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Thermometer Calibration - A Dry (chicken) Lesson


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Since moving to Alaska, I’ve noticed a significant temp difference between my grate and my dome as measured by a ThermoWorks Smoke and the built in dome thermometer, respectively. I was confused by this and couldn’t figure out if it was the thermometer hardware or if the cold air was changing the airflow dynamics inside the grill that much. 

 

Last night I did an indirect chicken cook and used only the dome thermometer. My 5 lb chicken had a target cook time of 120 minutes at 350 degrees. After 105 minutes the breast was reading at 208 degrees in the deepest part. Well....crap. 

 

That was the final motivating factor in taking things into the kitchen for calibration. 

 

Considering my elevation and barometric pressure, the internet advised me that the boiling point for water here last night was 211.53 degrees.  The Smoke was spot on, with both probes. 

 

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When the dome thermo went into the bath...well....I think I know why the chicken was dry! 

 

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Morals:

 

Maybe when you’re not confident in the accuracy of your thermometers don’t wait until 15 minutes before the end of the target cook time to check the chicken? 

 

Oh, and I’m very grateful these stock KJ dome thermos can be calibrated. A wrench and a small screwdriver and 15 minutes later the dome thermometer was reading exactly on point. 

 

The KJ has been through a lot to travel thousands of miles to get here. No telling what “bumped” the thermo that far out of whack. But we are good now. 

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6 hours ago, dirty6 said:

Maybe when you’re not confident in the accuracy of your thermometers don’t wait until 15 minutes before the end of the target cook time to check the chicken?

 

In my world- i.e., my methodology- checking the temps of food while cooking has nothing to do with confidence in the therm. It's good practice. I would expect a chicken to be done way before the two hour mark if cooking @ 350° (just based on experience). The less experience i have in a given area, the more often and earlier I am going to start checking temps because, I can always resolve undercooking but, I can't undo overcooking.

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11 hours ago, CentralTexBBQ said:

 

In my world- i.e., my methodology- checking the temps of food while cooking has nothing to do with confidence in the therm. It's good practice. I would expect a chicken to be done way before the two hour mark if cooking @ 350° (just based on experience). The less experience i have in a given area, the more often and earlier I am going to start checking temps because, I can always resolve undercooking but, I can't undo overcooking.

 

I hear you...since we packed the grill up in very early December for our move, Thanksgiving was really when I stopped cooking on it. And I only had it for 5 months prior to that, so I don’t have much experience to lean on here....I thought 2 hours sounded right but I haven’t done a chicken cook in some time and my brain was rusty. I was planning on 20 min a pound, and then walking the line between my confidence and “if you’re lookin you ain’t cookin.” Poorly walking the line, I’ll admit. 

 

That said, my point here is that if I suspected the dome temp to be low, I should have checked earlier. Bc the thermo was in fact 50 plus degrees low, I was actually cooking that bird above 400, not 350. That’s what I meant by confidence in the thermo. 

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11 hours ago, BURGER MEISTER said:

I have trust issues.   That being said, I usually verify with my Thermopop whenever my Smoke gets within 10-15 degrees of temp.   I don't always get the probe in the correct spot with the Smoke.  I even have trust issues with myself.:rofl:

 

I do the same. I didn’t have the Smoke on for this cook, however. Just used the dome, and the Thermopop to take the temp when I was ready to check it (too late). 

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6 hours ago, dirty6 said:

 

I hear you...since we packed the grill up in very early December for our move, Thanksgiving was really when I stopped cooking on it. And I only had it for 5 months prior to that, so I don’t have much experience to lean on here....I thought 2 hours sounded right but I haven’t done a chicken cook in some time and my brain was rusty. I was planning on 20 min a pound, and then walking the line between my confidence and “if you’re lookin you ain’t cookin.” Poorly walking the line, I’ll admit. 

 

That said, my point here is that if I suspected the dome temp to be low, I should have checked earlier. Bc the thermo was in fact 50 plus degrees low, I was actually cooking that bird above 400, not 350. That’s what I meant by confidence in the thermo. 

 

And to be clear, I am not at all disagreeing with you, simply saying that it is a good practice to check early and often despite how much anyone trusts the therms. Granted, you may have been way above 350° but, that target temp is the stickler for me. At that temp, 2 to 2&1/2 hours is what I'd expect for a spatchcocked turkey- depending on size. 

 

I also am familiar with “if you’re lookin you ain’t cookin.” But, that goes out of the window:

  1. The closer you get to doneness.
  2. On shorter cooks
  3. On a kamado (for the most part). Not recommending opening the lid every two seconds but, the heat soak in the ceramic ensures both a significantly less drop in temps and far faster recovery than in an offset or Weber style grill. I don't open often because I want every last ounce of smoke on the food. Barring that, I find open the grill for 20 seconds to check a temp negligible. Then again, what do I know?

