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It’s Time to Ditch Your Traditional Smokehouse

Protech’s Automated Smoking Spiral Perfects the Natural Smoking Process

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Commercial bacon production is a long process; each of the many steps is essential to creating the savory breakfast favorite. From careful butchering and trimming to curing and smoking, bacon processors have perfected this art throughout the last several centuries. But new technology is vastly improving bacon processing, allowing operators to produce more No. 1–rated bacon with higher yields and increased batch-to-batch repeatability than ever before.  

A key area of the process that’s come a long way is smoking. Automated smokehouses can provide superior results when compared to their traditional counterparts. Keep reading to find out how.  

Pork Bellies in Protech Continuous Spiral-BAK Food Equipment

It’s Great to Be Square

A crucial step in commercial bacon production is precisely trimming pork bellies to make them square. This shape reduces variability and increases yields, so it’s essential that the bellies stay square from this point forward. Consistent belly shape can also help processors sync bacon strip and bacon bit production levels for better forecasting and fewer wasted resources. 

Shape is a critical aspect of bacon processing — and one where traditional smokehouses have long failed bacon processors. Processing bacon in a traditional smokehouse involves combing and hanging pork bellies, which damages a portion of the bellies early on. Gravity wreaks havoc on the hanging pork bellies, resulting in the loss of the ideal square shape, which means product loss by the end of the process.  

With an automated spiral smoker, such as the Protech smoker from BAK Food Equipment, conveyors carry pork bellies through the chamber at a rate specified by the operator for the most even smoking. The use of conveyors keeps the bellies lying horizontally, which eliminates any chance of deformation throughout processing. Additionally, the chance of product loss because of bellies falling off combs or trolleys, or personnel dropping them on the floor, is also brought down to zero.  

The Protech Automated Spiral Cooking, Smoking, Freezing System is equipped with circular belts featuring Ashworth PosiDrive Spiral technology, designed to maintain product orientation and decrease belt tension. The design also ensures that any grease generated during cooking will not result in belt slippage, keeping product moving through the system at an even rate, as specified by the operator. 


Forget Preheating and Uneven Cooking 

Another key pain point for many bacon processors is uneven cooking and temperature deviations. With a traditional system, hanging pork bellies are rolled on a trolley into a semi-continuous or batch smokehouse. The operator must open the smokehouse to unload and reload, resulting in a significant loss of heat. Processors must also adjust smoking times to allow traditional smokehouses to come up to the proper temperature for smoking.    

When using an automated spiral smoker, such as Protech’s smoker from BAK Food Equipment, the continuous movement of the spiral conveyor allows the smoker to endlessly operate. Not only does this save processing time, but it can also reduce utility costs, according to our research. Our clients have seen their utility bills decrease with the complete Automated Spiral Cooking, Smoking, Freezing System, with reports of a 35% reduction in energy use and a 70% reduction in water use. 

Traditional commercial smokehouses often have cold zones and experience temperature deviations that result in uneven smoking, whether from a lack of circulation or from how the bellies are positioned on the hanger. For example, if a belly is overlapping another while hanging, the evenness of the smoke will be impacted.  

Automated smokehouses overcome these challenges by utilizing sensor systems to monitor and control temperature and smoke along with ensuring efficient air circulation. The conveyor system also eliminates any chance of overlapping product. 

When it comes to the patent-pending Protech Smoking Spiral Chamber, this amalgamation of highly automated systems ensures even smoking of every pork belly that passes through the chamber. Humidity and temperature are monitored during smoking via a series of sensors, and the fully welded chamber eliminates the chance for leaking smoke, ensuring that wood chips are never wasted.  

Optimize Labor, Lives

Labor is another key area where automated smokers offer benefits. Traditional semi-continuous and batch smoking chambers require operators to comb bellies on trees, roll several trees into the smokehouse, and press “start” on the control panel. We’ve seen processors staff as many as 40 employees in this role, which is a lot in a labor market with meat processors running their operations at 10%–15% below labor capacity. 

Automated smokehouses require less personnel to operate, freeing staff to perform other tasks that need doing. For example, the Protech Spiral Bacon Smokehouse requires only two operators, opening up as many as eight people for other tasks, like packaging, intake, or processing other products. 

Semi-continuous and batch smokehouses also necessitate quite a bit of equipment, with as many as 150 smoke trolleys and nearly 7,000 hooks required to process 8,800 pounds of bacon. All this equipment needs to be properly cleaned and sanitized between uses, not to mention cleaning the smoker itself. This is a high cost in labor and utilities.   

Automated systems eliminate the need for additional equipment like hooks and trolleys. For example, the Protech Spiral Bacon Smokehouse requires no accessories and can clean itself. Its clean-in-place (CIP) technology frees operators from smoker maintenance. The smoker automatically cleans the interior surfaces of equipment, filters, and pipes without the need for disassembly.  

Finally, the process of combing and hanging pork bellies for smoking in semi-continuous or batch smokehouses is very dangerous. In fact, the task of repeatedly hitting a belly comb puts employees at risk for musculoskeletal damage — not to mention the chance of piercing oneself with the sharp comb. It’s no wonder the food production industry sees injury rates of 6.2 per 100 full-time workers.  

Automated systems eliminate the process of hooking and hanging pork bellies, thus eliminating the associated risks to employees. And it goes without mentioning that doing a repetitive task with raw pork bellies for a full day isn’t the most interesting job. Removing this task can boost employee morale in several ways.  

The No.1 Solution for Spiral Smoking

When it comes to automating the processing of smoked products, BAK Food Equipment and Protech partner to bring U.S. food processors the best solution. Protech’s Smoking Spiral Chamber is the ultimate solution for meat processors looking to optimize their smoking process.  

Combine the smoking chamber with a NOMA, formerly Nowicki Food Machinery, injector and/or drencher, Protech cooking chamber, and Protech freezing chamber for a fully automated end-to-end process. It requires just two operators to turn 8,800 pounds of pork bellies into perfectly seasoned and smoked bacon each hour.  

If you’re looking to automate your curing and smoking processes, our team is ready to help! Contact us to discuss your unique process and goals and to find the solution that fits your needs and your budget.   

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