Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Curing chamber change


My curing chamber has been working very well for a very long time, but just the other day I decided to make a small change. I've had a bulb in the fridge, on a dimmer, which generates heat to force the fridge to cycle more often, lowering the humidity. This is especially useful in winter when the fridge isn't cycling as often and when a new batch of product is added, which is losing a lot of moisture.
The bulb has worked well, but I've read a lot about how light affects fat and speeds up the oxidation. I'm not sure I've experienced this, but I've read it and heard it from so many sources I figured it must be accurate. To address this I replaced the bulb with a non light emitting ceramic heater used in reptile cages. It plugs right into a bulb socket and can be dimmed just like a bulb. It's perfect!

So far I like it. My chamber was running around 83% RH after I put my latest batch of salame in, which is a touch high. I turned the heater on real low, and it's now around 78-80 which is good; and no light!

30 comments:

NRG said...

I have sold hundreds (perhaps thousands) of these units. They are dangerous for animals. They are dangerous in other situations too. Be very careful with those ceramic heat emitters. They get very hot. Touch it when on and instant 3rd degree burn. Get chamber contents too close? Fire.

I believe it will work for your application. I just wanted to share the caution.

Jasonmolinari said...

Good to know, thanks for the heads up. I have it on a dimmer, very low. I can actually touch it, it's hot but it not even hot enough to burn me.

Anonymous said...

I have been using the ceramic light for about three months now and love it. Maybe I am crazy, but my recent meat projects seem to have a cleaner flavor. I like the idea in your use of a dimmer. Small adjustments in heat output can make a big difference as the seasons change.


Cheers, rob

Jasonmolinari said...

Good to know Rob, maybe the bulb was causing oxidation.

Anonymous said...

Heating the chamber so refrigirator can cool it to lower the humidity seems like a waste of power. A humidity controller used in dehumidifier mode (WH8040) and small peltier dehumidifier (EDV1100) can do the job more efficiently and accuratley. Both availablr from Amazon for about $75.
A heater would be more practical when used in the nviroment lower than set temperature (garage in the winter)

Jasonmolinari said...

sure, that seems like it would work, except it would then require the fridge to have 2 hygrostats and take up a whole lot more room than lightbulb. Not to mention the issue of deadbands and accuracy of the hygrostats and them fighting each other because the set points would be essentially the same.

I'm putting in probably less than 10W of power to heat it, which causes the fridge to run a few extra minutes a day. If i had to guess, i imagine the extra energy used would take a veyr long time to equal the cost of the dehumidifier and hygrostat.

jaymo said...

I just set up my curing chamber a couple days ago. (No meat in it yet while testing.) I'm running into a similar problem where my hygrometer is reading in the 90%s. I may have to use some sort of bulb as well, although I don't have an internal socket (yet.)

Out of curiousity, do you actually have your THC-1 unti set to that 75-80%ish range, or do you have to set yours lower? I'm hoping I can find a lower setting that will get the job done for now until I can put a bulb in since I'm quite anxious to get started!

Jasonmolinari said...

my hygrostat is set pretty high, but ultimately what matters is the humidity in the chamber, not the setting on the stat. Just set it wherever it needs to be to get to 70-80%

jaymo said...

Definitely! I was just curious where you had to set yours while using the bulb out of curiosity since I have the same hygrostat. Thanks again!

Jasonmolinari said...

I think mine is actually set at about 75 or 80...

K said...

So, from where did you get the idea about the ceramic heater?

Noshvegas said...

Ever consider using a black or ultra violet light?

Peter Wilton said...

I actually bought one of these when I was setting up my fermentation chamber initially. I ended up switching it with a 100 W lightbulb because it actually wasn't keeping the chamber warm enough. I thought that it would produce much more heat than the light bulb, but I was wrong.

matt said...

wise move! I had a regular bulb blow up inside the curing chamber, I think down to the humidity on the glass of the bulb. Put glass in salami. not good. The ceramic heaters are great.

Jasonmolinari said...

K: I've always wondered about them since I built my chamber as you can read in the comments years ago, but never felt like spending $20 on a bulb. Why?

Noshvegas: thought about it but wondered if uv would kill my mold. Dnt know aut blacklight.

Peter: this 60w one is plenty. Barely on.

Anonymous said...

Jason-

I've had the same issue this winter and was contemplating something similar. Question: what trips the ceramic heater bulb to come on? Is it simply on a timer so it comes on for a few minutes periodically?

Brian

Jasonmolinari said...

brian, it's on a dimmer and constantly on a low setting. No timer.

Greg Kousidis said...

