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January 30, 2017 /
Let’s Talk About Roasting

This is a post about how to talk about coffee roasts. It isn’t a post about how to roast coffee (although there’s some nuggets in there).

As I was typing up a post about extraction evenness in regards to roasting (which I promise I will get to soon), I realised that the language we use to describe roasting is terribly inconsistent. I was constantly interrupting myself to add notes about why I used particular words and how I believe things work. It was also suffering from diplomacy. So please let me avoid any interruption or tongue-holding and get straight to the point.

[disclaimer] These are my opinions and I have no doubt many coffee professionals will disagree with a lot of it. I’m not trying to be negative or insulting. Please read this how I wrote it; with a neutral, friendly tone that’s aiming to help, not hinder.

Roasting is incredibly complex, but there’s 3 main sliding scales that we can use to describe a roast no matter how it went down.

Colour:
Dark to Light.

Development:
Overdeveloped to Underdeveloped.

End Speed:
Baked to Stalled.

Every roast sits somewhere between these 6 extremes. Upon drinking a coffee you can usually identify where it sits on those three scales. Each of them has obvious identifying flavours and make the coffee behave in different ways.

Colour

Colour should be easy, but it’s often used to describe all three scales in different combinations. This makes it really hard to understand what someone’s on about. Basically, the end temperature of the roast determines colour.

Dark Roasts

Darker roasts experience higher temperatures in the roaster. They have absorbed more energy which creates more dry-distillates and Maillard reactions. They have minimal acidity and can taste truly terrible (ash, toast, tobacco, burnt toffee etc.). Sometimes, under skilled hands, they’re palatable. Traditionally, darker roasts are assumed to have more body and sweetness. This isn’t true. Dark roasts can be completely lacking in sweetness and mouthfeel.

Light Roasts

Lighter roasts experience lower temperatures in the roaster. They have absorbed less energy which preserves more acids and aromatics. They have more acidity and complex aromas (fruity, bright, citric, floral etc.). Traditionally, lighter roasts are assumed to have less body and sweetness. They can, but it’s not just the “lightness” of the roast that’s making this happen. Light roasts can be incredibly sweet and rich.

Medium Roast

These sit somewhere between Dark and Light roasts. There are many shades of Brown in here, most of them are some kind of compromise between darker and lighter roasts. Most Specialty Roasters are sitting in here for “espresso” roasts, and a good few for their “filter” or “omni” roasts (omni being applicable for either filter or espresso). I’m looking forward to covering my views on omni roasts in great detail sometime soon.

Development

Here’s where we need to start changing habits. Roasting darker does not automatically make the coffee developed. On the other hand, a light roast is not automatically undeveloped. Don’t make that mistake: development is separate to colour. You cannot see true development on the exterior of a bean. This is because a significant amount of the bean’s interior might still be underdeveloped.

Just before, I mentioned that a dark roast can lack sweetness and that a light roast can be incredibly sweet. This is due to development. With proper development, any reasonable colour of roast can be rich and sweet.

A developed coffee has been roasted in such a way that it doesn’t display any undesirable savoury “organic” flavours (stem, corn, grass, peanut shell, capsaicin, wheat etc.) and its structure has been broken down enough for water to be able to enter and dissolve its flavours (soluble). Developing a coffee perfectly is extremely difficult, and eludes most roasters.

Underdevelopment

Underdeveloped coffee displays those undesirable “green” flavours and is less soluble..

A vast majority of the coffees I am currently tasting from Specialty Coffee Roasters around the world exhibit underdevelopment. Objectively and subjectively identifiable underdevelopment. It’s a real problem in the industry and has far reaching effects, including:
– reducing efficiency of extractions.
– inhibiting customer acquisition or conversion from traditional “dark roasters”.
– it tastes terrible.

Similar to extraction taints, like dryness or sourness, underdevelopment is a generic flavour. You can get it with high or low quality green coffee. Buying expensive green coffee does not justify or mask underdevelopment. We are “Specialty” – we need our customers to perceive and pay for higher quality – underdevelopment makes that difficult.

