Cooking Thermometers: Buying Guide, Reviews, And Ratings,
The Most Important Page On This Website
"The idea that you would rely on intuition to judge something you are terrible at judging makes very little sense to me. Why don't you blindfold yourself too?" Nathan Myhrvold, food scientist, author of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking and Modernist Cuisine at Home
Nobody knows how many millions of dollars are wasted on overcooked food, but far more importantly, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that in 2011 roughly one in six Americans got sick from foodborne illnesses, about 128,000 were hospitalized, and 3,000 died, about the same number who died in the attacks in 2001 or Pearl Harbor in 1941. The difference: Many were children.
In October 2013 Comsumer Reports tested more than 300 chicken samples purchased at supermarkets around the nation and found that almost all were contaminated with pathogenic bacteria and half of them had antibiotic resistant strains. It said "It's unrealistic to expect that the uncooked chicken you buy won't contain any potentially harmful bacteria" and "even if you keep your kitchen very clean, you could still be exposed to illness-causing bacteria if you don't cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F. It's vital that you check using a meat thermometer."
The fever, sweats, and runs that most people call "stomach flu" are no such thing. They are almost always a food borne illness caused by bacteria. True stomach flu is a viral infection caused by different viruses than the influenza viruses and occurs much less frequently. Chances are that if you think you had stomach flu, you really had a foodborne illness that probably could have been prevented by proper cooking.
The only way to protect yourself from foodborne illness or from wasting money by overcooking meat is to use a good digital food thermometer. You cannot tell by looking at the color of meat. Read this article by health writer Serena Gordon of HealthDay about her brush with death, and then read my article debunking the old myth about cooking chicken til the juices run clear.
I do a lot of radio interviews and the most common question I get is "What is the single most important advice you can give a barbecue cook?" My answer, without hesitation, is "Get a good digital thermometer for your cooker and another for your meat."
Only knuckle draggers think thermometers are for sissies. Thermometers are as important as knives and forks. I want my food tender, juicy, and flavorful. I also want it safe. The temperature of the cooker and internal temperature of the food controls all of these things. Understanding optimum and safe temperatures is at the core of good cooking. Proof: Of the thousands of barbecue teams competing for prize money every weekend across the nation, I have never ever seen one that didn't use a digital meat thermometer (usually a Thermapen), and the majority also use digital oven thermometers (usually a Maverick ET-732).
On the left below I explain how thermometers work, how to use them, and how to calibrate the, On the right, I review the best of the many I have tested.
What you need to know about thermometers
"Bimetal coil thermometers are about as accurate as a sniper scope on a nerf gun." Alton Brown, Food Network Star, author of multiple cookbooks
Look closely at the photo above. The bimetal dial on the right, from my favorite charcoal grill, is reading about 202°F. It is off by about 52°F!!!!!
Most grills and smokers come with bi-metal dial thermometers, and they're usually crap. It is not unusual for this design from the 1800s to be off as much as 50°F like the one above (on an expensive and otherwise superb grill). You cannot trust them. I have readers tell me that when they bought a good digital from my list below that they learned their grills were off by as much as 100°F! This is a recipe for well done steaks, late meals, cold food, embarassment, shame, and ostracism.
In this photo, the digital thermometer at left is showing the temp on the upper "warming grate", 410°F. The temp on the lower grate, where we cook, is 86°F hotter! The bimetal dial on the right is inserted near the upper grate, so guess what temp it is reading. But it is off by 86°F because your food is on the lower grate!
In addition, handheld "instant read" bi-metal dial meat thermometers can take up to 30 seconds to read accurately. Digitals can read in 1 to 6 seconds with much greater precision! Don't take my word for it.
Cooking without good digital thermometers is like driving at night without headlights. Spend the money for good thermometers or you will spend the money on ruined food later! They will pay for themselves by saving your meat and your face.
Without good digital thermometers there's a good chance you'll be making lame excuses for overcooked meat, undercooked meat, or, worst of all, apologies at bedside in the hospital as your guests recover from food-borne illness.
Here's what the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says: "The color of cooked meat and poultry is not always a sure sign of its degree of doneness. Only by using a food thermometer can one accurately determine that a meat has reached a safe temperature. Turkey, fresh pork, ground beef or veal can remain pink even after cooking to temperatures of 160°F and higher. The meat of smoked turkey is always pink."
You can't tell by poking your hand
I don't care what the TV chef said, you absolutely positively without doubt no way no how cannot tell anything about the temp of a grill is by holding your hand over the grate and counting "1001, 1002, 1003" until until your palm starts to smoke. Each of us reacts differently to heat, and the heat 1" above the grate can be significantly different than 6" above. Maybe an old pro who cooks 100 steaks a night can do this parlor trick, but most backyard cooks cannot.
You can't tell by poking the meat
Likewise, you may have also heard that you can tell the doneness of a steak by poking it and comparing the bounciness of the meat to the tip of your nose or the flesh between your thumb and forefinger. As if everyone's hand has the same firmness and bounciness! As if a filet mignon has the same firmness and bounciness of a sirloin! Lookit, almost all professional chefs carry a meat thermometer in their chef's coat.
You can't rely on pop-up thermometers
They have a compound in the tip that melts at a determined temp and releases a spring that pops the stem up. Although they can be accurate, they can also stick, they read only one part of the turkey, and they are usually set too high. Pop-ups are why your turkey tastes like cardboard. Throw them out.
You can't tell by cutting the meat
A lot of weekend warriors cut into their meat to check the color for doneness. The problem is that the color they see on the grill is not the color that they will see on the table. That's because the color in the cut changes as the meat absorbs oxygen.
All meats, including fish, have myoglobin in the muscle cells. Myoglobin is not blood but it has some similarities. Blood is dark red and it coagulates, gets thick, turns black, and hardens. The pigment is hemoglobin which has a molecule called a heme with an iron atom in it. Except for a little blood trapped in the marrow of bones and a few isolated veins, all the blood is removed during slaughter.
Myoglobin is pink in most animals, and it remains pink and runny after contact with air. When heated it turns tan and thickens, and that is why medium rare meat is reddish pink, and well done meat is tan. But myoglobin also contains a heme and when it comes into contact with air it changes color. So when you make a cut into a steak it may look perfectly done to you, but as the myoglobin absorbs more oxygen it can turn brighter red. Usually the color you see indicates that the meat is less cooked than it really is.
In the photo above we see two slices of Iberico pork from Spain cooked to a safe temp (yes it is pork). The bottom one was exposed to air for about 10 minutes after I carved off some slices for dinner. As it was exposed to oxygen, it turned brighter red making it look medium rare. The top one was sliced from just behind it, moments before the picture. You can see it is less red, more pink, looking as if it is medium, which is what it was cooked to.
Worse still, the color of food is altered by the light you are using. Incandescent light is yellowish orange, fluorescent is greenish blue, most LEDs are slightly blue. Women who wear makeup know they always look better under incandescent light than fluorescent. In other words, the type of bulb you are using impacts the color. Bottom line, if you really want to know when the meat is done to your likeness, you need a good digital thermometer.
