HOME MADE BRADLEY BISCUITS! Which are home-made and which are original? Can you tell?
As requested, I am posting my instructions on how to make your own smoker biscuits which will fit and feed perfectly into your Bradley Smoker from your own kitchen. Don't be intimidated by this vast post. The steps are very simple. I wanted to be thorough in order to avoid confusion and to help you understand the process. Feel free to read the highlighted topics only, but I would suggest you read all the material so you can be confident in making your own biscuits. You only need to order a few things to get started. Also, I'd be interested in hearing any of your ideas and observations. So far, this works great for me, but it's good to keep an open mind!
Some advantages to making your own biscuits:
- Save 10 to 40 times the amount you can buy biscuits online or at the store. My biscuits range from 2 to 8 cents a piece, depending on the type of wood I order and which company I get them from.
- Create your own wood combinations to your liking. I like to mix Hickory and Cherry, or Apple and Mesquite, etc.
- Skip a trip to the store, which, for me, will usually take an hour or more. Given that the only place around here that sells Bradley Biscuits is Cabelas, I rarely am able to go to this store without spending more time and buying more than what I came for. I've also noticed that often times Cabelas has better prices than I can get online, but this is offset by time and gas spent. It usually works out about the same. By the time you get home, you could have made 30 to 50 biscuits in an hour. That's only $0.60 to $2.40 for that many biscuits!
- Have the satisfaction of knowing that you were able to figure out how to do something for yourself - something that many think is too difficult or too time consuming for their taste. As stated earlier, you're either spending more money and time going to the store, or spending less time and money by making biscuits at home. Take your pick.
Below is a list and pictures of the materials you'll need - some of which you may already have at home or in your garage. I have also included where I purchased the materials as well as their cost as of the date of this thread post. At first, there will obviously be an initial cost/investment. However, for the price of a couple boxes of biscuits it will have paid for itself within your first few batches. There are many different ways you can do this. This happens to be the one that made most sense to me. It's economical, simple and doesn't require anything special to get the job done.All you need to make your own biscuits
Mix Ratio For One Batch (20-24) Home Made Smoker Biscuits
- 6 " Portable Carpenters Vice from Harbor Freight ($19.99) - http://www.harborfreight.com/6-inch-portable-carpenters-vise-95203.html. After other test runs with other devices, such as grip clamps, smaller vices, etc. I found this to be very practical and convenient. You can clamp it to any counter top that has a "ledge" without damaging it. It gives plenty of compression, and you can easily put it away. I press my biscuits in my kitchen. To be safe, you should place a piece of paper, towel, or cardboard between the vice and your counter top. You can do this without upsetting a significant other for using "man tools" in the kitchen. Of course, feel free to use your existing vice if you have one.
- 2 & 3/8" hole-saw or what I call the "outer press" (price varies) - http://www.amazon.com/IVY-Classic-28038-Bi-Metal-Variable/dp/B0052IP3SE/ref=sr_1_1?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1449486490&sr=1-1&keywords=IVY+Classic+28038+2-3%2F8-Inch+Bi-Metal+Variable Although you need a 2 & 3/8" hole-saw, it's the inner wall diameter (2 & 5/32") that this hole-saw size provides that we're actually shooting for. Each brands inner wall diameter may vary but after trial and error, this is the best size I found to give a diameter identical to a Bradley biscuit. If you use a different brand then the one I linked you to, I cannot guarantee that the "press discs" below will fit properly. It's a slim chance they wont but you have been warned. I would have selected a lower costing hole saw, but this one showed a picture of only 2 holes in the sidewalls (would have made biscuit extraction easier) but it had 4 holes when it arrived so I decided just to go with it. Also, DO NOT use a hole-saw that is larger than 2 & 3/8". I did this and my biscuits barely did not fit into the feeder tube in the smoker. I had to replace it. If you're going to go a different size, smaller is okay, but not larger.
- 2 & 1/8" hole-saw or what I call the "inner press" (price will vary) - Use any one of these that you can find and it will fit. This is used as part of the "press system" while pressing the biscuit. I had this on hand so I used it and it fit inside the "outer press" perfectly. You can use a smaller diameter hole-saw or other object, so long as it is 2 inches from bottom to top. The closer this fits inside the "outer press" the better, as it will create more stability when extracting a fresh biscuit.
- (2) Stainless Steel "Press Discs" (1/8" thick by 2 & 5/32" diameter) ($8.95 after shipping) - http://www.ebay.com/usr/lumberjack1983 I purchased these on ebay from lumberjack1983, someone who cuts and sells steel discs. They work perfectly and are way cheaper than a local machine shop will custom cut for you. I told him I was doing this tutorial, so perhaps he will create a item for this size. Until then, I provided a link to his contact page so you can custom request the discs like I did. I purchased from him twice and he was right on with timely delivery. Be sure they are stainless steel.
