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Electric Comversion

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Has anyone done an electric conversion?  I am looking at a condo and most do not allow any open flame on balconies.

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Don't tell Balcony Smoken that from Indonesia that. I can understand the concern but the electric part I have trouble putting two hands on. Seems to go against the general purpose but, if any one can dream up the possibility,,,, it might be found here in an inventive mind. Although you may have to pay up for the patent.

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It's really a three part problem.

1: The heating element,  for low-n-slow it wouldn't take much heat to maintain 225* in a KK once up to temp. 

2: A controller to regulate the heating element. 

3: The biggest problem is how to get a smoke profile at the same time. 

For problems 1 and 2 you might be able to strip the guts out of a really small toaster oven and McGuiver it up a bit to work going in through the Guru port with the temp dial on the outside. 

 

Problem #3 is the real challenge. 

 

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5 hours ago, ckreef said:

1: The heating element,  for low-n-slow it wouldn't take much heat to maintain 225* in a KK once up to temp. 

2: A controller to regulate the heating element. 

3: The biggest problem is how to get a smoke profile at the same time. 

1. Look at how the gas burner assembly works for a KK. Start with another door, and fashion something similar with an electric charcoal starter? It will survive extended use, as we're going to toggle the power to it.

2. One can still buy sous vide controllers with an A/C outlet, from many sources. Many of us use a BBQ Guru or similar for charcoal fire temperature control. The basic idea of a PID Temperature Controller long predates these BBQ units; they all control the heat somehow in response to a temperature reading and a target temperature. One could use a thermometer in the KK as input to ta PID controller toggling power to the electric charcoal starter.

3. Would your condo allow use of the KK KK Cold Smoker ? If not, I'd experiment with ways to use the electric charcoal starter to also generate smoke. A lightweight alternative to my "smoke pot" would be an all-steel water bottle and cap, such as the Klean Kanteen and the separate all-steel cap. Remove the silicone seal, and drill a few holes to relieve pressure and let out smoke. Rest on the charcoal starter; you'll get smoke but not flame, as oxygen can't get in.

This is mostly guesswork, but I have a reasonable track record inventing KK gadgets.

I do have experience with PID controllers. In the early 80's I read Harold McGee on food science, and I also read how in restaurants in France that had vacuum packers, they'd package fish and marinades as an alternative to steaming. (I'm probably conflating two stories in imagining they then put the fish in a dishwasher.) Huh.  A light bulb went off, as McGee's main point was how arbitrary the boiling point of water was, yet cooking technique leans against this particular temperature because we're too lazy to stand up. I imagined Sous Vide cooking without ever having heard of it beyond these two clues, and researched gear for chem lab temperature control. I gave up, not sure it would work and barely able to afford the gear in question. It turns out that  Restaurant Troisgros had already been using sous vide technique for a decade, to get better foie gras yields, but the idea was not yet popular.

A few decades later, when I heard to my chagrin that sous vide was a thing that actually worked (and I still couldn't afford the official gear) I rewired a soup warmer to be controlled from a PID controller, and started cooking sous vide.

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There are electric barbecues; I'd research the best ones before deciding what to do.

What would be gained, keeping your KK under these circumstances?

Thermal mass. Huh. Great once at cruising altitude, but that will take a while with an electric heating element, and you'll never reach pizza oven temperatures. I'm reminded how FibraMent used to refuse to sell their thicker stones to consumers, knowing no consumer would have the patience for the long preheat these need. A restaurant keeps their pizza oven on all day, different story.

Those "Forged by the Gods" (anyone seen the https://komodokamado.com/ home page lately? I don't remember Dennis looking quite like that!) steel grates. I'd miss them.

Otherwise, if you need an electric BBQ, buy one from someone who has perfected the form, similar to how Dennis has perfected the KK form. 

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Us homebrewers use PID controllers to run converted freezers/refrigerators into controlled temperature fermenting chambers. Same basic concept - feedback from a thermocouple to a control unit that switches the power on/off on a standard power outlet, with enough offset to not constantly cycle the compressor and burn it out. These units are typically in the $50 range. Wouldn't work here because their upper temperature ranges are too low, even for low & slow cooks.  

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Sorry for such a late reply - I hope you see this.  I have done it and it works.  

If you can PM me your email, we can exchange the long details.  

Dennis helped me with this and I had told him I would share details.

Short story is that Dennis made a KK with an extra blower port.  One port was  just below the main grill.  The other was below the fire basket.  I attached the heating element to the higher port for grilling, and the lower port for smoking.

The key components were long food grade heating elements (I will look up the source), a PID controller from Auger Instruments, and high heat high amperage rated wire, connectors, and wiring blocks from eBay.  You need to use 10 gauge wire at high current.

I told Dennis I would share this with the KK community, but I ran into a few problems.  The first is that I found out such a device would not be UL rated, which means it would possibly impact home insurance policies.  