Underdeveloped coffees behave in a very particular way:
– If you find yourself grinding one coffee significantly finer than another, even though the colour is similar, that coffee is likely underdeveloped.
– If you struggle to slow down espresso shots with a certain coffee but not others, look to development as the cause.
– If you can’t crack open a roasted bean easily with your fingers, it’s likely underdeveloped
– Break open a bean and look closely at the colour of the outside and inside layers of the bean. If there’s a difference in colour that you can perceive, the inside is definitely underdeveloped.

Roasting darker is one way to reduce underdevelopment, but it’s not the best way. Yes, you will expose the interior of the bean to higher temperatures, reduce the undesirable flavours and increase solubility; but the exterior of the bean is now likely overdeveloped and far too dark. There’s still disparity between the inner and outer layers. The only solution is to apply the right amount of heat at the correct times in the roast to develop the inside and outside of the bean evenly. This allows you to finish the roast darker or lighter without fear of under-developing the interior or overdeveloping the exterior. I say again: with proper development, any reasonable colour of roast can be rich and sweet.

Overdevelopment

Overdevelopment is when the coffee has become soluble and displays no undesirable organic flavours, but the energy and time applied during roasting has left nothing delicious behind. It’s empty, lifeless and hollow. This is extremely rare, nearly impossible with Kenyan and Colombian coffee, and almost never seen in Specialty. Don’t lose any sleep over it.

End Speed

At the end of the roast, the coffee beans are quite dry and fragile. Small, brief changes in temperature can make or break the whole roast.

Baked

If the coffee experiences an increase in speed somewhere after first crack, that will “bake” the coffee. This is characterised by the coffee exhibiting a lack of sweetness and/or dark roast flavours, even though it might not be a dark roast. You can finish a light roast with a bake that will then taste a little bit bland, ashy or dry. Not ideal. Try not to fall into the trap of calling a baked roast “dark” (it happens all the time and you’ll look like a dingus). Look out for dryness, a lack of sweetness, dull acidity, and in worst cases; ash. Sang Ho from Square Mile Coffee Roasters introduced me to calling this the “Flick of Death”. Precisely. It kills the party.

Stalled

If the coffee temperature stops increasing for a significant amount of time, it’s called stalling. Sometimes, the coffee might stall so hard for so long that the temperature starts to drop a few degrees. The worse the stall, the less developed the coffee will be. It’s super hard to pick this one out without seeing a roast profile. If you start calling out roasts for stalling without seeing the profiles be prepared for a slap. Stalling can create weird thinness, waxy cardboard flavours, sharp acidity and sweetness that’s frail and lacklustre.

Ideal

The coffee can’t experience an increase in speed, and it can’t stop, but it should still be rising in temperature after first crack. At first glance this might seem impossible, but it’s not that hard. Just think of a car constantly slowing down until it reaches a stop sign. Before and during first crack, the coffee should be increasing in temperature quite quickly. This momentum carries it further and hotter after first crack, and allows for a constant slowing until the end. The ideal end of roast is constantly slowing down after first crack until the speed approaches or reaches zero right at the end. This results in no baking and no stalling. If you don’t notice any problems with the coffee, it was likely ideal.

Putting it All Together

So now we have a roast language! This means we can describe any roast accurately and without confusion. Here’s some examples.

“That coffee is light and well developed.” – Hells yeah that sounds great! Bright, sweet, rich and delightful.

“That coffee is dark and underdeveloped.” – Boo. This is the worst of both worlds. Ashy, bitter, no sweetness and savoury green flavours.

“That coffee is light and developed, but baked”. – Ok. So this coffee is bright and light, but also suffers from some dryness or ashiness from the bake at the end.

“That coffee is dark and developed”. – Potentially delicious. Probably not. This coffee could be intensely sweet and rich with minimal acidity and hopefully not too much ash or typical “dark” roast flavours.

“That coffee is a medium roast and underdeveloped”. The most common Specialty roast. It has acidity and is kind of sweet, but isn’t rich, unique or satisfying. It could be a little grassy and savoury, or in milder cases it might just be underwhelming and generic. You might also notice some of the underdevelopment identifiers I described above.

There’s more combinations, but you get the idea. Separate these aspects from each other and we’ll all be able to talk about roasting much more accurately and efficiently!