You can't tell by the color of the juices
Scores of cookbooks tell you that chicken or turkey is ready when the juices are clear. That is simply not true. It may have been true once upon a time, but modern production methods have made this old wives' tale false.
Chickens are grown so rapidly that the ends of the bones don't calcify thoroughly, and so blood from the marrow, and that's where blood is made, can seep out and tint the nearby meat even though the meat is cooked well past safe temp.
As for the juices, scientists tell us that myoglobin, a pink protein liquid, can tint the juices depending on the acidity of the meat. I have written a whole article explaining the issue and debunking the "chicken is done when the juices run clear" myth.
A thermometer will not make your meat dry
Meat is about 75% water. It is not a balloon. When you stick in a probe a few drops of juice may escape but it is nothing compared to the total amount of juice. In an 8 ounce steak 6 ounces are water. If you lose 1/4 ounce, and you probably won't, there are still 5 3/4 ounces of juice left. That's 95%. Stop worrying.
You need five thermometers
#1 - You need a hand held rapid read food thermometer
The difference between a medium rare and well-done steak is pretty narrow. The diff between moist tender fish and dry chalky fish is even less. Seconds matter. And two pork chops sitting side by side can cook at different rates. The breast and thigh of a turkey are usually different temps. Cooking four burgers? They're all slightly different temps because your grill has hot spots. That salmon filet has a thick end and a thin end. The only way to deliver properly cooked meat to the table and protect against food borne illness is to take its temp. If you hate apologizing for overcooked meat or having to take chicken off your guests' plates and sticking it in the microwave, then you've got to get a good meat thermometer. Just open the grill, poke a thin probe into the meat, and in seconds it tells you the temp. A fast thermocouple is best for this task. I strongly recommend the Thermoworks Thermapen, which reads in 2 seconds, updates itself every 1/2 second, and is extremely accurate. If that is too costly, Thermoworks makes a fine alternative for 1/4 the price, the Thermopop. It reads in 5 to 6 seconds.
#2 - You need a leave-in meat thermometer
A leave-in probe is inserted into thick cuts of meat and left there throughout the cook. It has a cable attached to a monitor that sits outside the cooking chamber and it lets you monitor the progress of the cook without having to open the lid and stab the meat. They are essential for pork shoulder, hams, whole hog, pork loin, beef rib roasts, tri-tip, and turkey. I strongly recommend the Maverick ET-732 or 733 because they have two a leave-in probes, one for meat and one for oven, although they can both be used for meat. Two for the price of one.
#3 - You need an oven/grill/smoker thermometer
Can you imagine cooking indoors if your oven did not have a thermometer? Then why do you try to cook outdoors without a good oven thermometer? If you hope to be king of the grill, you've got to know what the oven temp really is. And this may come as a shock, but your indoor oven is probably waaaay off too. It probably needs adjusting, so when you buy a good digital you can calibrate and adjust your indoor oven. So if you buy a good oven/grill/smoker thermometer, you can improve your indoor cooking too. These devices all have a probe that can be placed in the oven next to the foo. It is on a cable and attached to a meter you can read outside the cooking chamber and it tell you what temp the food is feeling. They often can also be inserted into the food and left in to tell you how your roast, brisket, turkey, pork butt, etc. is doing.
I recommend the Maverick ET-732 or 733, described elsewhere on this page, because it has two probes, both an oven thermometer and a leave-in meat probe. Two for the price of one.
#4 - You need a refrigerator thermometer
It is crucial for your budget and your health that your refrigerator be set properly. If your fridge runs too hot, food will spoil, need to be discarded too soon, and there is a risk of food-borne illness. Most fridges have a way to adjust the temp. The ideal temp is just above freezing, from 35 to 38°F. Below 35°F, frost may form and above 38°F, microbes grow too fast. Because the temp can vary from top to bottom and in the drawers, a good refrigerator thermometer that you can move around is important. A liquid thermometer is just fine for this task. It is pretty accurate and it will run forever since there are no batteries involved.
If you lose electricity, keep the fridge door closed. The box is well insulated and if the gaskets are still good and the door is hung properly, food will be safe for hours.
#5 - You need a freezer thermometer
I'll quote FDA "The freezer temperature should be 0°F (-18°C). Check temperatures periodically. Appliance thermometers are the best way of knowing these temperatures and are generally inexpensive." Remember, freezing does not kill bacteria, but it does stop it from growing. Freezing will keep food safe for years, but quality will deteriorate. Click here for info on properly thawing frozen foods.
Thermometer shopping checklist
Here is a checklist of things to look for when you go shopping for a good thermometer:
Accuracy. Bad data is worse than no data, so it's important to know where the reading is coming from. For a food thermometer, you want the sensitive part of the meat thermometer to be small and in the tip of the probe. The temp just below the surface can be a lot different than the temp in the center of a chicken breast. For an oven thermometer, you want the temperature reading from right next to where the food is being cooked. A thermometer in the dome of your grill will not tell you the temp that the meat is experiencing 6" below the probe on the grate just over the coals. It can be a lot hotter down there. Dial thermometers are just not reliable and they are usually located way above the food (see the sidebar at right). Good thermocouples are usually accurate within 1°F, and thermistors are usually accurate within 5°F.
Speed to read. How long does it take to get a good reading? This is especially important for instant read meat thermometers. Five seconds or less would be nice. The best work in 3 seconds or less. Now you have to be careful about the time manufacturers quote on how fast they read. They are misleading.
If they quote a "time constant" that is the time it takes to get to 63% of a full reading, and a full reading is five times that. So if they say the time constant is 0.6 seconds, as is the Thermapen, it will be pretty close to done in twice that, but not precise for 3 seconds. Another factor is how fast the display refreshes itself. The Thermapen refreshes every 0.5 seconds. This means you can slowly insert it and remove it and it will give you a new reading every 0.5 seconds. The Fast Response Meat Probe #113-151 which can be plugged into different meters is slightly faster with a time constant of 0.5 seconds, precise read in 2.5 seconds, slightly faster than the Thermapen. But the meters in the kits I recommend refresh every second, so the probe is actually faster than the meter.
Another factor is the conductivity of the medium you are measuring, food, which is mostly water, reads faster than bread, which is mostly air.
Temperature range. If you're going to spend money on a thermometer, it would be nice if it could read the temperature of the meat, the oven, a hot grill, in your freezer, or in an ice bath, and in boiling oil.
Length of the probe. Meat thermometers need to be able to get the temp in the middle of big roasts such as hams and pork shoulders.
Adjustable. Some thermometers can be calibrated (see the info on calibration elsewhere of this page).
Water resistant and easy to clean. You don't need barbecue sauce and soapy water in the inner works. Braided cables can fail if they get wet or if they are crimped or if they are smashed by the grill lid.
Ease of use. Is it easy to read? If it has lots of buttons and settings, can you remember how to use them? Is there a backlight for night use?
Price. There are some decent units for under $20 and others can cost almost $200 with attachments.
