Should I have the pump recirculating wort while I am stirring?
Would my best bet on monitoring mash temp be right at the kettle valve? If my thinking it right that should be the hottest area in the mash.
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I think there are multiple schools of thought on probe/thermometer placement. The valve is probably fine. Mine is about in the middle of my loop, about 3 feet of silicone hose and one pump from the kettle outlet. This is about half way between the heat source (direct fired) and the mash liquor return in the kettle. Once everything settles in, the probe in the loop is reading the same as both the kettle thermometer (mid mash) and the thermometer I can stick in the wort stream at the return or in several spots at the top of the mash. So, the answer is that it probably doesn't matter too much. By having it mid stream, I'm chancing that the mash liquor below the false bottom where heat is being applied might be slightly hotter the second or two it's being heated before leaving the mashtun and recirculating across the probe that controls the flame. But that's not enough of a variation to worry me. My recirculation rate is pretty quick. So things are constantly moving.
As for stirring, you shouldn't have to if you are recirculating your mash liquor and you have a return line placed in a way that causes that mash liquor to flow fairly evenly throughout the mash. The quick paced recirculation of the mash liquor coupled with a low heat source will help you avoid scorching and the correct placement of the return line helps to keep the mash temperature uniform. By stirring, you are disturbing the mash bed, making it harder for the mash liquor to clear, and could possibly increase the chances of a stuck mash.
This is, of course, based on my system. So your mileage may vary.
I should also add that my direct fired RIMS is automated. So I'm not doing anything but letting the mash settle for about 10 minutes, starting my pump, slowly at first, then increasing flow to a pretty brisk rate, then punching in my temperature on the controller, and letting the controller do all of the work. Manually turning the flame off and on sounds like a lot of work and is probably going to lead to some temp swings. Once my temperature has settled in, the flame-ons don't tend to last longer than a second or two every 30 seconds to a minute.
Some good insulation for the kettle might be a better bet until you decide to automate the RIMS. Some closed cell foam (gym mat) and aluminum tape did just fine for my kettle for an hour mash as long as I wasn't recirculating. It's not the prettiest thing, but it works.