- "Pusher" (Included in the hole-saw purchase) - This works just fine to hold the inner biscuit assembly down while extracting a fresh biscuit. You can get creative and use something that may make it a little easier for you. I haven't had any issues with this, so I'll stick with it unless something better comes along.
- Drying Racks - I use the Bradley racks. They work perfect. Be sure to flip it upside-down and place your wet, pressed biscuits on the bottom side of the rack to make it easy to move the rack around and so that air can flow underneath the biscuits while drying. Feel free to use something that you think may work better.
- Hardwood Sawdust - (price will vary) - http://www.butcher-packer.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=31_132_338. The sawdust that I buy ranges from $5 to $12 per 5 lbs. There are other places that sell dust, too. So far, the products from Butcher and Packer have been great! I'd like to get other woods as well, such as maple, alder, peach, etc. Feel free to post others that you know of.
- Potato Starch as a binder (Price varies) This stuff is really cheap and goes a very long ways. I have no reason to believe that corn starch would not work for this, either, but I'm very satisfied with my success thus far and have no reason to "test the waters". I'd stick with potato. You can get it in the bulk foods section of most grocery stores. Remember, the purpose of this is for binding the sawdust and must be done with boiling water.
- Common kitchen items: Large Mixing Bowl, Pot (for boiling water), Measuring Cups, Measuring Spoons, Spoon and Fork, cutting board (optional, to use as work area that's easy to clean as you go)
- BEER! - You can't drink beer while you're shopping for smoker pucks. May as well take advantage of the situation. This is a picture of my home made, chocolate coffee milk stout. AKA "Your Moms Udder" Cheers!
4 even cups (8 oz) sawdust of your choice (feel free to mix different woods)
3 even Tablespoons and 1 teaspoon potato starch (1.2 oz) or 10 teaspoons total
1 and 1/4 cup boiling water (has to be boiling!)
Keep in mind that this ratio is a basis. Not all saw dusts are equal, and you may need to adjust accordingly. With that said, too much starch will make the biscuits too hard, making them difficult to burn. Do not be fooled by how much easier it is to make the biscuits by adding more starch. The harder the biscuit, the more difficult for them to burn. If anything, you could probably get by with a little less starch than what I've instructed. However, too little starch will result in your biscuits being very fragile after drying. Also keep in mind that certain woods will have different textures which will slightly effect the outcome of your batches depending on your wood choice. Feel free to make adjustments to the ratios if need be (i.e. if a batch seems to dry too hard, use a teaspoon or two less, or visa versa). Another note: I have concluded that the ratios needed for home-made smoker biscuits are based on four factors: wood/texture type, how much water you use, how much starch you use, and how much pressure you are using to press your biscuits. With the method I am posting, this ratio seems to work best. Step by Step Instructions
- With your spoon or fork, in a large, dry mixing bowl, thoroughly mix the sawdust and potato starch. During this step, it would be a good idea to have your pot of water heating up to a boil on the stove (you can have extra water in the pot to compensate for evaporation during the boil and to make sure you get a full 1 and 1/4 cup of water into your mix.
- Steps 2 and 3 should be completed fairly quickly. The boiling water causes the starch to turn into gelatin which will act as the binder for your biscuits. The goal here is to distribute the starch and boiling water as quickly as possible before it cools down, allowing it to turn into a gelatin and be spread evenly in your mix. It is important to start mixing the boiling water into your dry mix once it has entered the mixing bowl. Have your measuring cups handy once the water has come to a boil. Carefully pour the boiling water into your measuring cup. Transfer it to the mixing bowl and pour it in while spreading it throughout. You'll need to do this somewhat quickly. Now, get the extra 1/4 cup and pour it in as well. Note: if you want to see the gelatin reaction that potato starch has with boiling water, do a test run with just the water and starch and let it cool down. It helps put the project into perspective and is pretty cool to play with!
- With your fork or spoon (I prefer the fork, but either will do), immediately start mixing your now steaming bowl of mixture together. This is a very important step in the project. I've concluded that you should mix this for about 5 minutes, otherwise, you risk having inconsistent and clumpy spots in your biscuits. Get rid of clumps by pulling the mix from the center towards the side walls of your bowl and pressing it. Stir it, push it to the side, mix it, get rid of clumps. Repeat. Do this until you're confident that it is consistent.