Timers and alarms. Some digital thermometers also have timers with alarms. Some have settings for medium rare, etc. They almost always use the USDA numbers which, as we have seen, are simply wrong. If they have presets, you want to be able to adjust them or ignore them.
Warranty and customer service. What is the warranty? Does the manufacturer have replacemet parts and sell them at a reasonable price? Do they have a good reputation?
Thermocouples are the best food thermometers because they're fast and precise. Some thermocouples can read accurately in one second, truly instant read.
They're thin and the sensitive area is very close to the tip so you know just what you're reading. They can be used to check the temperature in several locations easily. Their margin of error can be less than 1°F. Some can be calibrated if they get out of true. You can get thermocouples that are great for instant metering, or others that can be left for hours deep inside a roast like a pork shoulder or a ham.
Thermocouple probes have two tiny wires of different metals welded at the tip. The heat causes a tiny voltage to appear across the dissimilar metals. The wires are connected to a meter whose circuitry measures the voltage and calculates the temperature. Common thermocouples weld together nickel and chromium (called Type K), copper and constantan (Type T) or iron and constantan (Type J).
How thermistors work: Good for continuous readings for large roasts and oven thermometers
Thermistors are usually not as quick as thermocouples, they tend to be thicker, and they can be slightly less accurate, usually within 5°F. They are best for leaving in large roasts and oven for continuous readings.
Thermistor thermometers send a current through a wire in the probe to a resistor in the tip. Its resistance to the electrical flow changes with temperature and the meter measures the current returned from the resistor.
Why most bi-metal dial thermometers
Thermometers we recommend
"Don't buy a crappy thermometer. Buy the best and you'll only cry once." Greg Rempe of the BBQCentral Radio show
There are hundreds of good digital thermometers out there and I have not tried them all. I have tried many that I cannot recommend. Below are the ones I have tried and that I do recommend. If you don't see it here, I have either not tried it or I don't like it.
Let's start with the gold standard, the Thermapen, shown above by Chris Lilly, multiple winner of Memphis in May, and pitmaster of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, AL.
The "Lamborghini of instant read thermometers" is what Harry Soo of SlapYoDaddyBBQ calls the Thermapen, and he should know because he is one of the winningest competitors on the BBQ circuit.
This is the thermocouple thermometer you see all the cooks on TV using. I highly recommend it for anyone serious about cooking meat or baking bread properly. It reads meat temp precisely in about two seconds, is extremely accurate, has large easy-to-see numbers, and a long probe for getting into the center of a large hunk of meat like a ham. The thin probe will not open a gusher when you pull it out. It is on a pivot so it can reach into awkward places. The heat sensor is extremely small, so you know you are reading just where you put it. It is water resistent, reads from -58 to 572°F (-50° to 300°C), and switches between F and C.
Although the Thermapen was designed to read food temps, it can even read air temp if you insert it through a hole in your grill or smoker, but it can take up to 30 seconds to give a good reading and you want to make sure you place it at the so the plastic body does not melt and the tip is near the food. It comes in a variety of colors.
There are two models, one with a backlight, and one without. The backlit model senses when it is dark and switches on and off automatically, uses the regular miniature battery but draws so little power they say you should get a minimum of 100 hours of life even if you use the light a lot. The picture hear shows the light a bit brighter than reality, but it is bright enough to see without effort.
Another nice thing about the Thermapen is that the company stands behind it. My first (an older model) began to malfunction after eight years. Probably had nothing to do with the fact that I had dropped it half a dozen times. I called them, gave no indication that I was a writer, described my problem, and rather than hit me up for a repair bill, they told me how to fix it. The Thermapen is made by hand in England. Click here for a video of how it is built and tested.
Here's a video that demonstrates the Thermapen's speed compared to the competition:
Click here to order the regular Thermapen.
Click here to order the backlit Thermapen.
Click here to order a glow-in-the-dark silicone rubber boot with a magnetic back that protects your Thermapen from drops. The transluscent silicone will mute the color of your Thermapen and it does not fit older models.
Click here to order a padded vinyl pouch that fits your Thermapen with or without a silicone boot.
Maverick Pro-Temp PT-100GG Instant Read Thermometer with The AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet
Clearly inspired by the industry standard, the ThermaPen (above), but it is a little larger because it takes three AAA batteries (included) rather than the coin size battery in the ThermaPen. It looks a bit more macho than the ThermaPen with black no-slip treads.
The manufacturer claims the temperature range is -40 to 450°F (-40° to 230°C). There is a switch for C or F. The one thing it does better than the ThermaPen is the LCD screen that is backlit and bright enough to read easily in total darkness, and it can be very dark inside a big pit late at night. There is also a small meat temperature guide on the side with which I have a few minor quibbles. Just as important, Maverick gets good marks for customer service in my book and from what I hear from readers.
IMPORTANT! This thermometer is bundled with the Award Winning AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet that I wrote. There are other companies selling this thermometer on Amazon, and some are falsely promising the magnet. You can ONLY get the Meathead designed temp guide with this thermometer by clicking this link:
Introduced in 2013, this little lollipop licks your needs for fast reads at an inexpensive price. This thermistor takes less than six seconds to read, measures from -58 to 572°F with a guarantee of plus or minus 2 up to 248°F, and has a 4.5" long thin probe (0.08").
You can switch from C to F, and even rotate the backlit display with the press of a button so you don't have to crane your neck to get a reading. It comes with a pocket clip and your choice of nine colors including white and black. It is easy to use with either right or left hand, and it is rated as "splashproof". Operates in 32 to 122°F ambient airtemp. If it is colder than 32°F, I just bring it in the house. It works fine when it is warmed like this. Both the backlight and thermometer switch off automatically to preserve battery life. The sensor is very small and located in the tip so it doesn't give you false reads from further up the probe as do some other electronics.
Click here to order the Thermoworks Super Fast ThermoPop.
Maverick DT-09 Instant Read Digital Thermometer AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Guide Magnet
This is a nice, accurate, pocket size instant read thermistor with a thin probe. Gives a reading in less than four seconds with a range -58°F to 572°F (reads in F and C). It's hard to see, but the cover for the probe is attached to the meter on the right in the photo. With the cover on the probe it is waterproof. It is easy to use, intuitive, but it cannot be calibrated.
IMPORTANT! This thermometer is bundled with the Award Winning AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet that I wrote. There are other companies selling this thermometer on Amazon, and some are falsely promising the magnet. You can ONLY get the Meathead designed temp guide with this thermometer by clicking this link:
This is a very good inexpensive food thermometer. It is not for measuring oven temp. It has a thin tip with a tiny thermistor and it gives an accurate reading in six seconds.
It is small, lightweight, clips in your shirt pocket, water resistance, and has a range of -40 to 302°F (-40 to 150°C). Rated accurate to plus or minus 1°F. The water resistance part really got my attention. More than once I have dropped a thermometer in a pot of custard or bowl of chocolate, and then I get to lick it off before I throw it away. Not this one. Best of all, it is only about $20!
