Best SS Kettle for Mash Tun?

I’m looking to upgrade from a cooler to a SS mash tun (kettle or keg) because the more I think about it, the more I’m not all that comfortable with the plastic. But I’m not sure exactly what I need. Here are my questions, and I’m hoping that those with much greater experience can shed some light:

  1. I do mostly 6 gallons batches of ales and almost never step-mash, so I’m not sure if I need something that’s designed for direct heating. Is this really necessary, or can I only avoid heating the tun periodically if I insulate the kettle really well? I brew in the garage.

  2. I’m not sure if I really need a 2-port kettle for a thermometer. I have a 5-inch thermometer probe that I use. Does the mash temp vary widely in a deep mash?

  3. I was looking at something in the $200-$300 range with an included false bottom setup like this:
    http://www.homebrewing.org/Ultimate-Mash-Tun-Brew-Kettle_p_774.html#
    But it doesn’t have a lid. Seems like I’d need one, or maybe that’s just because I’m used to using one to keep crap out of the wort during chilling.

  4. I boil in a 15-gallon SS Bayou Classic kettle, maybe I should just switch to Brew in a Bag and get a false bottom?

Any other insight you can give? I’m sure there’s a lot I haven’t considered. Thanks!

[quote=“Chinaski1217”]I’m looking to upgrade from a cooler to a SS mash tun (kettle or keg) because the more I think about it, the more I’m not all that comfortable with the plastic. But I’m not sure exactly what I need. Here are my questions, and I’m hoping that those with much greater experience can shed some light:

  1. I do mostly 6 gallons batches of ales and almost never step-mash, so I’m not sure if I need something that’s designed for direct heating. Is this really necessary, or can I only avoid heating the tun periodically if I insulate the kettle really well? I brew in the garage.
    i use a SS MT and simply use an old blanket or two for insulation. Unless I have a large headspace I don’t lose much heat. Mine is direct fired so the tun is heating up with the water.
  2. I’m not sure if I really need a 2-port kettle for a thermometer. I have a 5-inch thermometer probe that I use. Does the mash temp vary widely in a deep mash?
    I have a thermo on mine but I use a thermopen and ignore the fixed. You would be surprised at the differences in different areas. What I have started doing is turning the heat down when it’s a few degrees from my desired temps. I then stir the mash until it hits the temp. I find this provides better uniformity through mash.
  3. I was looking at something in the $200-$300 range with an included false bottom setup like this:
    http://www.homebrewing.org/Ultimate-Mash-Tun-Brew-Kettle_p_774.html#
    But it doesn’t have a lid. Seems like I’d need one, or maybe that’s just because I’m used to using one to keep crap out of the wort during chilling.
    thats a fair price. I think with a 15.5 gal pot for 6 gal batch you’ll have some a great deal of headspace unless you are brewing high OG beer.
  4. I boil in a 15-gallon SS Bayou Classic kettle, maybe I should just switch to Brew in a Bag and get a false bottom?
    that certainly is an option. Would be cheaper.
    Any other insight you can give? I’m sure there’s a lot I haven’t considered. Thanks![/quote]
    I enjoy doing step mashes and feel I MUST do a mash out (I fly sparge). I also find step mashes for wheats and lagers are a must for me as I get better effeciency as well as fermentability and body. YMMV.

[quote=“Loopie Beer”][quote=“Chinaski1217”]I’m looking to upgrade from a cooler to a SS mash tun (kettle or keg) because the more I think about it, the more I’m not all that comfortable with the plastic. But I’m not sure exactly what I need. Here are my questions, and I’m hoping that those with much greater experience can shed some light:

