US 20090078127 A1
A smoker having a smoke generating material loader which preferably is insertable and retractable through a housing aperture and is adjustable between a no dump state and a dump state once inserted, preferably relative to a receiver tray that is closer to a heat source, as in an electric heat resistance bar, to cause smoke generation of smoke generating material received from the loader when placed in a dump state. The loader preferably has one or more seal off end caps or sections relative to the receiving housing aperture to provide a heat retention function. A preferred embodiment features a nested arrangement between the inserted loader and receiver tray and preferably the receiver tray is in a sliding supported relationship with the loader as in a semi-cylindrical loader main body in contact with one or more concave supporting surfaces of the receiver tray. The receiver tray also preferably has opposing shielding walls extending up from opposite sides of an apertured base receiving tray. The opposing shields also preferably having an upper constricted opening in close proximity to a rotating loader main body and at a common height with the constricting opening brought about by the nesting arrangement.
1. A method of assembling a smoker, comprising:
providing a housing having a heat-up region and a smoke generating material receiving area;
inserting a smoke generating material loader into said housing such that said loader is positionable between a non-release of supported smoker generating material first position state and a release of smoker generating material for reception in the smoker generating material receiving area of said housing second position state.
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18. A smoker, comprising:
a smoke generating material reception tray in said housing; and
a smoke generating material loader removably supported by said housing and configured to supply smoke generating material to said reception tray upon rotation from a no-dump state to a dump state.
19. The smoker of
20. The smoker of
21. A method of using a smoker, comprising:
inserting a loader into an aperture provided in a smoker housing;
rotating the loader so as to release material which provides a source of smoke to a receiving region within the smoker housing; and
heating said material while in said receiving region to carry out a smoke generation by the material in a smoking of a food item.
22. The method of loading of
The present application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/020,027 filed Dec. 23, 2004, which application is incorporated herein by reference.
The present invention comprises a cooking device with a release feeder device as in a smoker apparatus with a smoke generating material loader that is preferably manipulated (e.g., dialed) between a storage mode and a release mode, wherein a supply of wood chips or some other smoke generating material is released to a receiving area of the cooking apparatus as in a receiver tray and subjected to a heat source.
Both indoor and outdoor grilling has continued to increase in popularity and, in the United States alone, it is estimated that 75% of US households have an outdoor cooking grill, which percentage further increases when indoor grilling is also taken into consideration. This increased popularity with grilling has led to more sophisticated cookers who are no longer satisfied with merely cooking over a bed of charcoal, but have moved into alternate food preparation techniques as in smoking food to prepare a delicious, succulent entrée.
Various conventional cookers of the smoker type exists and are typically of the outdoor type. The heat sources for cookers are based on various fuels as in gas, electric sources (e.g., electric resistance bars or infrared ceramic plates), charcoal, etc. An advantage of a smoker cooker is that a desirable smoked flavor is imparted to the food and the cooking technique is generally carried out at low to moderate heat levels. The smoking cooking techniques can also promote basting of the food as the juices from the food are caught and vaporized to baste the food to keep the food moist and prevent dehydration while the smoke flavor is imparted to the food. In addition, with the inclusion of a drip pan the juices can be captured and this drip pan can also hold fluids such as water which, in conjunction with the heat source, provide additional moisture in the food being smoked (e.g., meats, fish, etc.).
A typical conventional smoker assembly includes a housing containing one or more grill racks, the above noted pan positioned below the grill for dripping collection and vapor generation, a heat source, and a wood chip tray or rack, placed adjacent the heat source, to hold the smoke producing material (e.g., to generate the smoke there is typically used materials such as hickory, alder and mesquite wood in any one of a variety of forms as in chips, briquettes, and saw dust).