Here is a review from a reader "jimqpublic" from our comments below "I love the RT600- the fine sharp point [0.06"], spot reading, and quick response has dramatically improved my steaks. My old digital thermometer was accurate, but makes big holes in the meat, reads the temperature over about 1 1/2" of the tip of the probe, and takes 25 seconds for a true reading. Now I can test a couple spots on a steak, or test all the steaks on the grill, and do it quickly. My wife likes 124°F, daughter 135°F, son and I like 128-130°F. I can do that now."
Click here to order ThermoWorks RT600 Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer
The specs on this nifty thermistor are pretty much the same as the RT600 (above) with a couple of interesting differences.
Click here to order the ThermoWorks RT301WA Super-Fast Pocket Digital Thermometer
iCelsius sells a line of thermistor probes that attach directly to your iOS 6.0 or higher devices or to your Android 2.3.3 devices or higher. Your can chose 30 pin or lightening connectors.
On my iPhone 4s, I just turned on the iPhone, plugged in the probe and the free app launched itself. It ships set for Celsius. Touch the big C on the temperature display, and it switches to F.
The BBQ Probe is 4.25" long and the cable is 5' long, plenty long to get your phone away from the heat of the cooker. Unlike most other cables, this is not a metallic weave, it is silicone based, and the junction between the cable and probe is double crimped, so rain or submerging it when cleaning are not likely to ruin it as can happen to the probes for many of its competitors. Still, I recommend you clean the probe with a sponge and not take a chance on shorting out the probe by submerging it.
The cable is said to be able to withstand up to 482°F but they warn to keep it away from open flame. And because it does not have the metal cladding, you need to close the lid gently on the cable so you don't cut it.
The app displays the temp up to one decimal point, but the meter cannot be adjusted or calibrated if it strays from true. According to data from the manufacturer, in the typical meat temp range from fridge to finished, it is accurate to plus or minus about 1°F, and as you approach the high end of its range, the error is plus or minus 5°F. This means that it is highly accurate at measuring meat and low temp smokers, and less accurate at measuring high temp grills. The probe can also be used for candy and frying.
At first I was concerned about leaving my iPhone outdoors in the sun, rain, and smoke, but I then put it in a plastic zipper bag to protect it. At a public event or a competition you might be concerned about passersby walking away with your iPhone, but you don't have to leave it attached. You can leave the probe in place and disconnect the phone and drop it in your pocket. Then when you come back it will start reading again. Alas it cannot take up where you disconnected.
You could also purchase multiple probes and just move the phone from probe to probe. The graphing feature can keep up with more than one probe, but disconnecting breaks the continuous line of the graph. With multiple probes you could get near instant reads from different meats and different parts of the pit this way.
For long cooks, the battery will surely die before the meat is done, so you can disconnect the phone and charge it, but remember the graph will break.
While writing this I took my body temp several times by inserting the meat temp probe under my tongue. It rose rapidly to 97°F, within a minute, and it took about another 30 seconds to stop rising. Benchmarked against a medical thermometer it was under by about 0.5°F on one attempt, 0.6°F on another, and 0.2°F on another. That may not be good enough for my doc, but it is plenty good for my meal. The company now has body temp probes which I presume will be more precise in the body temp range.
The app is capable of tracking multiple probes, handy for the wifi module which supports two. You can also use more than one wifi module. The home screen, called the Live screen (why can't we call it the home screen?) shows the current temp and a simple graph. Touch the High-Low icon and you get a screen to set an alarm at upper and lower limits. Just remember to take your phone off mute. You can take a screen shot at any time.
There is another screen with a graphed chart marked in 12 second intervals and you can record the chart, email it, save it to your photo library, post it to Twitter or FB, send it to Dropbox, or other applications, or print it. On the graph screen, if you tell it to record, there is a subtle white triangle that if you touch lets you take notes, take a screen shot, or drop a pin.
The graph can be pinched to fit a long cook all on one screen. The time shown is the real time from the iPhone's clock. I would like to see some more options on the graph, like showing elapsed time, not to mention larger numerals for these aging eyes. And charts don't always show the initial time. Scrolling back to the beginning of a long cook can take quite a while!
Double tap the big R on the Live/home screen and you get beef and lamb recommend temperature presets, but they are converted from Celsius, so ground beef is 159.8°F instead of 160°F. Perfectly safe, but odd. The raw ham preset is 159.8°F. It should be 145°F. Pork ribs, shoulders and brisket (I think they mean beef brisket) is 159.8°F. It is perfectly safe at that temp but it will be tough. They need to go much higher, like 190 to 203°F to gelatinize connective tissues and melt fats. Alas, the presets cannot be edited but there is a way to add your own and even shoot a photo of the meat. Very nice.
Alas, because iOS really doesn't multitask, when the phone rings, or when you want to go to a website for recipe info, the graph breaks and previous readings are lost unless you had chosen to record the graph. Not sure how this works on Android. But it does pick up where it left off when you re-launch iCelsius. If you chose to record, the app will nag you if you go to another screen asking if you want to save and stop recording.
There is a relative humidity (RH) probe you can buy that reports to a page that tells you if you are in your comfort zone. Humidity plays such an important role in low and slow cooking so I asked the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder to test one. "RH is very important for pitmasters if they care about bark and tenderness. With a homemade hepafilter sock to put over the tip to keep smoke out, the iCelsius is one of the few affordable humidity meters on the market. But I had to make my own hepafilter sock."
I asked the manufacturer and he said "We are concerned about the longevity of the RH probe in that environment, as this application has not been considered in its development. Our current product does not have a filter, and cannot be washed as it will not be able to be submerged in water."
Soooooo, if you can make your own hepafilter sock, you could have fun with this one probe.
It can be used to monitor food, a grill, a smoker, an oven, room temperature, a wine cellar, an aquarium, and even body temperature.
Smaller and thinner than a deck of cards, the device is brain-dead simple to operate. In "direct mode" it speaks to an iOS or Android app on your smartphone or tablet via wifi, not BlueTooth although I am told a BlueTooth v ersion is coming. Wifi is a much stronger signal and has much greater range. I tested the range at about 100 yards line of site and about 25 yards with a brick house in the way.
In "remote mode" you can monitor it on your computer through a browser or with the app on a smartphone or tablet from across the city or anywhere in the world. In order to use the remote mode you must have a gmail account.
There are six probes already on the market and more coming. There is even a probe that meters humidity, but it won't work on your smoker yet.
There are ports on the side for a USB cable to charge it, and a port thermistor probes. There is a battery indicator light and two buttons, on/off, and a mode button. The mode button toggles between green and blue. Green is direct mode and blue is remote mode.
Alas, in direct mode the battery lasts only about six hours so you will need to plug the USB cable into a charger or a power supply (AC to USB power adapters are cheap). In remote mode the battery life is longer because you can set the frequency of the data transmissions. In direct mode the unit is constantly transmitting.
The device ships with your choice of probes. One of the options is for two probes on one cable so you can monitor both your cooker and your meat, or two pieces of meat, or one piece of meat in two locations. The cables are 5' long. We have noticed that some multiple probe thermometers from other manufacturers can give you false readings when you put both probes in the same piece of meat because electrical charges run through the watery meat and the probes short each other out. iCelsius has solved this issue by using a single chip set for both probes, and polling each probe one at a time so the two aren't sending signals at the same time. The dual probe unit sells for $14 more than the single probe pushing it just north of $100. If you can afford it, go for it.
The transmitter is not waterproof, so I slip it into a plastic zipper bag to protect it. Read my comments on the software and the probes for the iCelsius above. In general I like them very much and I am optimistic that some of the quirks will disappear in future releases.
Introduced in summer 2013, this thermistor/timer combo has an impressive range, from -58 to 572°F with an accuracy of ±1.8°F at temps under 248°F. It has a countdown timer and an alarm with four volume setting, the loudest of which is an impressive 100dB (about as loud as a passing subway train at 10' or gas lawn mower at 3').
The continuous min/max display tells you how hot or cold things got when you weren't looking. You can also set the alarm to go off when the probe hits either a high or low temp. The low temp alarm can he handy if you use this to read your pit temp on a long cook. I hear so many tales of woe from pitmasters who start a cook and wake up in the morning to learn the fire went out. No more.
The probes are thinner than any thermistor I've seen and read within five seconds so ChefAlarm can be used as an instant read, and best of all, the new Pro-Series silicon coated cables are waterproof and submersible so there is no risk of damaging them with rain or when cleaning, a common problem with the metal braided probes common on other meters.
It comes with a 6" L-shaped "high temp probe" with a 47" cable that can handle 700°F. If you wish, you can order a second "needle probe" that is 4" long, straight, very thin, with a 47" cable that can handle 500°F for only $15.
It has a calibration feature so you can fine tune the accuracy. There are big digits and a backlight, a magnet on the back, and it tilts and folds.
ChefAlarm takes two AAA batteries that the manufacturer says can last as long as a year. It switches from C to F with a flick of the finger and the timer works separately from the thermometer so it can do double duty as a kitchen alarm. ChefAlarm is available in nine colors and comes with a padded zipper case that holds the meter, probes, and instructions.
This thermistor and timer combo is handy and very inexpensive. The thermometer works from 32°F to 392°F, and the timer can be operated with the thermometer or separately.
The probe is 7", deep enough for any clod of meat you will cook, and the braided metal cable is thin enough that it can be slipped under the lid of your grill or through your oven door.
The cables will withstand the heat of a hot grill, and you should not use this with grills or ovens running more than 375°F, but most things you need to grill should be cooked less than that. It is not waterproof, so you can't use it in the rain or snow. I recommend buying a backup probe when you buy the meter. The whole unit can clamshell, and it has a magnet for mounting on the fridge or the legs of your smoker. I have mine stuck to the back of my kitchen oven.
Maverick ET-732 Wireless Dual Probe BBQ, Smoker, Grill, and Meat Thermometer with the AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet
Two thermometers in one, this very cool tool and I highly recommend it.
There are two probes and cables, one to insert into the meat and leave it in, and another to leave in your oven/grill/smoker. Both probes plug into a radio frequency (RF) transmitter module that sends temperatures to a receiver module that you can take into the living room with you and place on the coffee table next to the beer and chips. That's right, with the Maverick you can monitor your grill and your meat while you watch the game or cut the lawn. You can also set the timer to remind you when to start the side dishes or wake you up if the game is really boring, or set it for a target temp, and an alarm will let you know when the meat is ready.
It is supposed to have up to 300' range but that's only through clear air. When I move indoors, the range is much less, and your distance will vary depending on what your walls are made from and how many electronic devices you have running. There is an alarm that tells you if you've gotten out of range of the sender, and there is a synch button in case the two units lose their link. Keep the manual handy in case you can't remember which button to push. The interface is fairly easy, but it's no iPhone.
You can set it to read either Fahrenheit or Celcius and the manufacturer says it will read from 32°F to 572°F. There is a backlight so it can be viewed in the dark, both the sender and receiver have stands for easy viewing, and it also comes with a nifty clip that holds the oven probe just above the grill grates so it isn't misled by the tip touching metal. You can easily pop open the battery compartment of the receiver, but the sender's battery cover screws down over an o-ring to make it more water resistent so you will need a tiny Phillips head jeweler's screwdriver to insert the batteries, they did not include one. Many eyeglasses screwdrivers will work.
CAVEATS. I need to warn you that there are some problems and the reviews on Amazon are not all favorable. As near as I can tell these are almost all a result of improper handling although a little better engineering would help.
The first issue is that sometimes it doesn't work right out of the box. This is apparently due to the fact that the mini-jack on the end of the probe cables seems to click into place with normal pressure. Normal pressure is not enough on this device. You need to jam it in or it will not work. By simply pushing harder on the jack, this problem goes away.
The other problem is that the probes occasionally fail. This comes from improper washing. Proper washing is easy. Please read the intro to this page, especially the section subtitled Common malfunctions, troubleshooting, and some important warnings. Please click this link before you buy this very good thermometer.
Alas, the thermistor probe is not instant read and it is relatively thick. It can take up to a minute to correctly read the temp in a piece of meat, so you will still want something like a Thermapen for checking meat temp on steaks, chicken, fish, etc.
The probes are essentially interchangeable as are the ports. You can use the air probe to measure meat and visa versa. The only difference is that the meat probe is pointy. The company now sells probes with cables that are 6' long.
Maverick has good tech support. When my old receiver began to malfunction, they told me the problem sounded like a bad backlight and told me to ship it back for a replacement. No question about when I bought it. I never identified myself as a writer, so I am confident I got the same treatment as you would. Cables sometimes fray or malfunction, and the manual cautions you not to submerse them and the probes, so you should consider buying a spare set.
BEWARE! There is an older model, the ET-73 still on the market. It is decidedly inferior. Don't buy it.
IMPORTANT! This thermometer is bundled with the Award Winning AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet that I wrote. There are other companies selling this thermometer on Amazon, and some are falsely promising the magnet. You can ONLY get the Meathead designed temp guide with this thermometer by clicking this link:
Maverick ET-733 Long Range Wireless Dual Probe Smoker, Grill, & Meat Thermometer with AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Guide Magnet
In fall 2013 Maverick introduced the new ET-733. It does everything the ET-732 (above) does and more, and it looks pretty much the same. The sender is pretty much identical and the receiver is slightly taller. It is best of breed and I highly recommend it.
It has two straight "hybrid" thermistor probes with pointy tips that will read either meat or cooker, so you can use two for meat or two for cooker if you want (actually, the 732 will do that). It comes with two clips so you can use both probes on your grates. Probe wires are 3' long and are rated for 716°F although the meter reads only the manufacturer says it will read from 32°F to 572°F. The have a silcone plug and a crimp at the junction between the probe and the cable. This is designed to keep water out and prevent damaging the sensor, a problem that has plagued earlier versions but they will still fail if you submerge them.
It works with the optional 6' probes originally built for the ET-732.
There are preset temp recommendations for beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, deer, elk, moose, buffalo, rabbit, boar, duck, fish, and bird. The best part is that you can change these presets to your preferences and the receiver stores settings even when unit is off. They claim the range between sender and receiver is 300'. Another nice innovation: There is a alert if you go out of range for more than a minute. It can also be programmed to send you an alert when it goes over or under a set temp in either probe.
One nice feature if you have a large pit or cook a lot of meat, you can run two or more 733s (and 732s) as long as they are synchronized away from each other. They can then be brought together without mixing up the signals.
Complaints are few. As wit so many other electronic gizmos, there are more features built into this one than I need, and that only makes it complicated to learn. But if you sit down with the manual you can figure it out. I've also got to complain that the battery compartment of the sender requires a phillips head jewler's screwdriver to open while the receiver pops open with a finger. If you depend on one of these while you are at a BBQ competition, you'd better remember spare batteries and the tiny screwdriver. Finally, I am baffled that they have been unable to cure the problem of probes failing when they are submerged for washing. You must wash them with a soapy sponge and be careful water doesn't get into the junction between the cable and the probe. The new probes are better than every before, but they are still not bullet proof.
Note. Like its predecessor, this device is a thermistor and it has a plus or minus error tolerance of 3°F. It is also slow to read and it is not good at reading thin pieces of meat like chicken legs, pork ribs, or steaks and chops. It is best for big thick cuts such as pork butt, beef brisket, turkey breasts, and roasts. For thinner cuts you should get an instant read thermometer like the Thermapen.
Type K-probes have become the standard for industrial, scientific, and food service applications. These thermocouples use Chromel and Alumel wires in thin tips and type K probes are made by many companies to serve many functions. They have a standard spade-like jack that can fit a wide range of meters. So you have a two-part system, the probe and the meter with many options. I have tested many, and the Thermoworks products are my favorites.
Their meters are inexpensive (the fast accurate Mini at left is only about $45), but the probes are expensive, $30 to $60. You can buy the parts a la carte, or order one of the package deal kits they have assembled at my request, also below. A word of caution: Thermoworks sells a number of other probes that I have tested. These are the ones I recommend for barbecue and grilling. Cheap out if you wish, but it would be a mistake. Available from ThermoWorks.
ThermoWorks Mini Handheld Thermocouple Thermometer #MTC (far left) is the instant read thermocouple meat thermometer I use the most. And I mean instant. It refreshes every second.
It is a small splash resistant handheld meter that can work with more than a dozen plug-in K-type probes. The meter is accurate to within 1°F from -83°F to 1,999°F (-64°C to 1,400°C)! The probe can be removed and replaced with a probe on a cable for leaving in a roast, or a different cable for leaving in the cooking chamber for measuring oventemp. This is a very versatile inexpensive tool.
Thermoworks Two-Channel Thermocouple Thermometer with Alarm #TW8060 (near left) is my go-to for reading smoker and grill temps in more than one location. Or you can put an oven probe on one slot and a leave-in probe on the other. It has an alarm that will go off if your oven or meat exceeds your prefered temp or drops below. It refreshes the reading every second. It does everything that the Maverick ET-732 does except transmit the temps to you on the couch, only it is more versatile and precise.
Thermoworks Fast Response Meat Probe #113-151 is the probe shown far left on the Mini. It is almost hypodermic thin so it can be used for burgers and thin steaks and reads precisely in only 2.5 seconds and is almost precise within 1 second. Coupled with the Mini #MTC meter (at right) it is my fave. You can insert it into a piece of meat and slowly back it out and read the different layers as you go! But remember, it is meant for probing and removing. It cannot be left in meat while it is in the cooker. Max temp 482°F (250°C).
Thermoworks Smoke House Penetration Probe #THS-113-178 can be left in the meat and the stainless cord is super heavy duty and will not fray. The probe is about three times the thickness of the Fast Response Meat Probe (above) but it is still not too thick. This cable is far sturdier than any I have ever seen. But it is thick and will not fit under grill lids without letting hot air out. You need to have a hole through which you insert it. It functions up to 662°F (350°C) so it can be used to measure hot air temp as well as meat.
Thermoworks High Temp Flexible Ceramic Fiber-Insulated Probe #WD-08467-64 can be used for measuring really high oven temp up to 2,500°F (1371°C). This is my standard for measuring the air temp in grills and smokers. Because it is flexible you can bend it and wrap it around things like grill grates. I much prefer it to the alligator clip probes they sell because, if you do not handle them carefully the clips can separate from the cables.
ThermoWorks Pro BBQ Kit: Perfect for BBQ competition teams, restaurants, caterers, and serious backyarders
At my request, Thermoworks has put together a kit at a bargain price with everything a BBQ pro, competition team, caterer, or restaurant will ever need. There are two meters and three probes. Both meters use the universal K connector (the yellow thingy with the two prongs) so both meters can take any of the three probes included, as well as scores more from Thermoworks and others.
The Pro Kit includes the TW8060 Thermocouple Alarm Thermometer, described above in detail. It has two ports for probes, so you can use the Armored Smokehouse Penetration probe to monitor the meat, and the High-Temp Flexible Ceramic Fiber-Insulated probe to keep tabs on the temperature of the oven, grill, or smoker. All are described above.
There is also a fast MTC Mini Handheld Thermocouple Meter with a very thin Fast Response Meat probe so you can spot check different parts of the food or use it on small cuts of meat. The kit is $30 less than the items individually.
Also at my request, Thermoworks has assembled a kit and at a bargain price, this one for the serious backyard cook. It comes with a superfast Mini Handheld Thermocouple Meter (MTC described above) that you can plug into any of the three universal K type temperature probes that comes in the kit.
Place the Armored Smokehouse Penetration probe in meat to monitor its progress, and place the High-Temp Flexible Ceramic Fiber-Insulated probe in the grill, or smoker to keep tabs on it. It can handle any temp you are likely to hit and because it is flexible you can get the sensor anywhere you want it. You can move the Mini meter from probe to probe and get rapid readings. And then there's the super thin Fast-Response Probe to spot check your meat or to use on thin cuts with precise readings in less than three seconds. The kit is $25 less than the items individually.
Introduced in June 2013, on paper this is the top of the line of remote reading thermometers. It is, in fact a great thermometer. Alas, the remote part leaves a lot to be desired. I no longer consider it a remote thermometer and I have lowered my rating of it.
Designed for professional use in food processing, industrial, and scientific environments, it is priced like a professional tool, more than $200. Like the Maverick ET-733 or 732 or iGrill (reviewed elsewhere on this page), this meter has jacks for two probes and sends a signal to a remote device. The BlueTherm Duo uses Bluetooth to send info to apps that run on iOS 6 and up, Android 2.2 and up, and to an application on a Windows PC.
The BlueTherm Duo uses thermocouple sensors that are more sensitive, more rugged, more precise, and with a wider range than the thermistors used on the Maverick and iGrill. This is a major advantage since the probes on the others are fragile and require careful handling. The Maverick and iGrill can only use two brand specific probes while BlueTherm Duo has the professional standard K jack for which there are scores of probes from multiple manufacturers (some of which are described elsewher on this page). You can even use an instant read probe with it. This makes it by far the most versatile of the breed.
BlueTherm Duo is capable of reading from -148 to 2,501°F depending on the capability of the probes, and the manufacturer claims it is accurate to plus or minus ±0.7°F. The backlit meter/sender is splash-proof but not submersible, and it is rechargeable with a USB cable. There is a tripod mount on the back, and an optional silicon case is available to protect it a little more if it is dropped. It runs on one rechargeable AA NiMH battery.
There are two free apps for iOS, BlueTherm Pro and BlueTherm Lite. The Pro version is the one you want for a portable device. ThermaData Studio, enables your Bluetooth enabled Windows PC (running XP and above) to receive signals from your BlueTherm Duo and record data.
The Pro app displays the temp for both probes in either Centigrade or Fahrenheit and you can easily switch with the app. Also in settings you can set the rate at which the sender updates the app from 1 to 30 seconds, and check the battery charge.
The app allows you to name your probes whatever you want ("meat" and "cooker", for example). It lets you determine how often to record the data, from 10 seconds to 60 minutes, shows the minimum and maximum each has reached, can be set to play an alarm if a high or low is hit for either the meat or the oven, and lets you email the data to another computer or even a spreadsheet on you mobile device. You can create "profiles" with alarms, one for pork butt, another for brisket, for example, or one for Weber Smokey Mountain and another for MAK, for example.
The app's interface is not very intuitive. In order to see a graph you have to hit the start button on the main screen, which does not tell you what it is starting. Then you need to rotate the iOS device on its side to see the graph. Nowhere does it tell you this.
As with many Bluetooth devices, pairing can sometimes be a real pain. It will only pair with one device at a time, so you cannot have it talk to the iPad in the kitchen and the iPhone in your pocket. In order to get everything in order, sometimes you have to reboot the BlueTherm Duo, sometimes you have to reboot your mobile device, sometimes both. There are two ways to reboot the Duo, and the best method, I have learned, is to hold the backlight button down until you get the reset message on the Duo. This apparently is better that just hitting the on/off button.
Do not download both apps. I had problems on my iPad loaded with both when I moved from one to the other. Just load the Pro.
The iGrill, which also uses Bluetooth and has similar pairing issues, but it has a much more polished app. The Maverick, which uses radio frequency to speak to its dedicated remote, uses no app and sends only current temp readings.
Range is poor. I have gotten it up to about 30 feet line of site, no obstructions in between, but that's about it. I had no trouble pairing the BlueTherm Duo at first on my kitchen table, but when in use, the sender oudoors near my smoker would not talk to my iPad in the kitchen, only about 20' away. If I took the iPad closer to the meter, it paired, and then when I moved the iPad back into the kitchen it retained the connection. It connected to my iPad in my office about 20' away, but then lost the connection. On more than one occasion it has dropped the connection from less than 10' away and reconnecting is often difficult.
I hate Bluetooth.
Finally I have never been able to get it to email a spreadsheet of the data as it claims to be able to do.
I am very impressed with the thermometer, but frustrated with the limited range of the transmitter and the limitations of the apps. If you plan to be near your cooker without any walls in the way, the learning curve on the software is easily surmounted. I can see this as being a good tool for competition cooks who sleep in tents near their cookers. If you need something to use while watching a football game in the living room with a few walls between you and the cooker, you should consider another device, or just be willing to get up and read a receiver that is set up closer to the sender.
The iGrill is a thermistor thermometer with a probe that can be used for meat or oven/grill/smoker temp. Switch it on, and it sends a Bluetooth signal to an app on your iOS or Android device so you can watch the game while the roast is cooking, cut the lawn, or take a nap because you can set it to beep when one of the probes hits a target temp or time. It will only pair with one device at a time.
There is a jack for an optional second probe so it can measure both your meat and your cooker or two dishes at once. Some come with one probe some with two. The one with two is a better bargain. This device uses the type of probe that can be ruined if submerged. To clean it, just wash the tip and wipe it clean. For more on this, scroll up to the section on Common Malfunctions.
The website has troubleshooting instructions that involves turning Bluetooth on your phone or pad off, rebooting, turning it back on, turning off the iGrill, removing the batteries, and rebooting by holding all the buttons down at once. That usually works.
The base unit, a little larger than a deck of cards, is available in white or black, and has a convenient way to wrap the probe's cable around its body and store the probe so the cable doesn't kink and break and you don't stab yourself, both issues I have had with other thermometers. It runs on two AA batteries (included) and has a built-in display so you don't need to pair it with an Apple device, but the white model I have is almost impossible to read in bright daylight. I suspect the black will be easier to read. The manufacturer claims it works up to 200 feet, but actual distance will depend on the thickness and material in your walls.
It has a folding stand that doubles as a hook so you can hang the unit from the side table on your grill or a nearby hook. It will only go from 32 to 400°F (0 to 204°C), so you need to be careful that you don't put it in a really hot grill. I have tested it against a lab instrument in a smoker and it is pretty close to precise.
The body does not have any buttons that protrude, it has three touch sensitive hotspots, so it can survive a light drizzle, perhaps even rain. Alas, the on off switch is slow to respond, and there is no click or feedback so you don't know for sure if it understood your command.
There is a free app that displays the temps of oven and meat, traces the temps on a chart, and exports the data to an email attachment in pdf or csv (spreadsheet) formats if you wish. The csv file has readings every 2 seconds, the pdf is not very helpful because it is a snapshot of only the reading at only one moment. When it was working, I found the csv download very helpful in developing recipes and I am sure that competition teams could use this to help perfect their methods and timing. You can also set temperature alarms, timers, and countdown timers. Alas, if you switch aps to check the score in the football game, the graph breaks while you were gone.
You can name your probes in the Pro app, name the alarms, switch from C to F, and you can set timers to remind you to add charcoal or to put the beans on. You can select preset temps for meats, but I disagree with some of the numbers. Fortunately you can enter your own preferences (click this link for a better meat temperature guide).
The manual is built into the app and they send updates, but this is not much help if you don't have an Apple device. They are promising an Android version in 2012 and version 2 in 2013. This is a great start to a promising device.
Note. This device is a thermistor and it has a plus or minus error tolerance of 3°F. It is also slow to read and it is not good at reading thin pieces of meat like chicken legs, pork ribs, or steaks and chops. It is best for pork butt, beef brisket, turkey breasts, and roasts. For thinner cuts you should get an instant read thermometer like the Thermapen.
Click here to order the iGrill Cooking & Barbecue Thermometer With Dual Probes
Maverick LT-03 Infrared Laser Guided Thermometer with the AmazingRibs.com All-Weather Meat Temperature Magnet
Infrared laser guns are really kewl looking, but they are not a necessity for the outdoor cook. They are designed to read the temperature of a hot surface like a griddle or a frying pan. They cannot accurately read meat temp nor can they measure the temp of a grate or the air inside a grill. You point the gun at a surface like a frying pan, pull the trigger, and it puts a laser beam on the target. Don't let the laser fool you, it is only a targeting aid, the actual surface being read is larger than the laser, so it cannot measure something narrow like the grates on your grill.
