What Grill Should I Choose For My RK Drums Roaster?

One of the greatest attributes of the RK Drums roasting system is the fact that we can use a common BBQ grill as the heat source for our RK Drums Roaster.  This makes creating a large volume, batch roaster both easy, relatively inexpensive and practical.  Let’s take a dive into the subject of grills for our RK Drums roaster.  

Choosing a grill for your RK Drum isn’t that complicated.  We will briefly explore some of the other options available for roasting coffee in the RK Drums roaster, and the primary focus of this article will be to answer common questions we get about grills. If you’re looking for the specific requirements for the size drum or kit you purchased, you can find those here.

Will the grill I already have work?

If you’re just starting out in roasting and you’re only roasting for yourself, or friends and family, you may want to start roasting on a grill that you already have.  If you’ve already got a grill, you’ll want to inspect the grill and see how much BTU the grill produces.  Usually this can be found by referencing a sticker on the back of the legs, or inside of the cabinet.  It’s often hard to find, but usually it will reference “Main Burner BTU”.  If the sticker can’t be found, then you can estimate the BTU by multiplying the number of burner knobs you have by 10,000 or 12,000 to get a rough idea.  

Can I use the grill i already have?

The short answer is yes.  Many people do.  Coffee purists and aficionados will most certainly be appalled at the idea as the meat, grease and carbon flavors and aromas could potentially impact the flavors of the coffee.

However, if your goal is to get as close to perfect coffee as you can get, then we definitely recommend a new clean grill.  If you must use a meat grill, and you’re concerned with the coffee quality, definitely pressure wash and\or clean the grill as thoroughly as possible before roasting your coffee in it, for best results.  Do, however, use your own judgement regarding the condition of your grill before pressure washing it.  A really old and rickety grill might not be able to take the pressure of a pressure washer.  Next, run the grill on high heat, while empty for 20 minutes to bake out any flavors and aromas remaining.

The other dynamic that we see is that a meat grill tends to rot out relatively quickly, within 2-4 years as it sees lots of weather, water, meat and grease.  It’s common for a coffee grill that is kept out of the weather to last 10-15 years, since it doesn’t see liquids, or grease.

What grill do I need to roast for myself and family?

If you are very sure that you are only focused on providing coffee to you or your family, nearly any grill and a 2LB or 4LB drum will work.  Do note that 35,000 BTU is recommended for the 4LB Drum.  Nearly anything smaller than this will work for the 2LB drum, but we recommend 25,000 for best results.

If I'm getting a new grill, what should I buy?

If you’re buying a new grill anyway, our recommendation is that you purchase a grill that fits a 12LB Drum.  Even if you’re considering a 2LB4LB6LB, or 8LB Drum.  The reason for this is that at some point in the future, if you ever decide you want to scale up to any larger size, or even up to the monster 12LB, that can produce up to 45LB of coffee per hour is merely as easy as swapping the drum out.  So with this, you’ll have scalability built right in.  A 12Lb grill, will work with any of our drums.  Ironically, the cost difference between a 4LB drum grill and a 12LB drum grill in many cases is $0.  We recommend the Nexgrill and Dynaglo at Home Depot but be sure to double check against our Grill Selection Guide just in case the models change.

Physical Space for the drum

A couple of other factors are important in choosing a grill.  Be sure to check the dimensions.  These dimensions are also located on the grill selection guide for your drum.  Make sure the drum you choose will fit physically in the grill.  

If you’re buying a grill with a grill box 33″ or wider, then you should opt for the longer 50″ rotisserie rod when you order.  If the grill box is less than 33″ you can get by with the standard rod.

Sturdiness

The coffee really doesn’t care which grill you buy.  It merely needs a hot box to sit in. Don’t buy that crazy expensive stainless steel grill for your roaster for the coffee’s sake.  You can buy it for your own reasons if you wish, but the coffee won’t care, and it won’t roast any better on a $1000 grill.