In addition, the prior art devices include stand alone smokers as seen, for example, in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,713,267; 4,417,748; 4,309,938; 4,020,322 and 3,776,127 as well as those that are designed as an added feature to a grill assembly as seen by U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,891,498; 5,718,165; 5,167,183 and 4,770,157. Additionally, the prior art discloses a variety of structures for generating the smoke and providing the smoke to the food, including a generally common housing embodiment with both an internalized firebox (where the material is subjected to heat and initiates smoke generation) and a smoke/food contact chamber or smoker location (where the smoke is applied to the food) as seen from U.S. Pat. No. 4,321,857; those with an exterior fire box with direct attachment to a smoker housing as exemplified by U.S. Pat. No. 6,209,533; as well as those that are externally connected to the smoking location via a smoke conduit or the like as seen from U.S. Pat. No. 5,138,939.
The above noted references additionally illustrate ways of supplying the smoke generating material, with U.S. Pat. No. 5,138,939 featuring a supply stack of pellets which are fed via a motorized pusher assembly to the smoke generation location, U.S. Pat. No. 3,776,127 illustrating an upper domed cover which provides access to the interior of the smoker when cool, U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,891,498 and 4,309,938 showing a door access arrangement and U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,770,157 and 5,718,165 illustrating sliding insertion drawers.
Problems associated with the prior art includes difficulty in accessing the tray or smoke generating material support once cooking is initiated and the heat level rises to near or at the cooking temperature, the inability to easily re-supply the smoke generating source material without seriously disrupting an ongoing smoking process (e.g., an excessive release of built up smoke and/or heat), and/or a removal from the firebox housing of at least some of the currently utilized smoke generating material (which can also lead to ash material falling out on the cook and/or exterior environment), and/or the reliance on a highly complex supply assembly as exemplified by U.S. Pat. No. 5,138,939. In addition, due to the lower heat, longer time often associated with smoking food, when the fuel source is of the replenishment type (e.g., charcoal or wood fuel), the fuel itself often needs to be replenished during the course of a single food smoking operation. This need to resupply also leads to heat release from the firebox housing and the potential for release of smoke, ashes, etc.
The present invention is directed at providing a cooking apparatus such as a smoker cooking apparatus with a smoke generating material supply and/or resupply device as in a release feeder device that is directed at alleviating or reducing the above noted deficiencies in the prior art by providing an easy to operate, not unduly complex smoke generating material feeder or loader that, among other things, preferably allows for a resupply in an on-going smoking process without serious disruption of that smoking process and also provides an easy way to initially supply and/or resupply later the smoke generating material while the cooking apparatus has heated up (as in the desired smoker cook temperature level) with a lower chance of operator or environment burning.
The loader can be relied upon as the sole source of feeding the receiving area of the smoke generating material or, more preferably, as a secondary source of supply as in its use in combination with an alternate initial supply assembly (e.g., a pivot or slide door access/a removable top or side cover/a sliding drawer, etc. which can be used during an initial pre-heat up stage). Also, the loader of the present invention is preferably gravity assisted with a rotating arrangement preferred as in one where the loader is positioned above a wood chip receiver tray that is closer to the heat source as compared to the loader which is farther removed from the heat source. To facilitate the rotation unloading, the loader is preferably in the form of a container having a bottom and side wall configuration with smoker material load recess, as in a container that is semi-cylindrical in shape and insertable through an opening into a reception state with a rotation support structure providing one or more bearing contact surfaces that provide bearing contact as the container is adjusted (e.g., rotated) from a smoker material storage state (opening facing the top of the smoker or away from the heat source) to an unloading state, as in one which is 180° removed from the storage state wherein the load is transferred, preferably by way of a gravity assisted fall, into a recipient device such as a smoke generating material “firebox” receiver tray below.
