Franken-Cooler

My sous vide adventures have sometimes been serious mis-adventures.  Case and point was the Easter Brisket Saga.  I wanted something sturdy, large, and well insulated for large and longer term cooks.  Something that would be efficient and not heat the house as much.  There are some guide out there that recommend drilling a hole in a 24 quart coleman stacking cooler.  They don’t sell those in my area any more, and I didn’t want to online order one.  A local sporting goods store did have 48 quart coolers on sale for 16 bucks though!

Most guide recommend a 2-3/8″ hole in the lid.  The sous vide cooker will slip down the hole, but stop before the electronics get submerged because of a shoulder on it.  The larger cooler meant the device would sit much higher, and it comes out of the water every time you lift the lid to check on things.  Instead I printed a bracket to get it clipped to the side and held much lower than the stock bracket would allow.  I started in orange PLA to get the dimensions all worked out, then printed in black PETG.  It is a higher temperature material and should withstand the cooking temps.

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I cut the bottom section off the orange test part and used it as a tracing template for cutting the lid as tight as possible to the bracket.

A little sanding cleaned up the edges, and everything was looking nice.  The only trick being that the lid hit the top of the cooker when opened.  I was considering taking the hinges off anyways, so I just did that.

It turns out the lid on these cheaper coolers is hollow.  Not too shocking.  Instead of leaving it that way I shot it full of foam.  I don’t think I got every square inch, but it should be an improvement.  Either break off the excess or cut with a sharp knife once fully cured.

With that all setup I was able to start my first ambitious project.  I did an 8 hour run at 179F for barbacoa.

It was a really high temperature for sous vide, and right around the limit of PETG.  Though the cook came out well the bracket had a few issues.  The bottom had a little bubbling from the heat.  That wasn’t the issue though, there was a crack started where the outside of the clip sat on the cooler rim.  I played with it a bit and got it to break off.

When printing, that segment is printed as a bridge (filament free hanging out in space), so ends up being kind of weak.  To compensate in the second bracket (top in right and picture) I increased print temperature for better adhesion, increased number of bottom layers to make sure the bridging didn’t compromise strength in that area, increased thickness of that bridge, and the thickness of that outside clip area.

Even though it broke I am happy with this design.  It went for hours at a really high temp and only broke when I started prying on it heavily.  Anything that asks for a sous vide temperature this high can probably be done in the crock pot on low (~190F typically).  Still, the lid didn’t get too warm, and the sides of the cooler were room temp to the touch.  It was a great stress test.  This thing can sous vide anything!

Sous Vide Barbacoa

I am a huge chipotle addict and love the spice flavor and texture of their barbacoa beef.  Why not make my own?  I found some recipes you can make a home.  Some involved the slow cooker, but sous vide was also an option.

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I skimmed a number of recipes and came up with a simple ingredient list.  5+ pounds of chuck roast, AC vinegar, onion, garlic, lime juice, cumin, chipotles in adobo, salt and pepper.  No measuring, just seat of the pants cooking.

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Everything sat and mingled together over night so the flavors could soak in.  I stuck it in a jumbo zip back and into the bath at 179F for 8+ hours.  This gave me a chance to test my newly created frankencooler.  More on that in another post.

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I drained 80% of the liquid and poured it all into a bowl.  It was still looking pretty chunky, but a few minutes with a potato masher got it in good shape.  It tasted wonderful, though not quite the same as chipotle.  I was worried about it being too spicy, but it really wasn’t.  I might buy more adobo next time, and perhaps add some kind of tomato sauce or paste.  It is gonna have to go into the rotation.

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Easter Brisket Saga

How can one lowly Brisket turn into a whole saga?  Well gather round, because I have a tale of how much misery and woe a single slab of beef can cause.  Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but there was a lot of water all over the kitchen floor.

This story starts off innocently enough.  A boy and his brisket.  15 pounds of beefy goodness.  I had read about cooking a brisket via sous vide, then smoking it.  You get the tenderness of sous vide, with natural smoke flavor added.  Smoking briskets is hard, they are easy to dry out in the thinner flat area.  This should be easy!

I gave it a nice trim, set the fat cap to roughly the right thickness and then sprinkled generously with salt and pepper.  It is like putting on a fancy tuxedo, only for food.

