“I get 80% efficiency in my system, how about you????”
Don’t be discouraged if your efficiency doesn’t measure up with the next guy… it’s how you use it that matters. The most important thing about starting out in all-grain is that you are getting consistent efficiency. That is the only way to at least be able to reliably test your recipes and process. You should be concerned about initial efficiency if it’s below say….65%. I would consider less than that poor efficiency. Getting 80% or greater is amazing efficiency, and I would say 75% is acceptable average efficiency. 75% is where most brewers should be shooting for (although more is better).
Here is a short list of things to consider when trying to improve poor efficiency.
1. Check your crush! This is the most popular item to investigate when concerned about poor efficiency, with good reason. If your crush doesn’t expose enough actual grain kernels to the water in the mash, then you’ll never get the sugar in them into the wort. Your crush should expose all the internal kernels. You should have lots of little barley bits in the crush. Having 5-10% “flour” is OK. Be sure that in your effort to improve crush that you still see a lot of husk material. The husk shouldn’t be getting pulverized into powder.
But as the first order of attacking poor efficiency the mantra goes….“Crush till your scared!” It’d be better to get 90% efficiency and a really astringent beer in one batch and make corrections than spending several batches slowly inching up the crush scale.
2. If you are a fly sparger…slow down the sparge. Your sparge should easily take 45-60 minutes to complete. Play with your in and out valve with just water until it takes 60 minutes to drain your HLT through your tun and into the kettle (simulated mash). Check the flow rate buy counting how long it takes to fill a pint glass with water. Then you can use that as a measure every-time. If you know it takes 44 seconds to fill the glass, next time you sparge set the valves to be 44 seconds then you’ll know you have the valves set to the optimum flow rate.
3. Mash out temps improve viscosity. This seems to help on my system, but maybe it’s not critical for everyone. If I get my wort up to 168°F before I sparge, I tend to get a 2-5 point increase in my efficiency. Getting to mash out is sometimes seems to loosen the flow of the sugars out of the wort. If all else fails, try increasing the temp to mash out before running off.
There are a handful of other tricks too, but chime in if you have something to add.