The cook thus has greater flexibility in the smoking process in that, upon an apparent depletion of smoke generation material, a resupply can be carried out either by a pre-loaded and earlier inserted resupply loader (while cool or prior to reaching the desired smoker temperature) or one that is removed during the smoking process and loaded with the desired amount of resupply smoke generating material reinserted and then dumped. The timing of resupply can be based on factors such as experience, direct observation (e.g., a transparent viewing window in the housing or a preexisting gas access port), sensed parameters (smoke density detector) or on a pre-established schedule (e.g. a time and release with a automated loader with time). Enhanced flexibility is also found in the ability to resupply with an alternate “flavor” smoke material as in starting with hickory and switching to an alternate or supplemental smoking flavor closer to completion time of an ongoing food item or relative to a switched out cooked food item (e.g., through an access door) and having either a similar smoke generating material or a different “flavor” smoke generating material in the loader ready for supplying the firebox tray without having to remove the higher temperature resupply loader at any point during the smoking process, or if the loader is removed and reloaded with smoke generating material it is done so with minimal disruption to the smoking process. While a fixed in position food support during the smoking process (e.g., slide in food support racks) is preferred under the present invention in line with the desire for avoiding complexity, the present invention also features alternate food support means such as a mechanized moving food support that is internalized (e.g., an internal housing set of food securement means such as skewers which rotate during the smoking process either individually or in an interconnected (e.g., chain link)) fashion or an internal to external mechanized moving food support means as in a timed conveyor system passing in and out of the smoker housing with appropriate smoke sealing ports.
An additional feature of an embodiment of the present invention is a loader provided with a solid bottom and a receiving area or firebox receiver tray provided with a perforated base to facilitate heat contact and ash release. The removal of the loader is thus made a much cleaner and safer process in that there is avoided ash dissipation during the removal of the loader from the confines of the housing, which in prior art systems can require the removal of still smoldering ash with associated hazards.
A preferred embodiment of the present invention includes a smoker such as a stand alone structure (e.g., a box like self supporting structure) or a structure suited for attachment to a grill structure (e.g., a box like structure that has means for engagement with a preexisting grill structure or is otherwise integrated with the grill). The smoker housing preferably has rectangular side walls having sides more elongated in the vertical direction than widthwise and depth wise as to accommodate a multitude of slidable food support racks (e.g., 2 to 6 racks as in 4 racks spaced at different vertical heights from the base of the smoker). One of the side walls preferably comprises a door as in one that extends for more than a majority of the height of the smoker and is hinged at a border edge between two walls of the housing (e.g., the door itself and a side wall) so as to provide ready access to the food racks as well as the preferably included drip pan and/or liquid vapor generating liquid (e.g., water) container that is/are provided between the heat source and food rack(s) as well as an apertured firebox receiver tray in contact with or closely adjacent the heat source (e.g., in direct (above/below) contact or with small spacing as in less than two inches and more preferably less than an inch). The heat source is preferably a coiled electric heat resistance bar (and thus can be an indoor device, but in view of the smoke generation and associated typical indoor ducting requirements, outdoor usage is a more typical usage of the subject matter of the present invention).
The loader preferably extends through an opening formed in one of the walls of the housing at a vertical height (e.g., mid level) above the firebox tray and preferably is also aligned along a vertical plane extending through each of the loader and firebox tray (although an offset arrangement is also featured under the subject matter of the invention as in one having a reload slide shoot to compensate for any vertical non-alignment between the loader and the firebox receiver tray receiving the smoker material for initiation of smoke generation). However, the directly above arrangement is favored in that it provides a less complex structure. Also, the loader's peripheral profile is preferably made smaller than the receiver tray (e.g., a smaller length and/or width relative to the receiver tray) as to better accomplish a no-spillage interchange during the unloading of the smoke generating material. In this regard, the loader is provided a short distance above the receiving opening in the receiver tray as in an arrangement wherein the loader is placed vertically between the receiver tray below and the drip pan and food rack above. A centrally located (relative to sidewall depth) opening is well suited for good smoke dissipation and the loader extends inward into the housing, as in inward to a central location relative to a horizontal cross-section of the housing, with the loader's central axis of elongation (which coincides with the axis of rotation in the preferred rotatable loader assembly) being arranged 90° offset from an axis extending in a front to back direction though a central region of the door to achieve the preferred side loading arrangement or an arrangement wherein the loader is in a non-door wall portion of the smoker housing. The loader is preferably partially nested relative to the receiver tray in the sense that a portion of the vertical height of the loader tray overlaps with a portion of the receiver tray, as in upper side wall edges of the tray extending vertically up and to opposite sides of the loader at least to some extent (e.g., a semi-cylindrical loader which vertically overlaps or nests within the firebox receiver tray below both when in the pre-dump and the dump position). Further, the loader preferably provides some degree of covering enclosure functioning relative to the open upper end of the smoke generating material receiver tray. Also, the free edge (innermost within housing) of the receiver tray preferably vertically overlaps with a closing end cap of the nested loader.