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Plan A

Next I cut it up, stuffed it in big ziplocks and tried to fit everything in my usual food grade polycarbonate container.  Oooohhh  might not be big enough.  The point is sticking up inches out of the tub.

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Plan B

No big deal, I have one of those fancy modern soft coolers.  People do sous vide in coolers right?

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It looks all snug and warm in its soft jacket.  Zip everything up and come back 24 hours later!

Wait, what is that dripping sound?  Why is the cooler leaking?

It turns out the cooler is only rated for 120F, not 155.  So the liner glue let go and started leaking everywhere.  I pulled out my hard plastic cooler and dumped everything in.

Plan C

Plastic coolers are definitely ok to work with.

Why is there water everywhere?  Oh great, the drain plug was out.  At this point I was running around like a mad man trying to sop up the gallons of hot water.  No pictures exist.

This container will work, but it is huge.  It needs at least 5 gallons to get everything covered right, and there is no good way for the sous vide cooker to live in there.  Normally they cut a hole in the lid so the electronics can be outside.  This will hold for now, but I need a…

Plan D

Run off to the supermarket and come back with a styrofoam container.  Big enough for a brisket, but not a monster like my big cooler.  It can definitely handle the high temp (you put boiling hot coffee in the stuff after all!).  I modified the lid on the band saw and we were back in business.

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A few hours later I walked by and water was all over the floor.  Apparently the foam is porous enough to let a little bit of water weep through.

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Plan D-2

Re-enter the plastic tub I tried using from the beginning.  It is only weeping a cup every hour or two.  I can keep it full for the time needed, and this tub should keep the floor dry.

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The Next Day

I made it through the night without spilling any more water on the floor.  The brisket actually turned out looking pretty.  Dark, soft, and ready for the smoker.  After another application of the tuxedo treatment that is.

Because the beef is already completely cooked there is no need to smoke all day.  Only a few hours to impart some nice flavor.  I went for about 3.5 hours on a low smoke.

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They are nowhere near as dark as they would be had they been smoked all the way through.  Still, they have been nice dinners for the week.  Reasonably moist, and pretty tender.  The fat is rendered perfectly.  That kind of melt in your mouth velvet feeling when you eat some of it.  I need a new container scheme if I want to do this again.

Chicken Sausage

The sausage maker strikes again.  This time with a smaller load of chicken thighs.

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I started with only 5 pounds of chicken thighs instead of 10+ pounds of meat like last time.  The pieces were chopped up smaller this time, and I didn’t add any pork fat.  This was just simple chicken, salt, pepper, and a little fresh rosemary from the garden.

Last time I was doing a lot of meat shoveling and stuffing, and ended up having to employ my lovely wife to help.  I didn’t get many pictures as a result.  This time my maker mom was in town.  I figured out how to guide with one hand while I pressed with the other.  Mom filled the hopper and took pictures.  

I don’t know if it was the consistency difference, the smaller hunk size or what, but this batch went really smoothly.  My diameter consistency needs help still, but I am improving.  When all was said and done, we had two piles of lumpy but delicious looking sausage.

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The batch with rosemary got grilled for dinner the same night as it was made.  I don’t know if it should sit in the fridge a few nights for the flavors to meld or not, but this worked well.  It was pretty tender and moist enough.  Not as much as the brats were, but the fat content of this was a lot lower.  A very delicious and cheap chicken sausage for the grill.

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The second batch got smoked a few days later.  It was also quite delicious.  I am glad I didn’t use any white meat, the sausage was good, but could probably easily be dry if it were any leaner.

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Vegetable Spiralizer

3D Printing isn’t all useless statues and funky alligator clips.  Those are fun, but you can actually make real world useful objects with even a small printer using PLA.  I use an OXO vegetable spiralizer to turn zucchini into spaghetti.  You can sauté it up with garlic, pesto, red sauce, or just eat it plain.  Very good, and an excellent alternative to pasta.  The only trick is, a manual spiralizer takes forever and leaves your wrist in pain afterwards.  Enter my first functional printer invention.

My first self designed 3d print. A little testing revealed it works better with a half zucchini vs a whole one.

A post shared by Chase (@kiltedcraftworks) on

In the video looks a little awkward to use, but I found that if you cut them in half, everything goes smoothly, and 100 times faster than doing it by hand.

