Carpe Diem:25 January, 2023

Intro to Induction Brewing

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I’ve been brewing for a few years now. One of the enjoyable parts of home brewing is being able to upgrade various equipment pieces over time. I started brewing in a basic kettle on the kitchen stove within a small apartment. Over time, I bought a nicer kettle, moved to a larger home, and purchased a propane burner so I could brew in the garage. My most recent addition is an induction cooker – I’ve gone electric!

I did some shopping around and ultimately went with the WeChef 3500W Commercial Induction Cooktop. There are other brands that make similar units such as Avantco. At 3500 watts, this unit is by far the best priced induction cooker getting the most bang for your buck that I could find. I would have preferred a more powerful cooker in the 4000-5000 watt range, but anything above 3500 watts gets excessively expensive. I couldn’t justify paying 2x-5x more with the only major improvement being less time to wait for things to heat up. For 5 gallon batches, 3500W is plenty, but I wouldn’t go much below this. I might need to get supplemental heat when doing 10g batches. I’ve implemented some tweaks to my brewday to help compensate – see the sections below for some tips.

In terms of electrical work, I did need to install a 240v outlet for this cooktop. We recently brought 240v to our garage for EV charging, so adding an additional outlet wasn’t too much trouble. Definitely make sure you have adequate wiring that can accommodate an induction cooker safely before making a purchase! If you don’t have a relatively easy means to get 240v access, induction cooking is probably not the way to go. This induction burner uses a NEMA 6-20P plug.

So why electric?

I’ve listed the major reasons for me below. By going with induction, I did sacrifice having a much more powerful burner (my propane one), but this hasn’t been a problem for me. This just means that I need to start my strike water earlier in the day which isn’t a problem at all. This is well worth the bonuses of electric:

  • Cost. Electric is a much cheaper fuel source than propane. I’m roughly paying at least half the amount for fuel on brew day. This doesn’t even consider the cost/time to travel to get propane tanks refilled and hydrotested.
  • Efficiency. Induction is one of the most efficient heat sources. Why? Because the brew kettle itself is the thing being heated which in turn means your wort. With a propane burner, it’s heating the air right under the kettle. In other words, this is heat loss. You can feel the heat when you’re next to a propane burner; it’s lost efficiency (unless one of your efficiency goals is heating the brew area). As a +1, you can wrap your brew kettle in insulation to further improve the efficiency game. I’ll share my setup in a later post.
  • Safety. This comes in two parts:
    • Lack of fumes. This was a game changer for me. I wanted to be able to brew in the Midwest winter in my garage which meant that I needed to keep the garage door closed or face the elements while brewing… So to keep the garage door closed, I couldn’t have a propane burner producing potentially lethal fumes. Electric has no fumes (locally). The only thing I need to worry about is humidity levels. When it gets too humid, I just crack the garage door open a bit. I’m also looking at buying a steam condenser lid.
    • No hot areas to burn youngins. I’m a father of two kids under 5 years old. That means brew day is a blast of activity. With the propane burner, I needed to be concerned to make sure kids didn’t get to close to the burner, because they could burn themselves. With induction, the highest temp I need to worry about is 212 Fahrenheit (when kettle is at boil). While still hot, this is much colder than the temps propane burns at.
  • Never have to worry about running out of fuel. Running out of gas on brew day is a big headache. I had 2 propane tankers that I rotated so I would have a backup, but it was still work. Needing to head to the store to exchange it regularly is another thing to do.
  • Electricity is a better energy source. Many folks consider it a clean energy, but that really depends on how the electricity was generated. If the electricity was generated by coal, it’s not really that clean. HOWEVER, the beauty of electric is that it has the ability to be sourced from many different (cleaner) producers. You, the consumer, get to make this choice.

Performance

The graph here illustrates the heating capacity of the WeChef 3500W induction burner looking at the temp in °F over time. I ran a couple different tests with very similar results – here’s my test setup:

  • Using a 15 gallon brew kettle with 10 gallons of strike water. Kept kettle lid on.
  • Started tests with cold tap water (50°F to 70°F depending on time of year)
  • Turned on induction cooktop at full power
  • Did multiple tests in winter months and in summer. The ambient temp varied from 40°F to 80°F in my garage

Testing Conclusions

  • The water in the kettle heated up roughly 1.5°F every minute. This translates to roughly an hour to hour and a half of heating to get from cold tap water to strike temp (175ish °F). While this may seem longer, starting the water first on brew day helps keep it from being a bottleneck.
  • The temp increase is surprisingly pretty linear. The 1.5°F/min occurs regardless of current temp or ambient room temp. The insulating kettle jacket I made likely makes this possible. I’ll share the details on this in a later post.

Brew Day Tips

  • Since the induction cooker is less powerful, the first thing I do on brew day is get the water heating. While it’s heating up I take care of all my other brew day prep tasks such as getting the rest of my equipment out, measuring and milling grain, preparing hops additions, and prepping the yeast.
  • Keeping the kettle lid on makes a big difference in holding in heat. I keep the lid on when heating but remove it when hitting boiling temps (otherwise boil overs happen).
  • The kettle insulation jacket is super helpful to achieve and maintain temps in the brew kettle. Cheap and easy to make – I’ll share the details on a later post

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