In a preferred embodiment, the smoker includes a double wall arrangement, and preferably is in the form of an insulated housing having a generally mini-bar refrigerator configuration and a door provided over, for example, a majority or more of one side wall such as a hinged door with a sealing strip to seal off the doorway. The sealing strip is formed of a material suitable for handling in excess of the temperature range-involved with standard smoker techniques (e.g., 150° F. to 350° F.). The smoke generated from the smoke generating material can thus be sealed in and maintained in contact with the food product being smoked at a higher efficiency which is beneficial for the preferred smoke processing times of six (6) to twelve (12) hours.
Also, the housing of the smoker is preferably provided with a base having a false-bottom configuration with a vertically downward extending flange peripheral side wall (as in one that is separate or part of the main body smoker housing structure) and a bottom (again can be separate or part of the main smoker housing) and is closed off at the top edge of the peripheral flange with a plate so as to provide an insulating opening below the false bottom plate that also preferably functions as a location for providing control equipment for the heat source as in an electric control circuit for an electric heater and a gas flow control system for a gas burner and/or temperature sensing means and timing devices, etc. In this regard, a heat source control device as in a dial or touch pad is preferably provided on the external surface of the smoker housing for user manipulation (e.g., at the base as in the vertical flange or, more preferably, at a higher location on the housing with temperature and/or time adjustment communication means (hardwired or wireless transceiver/receiver signal arrangement associated with the heat source control)).
Also, the temperature control and/or timer is preferably a digital system, and is positioned at the bottom of the refrigerator in one embodiment and internalized within the double walled main housing section (e.g., within a door hollow) in another embodiment, although other positions (separate housing externally attached) are also featured. There is further preferably provided a remote (e.g., wired or wireless connection) between a hand operated control transmitter and a housing supported control unit with receiver unit for remote adjustment of smoker apparatus characteristics as in the above noted temperature and time. For example a 30 feet or less (e.g. a 20 foot or less as in a Bluetooth™ wireless connection) with press button adjustment signal generators is provided for altering the temperature setting for smoke processing of the food and/or for altering a timer or the like for smoking time and/or another smoker apparatus characteristic as in overall on/off of the smoker, position adjustment of, for example, food support means and/or the loader, etc. Thus a person sitting at a patio table can adjust the cooking apparatus settings at a remote deck location without having to move from the present location. A feedback transmitter/receiver arrangement is further preferably provided in an alternate embodiment for supplying data to a display means on the remote, as in for example, present temperature status data output or time left or incurred (based on an internal heat sensor and timer), preferably associated with a calculated temperature or time difference relative to a preset temperature or time value, loader position status information (full, in pre-dump position, in dump position, etc.), as well as possible other characteristics, such as door lock status, vent operative opening and air access opening sizing (when venting is involved as an alternate embodiment of the invention further includes a no air entry embodiment operating, for example, at a low temperature setting range of 100° to 250°). An alternate embodiment of the invention comprises an automated loader assembly such as one having means for implementing an automated unloading of the loader (e.g., loader adjustment turning means) as in gear and chain, electrical solenoid hydraulic manipulation, etc. to manipulate the loader for achieving, for example, a pre-dump to dump and return to pre-dump sequence, although a manual device is preferred for less complexity reasons. An additional embodiment includes means for automated withdrawal of the loader external to housing and re-insertion fully internal in the housing (e.g., a gear rack with motor for sliding in and out of the loader). The automated loader dumping and/or loader insertion/retracting means of the present invention are also preferably associated with the above noted remote control (e.g., added functions to the temperature and time altering control described above). Again, for simplicity and cost production, however, a hand, operated loader retraction and insertion and dump and return to pre-dump arrangement are preferred.
