BBQ and electronics – a match made in heaven?

I’m just going to come out and say it – I LOVE BBQ!

To me, there;s nothing better than pulling that gorgeous pork shoulder from the smoker, shredding it, and creating FABULOUS pulled pork sandwiches with the result.  I have experimented for years and come up with some winners – and a lot of losers – along the way.  The losers are all part of the learning process.

I’ve used a couple of different smokers, and the most difficult thing about it is keeping the temperature where you want it.  It sometimes requires constant attention.

Last winter, I was wandering around the internet and came upon a link from Alton Brown’s blog (he my culinary hero) to the Pitmaster IQ temperature controller. In the Good Eats episode “Right On Q”, Mr. Brown used the temperature controller to keep his smoker at the perfect temperature to cook BBQ.

Here’s the episode on YouTube.  He starts talking about the temperature controller at around 36:48.

My thought on seeing this was: “I can make that!”  I’ve been making microcontroller projects as a hobby for years.

I did some more research (read: Google Searches) and found that there are DOZENS of these things, ranging in price from $150 to $500 units with LCD graphing displays, bluetooth and wireless control, and more!

After looking at features, I decided on the following requirements for my controller:

1) Capable of being powered from a power supply or battery.

2) LCD screen

3) Simple controls (many of the ones out there have lots of buttons and switches)

4) PID process control to maintain the temperature

5) PWM control of fan speed

6) Meat probe to monitor meat temperature

7) Serial (RS-232) port to be used for logging to PC, or communications with modules such as

Bluetooth or Wireless.

I then sat down and started to figure out what I needed to do to accomplish this.  I had never used an LCD display on a project before – so that was first.  Second was reading a thermocouple using an ADC port (never done that either).  Third was PWM control of a motor – I had controlled the brightness of LED’s before, but never a motor. I had also never created a microcontroller serial port before,

My path was set: next time I’ll talk about the experiments that led me to where I am now.