Okay, first off, I've decided I want to do half batches (2.5gal), so don't bother trying to convince me otherwise. Maybe I will switch to full batches some day, but based on my living situation and the ease of use, I decided to use a Mr. Beer container for primary and two different carboys for secondaries (one for long-term hibernation like Belgians and one for normal beers).
Anyways, here is my dilemma. I'm only 3 batches into doing extract beers. The first one, the ratio of wort to water that was in the Mr. Beer was high so I started out with a pretty hot primary and I was worried, both because you're not supposed to have it that hot for the Mr. Beer containers as well as of course, I can kill yeast that way. So far so good with that, 3 weeks in and it looks like things are working okay with that beer, but it was close. My thinking of course is that I need to make my boil smaller.
Now the last two beers, I've been burning my wort. I assume because the amount of water is too low. The second time I switched to all DME, I made sure I stirred a ton, and I took it off the heat occasionally (based on suggestions on boards), but I still started to burn it about 40min into the boil, and so I just ended the boil early. I've been finding various posts concerning burning of wort, but I feel like part of my problem is the smaller batch and the small boil that I am cooking the wort in. I think I could stir it like crazy and still end up with burnt wort.
By burnt, I mean the entire thing begins to darken (more than I think is normal, though I admit I'm new) as well as I start smelling burnt malt, rather than just malt. The first one, I have moved to the secondary and it has a lot of extra trub that I decided not to carry over because I figured it was a result of the burnt wort, as well as it was recommended on posts here that talked about burnt wort. Overall, I think that beer might turn out okay or at least not ruined, but still, this isn't ideal. The current batch will probably be the same, hopefully slightly better because I didn't let it burn much.
It seems to me that here are my options, but let me know if I am forgetting something obvious.
1. My recipes are basically half of a full batch. Roughly 5 lbs of DME/LME, maybe 1 lbs of specialty grain, 1.5-3 oz of hops. Maybe I should be going even smaller, thus the amount of water in my boil will be okay?
2. Add half of the fermentables late-ish in the boil? Say 2.5 lbs of DME/LME at the beginning and the other 2.5 lbs in the last twenty minutes?
3. Just abbreviate the entire boil to 30min or 40min? While most people do a 60min boil, I always figure that is somewhat arbitrary. I could just amend everything around a 40min, or even 30min to be safe. I know there might be repercussions, but I'm not sure it would have a huge effect on my finished product.
4. Boil roughly the entire 2.5gal and do some kind of crash cool at the end?
I'd appreciate any advice or suggestions on which one of these are better or worse things to try, or if there is something altogether different that is the main issue. Let me know if you need more info. So far I don't think I've completely ruined any beers, but I'd like to find a solution for next time, or at least have some good ideas of things to try. Thanks.