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I'd like to add a Brinkmann 1500 watt element to my Bradley smoker to bring my temps up in cold weather.

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I'd like to limit the amount of heat it puts out, is there a voltage regulator or resistor I can use to drop the heat? Something variable maybe?

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migrated from diy.stackexchange.com Mar 6 '14 at 19:39

This question came from our site for contractors and serious DIYers.

1  
Can you use a grill blanket (I am not making that up) to help conserve the heat you already have? Most smokers are pretty much not insulated at all. – SAJ14SAJ Mar 6 '14 at 20:07

You could use a Sous Vide controller. Normally these are intended to drive a heater such as a crock pot, but I don't see why it wouldn't work here. Their website says it will output up to 15amps at 120V which is 1800W. This drives the element by having it be on at 100% for only some partial amount time, rather than driving it slowly at all times, but you should be able to achieve your desired result.

Dork Food Sous Vide Temperature Controller

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The temperature range of a Sous Vide controller might not go high enough to be useful to smoke. That model you link to will only go up to 200˚F. But maybe some others are more adjustable? – Henry Jackson Mar 6 '14 at 16:50

First, you will want to check the wiring and fuses in your current smoker to make sure it can safely handle the 1500w upgrade.

Assuming that your wiring and fuses can handle the 1500w element, keep in mind how the system works in the first place. The heating element is controlled by the thermal measurement unit. A more powerful element would still turn off once the set temperature at the measurement unit is reached. The difference would be how fast it reaches the temperature and more hot spots closer to the element.

For the "variable" options you can alter the voltage or the current running to the heater. One issue to be aware of is that you would need to keep the power supply to the smoker's control board separated and unaltered.

Altering the voltage:

There is a power supply called a variac or variable transformer.

Adjust-A-Volt variac

Pros:

  • Since this plugs into the a home receptacle and has a standard receptacle coming out of it, it would be safer from a wire splicing perspective. Keep in mind, you'd need to acquire a variac that can the wattage.
  • You will look and feel like a cold war submarine commander when adjusting the voltage on this kind of equipment so this is a high testosterone solution.
  • There's conversational value here for parties.

Cons:

  • A potentially fiery death. Playing with high wattage hacks requires strict attention to detail and close supervision of the device.
  • Cost. The price ranges for these seem to be $180-$400ish in the 2000W range. This could significantly increase the overall cost of your smoker setup.
  • The control board of the smoker can certainly cope with some range of voltage under the usual 120V, but it may not operate at the lower voltage

  • Even after everything is working you probably don't want to invite your fire insurance provider over for dinner if you like your current insurance rates.

Altering the current (by adding resistance):

You can add a variable resistor. Just like the above solution you'd need a higher wattage rated device.

Ohmite rheostat

Pros:

  • It would indeed adjustably control the amount of current flowing through your element.

Cons:

  • A potentially fiery death.
  • This resistor would be handling some serious current and it doesn't have any housing as-is. You wouldn't want your cat to brush against this.
  • This solution require wire splicing and would be inherently less safe for anyone not very familiar with electric systems.
  • Cost. This is in the $350ish range
  • This could heat up depending on the setting you choose.

Summary:

Both of these solutions are costly compared to most smoker's retail value. These higher power devices require alloys that are expensive to produce.

The variac would be my preferred cooler and safer solution out of the two, but keep in mind that the smoker control board wants plain old 120 line voltage. It will not operate very far out of the 120 volt range and, even worse, could malfunction and not turn off the element.

Regardless of any solution,If you do proceed you will be hacking a 1000+ Watt device please be very careful.

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A couple low-tech options:

  • A long extension cord will drop the voltage at the element and therefore its power output. E.g. a 50ft 18-gauge cord will reduce the voltage ~10% when used with a 15A element. You could chain a few together to get a larger drop.
  • You could get a mechanical light timer (make sure you get one rated for 15A), which will can be set to turn the element on and off. Many timers have a resolution of 15 minutes which may be too long for you, but I have one that has 5-minute increments.
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For the extension cord trick, if you're not careful you could end up smoking your house or garage as well as your food. – The Photon Mar 6 '14 at 17:55
    
Yeah, if the OP wants to use extension cords to drop the voltage, I would recommend 1) not coiling hundreds of feet up in a giant hot ball, 2) not leaving the contraption unattended. But let's put this in perspective: the heating element itself is clearly a lot more dangerous than the extension cord. – Henry Jackson Mar 6 '14 at 18:09

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