Second is that a 110v outlet does not provide enough heat to grill.  It can easily get a KK up to smoking temps in 220-250 range with an hour of heat soaking, but it just can’t get to 500 unless you leave it for 10+ hours.  I happened to have a 220v 30A outlet, but I worried about sharing info and having people tinker with such high current.  I actually experienced an appropriately spec rated part melting down in a shower of sparks.  High voltage and amperage can work, but is a much higher risk for people handling it.  

The final issues were that most balconies aren’t structurally designed for that weight and that a key part to support the heating element in the KK was very difficult for me to fashion.  I used stainless steel plumbing parts and ceramic potted insulation.  I can explain the process, but someone with fabrication skills could do a much better job.

I’ll post photos later.  The smoker worked really well as a smoker, but not as well as a grill.  I made 2 versions, and perhaps the third would have grilled better - at higher amperage.  It was easy to start and I  could control the temperature to 1 degree and control the smoke quite precisely by the amount of wood.  It is a great way to smoke.  The electric element could also probably be used as a charcoal starter.  I didn’t have a chance to waterproof everything so I had to be careful about rain.  Overall, I’m not sure if I’d recommend doing it, though.  It was a great hobby but it was a big effort.  As you can see, there are risks involved, and I don’t want to assume anyone else’s risks, legally or morally.  That is why I haven’t posted more details.

Perhaps someone else can take it to the next level to make UL approved and tested parts.  Dennis, you already have the Stainless steel and ceramic skills to do it and I can share the info.  

Again, I do not recommend this to anyone who is not secure in their own knowledge of handling high current and high heat circuits safely!  

 

 

 

 

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OK, I was finally able to dig through my photos and found some that will give you a pretty good idea of the setup.    I'll post them in a series here.  

First, here are some photos of version 1.0 of the electric grill.  It worked on 110v / 15A.  I think I used a heating element in the 1200W range to make sure I kept a cushion on the maximum rating.  It worked and was great for smoking.  It could get in the 200-250 degree range in about 30-60 minutes if I remember correctly.  

These photos show:

1) The first firing of what I believe to be the first ever electric KK.  Dennis may know better.  :)

2) Proof of the first time it hit 400 degrees.  It took a long time to get there.  Maybe 4 hours or more?  A 110v / 1200W heating element just doesn't have enough power to heat up all of that thermal mass.

3) The electric KK in action, cooking a Wagyu Culotte Cap with a smoking box 

4) The finished steak.  It was delicious.  You can see that it cooked very evenly and had almost no grey ring.  It was like cooking sous vide.  I believe I needed to get the sear in a pan or the broiler.

 

 

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** Note **

I do not recommend that anyone try this.  These designs worked for me, but your results could be very different.  It involved using high electrical current which would be very dangerous if not handled safely.  Please do not attempt this unless you are very secure in your knowledge of all of the electrical elements and materials involved.  I do not want or accept any legal or moral liability.  If anyone has any concerns about this information being shared, I'd be happy for these materials to be removed.  I'm posting this in the hopes someone with the right skills could create a safe, legal, and UL approved product.  Everyone else should not attempt this.  Using non-UL approved products may void your home insurance and also may simply be dangerous.  

-------------------------

Here are a few photos to show you the design of the electric heating element.  I created this design to allow a single length of heating element to distribute the heat as evenly as possible.  There are limits to the bend radius of Incolloy heating elements, so it made it hard to have a simple back and forth design.  This design worked pretty well.  

The paper drawing was my basic design template , and I have a tape measure to show scale.  This was designed to be able to fit at the bottom of a 19" KK.  This design was for a 3500W heating element which was on a 220v / 30A circuit.  Again, I was being very conservative to keep a cushion to max current.  By running both elements together, I was able to get about 5000W of power.  The elements ran from power from different electrical panels to avoid overloading.  I actually once got the KK up to 1000 degrees, although it took a very long time to get there.  

The 2nd photo shows my effort to create a ceramic cast part to hold the heating element steady within the KK from the Guru port.  Using Ceramic casting proved to be difficult using my limited home tools.  Therefore I eventually used stainless steel plumbing parts which I potted with high resistance, high capacitance, and high thermal resistance ceramic.  This did a good job of protecting the electrical wiring from heat and held the elements in place.

The final picture shows version 1.0 of the heating element attached to the top port and version 2.0 attached to the bottom port.  This setup allowed me to have a heating element right under the main grill for direct high heat, and one underneath the fire basket (I didn't actually use the firebox or fire basket) for indirect low-and-slow cooks.  

If I were to build a version 3.0 heating element, I would have tried to use a longer heating element and a higher wattage.  

