Jonathon, great questions, you bring up some things I didn’t think about. Regarding moisture, yeah, I have a tiling sponge I could add. I could also close the vent down some, but really didn’t seem like case hardening at all. I brought temps up slow and they don’t seem tough. The MES is pretty tight and it seems humidity stays fairly high, but I can do stuff to increase it. But won’t more humidity make it cook slower? I did a batch of about 9.5 pounds, so I added 12 oz of water rather than 32 as called for in the 25lb batch recipe. And my binder was carrot fiber so assume that should have actually kept the product from drying out even more than sure gel.
My ropes were too long to hang over smoking sticks once, but too short to loop twice. I ended up spiraling them on the racks trying to leave a 1/4" air gap between the spirals. I swapped top and bottom racks once since my two ambient probes showed about a 10 degree difference top and bottom. I had one meat probe in the end of the outer spiral of a snack stick about 2" figuring the walls of the smoker would be hotter and a second one inserted at an angle closer to the center of the spiral. These were on the middle two racks. I also used a Thermoworks Pro Needle to check other spots. I didn’t notice huge variations of doneness or dryness based on where in the smoker they were, but of course after 8 hours there was some variation with the edge ones being a bit drying and the interior ones where the gap in the spirals was small of being smoother skinned and less ‘overcooked’. It just really seems like I overcooked them. I realized later I went to 165 instead of 160 so that is part of it I suppose. That was about an extra hour I’d guess.
At this point my best guess is to try to increase humidity and figure out how to hang them vs lay them on racks. Also, I might try to skip the 155 and go 125/140/175 since I didn’t have fat-out on the traeger on my accelerated cook.
Any ideas appreciated!