Please don’t send your coffee roaster an email telling them how much they suck because Barista Hustle said so. Start a dialogue and learn about the aims of your coffee roaster and why they do things the way they do: there’s always a reason! Barista/Roaster relationships are really important and should be nurtured for long term tastiness!

 

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Matt Perger
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Matt Perger

Internal scorching can occur in air roasters or recirculating roasters where the air temp is insanely high. The outside layer of the coffee is cooler because the water is evaporating outwards from the inside. This leaves the inside dry and susceptible to scorching, and the outside layers lighter because of the evaporative cooling effect.

Maxwell Mooney
Guest
Maxwell Mooney

I was hoping to see some demarcations associated with roasting stages to determine color language. “Dark roast” doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did 10 years ago. I call anything that has hit second crack a dark roast, anything within a minute of finishing 1C light roast and everything in between a medium roast. Sweet Maria’s has color guides with all sorts of language they recommend: city, city plus, full city, full city plus, etc. Maybe something similar could help us coalesce on some language to use. Great post, as always Matt! I keep sending these to all… Read more »

Justin Enis
Guest
Justin Enis

Radical! The timing of this post is just perfect as i recently purchased a pretty bad ass 1lb roaster and I just started realy digging into Rao’s The Roasters Companion… 🙂 Thanks for the continued information. Always thought provoking.

Ruth Hampson
Guest
Ruth Hampson

Great as always, found this one particularly to the point, it’s sometimes difficult to admit you might struggle with a particular roast, trying out all extraction parameters and not always going back to whether the roast might be under/over developed. Also struggling with customers’ perceptions of ‘dark roast’ as somehow macho to drink!

Jan F-F
Guest
Jan F-F

Your thinking seems to be pretty closely in line with Scott Rao’s. I just have a few questions.

1) Do you find any utility in adjusting phases (e.g. development, ramp between drying end and first crack)? Or are you mostly focusing on that continuously declining RoR?
2) Do you roast your espresso any differently than your brewed coffee? (I know this is likely a topic of future discussion.)

ericbusby
Guest
ericbusby

My thoughts precisely.
I certainly hope that Matt includes that type of information in next week’s post.

Burak Bener
Guest
Burak Bener

Exactly! Scott is brilliant in explaining the desired outcome (1. declining ROR; 2. 20-25% development time). However, he spends less time in explaining how to achieve these outcomes. Yes, you say that this “isn’t a post about how to roast coffee” but maybe you can give some hints here :))

Kevin Nealon
Guest
Kevin Nealon

For confusion’s sake, I think a lot of us use the word “baked” to refer to roasts that stall towards the end and demonstrate that papery/cardboard flavor you describe, Matt. I’m not sure I’ve ever used a specific word to refer to the end of roast spike in temperature. Am I off-base referring to stalling at the end of the roast as “baked”? Just a difference in US vs. Australia coffee jargon?

Melanie Weldert
Guest
Melanie Weldert

Love it, every week im waiting for the new post. Thanks. I would like if you talk about water in brew 🙂

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Similar to Scott, yes. Slightly different on some things I won’t go into here though.
1) You have to focus on every phase.
2) I’m agnostic.

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

As a barista in at a specialty coffee shop in an area where specialty coffee still seems silly to the average coffee consumer I cannot begin to explain how appreciated this article is. This shines new light on how to describe the difference between roasts to customers who are stuck in a “darker is better” mentality.

PKBarter
Guest
PKBarter

I think the more accepted definition of baked is what you’re calling ‘stalled’. Metallic, flat, notes of barley cereal, loss of complexity. To roast the “baked” sample for the roast defect section of the Q-grader exam, word is that the roaster holds the coffee near finish temp for 5 or more minutes. I haven’t heard a generally accepted term for that upward flick at the end of a too-fast or runaway-exothermic finish.