:rofl:

 

 

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@CentralTexBBQ

 

That all sounds like great advice, thank you. Perhaps the place I found that time/temp formula was referring to a non-spatchcocked bird?  I can’t recall where I found it, so it’s a mystery lost to my browser history. 

 

When I first got started with using this grill, I was lighting my fire way too big way too fast, and then clamping it down...which was really suffocating a big fire more than it was feeding a small fire. With that lighting method, opening the lid even for a quick check often breathed oxygen on a starved fire and led to a temp flare. A rookie mistake for sure, that feeds my hesitancy to check temp too often even though I’ve got my fires much more stable with experience. But you’re right. Esp when not cooking w a probe in the meat I should be checking on things much sooner. 

 

Side note-where are you in CenTex? I lived in Killeen for a few years around my high school days. 

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I am from Temple! Go Wildcats! Currently living in Ohio but plan to retire in Texas in another year hopefully.

 

Btw, my estimate was for a whole chicken. Spatchcocked @ 350°, I am definitely checking it by the 60 minute mark. I'd expect it to be very close to done ~75 Minutes.

 

Edited by CentralTexBBQ
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16 hours ago, dirty6 said:

How about that? My family roots (Dad in the Army) are in Ohio. Went to college at Capital in Columbus and met my wife there. Family is all from NW OH. 

 

Haha, yeah... All my family- mother had 15 siblings are from Temple, Belton, Killeen, Heidenhammer, etc. and their dozens of children mostly spread out to the larger cities in TX.

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Following up....first cook since calibrating the dome temp.

 

Last night I tried out a roadside chicken recipe on a spatchcocked 5lb bird with pecan smoke. My plan was to cook at 350 indirect and juice the heat a bit at the end in an effort to crisp the skin. 

 

The properly calibrated dome thermometer was noticeable almost right away. With the advisement of @CentralTexBBQ on my mind, I made the first temp-check 45 minutes into the cook. At 75 minutes I was reading 140 degrees (mind you, the previous cook at “350” with the non calibrated thermometer had resulted in a 208 degree bird 105 minutes in).  At this point I opened the vents up, hoping to raise the temp quickly to 400-425 until the breast reached 165. The bird read 168-171 when I checked at the 95 minute mark, so off she came to rest under foil. 

 

This time, the meat was perfect all the way around. What wasn’t perfect was the skin. The wings and drumsticks rendered out and crisped up nicely, but the thigh and breast portions had bite through (but not chewy) skin with noticeable fat still under the skin. 

 

There were no leftovers. 

 

So, short version: the calibrated thermometer produces great results, glad I figured that puzzle out. 

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1 hour ago, dirty6 said:

... Last night I tried out a roadside chicken recipe on a spatchcocked 5lb bird with pecan smoke. My plan was to cook at 350 indirect and juice the heat a bit at the end in an effort to crisp the skin...

 

...This time, the meat was perfect all the way around. What wasn’t perfect was the skin. The wings and drumsticks rendered out and crisped up nicely, but the thigh and breast portions...

Glad you got things straightened out.

 

There are trade-offs. This is one. In general, you either go for smoke flavor or crisp skin. If I want crisp, rendered skin, I use direct heat at these temperatures. A bird like yours may take as little as 45 min, so there's not much time to soak in smoke. I do a lot of low-n-slow turkey breast, about 2-3 hrs. at 225F, and the skin is both soft and putrid with smoke - completely inedible. The meat, on the other hand, is wonderful!

 

It sounds like you've found a good spot between these extremes. Keep checking temperatures, too. Nothing more important.

 

HAve fun,

Frank

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If the skin is bite through I am satisfied. Really, I tell you what, if it is flavorful I am satisfied. Never heard of bite through until I started watching BBQ TV. Nevertheless, when I want crispier skin, I go with an oil or oil and vinegar spritz in the last 30 minutes or so of the cook. And,  I may even finished the last 5-10 minutes or so over direct flame to crisp it even further.

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  • 4 weeks later...
On 2/21/2019 at 5:47 PM, fbov said:

Glad you got things straightened out.

 

There are trade-offs. This is one. In general, you either go for smoke flavor or crisp skin. If I want crisp, rendered skin, I use direct heat at these temperatures. A bird like yours may take as little as 45 min, so there's not much time to soak in smoke. I do a lot of low-n-slow turkey breast, about 2-3 hrs. at 225F, and the skin is both soft and putrid with smoke - completely inedible. The meat, on the other hand, is wonderful!

 

It sounds like you've found a good spot between these extremes. Keep checking temperatures, too. Nothing more important.

 

HAve fun,

Frank

 

I use a chicken stand like beer can but it’s wide open , smoke gets straight up the inside 

 

cook at 4-425 and it’s about 60-75 mins for a 4 pound bird

 

great crispy skin and Smokey flavour all in 1

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