter on 06-25-16.  

SUMMER SAUSAGE COOLING ON RACK

This batch of summer sausage was completed in 19 hours at 0240 AM in the morning of 06-26-16 and attribute that to the smoke generator moving air aka smoke and heat throughout the smoker cabinet more efficiently.  I kept the smoke generator going for 15 hours, however the last 6 hours it was not generating any smoke, just moving air.  Normally, it takes upwards of 24 hours to bring the internal temperature up to 152 degrees F. for 3 inch diameter fibrous casing that are 27 inches in length.

I removed the summer sausage from the smoker and placed it on the aluminum drying/cooling rack outside and showered the beautimous looking casings with running tap water for about 5 minutes to cool it down to prevent some shrinkage.  The sausage and rack were moved inside my basement woodworking shop and let the internal temperature cool down to 110 degrees F.  I then hung the sausage casings in my basement game refrigerator where they will rest for 18 to 24 hours and then vacuum seal and freeze for later usage. 

I completed a worksheet documenting the procedures for those that are interested in the step by step procedures used.  The worksheet is hyperlinked here in .PDF format.

This morning for breakfast, I fried some of the summer sausage that was left in the bottom of the stuffer and stuffing tube that I placed in a zip lock type bag in the refrigerator and it definitely had an excellent Cajun cayenne pepper taste bud wakeup call to it.  I will field test (critique) the smoked summer sausage when I cut the full length casings in half and quarters for freezing.

This afternoon, I cut the casings in half and a couple in quarters and vacuum sealed them for later usage.  While doing so, I sampled a few slices and it was "off the chain good" with a definite Cajun taste.  The texture, taste and eye appeal was awesome without any melt down of the fat content in the casings and that is as good as it gets!  In the below pix of my "Fruits of the Harvest", it appears there is frost forming on them due to the internal sausage temperature around 40 degrees F. and the basement woodworking shop around 80 degrees F. or less.

Web published update by Bill aka Mickey Porter on 06-26-16.

CLEANING THE SMOKE GENERATOR 

The only disadvantage to this type of smoke generator is the build up of tar inside the canister wall, wire screen mesh basket, etc.  It took an hour or more of some serious scrubbing with brushes after soaking the various components with Super Clean cleaner and degreaser.  I did a couple test runs with it with the canister wire basket about 3/4 the way filled up and filled the canister (wire basket) two times during the process of the above 30 pound batch of Venison Summer Sausage - Cajun Blend.  Nevertheless, the pros far out way the cons of this smoke generator. 

The thin wall canister needs to be about twice as thick or at least .062 wall thickness in my humble opinion since where you ignite the fuel source, the canister wall is deformed by the heat which so far hasn't been a problem and only cosmetic.

At the next cleaning, I will take some close-up pixs of the accumulation of tar before cleaning.

Web published update by Bill aka Mickey Porter on 07-03-16.

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