Ben Toovey
Guest
Ben Toovey

I agree with Kevin Nealon’s below post below, I’ve always used the term “baked” to describe the negative consequences of a roast that has “stalled”

In my experience an increase in temp after first crack would usually cause problems in the cup that I would describe as “scorched” or “tipped”

Otherwise, yes we defiantely require an update to our language used when describing roast levels and roast profiles, “filter” “espresso” and “omni” doesn’t cut it!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Hey, as I replied below this, 5 minutes of stalling is the same as what I’m calling a bake – too much heat at the end. To maintain a flat curve for that long you have to apply much more heat than what I would describe as ideal, so therefore it’s technically on the “bake” end of the scale. A stall is a lack of heat that results in a short region of no increase and potential decrease.

Hope that makes sense!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Scorched or tipped is definitely for the more drastic increases.
I know the SCAA cuppers handbook describes baked as too little heat for too long, but that is essentially the same. Maintaining the heat in the roaster after first crack for that long is (thermodynamically) the same as a short increase. When I refer to stalling, it’s much more brief. I’m working with “close to well-roasted” parameters here; not way off 5-minute bakes. Hope that helps!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

This is one thing that seems to be completely different and unsubstantiated all around the world. Baking is, technically, cooking. Which is why I and a lot of others use the terms this way around.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Thank you! Though I tried to keep direct references to colour out of this for a few reasons:
– People need to decide what’s dark for them according to taste. I don’t want to dictate.
– Screens differ.
– Some would inevitably confuse colour with development.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I’m not disagreeing with you on stall.

I am with bake, though. The Q course sits a roast at the same temperature for 5 minutes and calls that baked. You _have_ to apply extra energy to the roast to make that happen. Ergo, bake = too much energy.

I did say a lot would disagree, no? Read my replies below. If the differential of the curve sits above ideal (flat lining) it’s baking. If the differential sits below (short flat line followed by decrease) it’s stalling. They’re different things and create different flavours.

Ben Toovey
Guest
Ben Toovey

But stalling or baking in terms of flat spots or dips in the curve – in most roasting machines – is a result of insufficient heat application or roast energy (or even too much of an increase in airflow), not because of too much heat. Too much heat (in relation to the exothermic reaction occurring with that particular coffee) results in the runaway or upward spike in the curve… Thermodynamically, the amount of heat required in the roasting system is dependant on the structure of the seed being roasted, and as “baking” is widely accepted as a term for the… Read more »

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

A consistent speed at the end of a roast is above ideal, which makes it a bake. Most of what people refer to as stalling as actually baking.
A proper stall would be where the development has stopped or declined. It seems that some are confusing that with a scenario where development continues but temperature doesn’t rise.

One addition here is that when someone stalls a roast, they are prone to then apply more heat to reach a prescribed finish temperature. This makes it a bake and a stall, which impairs their ability to pattern match.

cagataygulabioglu
Guest
cagataygulabioglu

hi matt
are you sure is baked coffee is caused of a increase in speed (with that you mean high temperature I guess)? Cause as we know beans need energy during the interconnected processes of endothermic and exhotermic after first crack and when there is not enough charge the coffee is baked as the chemical reactions (psyrolises) are interrupted . Isn’t baked coffee is a end product of stalling? SO ı believe stalling the is the process and baked is the result.

Aaron Gerhart
Guest
Aaron Gerhart

Hey man,

I roast my own coffee at home in a popcorn popper. Very high-tech, I know. The only way I can decrease temperature is by adding distance between the outlet and my popper via extension cords, thereby decreasing wattage. Without extra cords, I pull about 48g to first crack within 2:30-3 minutes. Would that be too fast? I know you can bake it by bringing up too slowly, but should I hinder first crack a little longer, then slowly decrease the heat applied once first crack is through?

Ben Toovey
Guest
Ben Toovey

I’m not disagreeing with any of it, differences in heat application and roast curve have subsequent differences in the cup, always… The example of maintaining an end temperature for 5 minutes as in the Q training is an impractical method of making the baked defect undeniably clear in the cup, and would require either manipulation of airflow, or likely an intentional stall that is then followed by the addition of energy to prevent a continued decrease in bean temp. It is a good discussion, clarifying the intricacies of the broader terms we use. “Bake = too much energy” doesn’t summarise… Read more »

Barry
Guest
Barry

Very very helpful. Thanks!

