Yes, there is some setup that you have to perform on The Stoker. Remember that you can control multiple cookers, so you can have multiple blowers and multiple temperature probes. Hence you need to associate blowers with the temperature probes that control them. You need to tell The Stoker which probes are for controlling a pit and which probes are for monitoring food temperatures. The small price you pay for all this functionality and flexibility is that you have to set it all up.
You can configure The Stoker in one of two ways. It can be done via the key pad and display on The Stoker by navigating through the menus and setting all the values. The second way is by hooking your Stoker up to your network and using your PC or smart phone to set all the values. The Stoker has a web server in it so you can use a web browser on your PC to access the setup information on The Stoker. (We'll talk more about how you do this in a bit....) Rather than describe in gory detail how you navigate the menus on the stoker itself, for the sake of this review, we'll use the web interface to show you the values that need to be set and how they fit together. (Menu navigation is covered quite well in the Stoker's User's Manual.) Below is an image of the setup screen showing the basic setup for a two cookers with two blowers, two pit probes and two food probes:
The long funny numbers next to each blower and probe are the unique identifiers that are given to each device at the factory, the numbers that are stored in each device's chip. Ignore them for now, and look at the other information which is used to set up The Stoker. The "Description" field is the name that we have given to the sensors and blowers, and these are the names that display on the Stoker. We have chosen to name the probes that monitor the cooker temperature "Pit 2 Sensor" and "New Pit Sensor". Likewise we have named the food sensors "Food 5 Sensor" and "New Food Sensor". The blowers are named "Blower 2" and "New BLower".
Notice that each temperature sensor can be designated as either a "Monitoring" sensor (a food probe) or a "Control" sensor (a pit probe). You can assign low and high alarm values to each control (fire) temperature probe. You can also associate a blower with any of the temperature sensors, although it only makes sense to associate a blower with a pit sensor. (In fact, if you associate a blower with a particular probe, the probe will be labeled as a "Control Sensor" on the status screen. So, in the screen above, the sensor "New Pit Sensor" is associated with the blower named "New Blower". The sensor "Pit 2 Sensor" is associated with "Blower 2".
In the original Stoker, any settings could either be set temporarily or permanently by "committing" (or not committing) the settings to the Stoker's data base. In the current software, all changes are permanent. If you are familiar with the old Stoker, this means that all changes are "committed" automatically.
Be careful when you enter values for temperatures as there is no error checking done on the values. If you mean to enter 300°F and accidentally enter 3000°F, the Stoker won't complain.
Also notice that for each temperature sensor, you can assign an alarm to it. There are two types of alarms, "Food" and "Fire". Food alarms go off if the sensor exceeds the target temperature. Fire alarms go off if they drop below or rise above the low and high values that you set when you create a fire alarm. Here is a view of the status screen when a temperature probe has alarmed:
So, how does The Stoker perform in operation? Well, probably the most important thing you want to know is how well does it control the temperature of the cookers? We did a test in which we allowed The Stoker to control a large Big Green Egg cooker at 225, 325 and 425 degrees. We watched The Stoker bring the cooker up to temperature to see how far it overshot the target temperature. After the cooker settled down from the initial overshoot, we watched the temperature of the cooker through many cycles to see how big of a "swing" there was between the low and high temperatures that The Stoker permitted. Here's the results:
So The Stoker controls the temperature very nicely and keeps better control of the temperature than most, if not all, kitchen ovens.
A few things we'll point out about using The Stoker:
Of course, one of the big features of The Stoker is the ability to control many cookers from one Stoker. The Stoker itself now has six plugs on it (the old Stoker had five), and this can be expanded through the use of the optional 1 to 4 adapter. You can buy plugs and cables from Radio Shack to accomplish this or to extend the length of the cables, but be sure to check with The Stoker folks about details. Some of these plugs and cables have subtle differences in the way they connect and disconnect during the act of plugging and unplugging. You will need to get the right plugs and cables to avoid trouble.
You may notice the clutter of all the cables and having three cookers huddled together. Of course, in real life you would probably want to purchase some extension cables so that you could separate the cookers and keep your wires organized.
We have already mentioned the "Scan" feature, but it bears repeating here. With three cookers going, you might have 6 or more temperature probes connected to The Stoker. You would have 3 pit probes connected, and perhaps 3 or more food probes connected. Rather than manually dig your way through all the probe readouts to find the temperature of one particular probe, you can select the "Scan" feature and The Stoker will automatically rotate through displaying the temperature of all the probes.
The Stoker's temperature probes are usable up to 450°F. However, with the use of the optional K type thermocouple connector, you can connect up a temperature probe that can go much higher. The Stoker allows you set a pit temperature much higher than 450°F, so as long as you have a blower capable of pushing the air necessary for high temperatures, you can indeed use the Stoker to control your cooker at higher temperatures. We don't have one of the adapters to show you, so we've borrowed this image from the Stoker web site:
One source of high-temperature K-type thermocouple probes is Thermoworks. You can find cheaper prices by googling "WD-08467-64", for example, for a 2500°F K-type thermocouple probe that you could use to control a cooker at high temperatures.