The leap from extract to all-grain... Like graduating from Velveeta to Wisconsin Cheddar; steel frame bicycle to alloy; Guitar Hero to guitar lessons...
Here at the NB warehouse, I can tell you we see a lot more extract kits than all-grain come down the line. My heart always swells with pride when I pick a deluxe all-grain system: some humble soul is about to decode the mystery of base malt flavors, conversion temperatures, and will likely have a some quality compost to boot!
If you followed wise advice upon your inception into extract brewing, you've read part one of John Palmer's How to Brew. But the time you spent making those first batches, dissolving DME & filling steeping bags with grain probably kept you from taking on that big chunk of pages in the middle text. But curiosity is getting the better of you. You've got the extract process down. You're enjoying the smell of boiling wort & having a pint between hop additions... You venture into that great midsection of the book.
Ah, I remember my first fascinating glimpse at the processes. So much science! But what a great guy, Palmer is swell enough to lay it on the line & wave you past the complex (albeit metaphor-assisted) chemistry & onto a lovely (photo illustrated!) guide to turning your kitchen into a real all-grain brewery.
Your meantime glimpse at the process propels you to the all-grain products web page. But oh my, all the toys! You know you'll need another kettle. You've found a great deal on a cooler system, or the conversion kit which will work great with that cooler that's gathering dust in your basement. Now you dream of getting that Fedex package filled with ten pounds of Barley, and that page of instructions.
But what's the deal with sparging? Do Jeopardy contestants even know the answer? Frankly, my first jaunt into the foray of all-grain brewing found me laden with questions. Should I let the water trickle through a sparge arm? Do I need a pump for this application of water to rinse the sugars from all that lovely smelling grain after the sweet porridge has become wort?
My early morning shifts of picking & packing orders finds my evenings lacking time & begging for mental simplicity. Not to mention the fact that my kitchen is smaller than some second or third bedrooms. Automated liquor tanks with floating valves & cleanup of pumps & hoses are not my preference when I'm making my home life function after work. Luckily, I got great advice from our purchasing manager: get a graduated dipper (or pitcher).
Seriously, simple is the groove. When you know you need 1.5 quarts of mash/sparge water per pound of grain for those crucial infusions, and you're cool with saving time on a single infusion mash (I like to simmer unmodified adjunct grains in a medium sauce pan for Stouts, etc.), the graduated dipper or pitcher has the embossed markings to accurately mash in/out. My small kitchen even works to my advantage, as the table whene my mash tun sits is a foot away from the stove where my liquor water boils! The dipper is also great for getting pulling decoctions, should the recipe/time ever permit.
Naysayers can go say nay, in their own kitchens at that. My all-grain experience started & continues to produce consistently tasty brews with the ease of a dipper & little more work load than my extract days. It works great with our deluxe all-grain systems, too! Just open the ball valve on the cooler & let the hot liquor pour. No dipping required!
Ah, doing more through my down time; almost as pleasing as a pint.