  1. I do mostly 6 gallons batches of ales and almost never step-mash, so I’m not sure if I need something that’s designed for direct heating. Is this really necessary, or can I only avoid heating the tun periodically if I insulate the kettle really well? I brew in the garage.
    i use a SS MT and simply use an old blanket or two for insulation. Unless I have a large headspace I don’t lose much heat. Mine is direct fired so the tun is heating up with the water.
  2. I’m not sure if I really need a 2-port kettle for a thermometer. I have a 5-inch thermometer probe that I use. Does the mash temp vary widely in a deep mash?
    I have a thermo on mine but I use a thermopen and ignore the fixed. You would be surprised at the differences in different areas. What I have started doing is turning the heat down when it’s a few degrees from my desired temps. I then stir the mash until it hits the temp. I find this provides better uniformity through mash.
  3. I was looking at something in the $200-$300 range with an included false bottom setup like this:
    http://www.homebrewing.org/Ultimate-Mash-Tun-Brew-Kettle_p_774.html#
    But it doesn’t have a lid. Seems like I’d need one, or maybe that’s just because I’m used to using one to keep crap out of the wort during chilling.
    thats a fair price. I think with a 15.5 gal pot for 6 gal batch you’ll have some a great deal of headspace unless you are brewing high OG beer.
  4. I boil in a 15-gallon SS Bayou Classic kettle, maybe I should just switch to Brew in a Bag and get a false bottom?
    that certainly is an option. Would be cheaper.
    Any other insight you can give? I’m sure there’s a lot I haven’t considered. Thanks![/quote]
    I enjoy doing step mashes and feel I MUST do a mash out (I fly sparge). I also find step mashes for wheats and lagers are a must for me as I get better effeciency as well as fermentability and body. YMMV.[/quote]

Thanks for the input. I hadn’t really considered heat loss due to head space. Since I’m only doing 6 gallon batches, maybe I aim for a 10 gallon pot for mashing.

When you insulate your MT, do you have a lid, or just drape the blanket over and around the kettle? Seems like you’d lose a good bit of temp if you’ve got an open top. Are you doing large-ish batches in a 15.5 gallon kettle?

I’ve got a 15 gal MT for 10gal batches. I think you MUST have a lid or you’ll lose tons of heat. NI just drape the blankets on top and kind of tuck them under the pot/burner.

Is till use cooler so this is not (yet) a concern for me but is there any worry about having a blanket on or near a burner that is probably pretty hot even if its turned off?

Yes there is. I will wait a couple mins to wrap the MT once I kill the heat.

If you go with a SS kettle, check out the prices for Bayou Classic equipment at Overstock.com.

The big downside of a metal kettle for a mash tun is heat loss; you will drop in temperature A LOT unless you insulate reasonably well or have some method of adding heat back almost continuously during the mash. I used to try direct heating, and discovered that you need to continuously stir to avoid creating big thermal gradients in the kettle. Best to avoid that problem by keeping the tun insulated.

I’m curious, do you plan to fly sparge or batch sparge? What is it about the plastic cooler that makes you nervous? I went the other way a few years ago, and have never considered going back, but everyone’s process is different.

[quote=“rebuiltcellars”]The big downside of a metal kettle for a mash tun is heat loss; you will drop in temperature A LOT unless you insulate reasonably well or have some method of adding heat back almost continuously during the mash. I used to try direct heating, and discovered that you need to continuously stir to avoid creating big thermal gradients in the kettle. Best to avoid that problem by keeping the tun insulated.

I’m curious, do you plan to fly sparge or batch sparge? What is it about the plastic cooler that makes you nervous? I went the other way a few years ago, and have never considered going back, but everyone’s process is different.[/quote]

I batch sparge. And the more I read or hear, it seems like your experience is common in regards to maintaining temperature in a thin-walled kettle. I don’t own a pump to recirculate and don’t really want to buy one. And a number of the kettles I see aren’t meant to be heated directly.

I guess what concerns me (and I realize this may spark an unwanted debate) is that I’m not exactly sure how safe it is to maintain mashing temps in a plastic cooler that may not be meant to handle those temps. Or maybe it’s fine, and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve read threads on this and there seems to be no consensus.

[quote=“Chinaski1217”][quote=“rebuiltcellars”]The big downside of a metal kettle for a mash tun is heat loss; you will drop in temperature A LOT unless you insulate reasonably well or have some method of adding heat back almost continuously during the mash. I used to try direct heating, and discovered that you need to continuously stir to avoid creating big thermal gradients in the kettle. Best to avoid that problem by keeping the tun insulated.

I’m curious, do you plan to fly sparge or batch sparge? What is it about the plastic cooler that makes you nervous? I went the other way a few years ago, and have never considered going back, but everyone’s process is different.[/quote]

I batch sparge. And the more I read or hear, it seems like your experience is common in regards to maintaining temperature in a thin-walled kettle. I don’t own a pump to recirculate and don’t really want to buy one. And a number of the kettles I see aren’t meant to be heated directly.