Further, just above the base plate or floor at the lower region of the smoker housing there is preferably provided an ash tray that can be readily removed upon opening the door (or some alternate access means as in a sliding drawer ash tray slot arrangement) once the smoker has sufficiently cooled. With a preferred electrical heater bar embodiment, the ash tray is positioned below a heat source such as a heat resistance bar and below the apertured receiver tray's bottom plate.
A preferred loader support structure features a reception aperture provided in the housing wall which is generally configured commensurate with the shape of the end of the loader that is positioned closest to that wall following full insertion of the loader into the housing. For example, with the preferred semi-cylindrical loader configuration, a circular aperture is provided in a side wall of the housing which is dimensioned to be generally of the same size as the circumference associated with the support end of the loader as in a slight friction contact arrangement or a slight gap (e.g., less than ⅛ inch with or without sealing means) to preclude excessive heat and smoke release while still providing for loader dump rotation. The support end of the loader is thus preferably a circular disk as the end of the partially open cylindrical dumper body that preferably has some axial thickness about its sealing periphery (e.g., a flange arrangement as analogous to a sealant tube dispenser gun tube reception housing). The side wall defining the aperture provides structural support to the loader as in sole reliance on the aperture edging to provide cantilever base support for the freely suspended remainder of the loader or a combination of support plates supported with the housing by through rods at one or both ends. These additional supports can further include an extended portion of the receiver tray below. In a preferred embodiment a pair of support rods extend through spaced support plates that are axially spaced apart and fixed to the rods. The receiver tray is attached to opposing inner faces of the axially spaced support plates. Also, the receiver tray preferably has one or both end shield plates that are shaped to provide rotation support to the inserter loader.
The receiver tray also preferably is arranged so as to extend horizontally within the housing with a fixed end fixed to the interior of the same wall in which the loader aperture is formed and the opposite end extending inward into the interior of the housing for about the same distance as the loader when fully inserted. The loader is preferably supported by way of the wall edge(s) defining the side wall aperture and, at its inter-most end, by an end wall of the receiver tray. Also the interiormost end of the loader is preferably positioned just past the corresponding end of the loader to complete the partial nesting arrangement (e.g., a receiver tray end wall with a concave upper edge receiving in sliding contact the main body of the loader in a border region between the main body and interiormost loader end cap).
In a preferred embodiment there is provided a sheet metal receiver tray having side walls supported in cantilevered fashion, an apertured bottom base plate and a free interiormost end wall. In addition, there is one or more support rods extending from one end interior side wall surface to an apposite side wall (e.g., a pair of support rods extending in parallel fashion and positioned just below the receiver tray). Sandwiched between the support rods lying on a horizontal plane and the receiver tray base plate is a coiled resistance heater bar that is also preferably in a direct contact arrangement with the bottom base plate. In other words, the illustrated “wood chip” tray and/or the supporting side plates and/or rods are preferably placed in direct contact with the resistance heater bar to facilitate conductive heat transference from the resistance bar to the apertured plate supporting the smoker material in the receiver tray.
An embodiment at the invention features a border region of the housing extending about the loader aperture that provides a light friction seal arrangement between the end region of the loader and the side wall of the smoker housing. The border region also preferably includes positioning indicia or some form of markings to designate the setting position, although a non-indicia embodiment is also featured under the present invention. An alternate embodiment features proper tray position alignment means as in a key-hole-slot arrangement in the loader and border region to help an operator determine proper initial orientation which clears following sufficient axial insertion of the loader into the smoker housing (e.g. an L-shaped loader slot which allows axial insertion relative to a housing supported key projection extending into the slot area which L-shaped slot provides for rotation once sufficiently inserted. The opposite end loader cap preferably has a similar substantial sealing arrangement that provides for retraction of the loader (preferably a supported, but not completely withdrawn retraction setting) which provides retracted loader support for facilitating a reloading of smoker material while the smoker is heated up.
The providing of a sealing strip around the door also helps to maintain a previously achieved smoke/temperature setting. This sealed in relationship also facilitates the low temperature, long time period the food is heated (e.g., it is not uncommon for smoking periods to exceed 8 hours in one setting). With such prolonged times it is also helpful to have the loader tray available to restock the smoke generating material due to complete usage during a first period of the overall smoking period. This can be done in a retraction setting while the smoker is fully heated or can involve an initial dump and then a refill and insertion of the loader while the smoker is cool or before full heat up into a stand-by state until a desired point in time arises wherein the pre-loaded loader is dumped.
For situations where the heating source is charcoal or some other loose material supplied to the receiver tray (as compared to a gas or electric heat source), the fuel can also be restocked by the smoke material loader as in a process comprising supplying wood chips directly to a pile of burning charcoal in a receiver tray followed by a restocking of the charcoal to the receiver tray and then again supplying additional flavor supplying smoke generating material. In an embodiment where the heat source is an electric resistance bar and the wood chip loader is provided at the upper end of a receiving nesting wood chip tray support assembly, preferably the wood chip loader forms an upper closed off section of the receiving receiver tray.
As shown in
As represented by the partial cut-away views in
With reference to
For remote activation, transceiver/receiver assembly 73 shown in
Control assembly 68 further preferably includes a heating temperature control system such as those used to control the temperature of conventional ovens (e.g. via current to resistance adjustments). Heating temperature control 69 (
The first leg set 78 of resistance bar sections (78 a, 78 b) is shown in
As shown in
The preferred heat resistance bar/tray contact arrangement places each of the long edges of an apertured, rectangular base tray plate 95 in contact along their full length with the respective, adjacent resistance bar sections 84 a, 84 b and/or shields 98, 100, which extend vertically up from the tray plates long edges. In this way, there is an extended length of direct contact heat conduction to base plate 95, and/or shields 98, 100 (depending on relative positioning of each). Shields 98, 100 are shown to be multi-paneled shields, that include opposing, mirror image opposing panel schemes. The illustrated shields 98, 100 each comprise panel sections (101, 102, 103) which are best shown in
Receiver tray 89 is arranged for receipt of smoker material from loader 105 with loader 105 preferably being in a nested arrangement within receiver tray 89 as well as preferably in a support relationship as with end receiver tray plate 96 providing an interior support surface (e.g., in a sliding contact concave upper edge support arrangement). The housing itself also preferably provides additional support to the loader as in opposite loader end contact via the loader reception surface of housing 22 defining aperture (61,
As shown in
End caps 108 and 110 (
In addition, side wall shields 98, 100 extend up to vertically overlap (e.g., a partial or full overlap) both main body 107 (e.g., the upper side edges of body 107 which are substantially horizontally coincident with the mirror image V-shaped rims' apex edges 106) representing the innermost extension portion of shields 98, 100).
As seen from
As shown in
Handle 1160′, having grasp portion 1220′ (preferably a low heat conduction type as in a wood dowel with direction indicia RM (
The present invention also comprises retracking the loader following the above sequence (e.g., a complete withdrawal and removal of loader 105 from the housing or a non-full withdrawal or retraction as in a switching of locations of end caps 108 and 110 relative to the side wall 25 section defining aperture 61. The end caps preferably having a common exterior maximum section (e.g., diameter) to provide a common plugging effect at each position. Following loader retraction additional smoker material SM can be loaded either for use in a subsequent smoker process or cycle (the loader preferably being sufficiently spaced at both an inserted state and a retracted state from heat source 76 to avoid smoking of the smoker material SM until dumped to receiver tray 89 or a resupply dumping process is scheduled in accordance with the above described receiver tray resupply of smoker material during a common food smoking cycle.
As also seen from
In other words, by confining the hear resistance bar's loop extension to conform or be inward of the periphery of the receiver tray 89 there is facilitated a more direct hear approach, preferably with a direct contact heat conduction element in addition to the radiant and convection heat exchange used to sufficiently heat the smoker material SM to achieve the smoke generation.
It should be emphasized that the above-described embodiments of the present invention, particularly, any “preferred” embodiments, are merely possible examples of various possible implementations embodying the principles of the invention. In other words, many variations and modifications may be made to the above-described embodiment(s) of the invention without departing substantially from the spirit and principles of the invention. All such modifications and variations are intended to be included herein within the scope of this disclosure and the present invention and protected by the following claims.