One thing to check however, is the sturdiness of the side trays.  They should be sturdy enough to hold 8-10LB of weight.  Some people have reinforced the grill with “L” brackets under the side, but generally this isn’t necessary.

The coffee really doesn't care which grill you buy. It merely needs a hot box to sit in. Don't buy that crazy expensive stainless steel grill for your roaster for the coffee's sake

hot coffee beans

Imagine a scenario where you installed 4 furnace units on a tiny house!  If you didn't have a thermostat the temperature of the house would quickly rise right off the charts!

increasing heat readings

Reduce Your Ongoing Cost with the Right Grill

Imagine a scenario where you installed 4 furnace units on a tiny house!  If you didn’t have a thermostat the temperature of the house would quickly rise right off the charts!   

While it’s a silly illustration,  you can imagine just how inefficient this would be!  You would have to open all the doors and windows to keep the temperature to a reasonable level while all the while paying for all this heat.  

Buying a very hot grill is exactly this same scenario.  If you’re running 60,000-72,000 or higher BTU this is the scenario you will have.  You just have too much heat output for the amount of material you’re trying to heat. While you can use a high-powered grill should you already have one, we wouldn’t want to choose this grill if we had a choice in the matter as it’s just too hot to be efficient.  

We have the ability to add a piece of sheet metal to the rear of a coffee-only grill and make the grill much more efficient.   

So efficient in fact that you’ll triple the amount of roasts that you can achieve with every tank of propane.  So instead of an average 30 roasts per tank of propane, you can achieve 70-90 roasts per tank!! If you’re roasting for yourself, this cost savings may be less important. But, if you’re roasting for profit, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to increase your profits.

This would be akin to insulating the previously mentioned house very well, running an efficient furnace unit, correctly sized for the house size and insulating your house well.  This is one of the ways we can increase our profits, by cutting costs.

If you’d like to learn more about this subject, see the following article on  BTU vs. Mass Explained in Plain English

 

For this reason we recommend 12LB grills between 45,000-48,000 with flexibility up to around 55,000.  You may use grills as hot as 70,000 if you must, but it is doubtful that you would be able to apply efficiency mods and it will be similar to running the heat in your house with a window or two open.  

If you’re choosing a smaller drum and an appropriately sized grill, be sure to check the recommended BTU for each size drum.  By choosing the proper grill, you can minimize your propane usage and cost in this way.

Plan for growth!

Even if you only roast for a hobby or for the joy of it all, or just for yourself, sharing your fresh roasted coffee has a way of growing on people.

Now of course, don’t give samples out to folks that just don’t like coffee, but if you’re at all inclined to earn money with coffee, plan for growth.  It happens as soon as you share it with someone who loves coffee.

Coffee roasting on the RK Drum has an uncanny way of becoming very popular very fast.  Share coffee with a friend or two?  They’ll almost certainly be willing to pay you for more.  In real life experience with our own coffee operations, and in conversations with customers, any customer that gets exposed to your coffee has a 60-70% chance of returning again to pay you for more.  This means 6-7 out of every 10 people will return to buy your coffee.

You should expect a 60-70% return rate from people who try your coffee, who can't help but to pay you for it.

making a delivery to a happy customer

In summary, if you’re just wanting great coffee at home, use whatever you already have.  It will be better than store-bought coffee, and you’ll enjoy creating and drinking the best coffee you’ve ever had.  If you’re looking to make money with coffee, it’s rather easy to do.  A few moments to plan ahead can greatly impact your profitability and bottom line.  If you have any questions, or thoughts, feel free to drop us an email or a chat and we’d love to discuss it with you!

Author: Shane Lewis

Shane is the founder of the green coffee exporter Old Spanish Main, Ltda. in Bogotá, Colombia, having practiced under the renowned grader & cupper Lelly Espitia. He is a cultivator of a #14 Colombian Cup of Excellence coffee. Shane currently designs & manufactures coffee, cacao & grain roasters with RK Drums.

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