When it comes to BBQ you’re looking for a thermometer that can monitor multiple probes simultaneously, including the ambient pit temperature of your grill or smoker. Most of these types of devices offer Wi-Fi, cloud connectivity to store data from your cooking sessions, and fan pit control capabilities.
From times gone by, with a flat disk on wobbly legs, a tray that held charcoal and a grate that sat inches above it, until today with all our great tools, grilling, barbecuing and smoking are part of a great food tradition. As we get more sophisticated about ‘flame meet food’ the market place has not disappointed in delivering exceptional products.
In a classic high-tech meets low-tech, we now have wireless systems that not only monitor the flames, but lets you know how the food is doing form virtually anywhere. Thermometers monitoring the cooking temperatures and allow you to adjust it, combined with tracking the exact temperature of the food for perfect cook times. This is a look at some of the products in the market that can help you take your BBQ experience to the next level.
Fireboard 2 (/w fan controller)
For hardware, the Firebird 2 is capable of handling up to 6 probes and tracking their results. With food like turkey, with distinctly different sections of meat, or a brisket with varying thickness, being able to monitor those areas is a huge plus. Plus you can use one to monitor the ambient temperature, which we will come back to in a moment.
The box itself is pretty rugged. You wouldn’t throw it in the lake, but it can certainly handle a light dowsing, and tolerates heat up to 160 degrees. Since its working life is likely outdoors, around flame and juices, it is important that it can take a lick or two. The bbq guys at Smoking Meat Geeks put it through a rain simulation test and proved it can stand up to its weather resistant claim.
This package also offers a great visual display with a variety of view options; multiple channels of real time temps, graphing, hybrid views showing some channels, and such. The only real negative is that this unit doesn’t have any kind of alert, you have to rely on your phone and the app for that.
Covering all the bases, the Firebird 2 does work with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Either method allows for alerts for high or low temps and monitoring in real time. It can also be integrated with your virtual assistant of choice, Alexa or Google. Via Wi-Fi you can save cooking data in the cloud, and download it, so that you can have a record of what works best for you.
Monitoring your ambient cooking temperature is one thing, but the Fireboard 2 allows you to do something about it. With a couple choices for drive connectivity, you can use a fan drive controller to boost the airflow, thereby increasing the temperature of your burn. You can program steps into your process. For example cook at 225 until the internal temp of your pork butt is 150, this triggers a temp increase to 300 through the stall, then when the internal is 170, drop back to 225. It is very versatile at cooking and controlling your process.
Signals (w/ Billows)
The manufacturer of this is Thermoworks. That says it all, because in every aspect of the food industry, health inspection, commercial processing and kitchens, even the beverage industry, these folks are the gold standard of all things temperature measurement related. Yes, that sounds a bit geeky, but when health and safety are on the line it is good to know who knows best. Even if it is just you putting great food on a plate, the right tool is invaluable.
The probe hardware is the best in the business with quick responses and exceptional durability. The base unit accommodates 4 probes, which is fine for most cooking. Probes are color coded so that you can more easily keep track of which is which. The display is easy to read, giving you all the pertinent information, and is programmable at the base unit. That feature is what sets this above many offerings in the field. Signals has great connectivity, but it can do all necessary functions as a standalone unit, including alert you when your temperature goal has been reached. All that, and it is rated IP66 for complete dust resistance and water resistance.
We mentioned connectivity. The app is very intuitive, both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are easy to connect. Cloud storage is available, although you cannot add notes in the app.
The Billows device has some definite trade-offs. As an add-on item it is very reasonably priced, one of the lowest prices in the market. Of course that is based on already owning the Fireboard. It works pretty well in that it accomplishes the tasks, but it is somewhat sporadic in how it gets there. Most fan systems will create a spike in temperature when they kick in, this unit slightly more than most. It does stay within the stated parameters of 10 degrees variation. And they could use some better directions about how to install the unit. It works, perhaps not the best part of the Signals equipment, but certainly functional.
UltraQ (w/ Pit Bull & Pit Viper)
Too often we see devices that just throw a continuous stream of information, some of which is not particularly valuable to your process. These folks do a great job of distilling down the information output to the things that are important. A display you can read from across the yard, it also has an LED ring on the outside showing blue when temps are low, red in cooking range, pulsing when the fan runs and flashing if temps get too high. Information you can use.
This is a purpose built product specifically for controlling the temperature of your cooking process, while additionally monitoring temperatures in the food itself. They execute all of this very well. At purchase you specify the smoking device you are going to use this with and the BBQ Guru Pit fans will give you the best equipment for an easy installation.
UltraQ offers both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, thankfully, because the base unit controls are not very good at all. Unfortunately none of this is their strength. It is much easier to control the device through the app, however that is not saying too awfully much. It is not an intuitive process, and seems unnecessarily cumbersome. It works, you will get to the end result, but it just may not be the smoothest of journeys.
This is the most purpose built device for controlling the heat inside your cooking device. It does the job well, with one of the best ratings for holding temperature within your chosen parameters. The mechanical units are strong, the digital aspects are not quite up to the same level.
For starters the base unit does not have a built in battery so you do need a power source. It also has a relatively small display, but it offers all the relevant information. It manages the blower device and has some nice options like ‘Keep Warm’ which will drop your temp to hold the food at serving temperature. In theory you can program all of this at the base unit, but it is not especially user friendly.
The app for your phone is comprehensive and works very effectively. It will allow you to easily control the device and establish your preferred settings for your cooking. The biggest issue is getting there. This is a Wi-Fi only device, no Bluetooth. It can even work on the road with its own Wi-Fi connectivity for your phone. It is limited to just 2.4 GHz, no connectivity on a 5 GHz system. Once you get past the quirks, up and running, the system as whole works quite well.
This is a straightforward temperature monitoring system, it does not interface with a blower unit. Inkbird has done a great job at fulfilling their purpose with this. It has a built in lithium ion battery that is rated at 26 hours of use, and charges with a simple USB connection. The base unit is virtually waterproof, each probe port has a cover, and the probes have a noticeable locked in feeling when you have properly plugged them in. The system can handle four probes, which are color coded. It also has an easy to read display, even in bright sun. The base unit alarm is very quiet however, so you will come to rely on the app for this aspect.
Inkbird makes other home automation devices that can be linked through this app as well. Once in the BBQ section, this app works quite efficiently. You can set both high and low alerts for each probe, along with a message box to remind you of what the alarm was for, such as turn down the temp or prep another meal item. This is another device that operates only in a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi environment, which may limit it to home or in town use only. Set up is fairly easy though, so once you are up and running it works well. It could give you better results for visualizing data, their graphing is somewhat primitive, and information has to be exported for each probe, as opposed to the entire cook project.
If you ever wondered if ‘less is more’ this product answers that question with a solid yes. In this case, no blower or ambient temperature control features are part of Meater. But the name says it all. Measure the internal temperature of meat as it cooks. And the ambient temperature of the cooking environment. How, though, is the amazing thing. This device has a diameter smaller than a ball point pen, and is about as long. That’s it. No wires, just the probe and a sculpted wooden box with the charging tray. The batteries are in the probe itself, and offer 24 hours of use, with an available range of 165 feet.
All your output and controls are through Bluetooth and the phone app. The app even contains an estimator algorithm that can give you an idea of how long you need to cook at the ambient temperature to reach your desired internal temperature. This is an excellent case for form with function, a sleek stainless steel cylinder that will give you the essential information for your cooking endeavor.