Understanding temperature stall

Discussion in 'Electric Smokers' started by wbmccarty, Dec 3, 2011.

  1. wbmccarty

    wbmccarty Newbie

    I've had a couple seasons of experience with charcoal-based smoking using a WSM. But I'm not as spry and nimble as I once was and I noticed I hadn't used the WSM in many months. So, I bought an MES 30 hoping it would be less demanding of me and therefore enable me to once again enjoy smoking my own meats. The first night, bratwurst, went very, very well. But I fired up the MES for the second time tonight, only to meet the unexpected.

    I was following a recipe for whole chicken that specified using an inch of water in the pan and smoking at 220 for 3 to 3-1/2 hours. All went well until the bird's temperature reached about 155, at which point everything stalled.

    As near as I can tell, the MES temperature was 220, give or take maybe 10 degrees. I measured using the built-in thermometer, as well as an oven thermometer (which I determined to have failed as a result of a short drop sustained last night), and (as an afterthought based on suspicion the oven thermometer had failed) a Taylor digital probe, clumsily dropped through the air vent and suspended in free air (rather than properly located near the rack surface).

    When the stall failed to resolve after an hour or so of patient waiting, I cranked up the temperature to 275 (the MES ceiling), finished the bird, and had a first-class meal.

    My question is, what happened? My best guess is that the actual smoker temperature was less than the planned temperature; maybe something like 200-210 rather than 220. I suppose that the difference between the stalled meat temperature, 155, and the smoker temperature just wasn't enough to yield a rate of increase of meat temperature fast enough to finish the bird in hours rather than days. 

    So, questions follow. Does all that make sense or is some other explanation likely? Was cranking the temperature a reasonable way to handle the stall? That is, it did seem to work well this time but what about the general case? How much patience is reasonable when using an electric smoker? Are there any useful rules of thumb for such situations? Etc.

    Thanks for any thoughts!
  2. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

  3. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    The MES controller & meat probe are usually off by some amount. The first MES I had was off 15 degrees, the new one I have is right on the money. You need to get a digital probe so you can put it on the grate next to the meat. Then you can make the appropriate adjustments to the temp controller and get the exact temp you want.
  4. seenred

    seenred Smoking Guru Group Lead OTBS Member

    I agree with Al, the first thing you need to do is verify with confidence what the temp is inside the smoker.  Never trust a smoker's factory installed thermometer, at least until you have a chance to test it's accuracy.  Most of us always put an accurate digital probe on the rack near the meat.  Also, I always smoke poultry at a significantly higher temp than 220, usually in the 250-275 range. 
  5. wbmccarty

    wbmccarty Newbie

    Dave, that's one thoughtful paper. I dunno if that's what I was observing, though. The sort of stall the paper concerns would seem to be temporary. Eventually, there'd be no more moisture for evaporative cooling. I think that, as SeenRed offers, 220 (which may have been more like 200-210) is too low a temperature, that recipe notwithstanding. In particular, I think that, in my case, the skin and bark had formed an insulating layer capable of withstanding 200- to 210-degree heat indefinitely. 

    Al, next time I'll get a digital probe right at rack level. The failure of my oven thermometer, which is several years old and has withstood many a charcoal smoke, took me by surprise. I wouldn't have thought that a drop would have messed it up since it appears quite sturdy. Not only that, but no damage was visible. That almost makes me want to test my thermometers before each smoke :-\
  6. frosty

    frosty Master of the Pit

    Testing is a good idea if you have the time.  With ones like the Maverick, you can replace probes as often as needed.  I had one that worked one day and then didn't the next cook.  BUT I only determined that after it became a problem.  New probes solved the problem.[​IMG]
  7. venture

    venture Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I often cook my birds at a higher temp for the skin texture.  They cook fast enough that I never noticed a stall even if there might have been one.

    Good luck and good smoking.

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