Setting Up a Sugar Shack and Collecting Maple Sap


| 3/10/2015 10:58:00 AM


Tags: maple syrup, tapping maple trees, sugar shack, Julie Fryer, Minnesota,

Tapping time is finally here! I’ve currently got 8 taps in my trees and the temperature range here in Minnesota is absolutely perfect for the sap run. (If you recall from my last blog, Tapping Maple Trees: A Beginner's Guide to Making Your Own Maple Syrup, that’s temperatures that create a daily freeze/thaw cycle of cold nights and warm days). So, now what do we do with all that sap? With my 8 taps, I can expect to collect almost 100 gallons of sap this season – which means it’s time to have a plan for collecting, storing, and boiling. Before bringing home that first bucket of sap, though, we need to make sure you have everything in place so you can start cooking. And the best part? Now you get to call yourself a sugar maker and create your very own sugar shack!

This article will show you how to collect, filter, and store your sap prior to boiling plus how to get your cooking area ready to go for the big day. Keep in mind, though, that once things start running, these sugar-making steps all intertwine and after the first few days, you’ll be collecting and boiling all at the same time.

Essential Sugar-Making Tools

Maple sap starts out as 98-percent water and 2-percent sugar. Your job as a sugar maker is to boil away this water and concentrate that delicious sugar. Because the process relies on evaporation, the more surface area you can create for boiling, the faster the process will be. Additionally, a slow consistent heat source that creates a gentle rolling boil will prevent foam-ups and scorching. For these reasons, many sugar makers prefer a shallow pan or large kettle over a wood fire for the first stages of boiling. This is commonly called an evaporator and the pans are called evaporator pans. Most people also choose to boil their sap outside or in a dedicated shed because tiny bits of sugar are carried off with the steam and everything around your cooking area will become sticky!

 homemade maple syrup evaporator

The evaporator does not need to be elaborate or expensive – most home sugar makers create their own DIY system and there are hundreds of design examples online. And take it from me, even I haven’t made the leap to my own evaporator stove and we still use the “turkey cooker” burner and an outside camp stove. This does take more fuel compared to wood but the end result is still the same and as long as it works to boil the sap down, it’s fine.

Pots and Pans

Whatever cooking method you choose, you will need sturdy and heat-resistant pots and pans. Remember surface area counts in the first stage of boiling so opt for the widest pan you can find but make sure it has sides high enough to leave at least 3 inches of headroom once you start boiling the sap. Look at restaurant supply stores or online or go for the pre-made hobbyist sized pans with attached spout – this makes pouring out your sap so much easier. For the second boil or finishing stage, a regular large soup kettle will work but make sure it has a heavy bottom to prevent scorching.




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