Marshall Hance
Guest
Marshall Hance

Wow, max development vs. minimum bake, the 500um sieve recommendation, and the “coarsest grind that extracts the most without being dry” comment, all together has my head fully spun. I’m over here tasting coffees that land all over the spectrum and not really sure where to go. It seems right challenging to overdevelop a coffee without also baking… which seems to be the direction my own roasts sit; well developed, super light, but ashy at high extractions; this includes those with no flick at the end, which is difficult to anticipate the arrival of.

Superb post. Thank you!

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

I see where you’re coming from, but still disagree. Think about it purely thermodynamically. To maintain RoR=0, you’re applying heat which is (according to my definition where deceleration = ideal) technically an acceleration above the ideal. RoR 0 doesn’t result in no progression; quite the opposite.

My simplification separates roasts based on the result of heat applied. What’s the contradiction?

Ben Toovey
Guest
Ben Toovey

In factual terms, to stall is to stop progression, which in roasting is when the rate of rise (or heating rate in degrees per minute) = 0. How brief or long that stall is will have varying impacts on the coffee, obviously. Baking in terms of roasting is a negative chemical reaction, which can happen in a multitude of scenarios, taking into account many variables including but not limited to: time, temperature and RoR of the roast, and the relationship between those factors and the structure of the seed (size, density, moisture, processing method etc) Simply put, there is more… Read more »

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Whoa that’s fast! I would maybe keep it further away for the whole roast. Maybe aim for solid yellow/orange at 3:30, first crack at 6:30-7:30 and finish 8:00-9:30. You’ll gain a lot more control slowing things down like that. Don’t be shy about hitting first crack with gusto! Just make sure it decelerates afterwards. 🙂

Ben Toovey
Guest
Ben Toovey

I’m not talking about maintaining RoR at 0, I’m saying that the point at which the RoR reaches 0 is in fact the stall. It is possible to maintain RoR = 0 for a period without an increase OR decrease in heat application, with some coffees. To say “think about it purely thermodynamically”, is almost to say “think about roasting coffee, without the coffee”… I see how what you are describing applies in roasts where the momentum through first crack is sufficient to carry the development through to the end of the roast, but this is not always the case,… Read more »

Matt Perger on roast profiles: “Let’s Talk About Roasting” | MachineLovers.com
Guest
Matt Perger on roast profiles: “Let’s Talk About Roasting” | MachineLovers.com

[…] by ents [link] [1 […]

Ben
Guest
Ben

I’m loving it too, but also don’t get the comment “What I try to do is achieve the highest possible extraction that doesn’t taste dry with the coarsest possible grind. That is almost always the best combination.” at other times it seems like a very fine grind is preferred by Matt…because with coarser grinds you are going to have to brew longer and then you overextract the fines. You probably need to be using a refractometer to understand. Anyway this is about roasting so don’t want to hijack 😉

Gera Davidson
Guest
Gera Davidson

Hi Matt, Great post as always,
would you consider a flat ROR (a constant rise in bean temp – say 5 degrees a minute from start to finish) baking? or would that be a different kind of problem?
Also, I have experienced with some roasts an increase,”flicker”, in the ROR during first crack, but an”ideal” decrease in ROR after first crack till finish, what sort of problems might this profile cause?
tnx

Corretto Batch Size - Heat Input Adjustments? - Page 10
Guest
Corretto Batch Size - Heat Input Adjustments? - Page 10

[…] I'm relatively indifferent on the whole 'celebrity barista / roaster' thing – but MP really hits the nail on the head in this blog – what he describes here mirrors my own findings through 4 years of trial & error – but he just manages to describe it far more clearly than I reckon I ever have! Well worth a read Matt Let's Talk About Roasting – Matt Perger […]

Jacob Denaro
Guest
Jacob Denaro

Also you have to remember that conduction/convection ratios are all messed up with a popcorn popper, the aim is to pop popcorn ASAP, not to develop richness or any form of flavour in the popcorn haha. I know from personal experience that any popper roast is unlikely to be over 5 minutes without presenting a fire hazard haha.

Monigram Coffee
Guest
Monigram Coffee

Baked flavours can be introduced by stalling. A roast that never stalls,
that has a decreasing RoR throughout, but which takes 30 minutes to
complete, will also taste baked (yes that’s an over-the-top example for
clarity).