Note that in order to use this, I used ceramic electric blocks rated for very high temperatures and very high amperages - far beyond my actual usage.  I also used electrical connectors and electrical wire rated similarly.  For example, I think the wire was 10AWG wire rated for 1000 degrees celsius.  I sourced these on Amazon, Ebay, and AliExpress.  I also used some Aremco ceramic potting and casting materials.  I don't remember for sure, but I think I tried Zirconium Oxide ceramic and later Silicon Dioxide.  I think the Zirconium Oxide was preferred b/c it was stronger and had great thermal and electrical properties.  I believe it is the same ceramic that is used for teeth fillings and crowns.  

I used 10 AWG outdoor rated wiring, and connected it with an Auber Instruments thermocouple based PID controller, which was rated for up to 900 degrees.  It worked beautifully and I could control the smoker temperature to within 1 degree.  The only problem I experienced with it was that it didn't handle opening the lid well.  It would get confused and turn off the power to be safe. The PID controller flickers the heating element to bring the heat up gradually to the target temperature on a sine curve - which helps to avoid overshooting the temperature.  

 

 

 

 

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Edited by LK BBQ
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Here is the grill in operation.  

So, after all is said and done, would I recommend this?  

First of all, I would wait until someone builds a fully tested commercial product.  This was incredibly difficult to build as a hobbyist.  I lacked the machine tools to fabricate it the way I would have liked to.  

I made some beautiful steaks, pork shoulders, and chickens with this.  It was easy to start (flipping a switch) and gave me perfect cooking control.  It was slow to heat, however, and it was hard to do a reverse sear as the time to get above 500 degrees was a long wait.  

Most homes in the US would not have convenient access to the amount of power I had available.  You would need an electrician to provide a dryer (or even higher amp) circuit.  

Finally, if you are going electric to fit with condo rules, keep in mind that the weight of a standard KK is more than most decks would be designed for.  I was able to make it work because I was using a smaller KK without a firebox - and my deck is fully supported by steel beam structures - it is not an overhanging balcony.  

Now that I have moved elsewhere, I am back to charcoal like everyone else.  Maybe I'll break out the electrical gear again sometime for some easy low and slow cooks.  I doubt  I'll try to use it at high current again - I could probably do a hybrid charcoal/electrical cook to accomplish higher heat cooks.  

I hope this helps!

 

 

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Final note:  As much as I wanted to deliver to Dennis a working electrical product to share with the community, I just ran out of time to take this to the next level.  I had a very busy job and kids to raise.  Over the course of this project, I had to consult with electricians, electrical distributors, ceramic specialists, heating element technical sales, industrial designers, and even a master welder.  Some of it was overkill, but I wanted to do this safely.  As I started to understand the complexity of getting a heating element to heat up that much thermal mass, I wasn't sure if this would be a practical thing to build.  Dennis would certainly have the fabrication capability to make a product that could be packaged with the PID controller.  I just don't know if enough people would be able to use it. It would only be practical for low and slow cooks at household current.  It could do a very good job at that, though.  The electrical element could also be used as a charcoal starter for the non-condo crowd.  

Thanks very much to Dennis for his extra efforts to make this experiment possible.  Dennis, if you want to take this further, I'd be happy to share information.  

I hope this was helpful!  

Edited by LK BBQ
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Wow very cool set up. I really like your view off your balcony it’s beautiful. And that steak look pretty delicious. Looking forward to future cooks.

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Thanks.  One other thought - as a low and slow cooker, it does have some advantages over charcoal.  First, is that I could keep the airflow to near zero - with the dampers closed.  If you think the KK generally keeps food moist, this setup was even better in this respect.  The second, is that I could control smoke 100% by adding and removing the smoking box.  Finally, to the degree that using charcoal has some other health implications, this does not use combustion at all.  If people think this is something useful, the parts probably cost less than $100-150 combined, and the PID controller is in the $200 range.  I probably spent thousands altogether trying different parts and also hiring fabricators (for versions that didn't ultimately make the cut).  After owning a KK for many years, I am now learning charcoal cooking from scratch!

 

 

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Hi @LK BBQ.  It sounds like you put a lot into this.  It also sounds like you got some good results, using the KK in zero airflow mode.  I made the mistake of disappearing down an internet rabbit hole yesterday, reading about how charcoal cooking can be carcinogenic.  I pulled out pretty quick and decided that, even though electric would be better in that respect, cooking over fire is tasty and fun!  Good luck with re-learning charcoal cooking and I hope we get to see some more of your cooks soon.  

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3 hours ago, tekobo said:

 I made the mistake of disappearing down an internet rabbit hole yesterday, reading about how charcoal cooking can be carcinogenic.  I pulled out pretty quick and decided that, even though electric would be better in that respect, cooking over fire is tasty and fun! 

What isn't?

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Look at Cameron's Stove Top Smoker. It smokes remarkably well, is cheap, easy (just take it out of the box!) requiring no DIY rigging. A neighbor introduced me to it and I was stunned that the food he served me was smoked in the house, not outside. It does NOT fill the house with smoke. You can rig one from scratch if you like

but it's easier to just buy one: 

 

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