I had to go through a few iterations to get the plug shape right.  It turns out the kitchenaid mixer’s power take off is in a tapered housing.  A straight plug will not cut it!  The good thing about the printer is that all the parts below cost < 2 dollars, so iterating the design is cheap and easy.

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I started with a full run at it on the left.  The plug didn’t fit, and it had a lot of extra material.  The plug in the middle was my attempt at getting the shape right.  It worked, so I went with the final design on the right.  I uploaded it to thingiverse:

http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1745222

Now that I know how to tie into the kitchenaid I can imagine a whole lineup of normally hand operated gizmos being plugged into my power mixer.  I wonder if it will chop onions?  The future is bright!

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Homemade Bratwurst

I just had some of the best sausage I have ever tasted, and it came from my own kitchen!  Follow me on a pork filled journey of discovery and mistakes as we watch sausage being made.

Ok, not quite, this was a two person ordeal and when your hands are covered in pork, you don’t get to do much camera work.  How does one make sausage?  It is quite easy, take 10lb of boston butt, and add a bit more pork fat.

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Chop all this up into small cubes to go into the meat grinder.  It takes a while to chop up 11 pounds of meat, and I got a little impatient and didn’t make all the pieces as small as I should.  You are supposed to do one inch cubes, but I got lazy and did a lot bigger.  This laziness bit me later on.  Mix the meat and fat together with seasoning (bratwurst pack in my case) and put in the freezer for a short while to really firm up.

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Next comes the fun and messy part.  I got a meat grinder attachment for my kitchen-aid.  Not sure if it is the ideal meat grinder, but it was super cheap.  Put on a sausage stuffer tube, slide the hog casings on, and let her rip!

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This is where all the trouble came in.  The chucks went down the hopper fine, but the auger had problems with them.  I think it was the cut size, but until I repeat this with a smaller average chunk size that is just a guess.  At any rate it required a lot of force pushing down the throat to get anything to come out.  Filling and pushing became a full time job.  The other person had one hand supporting the sausage and another on the tube regulating the casings coming out.  If you don’t do that part you get a lot of air and irregular filling.  It took forever, but we found a good pace and made a ton of sausage.  Seriously, 11lb is a lot!

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Some we successfully twisted off into links, most of it was just in a huge coil.  It was lumpy, inconsistent and involved a lot of swearing, but it grilled up real nice.  Flipping this monster wasn’t too hard once the bottom side firmed up a bit.

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The final results were well worth it.  This stuff is amazing!  Tender, juicy, and it holds together pretty well in the casing.  The seasonings have sunk in a little more with time and leftovers area  treat.  The picture below was only the first bit that we grilled, and probably represents less than 1/3rd of the total haul.  Hopefully it freezes well once vacuum packed!

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Easter Brisket

Since my smoker renovation back in January I have been working to re-learn the process.  The new controller holds everything at different temperatures than I am used to.  Time to experiment!  I had a lot of family over on Easter, and decided to skip the ham and go for an Easter brisket!

This badboy started off at 2am weighing in at over 13 pounds!

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A lot of trimming later he was ready for some coarse salt and pepper rub down.

Off the little brisket goes to smoker school to learn to be tender and dark and delicious.

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5 hours later I woke up and did a check.  It was really far along.  I started off with the setting of 275, but I know that the smoker runs a little colder in the center than the built in probe reads.  Maybe using oak changed the setting.  I lowered the temp to 225 and let it go for another 4 hours.

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Our little brisket has graduated with a bachelors degree in deliciousness.  Some post graduate school would do it well.  All wrapped up in butcher paper it continued its studies in a cooler.  Resting in a cooler is great, all the insulation keeps it hot for hours.  We ate nearly 3 hours later, and it was still piping hot.

The bottom 1/8 to 1/4″ of the brisket was a little dry and hard, but the rest was pretty good.  I am guessing this was due to the heat being too high at the outset.  The fat was well rendered and melted in your mouth.

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Over all it is a really tasty brisket, but there is always room for improvement.  Next time, I will start at 250 and see how things run.


I couldn’t completely buck tradition.  Sometimes you just really want ham for Easter.  I stuck a little half ham in the smoker for the last few hours to warm it up and impart a little smoke.  Oak and ham aren’t a perfect match, but it turned out well nonetheless.