- Get your inner and outer "press" (hole-saws), "pusher" and "press discs" ready. Put one disc at the bottom of the outer press. Stir your wet mix again to get it ready. You'll do this periodically during the process. Get a couple spoon fulls of wet mix and place it into the press. If you have the hole-saw (outer press) that I purchased, then fill it just before the top of the side holes. Lightly spread the top out evenly. Now place your second press disc on top of the wet mix. Now, place the inner press (the small one, sawside down) onto the second disc. Keep it pressed together while placing it inside the vice.
- Place your loaded press inside the vice. Start closing the vice with the handle. You don't need to put a ton of work into this. Close it down to where you have to give it 4 or 5 decent quarter or half turns, but once there's a decent amount of resistance, you've got yourself a solid puck/biscuit. No need to strain yourself here. You'll get the hang of it. Pay attention to the side holes in the press, so you can keep track of where the second press disc is. When you get a biscuit that is to your satisfaction, pay attention to your process and stay consistent with how full you load the press, how far you tighten the vice, etc, and you will have consistent, uniform pucks. But, don't be frustrated if you don't get them perfect every time. They all smoke the same. When you have pressed your biscuit, loosen the vice out far enough to allow you to easily put in the next loaded press. Do this while holding the press in your other hand. Place it down with the outer press facing up as shown.
- Now, grab your "pusher" and press the long end into the extraction hole. You're going to use it to hold the inner press and biscuit down against the counter while pulling up on the outer press with your other hand so you can expose the new biscuit. Think of the outer press as a sleeve that you're trying to pull off the inner press and biscuit. This is a little tricky and you'll notice that it sometimes takes some force to separate your press. Don't worry, it's harder than you think to destroy the biscuit. You'll get the hang of it. Because hole-saws have holes on the side walls, the biscuit will sometimes get "caught" during the process. Don't worry, there's enough compression that it will not deform it while using some force to get it out. When it catches or feels stuck, I rotate the entire press and press down with the pusher and lift up again. Usually the second try will pull the press right off, and now you are presented with the inner press and your new biscuit and press discs exposed. Now, carefully take the top disc and very slightly twist it while lifting up. It will come right off. Place it back in the outer press to get ready for the next biscuit. Now it's time to take the biscuit off the bottom disc and inner press. Carefully twist it and lift it off the bottom disc. If you are careful, you should be able to handle the wet biscuit enough to place it on the drying rack without destroying it and without needing to use any other tools. Don't sweat it if you accidentally destroy a biscuit. Just put it back in the bowl, mix it in and start over. Congrats, you just finished your first biscuit! It just gets easier from here! Each biscuit takes about a minute, maybe a little more or less if you're trying to be timely. Of course, if you're like me, you're sipping on a brew, listening to tunes and not sweating the small stuff!
- Place your biscuits on your drying rack. If you use a Bradley rack you should be able to fit 5 rows of 4 for a total of 20. You should have enough wet mix left to complete another 2 to 4 biscuits. Just put them on another rack. If you are doing another batch of different wood mixes, then keep track of which kind are on which rack. DO NOT touch or play with your biscuits! Every time you move them you break the bond/glue that they're creating as they set. If you want to experiment and observe the drying process, pick a couple to be your "guinea pigs" and leave the rest alone! Because they dry from the outside in, they do not completely cure or dry for about 5 to 7 days. You can handle them within a couple days, but I'd suggest to just leave them until you can safely store them without breaking them. You'll definitely know when they're ready. You should be able to handle them with minimal flaking. They should be able to take about the same abuse as an original biscuit. I've dropped plenty of them and they usually will not break. Try not to worry too much about this, though. Even if they're a little more fragile, as long as they fit in your feed tube and can stay in tact enough to be fed into the smoker, then you're fine, don't sweat it!
- Keep track of your biscuits in some type of labeled box that makes them easily accessible. I'm going to work on a better storage box, but the photo below should give you an idea.
Thanksgiving Turkey 2015, smoked with Hickory and Apple wood blend. This was fantastic! The biscuits burned perfectly. I was bombarded with heavy smoke every time I needed to open the smoker. The biscuits you see were from my first batches where I was doing a lot of testing. So, as you can see, even though they're not as uniform as my more recent ones, they still worked perfectly. So don't worry if yours don't look all that great at first. Just like anything, you'll get better with a little time and practice. Tips, Tricks and Observations
- Be sure to oil the shaft of your vice. If it starts feeling "grindy" or sluggish, put some vegetable oil or WD40 on it. Run the vice all the way through and back out, then wipe off the access oil. You'll definitely notice the difference.
- DO NOT use a hole-saw that is larger than 2 & 3/8". I did this and my pucks barely did not fit into the feeder. I had to replace it. You've been warned. If you're going to go a different size, smaller is okay, never larger.