I guess what concerns me (and I realize this may spark an unwanted debate) is that I’m not exactly sure how safe it is to maintain mashing temps in a plastic cooler that may not be meant to handle those temps. Or maybe it’s fine, and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. I’ve read threads on this and there seems to be no consensus.[/quote]

Aaaaand, then I found this (thread here:
http://forum.northernbrewer.com/viewtopic.php?f=5&t=86574#p803235

Denny wrote:
I asked my homebrewing plastics chemist friend for comments, so we could get some real facts and not just specualte. He read this thread and sent me the following email…

"I forget whether the Rubbermaid and Igloo coolers are polypropylene or polyethylene but both are very similar plastics that vary mostly in there temperature ranges. Both are relatively low temp plastics and very safe for food contact. The only worry about using hot liquids in either cooler is that the plastic will soften at temps approaching 200°F.

I used to use a Gott cooler for a mash tun and used a false bottom with screws for feet to hold it up above the spigot. On one occasion, I did a decoction and after adding the boiling grist back to the cooler, there was enough wort at high enough temperature that when I turn on my circulating pump, the vacuum pressure on the FB caused the bolts to pull down through the bottom of the inner wall. I never had a problem with regular infusion mashing though. Eventually, the inner wall will buckle a bit from multiple hot water infusion.

I enjoyed reading some of the comments on the NB forum. You can post this there if you like. It’s amazing the tack that a discussion can take when everyone works off of speculation and not information. PP & PE are only related to PVC because they are both polymers. From there, they are quite different. Many PVC’s have plasticizers added to soften them up. It’s the plasticizers that are liable to leach out and cause health problems. Unless you work in a PVC factory, the PVC itself is not worth worrying about. It’s the Chlorine in PVC that makes it so potentially dangerous but primarily at processing temps, not use temps.

Cost has nothing to do with whether a polymer is safe or not. Most polymers are food grade. Many don’t have the certifications that are necessary to sell them as food grade. PP & PE see so much food contact use that 99% of them are designed for food contact. Do you think that they’d let you put water in a non-food grade container (I know you don’t Denny)? The polymers price is based on the cost to manufacture it. PP & PE are cheap because their chemistry is so simple. Think of them as a close cousin to candle wax. From there, most plastics are priced by their temp capabilities. I’ve worked with some that are over $50 a pound. They get lots of use are medical instruments and aircraft interiors.

The polyphenylene sulfide (PPS) that is common on March pump heads is the binder that sticks the teflon to your cookware (you didn’t think they could get teflon to stick, did you?). The polysulphone of the quick connects is also used to make the interior panels of aircraft because of their low flammability and low smoke emissions. BTW, the vinyl hose we all use around our home breweries is PVC! I’m sure it has plenty of plasticizers in it to make it flexible."

Denny Conn, y’all. Seems pretty OK.

I have a dennybrew setup and it works great but i find myself doing biab all the time. It just suits me and my situation.

I have 2 bayou classic 1064 kettles I use as a HLT and MT/BK, 2 propane bayou classic burners, a march pump and a plate chiller. I do 6 and 12 gallon batches. Mostly 12 gallons lately. The brew day isn’t that much longer and I get twice the beer.

I typically mash with traditional water to grain ratios then pull the bag and sparge by pumping sparge water through the grain bag to get my preboil volume. So it’s kind of a no stir, no lauter fast batch sparge.

When I mash I wrap the kettle in an old sleeping bag. I’ve brewed when it’s in the 20s, protected from wind and I’ve only lost 2 degrees in an hour mash. During the summer the temp seldom drops in an hour. YMMV

Edit: I’ve done a couple of recirulating mashes and fired the burner to maintain temps. I put a false bottom under the bag when i do that to protect it from the heat and with the pump running I got a consistent reading from an inline thermometer and my therma pen pushed into the grain bed. Of course I leave the sleeping bag off when I do this. :shock:

Selecting a process and system is a personal choice. Do what works for you.

My sleeping bag has a few scorch marks on it if you must know… :wink: