The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Creating a Cooking Log

First Image
I recently updated the cooking log for my horizontal barrel smoker and turned it into a version customized to suit my Big Green Egg. I posted a picture of my log from the prime ribI made on Christmas Day on the Egghead forum. The purpose wasn’t to talk about the log itself, but to get a question answered regarding some temperature weirdness I’d observed. Several folks contacted me via private messages to ask questions about the log file itself. It has been a while since I wrote a blog entry about KEEPING A COOKING LOG and there was enough interest in it that I decided I would write about how I made the Cooking Log itself.

I created these logs in Apple’s Pages, their word processing application, but you could do it in MS Word or possibly a spreadsheet app like Excel. It might also be possible to do it in Google Docs, but I don’t use Google products due to privacy concerns. One of the reasons I used Pages instead of Word, is Pages has some great graphics capabilities and tends to be easier when it comes to producing a graphically pleasing document . Within Pages this could have been done as a table or a chart. One of the things Pages allows you to do is apply formulas & rules to tables so I chose to use a table. The first thing you should probably do is figure out the items you wish to track, so you know how many columns you will need. Then you can a rough version of the chart to check to see if you will need to orient the log in portrait or landscape mode to fit the number of columns you will need. You’ll also want to try some sample data in each column to check the data fits in the intended column width. Type the longest entry you will have for that column and see if it fits on one line. In the short run just identify the number of columns you will need and use this to begin your table.

In my case I was modifying a copy of an existing log, but I will describe some of the process used to create a log from scratch. In most programs I’ve used the process is similar. You create a table, most programs have a Wizard or Assistant to help make the table. You identify the number of rows & columns and it creates the table for you. This is why I suggested knowing the number of columns you will need in advance. The Table Wizards often let you choose the colors for the cells & borders & fonts etc. While you can edit the newly created table to do this type of thing after the fact, it is often easier to do it on a global scale with the Table Wizard. I also added a footer to the document so I could have a place on each page for the date, recipe name and page count. You can use an auto date where it inserts the current date automatically, but you may want to skip it if the date updates each time you open the document. Some auto dates have both functions. I did use an auto page number where I typed in “Page “ and inserted an Auto Page Number then I typed “ of “ and inserted the Auto Page Count. So the footer on a 3 page log will read “Page 1 of 3”, “Page 2 of 3” and “Page 3 of 3”. You create header rows for the table. This may have been set via the Table Wizard, but it can be set afterwards too. These header rows appear at the top of ever sheet if the table flows onto multiple sheets. You may also need to merge some cells to create some areas that span across multiple columns. In my log file the bottom 7 fields have the columns merged to form one continuous row for the full width of the table. Most programs have a menu or dialogue box dedicated to editing tables. In Pages for example, there is a FORMAT menu that has a TABLE Menu Item where these format options reside. There is also a floating Inspector that has a tab for Tables with the same formatting options. Most programs have a good enough Help system that they can guide even a first timer through making your first table.

“Second“Third

Clicking on the magnifying glass symbol to the left of the active color swatch gives you a magnifying glass cursor. (top left). Moving the lens of the magnifying glass over the color you want gives you a magnified view of the color. Click on the color you want and the cursor picks up that color… (top right)

“Fourth“Fifth

…and transfers it to the active color swatch in Pages. (bottom left). Click hold and drag the active color swatch to bring that color down into a well at the bottom of the color picker to permanently store a copy of that color in the color picker. (bottom right)

When I made the chart for the BGE I wanted to use “BGE green”. I went to the home page of the BGE company and sampled the dark green from the BGE logo using Apple’s color picker. The procedure is quite simple. Position the item you wish to sample from so that it is visible on screen at the same time as the color picker from your program. So in my case I moved a few of the windows from the Pages app around. I did this so I could see the BGE green I wanted to sample from the Safari web browser window and the Pages color picker together on screen at the same time. There are six different color picker types you can use to chose a color. Each of them has a one item in common: a magnifying glass symbol that appears next to the color swatch for the currently selected color. Click on this magnifying glass symbol and your cursor will change to a bigger version of this same magnifying glass. Where the lens of the magnifying glass is, you will see the magnified version of the pixels beneath. Move the magnifying glass cursor around until you are over the color you want to sample, and click again. The active color swatch in your color picker will now have this sampled color in it, ready for your use. In Pages if you plan to use this color often and want to save it, click the color in the active color swatch and drag it down to the series of white squares at the bottom of the color picker. These little squares are each wells for storing your most used colors. The color you dragged to one of the white squares will now replace the white in the well you dragged it to. So what I did was this: I sample BGE green from my web browser window. I then dragged this color from the active color swatch into one of the storage wells as I just described. Then I used the opacity slider in the color picker to make the color 50% opaque. I dragged this new active color into a storage well next to the BGE green. I then set the opacity slider to 25% and made a third green, which I then dragged to a storage well next to the other two greens.

“Sixth

The image fill area of the Table Inspector (in Pages) allows you to put an image in as a background to your table.


I was already using a log, so I just wanted to update it to suit the needs of my BGE. If you are starting from scratch you may want to create any custom colors in advance. This way if the Table Wizard allows you to set the cell colors, you can do it as you create your new table. In my case I selected the existing cell(s) and went into the Table Inspector to work. I changed the color of the headers to be the BGE green with the 100% opacity. I used the 50% & 25% opaque versions to change the cell background colors. I made alternating rows of the 25% and 50% green colors. The alternating colors make the rows easier to read and keep separate from one another. Because the cell rows were either 50% or 75% transparent, it made my next step possible. I brought in a photo of my BGE to use as a background for the chart. In this case the table is considered an object so you bring the photo in as a background to this particular object. You can also set the opacity of this photo, so if it is too prominent relative to your chart you can dial it back so it has the proper level of prominence. You want the chart to still be easily readable with the photo there. To help with the readability I selected all cells of the table and made the default text color white. The white was a good contrast to the primarily green background. Next it was time to add and remove some items to suit the specific needs of the BGE.

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To create a header row, select the row you wish to have the new header go over… (left). Here is the “Add Row Above” command in the Table Inspector in Pages. (right).

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Here are the same cells after the “Insert row above command was used. There is now a new row with matching cells above the first row.

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To create a continuos block of cells for the header, select the cells and… (left). use the Merge Cells command in the Table Inspector in Pages. (right)

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The dividing lines between the cells will disapear & the multiple cells will be merged into one horizontal cell.

“Thirteenth“Fourteenth

The same thing works in the vertical direction. Select cells above each other and use the same “Merge Cells” command to merge two vertical cells. (left). The two cells are merged into one. (right).

My prior logs tracked as series of readings that were grouped under a heading of TEMPERATURE. If you want your chart to have several items with sub-headings which are grouped under a main heading, it is easy to do. Create the main heading for the Log and designate it as a header row. In my case I called it BBQ LOG. Add a name for each of the column headers and designate this row as a header row as well. Select the headers you wish to turn into sub-headers. So in my chart I selected the columns for SPRAY, MOP, TURN and WOOD headers and used the command in the table inspector to “Add row above”. This added a row immediately above the selected row with columns and empty cells to match the row below. I then selected the cells above the SPRAY, MOP, TURN & WOOD cells & used the “Merge cells” command to make the 4 cells into one long horizontal cell which I called MEAT. I selected and merged the cells above AIR, MEAT, DELTA, GRATE, DOME & VENTS to create a one horizontal cell main header I called TEMPERATURE. Lastly there were columns for TIME at the left side of the log and NOTES on the right side, that I didn’t need a main header/sub-header for because each of those were a single row. In this case I selected the header cell (TIME or NOTES) and selected the blank cell above it and used the merge cells command to turn the two vertical cells into one vertical cell. Tables have settings allowing you to set the horizontal & vertical justification for each cell, or entire rows and columns of cells. After I merged the two sets of cells for TIME & NOTES, I set the vertical justification to bottom.

“Fifteenth

By using 24 hour military time I was able to narrow the TIME column because I didn’t have to type “ AM” or “ PM” saving 3 characters in width.


The old log had columns for TIME: the time I took the temperature readings, AIR: the air temperature, the meat temperature, GRATE: the grate level temperature & LID: the lid temp. For updating the log for the Egg I made several changes. To free up some room for a new column, I changed the TIME to Military (24 hour) time where 1:00 PM is 13:00. Instead of having to write out a space and AM or PM, I can save 3 characters and simply list the hours from 0:00 to 23:59 without needing to write AM or PM. I changed the name of one of the temperature columns from LID to DOME to reflect the terminology used for the upper lid of the Egg.

“Sixteenth“Seventeenth

Using the Formula Editor in Pages Table Inspector you can add a formula. (left).I added a formula to subtract the previous temperature reading from the current temperature reading. In this case this gives me the change in temperature that has occurred between the two readings.(right)


Lastly I added in a new column by shrinking the other temperature and time columns to make room for the new column. The new column was called DELTA and represents the temperature change between any two consecutive readings. This is useful when you are trying to track what the total cook time might be.If the meat rose 9 degrees in 30 minutes it will take 5 hours for it to rise 90 degrees. 90 tot degree rise / 9 degrees in 30 minutes = 10 30 minute time intervals or 5 hours.To add formulas to a cell you click on the cell where the results appear and then use a command to add a formula. Some times this may be something simple like sum where the program totals the columns above the results field. Other time you create the formula. In my case the DELTA or change is the latest time reading - the last time reading. You click in the cells you want to use. So you select the field where the result appears and click the formula editor. Then you click on the latest temperature reading. That fields cell number appears in the formula editor. Then you type a minus sign, and then you click on the field for the last temperature reading. When the formula is entered you click a button to accept the formula. From that point forward as soon as you populate two consecutive fields in the Meat temp column, a figure representing the temperature change between those field will appear in the appropriate delta field. Sure the math isn’t rocket science, but this is one less thing to think about during a cook. The last field in the Temperatures area of the log was the field for how much the upper and lower dampers were open to achieve that temperature.

“Eighteenth

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The next four columns fell under the heading of MEAT. Here I make an “X” when I SPRAY, MOP or TURN the meat or add smoking wood to flavor the meat. You can use this to analyze a cook after the fact. These fields can also serve as a reminder during the cook for when you are supposed to perform these four tasks. In this case you fill in the “X” for the times you are supposed to spray, mop or turn the meat or add wood chips/chunks ahead of time. Then it will remind you to do those things at the appropriate time. There were also two columns grouped under the category of CONSUMABLES, which I drooped from this BGE version of the chart. They indicated when you added more coals, more water (or some other type of liquid) to a water pans & added smoking wood. The version of this log, prior to adapting it for the BGE, had 3 columns here with the 3rd one being for water. But the BGE has such a good seal it doesn’t required that you add water to help keep the cooking chamber moist. Also it can burn nearly 24 hours on one load of fuel for a low and slow cook like I’d be tracking here, so the fuel column seemed unnecessary. If I ever had to add more fuel I could handle it with a note. If you have a grill that requires the use of a water pan or that gets refueled several times during a cook you may want your log to have these items.

“Nineteenth


Lastly there is a column on the far right for NOTES. Rather than have to make a wide column for writing these notes, I used a trick. The NOTES column simply is a referral to a specific numbered note that occurs at the bottom of the log. In the Notes column I will say: “See Note 1” or “See Notes 1 & 3”. This allows me to have a fairly narrow NOTES column in the main body of the chart allowing me to have more columns available for tracking other things. The notes, when written out at the bottom cam be the full width of the chart. By keying into these note you also may save yourself some typing. The same item may occur at several times during the cook and you can say “See Note 3” at those times and write out the description only once. I also typically have a note I refer to as “Note 0” which I use to describe the cut of meat I am using (weight, size, cut, shape) or the weather, the charcoal and wood I used, how I lit the fire and any other general items specific to this cook. As you will find, these logs are handy tools down the road when you are planning similar cooks. So having records of these items will let you chose a log that is similar to the new cook you are planning.

“Twentieth

Single page log good for cooks up to 6 hours (above) Muli-page log, good for cooks over 6 hours (below)..

“Twenty

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I have made two versions of the cooking log. A single page version with one page containing all the readings and note on one page. This one is good for cooks lasting up to 6 hours with readings taken ever 30 minutes. The second is a multi-page version where the notes appear on the last page and the first page is readings only.

“Twenty

The iPad version doesn’t show the background picture and there were some font substitutions made. The files are viewable and the readings can be typed in on the iPad if desired.


Before I close out, I should mention the reason why I did my logs in Pages. Historically while I had both Word and Pages on my Mac, I use Pages as much as I can. I find Word unnecessarily complex and difficult to use at times. Plus it is often far easier to create a graphically rich document in Pages than Word. In the last 3 years there are an even more compelling reasons for using Pages: the iOS version of Pages and iCloud. There is a version of Pages for iOS that lets you view and edit documents on your iOS devices. Apple also has their cloud based storage service called iCloud, which allows you to store Pages documents in iCloud. What this means is I can create the original log in Pages on one of my Macs, store it on iCloud and View and Edit it on my iOS devices. Now that I have done this I am able to view any cooking log stored in iCloud from anywhere I can get internet connectivity. Also I can edit the log on my iPad, if I desire. I should mention there may be items missing on extremely complex documents . In my case the formatting for the table came in fine, but I was missing two fonts. So if I edit this document on my iPad I don’t see the true font. But when I open it on my Mac the right font is used. This is a very minor inconvenience to say the least. At this point when I am doing a new log I print out a blank copy and hand write the readings onto this form. I usually have my iPad in the Kitchen with me when I am cooking, so I plan to try entering the data straight into the iPad and saving a step.

So there you have my latest thoughts on making and keeping a cooking log. They are very handy to have down the road, for both analyzing the current cook and planning out future cooks. I will provide links to an earlier Blog entry on cooking logs below.

SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here is the link for an earlier blog entry on cooking logs.

  KEEPING A COOKING LOG 2006 Blog Entry


  BACK TO BBQ BLOG 2012
  ARCHIVE OF BLOGS: 2012
  INDEX OF BLOGS: ALL YEARS

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