- Keep your inner and outer press and your press discs cleaned with water now and then during your presses. This will help extract the biscuits. The starch sticks and dries to the inner walls of the press, as well as the discs, making the biscuits not as uniform when you separate it from the metal and also making it difficult to pull out.
- When purchasing your hole-saw for your outer press, be sure that its of the kind where the holes are elongated from top to bottom. The diagonal holes in certain hole-saws will create a larger area that the fresh pressed biscuit can get caught in while trying to extract. I looked for a hole-saw that only had two holes and thought I was successful, but they obviously made it look like it only had two for marketing and looks. No worries. What you see in the photos works great and you'll never notice any issues on your biscuits. More power to you if you have or can find a hole-saw or other unit with less holes. Just be sure that your "press discs" will fit inside it.
- Put a towel on the ground below your vice, so it catches the small amount of sawdust that will fall. It makes it a lot easier to clean up afterwards.
- Clean as you go. Every now and then I'll leave a pressed biscuit in the vice and sweep off excess "crumbs" and sawdust back into the bowl. This makes it easier to finish up and more motivated for your next batch.
- I would (and will) grind the teeth off the hole-saws. This will make it easier to handle but more importantly, won't eat up the side walls of the press as well as the press discs. I don't think it's a big deal but if you've got a grinder then it wouldn't be a bad idea.
- Don't worry about making "accidentally" thin biscuits. From my observation, original biscuits are overkill and there is some waste. I don't really put much weight in Bradley's explanations that fully burnt discs put off unwanted carcinogens, which is their explanation of why some of their biscuit's don't burn all the way. If this is truly the case, then well over half of the 20 minutes of burn time are letting off those same carcinogens anyway. Besides, most of my thin biscuits were still intact and letting off smoke right before they were pushed off into the water tray. If this works for you, the benefit is that your sawdust will go a lot farther. Just be sure they're not too thin, otherwise they may not feed right by trying to simultaneously grab the biscuit above it. Also, be sure they're not too thick. If so, they may jam and not feed into the smoker.
- Don't worry about your "imperfect" biscuits! Take a close look at some original biscuits. They're thinner or thicker on certain sides, they flake, they break, etc. It's just wood. If yours are able to fit in the feed tube and rotate onto the hot plate, then you're just fine!
- Sometimes I find it convenient to place my wet biscuits in the oven at a very low temp. If you can get your oven to about 150, then you should be able to speed the process up. I wouldn't recommend this unless you need them earlier than normal. Otherwise, you're spending more time on a project that most are doing because they want to save on money and time. But, to each their own. The oven does work. I haven't noticed any significant differences in the final product so long as you aren't cranking the heat way up and "cooking" and breaking the binder down. Feel free to experiment.
- Keep your wet mix hydrated, but not too hydrated. I like to get my hand wet with water and flick some of it into the bowl to revive it a bit if it seems to be drying. Dont' do too much. Consistency is key, and properly hydrated biscuits make well formed pucks
- If you don't want to be making biscuits often, then take a 3 or 4 hour period one day and make a few hundred biscuits. That'll take quite a while to smoke through!
- If you notice liquid oozing from your press while in the vice, then you added too much water and are extracting the binder. The goal is to keep it all inside the sawdust, not get rid of it. You can fluctuate the recipe within reason but not too much.
- Random math: My average biscuit costs 4.8 cents a piece (shipping included). 48 home-made biscuits cost $2.34, as apposed to purchasing originals for up to $25.
- The 40 lb hickory bag from Butcher and Packer equates to 2 cents a biscuit, and that is after shipping! Good thing hickory is such a great smoking wood!
- On my kitchen scale, each 5 lbs of sawdust will yield 10 batches( 8 oz. per batch and 20 to 24 biscuits). So, an average of 220 biscuits per 5 lbs. That's, on average, $10.56 for 220 biscuits! The math doesn't lie - neither does the massive box of home-made smoker biscuits I have waiting to be smoked
- While drying, if your biscuits feel sponge-like or have even a little give, then they're not finished drying. A dried biscuit will be very hard and not have much give to it when you squeeze it. It should feel very light. I used my kitchen scale and weighed dried-home-made biscuits and compared them to Bradley's. After completely drying, 48 home made biscuits should weigh about 1.2 lbs, which means that your sawdust is going farther than Bradley's 48 biscuits which claim 1.6 lbs. Expect your burnt biscuits to look smaller than Bradley's when pushed off into the water pan
- Drying time - 4 cups of sawdust weighs an average of 8 oz. The 10 teaspoons of starch weighs 1.2 oz. Wet biscuits will weigh about 14 oz. Once the biscuits weight the pre-made "dry weight" of about 9.2 oz, then they are fully dried. 4-7 days is realistic. This is just an observation. You do not need a scale!