Eric Squires
Guest
Eric Squires

I would mention that the Sweet Maria’s chart seems to be based more on old school standards. While my shop leans heavily toward light roasts, many of them don’t even meet their temperature criteria for city roast (415F). I’ve personally roasted some coffees that are wonderful and well developed at 404F and have read about other roasters going as light as 395F. Because density and altitude play such a large roll in how a bean roasts, I’d be hesitant to say that a given roast level is achieved at any particular temperature.

Marshall Hance
Guest
Marshall Hance

I wanted to express that roasting and brewing are inextricably linked since the aim of roasting is to create solubility. However, as solubility increases, so does the risk of baking…. so at what level is “right”?

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Haha yes! Definitely.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Gents! You’ve found me out! (kind of)

I tend to recommend “as fine as possible” when people are sifting, because they have total control over particle spread.
When using a normal grinder/brewer, the coarsest point that extracts well almost always tastes better.

Re solubility – I’ve been trying to max solubility at lighter roasts for 3 years now. Getting there…

James
Guest
James

I found that inverting a hair dryer on top of the popper to pull air out worked well to slow it down. Increases convection though. And your chances of being yelled at for making your wifes hair dryer smell like coffee

James
Guest
James

Hey Matt,
I’ve been researching this for a while, but haven’t found a consistent or credible answer yet… What causes (what I’ll term) internal scorching? You mentioned that seeing a difference in colour of the layers was a sign of underdevelopment, but I’m guessing you’re talking about when it’s lighter inside. What about when the inside layer is darker than the outside? Is this then just the opposite – a clear sign of overdevelopment? And what creates this fault?

Old Mate
Guest
Old Mate

I am no Matt, but have seen and experienced this myself. I eventually nailed it down to fresh crop beans that have a slightly higher moisture content. Not given enough time on their way to first crack (insides still have to much moisture / underdeveloped) coupled with a finish that is to aggressive / quick / hot = the insides literally boil under pressure.

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

Hey Lachie. We’ve been working pretty hard on some new Ethiopians at Sensory Lab these last few weeks (I’ve been in the roastery prepping for competition which is delightful) – a coffee called Wottona Boltuma should be on the web shop real soon. Ethiopians are generally easier to develop than Colombians and Kenyans, which means we can go pretty light.

Ben
Guest
Ben

I’m basically using an espresso grind, sifting fines with 100um, boulders with 475um (this gets rid of 40% of the initial coffee weight because I’m using a conical grinder), fantastic sweet, clear, transparent result! (lots of stirring too) Will something like an EK give me less wastage from sifting AND “better” morphology? Is there such as thing as “better” morphology? ie a sphere is perfection? I’ve been getting recommendations for a grinder for pour over but I think most of the advice assumes I’m using a traditional pour over filter grind, and so they say, “if you’re not using it… Read more »

Lachlan Bisset
Guest
Lachlan Bisset

Hi Matt,

If I wanted to try a coffee that was light and fully developed, what would you recommend me? That sounds delicious and I want to establish a benchmark.

I’m in Australia.

Lachie

Matt Perger
Guest
Matt Perger

They usually have different coffees on offer that mirror the stores’ menus.
It isn’t a comp bean, but it’s delicious!
I’ll get onto that one day..

Ben
Guest
Ben

What’s the difference between Sensory Lab and St Ali branding, because each has a separate web store? Anyway I will be sure to pick up the Wottona Boltuma, is that a potential comp bean? I assume you will comment on factors related to post-roast age and storage of roasted coffee and relation to brewing in another Hustle?

Lachlan Bisset
Guest
Lachlan Bisset

Thanks Matt – I will buy some!

A Critic
Guest
A Critic

“Stalling can create weird thinness, waxy cardboard flavours, sharp acidity and sweetness that’s frail and lacklustre.”

That’s the most perfect description of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee I’ve ever seen.

Guest
Guest
Guest

I was able at one point to slow down a roast on a popcorn popper and get something that I was surprised with. I had to decrease the temp as much as I could, up the amount I did (I ended up usually roasting 100-120g) and then manually stirring it the entire time. I did a few that hit about 418’f (first crack started at about 390) in just under 15 minutes.

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