I'm a Refrigeration mechanic, thought I'd offer a thought.

If you have air at a given temperature and relative humidity......and you heat the air, the humidity drops. Why?

Air expands when heated. The original amount of moisture at the lower temperature now occupies less space at the higher temperature. Here's a crude example of what I'm saying: if you have 5 pounds of sand (the humidity) in a 10 pound bag (the temperature), this is 50%. If you take the same 5 pounds of sand and raise the size of the bag to 15 pound, this drops the ratio down to 33 %. This is why it's called "relative" humidity".

In regards to the ceramic heater, I had a bad experience once while making repairs to a refrigerator. I had to run out for parts but couldn't make it back until the next day. Unfortunately I left my drop light hanging in the box with the 100 watt bulb still on and I must have swung the door shut. When I came back the next day the inside of the box was completely destroyed. It probably got up to 200 degrees and all the plastic panels were melted and dripping like Swiss cheese. Expensive lesson learned. Lets not forget this is an insulated box designed to keep the heat from getting in......or out for that matter. Although I don't think you'll have any problems with 10 watts, you may want to think about wiring in a safety thermostat that kills the heater circuit in case your humidity control malfunctions.

Jasonmolinari said...

Thanks for the insight and clear explanation greg.
Good idea on the overheat protection.

No_Such_Reality said...

I've done simpler cures, bacon, canadian bacon, etc. Ready to move on to dry air curing.

Planning my fridge conversion, but wondering if I use a smaller apartment sized over/under around 20CF, how much aging space will I realistically have and can use? I'm thinking the equivalent of one shelf level of about 1.5 feet high. Shelf give or take 2'x'2.

Most of the blog entries on your trials show one piece aging in your unit.

Can you share any good insights maybe a blog post dedicated to hanging quantity, quality, turnover etc. Mixing and matches cuts or is that no-no?

I like the whole muscle meats so I want to move to bresaola, capocolla and lonzonia.

Am I begging for trouble if I hang two of each in there at once?

Jasonmolinari said...

Please ask the question once. I answered this in your previous post.

No_Such_Reality said...

Thanks, sorry for the double, after posting wasn't sure if you were still active in the older post so I moved to the current entry.

Anonymous said...

I went to a local pet shop that specialises in Lizards (owner operated, not a chain store). After chatting for a while we nutted out the issue.

He felt that rather than a ceramic heat bulb (concerned about the humidity and the connection) and the mount (cost) he thought that a flexible heat pad (made in locally), at a 1/3 cost, was the way to go.

It uses so little power, no risk of burns, got the temperature up to 30 degrees (got the chamber up to 35 degrees – way above what I need) within ¼ an hour. I used magnetic strips to mount the pad.

My verdict is that it works a treat

Mark

Jasonmolinari said...

Good to know, thanks mark!

Mike said...

My light bulb socket is only powered when the door is opened and power is flowing to the refridgerator. How did you overcome these issues? Thx.

Jasonmolinari said...

The bulb socket is a separate circuit all together. Unrelated to anything else in the fridge.

Victor said...

Recently, once the cold weather set in, I've been having a challenge bringing humidity down in my curing chamber, especially when new meats were added. My RH would shoot up to 88-90%. Three trays of salt and socks filled with salt brought RH down to 85-86%.

I've been thinking about a lamp/warmer or a mini dehumidifier solution, but first decided to try out a solution that Rytek Kutas mentioned in his book. He said some chemist in Arizona (Heisenberg?) came up with an idea to use sodium acetate to control humidity. I also did some research and found that sodium acetate is highly hygroscopic, unlike salt, a more common technique many use, balances out RH quickly and keeps it stable at 75%.

Long story short, I bought 3 gallons of vinegar and 3 packs of baking soda and made my own food-grade sodium acetate. Using a ratio of 1 liter of vinegar to 75.6g of sodium bicarbonate gave me a decent amount of anhydrous sodium acetate - did not measure, but looks like about 8 cups, enough to fill a tray.

I removed all the salt from the fridge, and left one tray of sodium acetate on the bottom. It's been 24 hours, and I have a pretty constant 75% RH. Amazing. When the fridge cycles my RH drops to 62%, but then rises to 75 and stays there.

Jasonmolinari said...

that's brilliant Victor!

Jered said...

I just purchased a 100w version but like you it doesn't get very hot to the touch and I wondered if it would get hot enough to trigger the fridge to cycle. Also was thinking about using one to heat a fermentation chamber. Thoughts?

Jasonmolinari said...

Dim it way down. You don't need a lot of heat to warm the enclosed fridge