This model measures from -58 to 1022°F and it is powered by two AA batteries (included). It works best on dark surfaces and doesn't always read accurately on shiny stainless steel pans or liquids. But because cast iron is slow slow to heat up, I use mine occasionally to determine if my cast iron griddle is the right temp and for frying occasionally.
Where it has really come in handy is for locating cold spots on exterior walls of my house and areas around my windows that leak. If you use a griddle or cast iron pan a lot, or an old house, then this is a useful tool. Otherwise, save your money.
So I have been saying all along that I don't like bi-metal dial thermometers, but there is one brand that stands above all the others and it is accurate enough to be a good indicator, especially in offset smokers.
A liquid filled thermometer is the way to go here. They are pretty darn accurate, don't need batteries, and you don't need the speed of a digital. The CDN is low profile and has hooks to hang on the wire racks. Get two, one for the freezer, too.
With the introduction of the BBQ Guru in 2004, we entered the thermostatically controlled cooker era. Regardless of the weather outside, just set it and forget it has come to the back yard, just like in your kitchen. Originally expensive, more modestly priced models are appearing. They all are designed for charcoal and wood fired grills and smokers, but I predict thermostats for gassers cannot be far in the future. Every pellet smoker/grill has one and they are a joy to use.
They all work on a simple feedback principle. A thermometer in the cooking chamber tells a blower to turn on and feed more air to the fire when the temp drops below the target. It then tells the fan to turn off when the temp gets too high. Simple.
But the devil is in the details. You need a tight cooker so air doesn't leak in or out. Weber Kettles and Weber Smokey Mountains work well, as do most ceramic and kamado grills.
The PartyQ is a very clever inexpensive thermostat device made by BBQ Guru, the pioneering inventor of thermostat controllers for grills and smokers. Their high-end models are popular on the competition circuit, and I'm sure this one will catch on big with that crowd because it is simple and inexpensive. But it also belongs in your back yard. It is the perfect companion to any grill or smoker that can be close to leakproof near the coals such as the Weber Kettle, Weber Smokey Mountain, all Kamado Smokers, and many cabinet style cookers.
You place the thermocouple thermometer probe into the cooking chamber and attach it to the cooking grates with its alligator clip. The other end is attached to a controller that you can set for whatever temp you want. The controller is attached to a small blower that turns on and off depending on the air temp temp in the cooker. The PartyQ runs on four AA batteries. Its competitor, the iQue (below), needs to be plugged into a wall outlet.
On the Weber Kettle, the blower needs to go through a 1" hole that you drill in the grill. Their website and printed materials show it mounted at the bottom, below the charcoal grate, but that is on a Weber Smokey Mountain. I had problems with ash getting into the fan and with it blowing ash around down there. Since then I have drilled several holes in my old trusty 15 year old kettle testing locations (now I have an excuse to buy a new Weber Performer Kettle!), and, if your lid fits tightly, it can go pretty much anywhere below the cooking grate and above the charcoal grate. Just keep it close to the cooking grate so ash doesn't get into the fan. I have had great luck with pairing this device with the Smokenator. The two make your cheap kettle into a serious smoker.
On a Weber Smokey Mountain the PartyQ fits into an intake hole in the bottom without drilling, you just have to block off the other holes with aluminum foil or the heat resistant tape they include in the box. Many ceramic grills have ports built in for this type of device. They have a deflector for the PartyQ that keeps ash out, but it requires drilling a much bigger hole.
Mounting it is a cinch once the hole is located or drilled, then all you need to do is switch it on, set the target temp on the LCD readout, and place the probe near your meat. Close the intake vents, but leave the exhaust vent open at least partially unless your grill is leaky, in which case you can close it. Set the temp you want in 1 degree increments (F or C), let it run for about 30 minutes to stabilize the temp, and you can put the meat on. You can read the actual temp with the LED. Once things are stabilized, you want to keep the lid on to keep excess oxygen from reaching the coals.
The PartyQ can be calibrated in case it ever veers from true. Just insert the probe in boiling water and push some buttons and it will lock in to boiling temp. It can also be set to read in F or C.
The only negatives: It is not water resistant, so if it is raining or snowing, you need to duct tape a plastic bag around it being careful not to block the fan. There is no backlight so you need a flashlight in the dark. You must keep the unit running so the fan keeps itself cool otherwise heat buildup could melt it. Leaving it run for long cooks will use up batteries, so rechargeables may be the way to go. You need to make sure the batteries don't die or your blower might melt and your pit could go out. Also, the installation instructions and manual look to be slapped together and could be better written, and it sure would be nice if they would make the type in the manual a little larger for old farts like Meathead. I actually needed a magnifying glass to read some of the instructions for the Setup Menu. Best of all, the PartyQ is very inexpensive.
BBQ Guru also makes a number of more complex and feature-laden controllers. They have a dizzying list of features and options, some with the ability to read both the cooker and meat, multiple cookers and meats. Some can be programmed to start at one temp, rise to another, drop, and hold as well as change temps depending on the meat temps. They also sell adapters for practically any pit you can imagine, commercial, competition, and backyard. With optional probs, adapters, and accessories.
The best of the lot is the Cyber Q which has a built in Wifi web server to allow remote access from your mobile device or PC. It can even send you email alerts. It has a pit probe and three food probes that come standard with the controller. The range is 32 to 475°F range with +/- 2°F accuracy. Runs on 100-240v AC or 12v DC so you can run it off your car battery at competitions.
The Pitmaster iQue has a blower that puffs air through a 1" flexible tube. The tube attaches to a stainless steel bowl that covers one of the air intakes on the bottom of the grill. The thermometer probe has a gator clip that attaches to the cooking grate. The blower and controller must be plugged into the wall althoughthere is an optional adapter available to plug the unit into a car battery cigarette lighter.
The setup begins by removing all the ash from the cooker. On my ancient Weber Kettle I had to wipe the bottom outside to block two of the three air intakes with heatproof tape, a small amount of which is supplied. The tape must be removed after the cook if you want to use the grill for normal high heat grilling, so you'll probably want to buy a roll of tape. On my Weber Smokey Mountain the bowl covers one of the inlets, and the other two dampers can be closed in the normal fashion. The bowl screws on easily with a toggle bolt. For kamado or ceramic grills, there is an adapter that fits the intake on the bottom.
On the Kettle I was then instructed to place foil on 2/3 of the charcoal grate above the air inlet to keep cold air off the meat and the temperature sensor. It also keeps hot embers out of the rubber tube. This is a bit of a pain, but necessary. Even with the foil in place, embers can get into the hose and melt it. One reader who had this happen on his kettle decided to simply drill a large hole in his grill, further up the side, to keep embers and ash out. On the WSM the setup was normal. The controller unit comes with a rope to hang it from the grill's handle, but the heat from the body of the cooker could melt the controller, so I lay it on a chair. It is not rain or snowproof, and because the blower is in the middle of the controller, there's no way to protect it with a plastic bag.
There is an adjustable intake damper so you can control inflow. Finally, you set the controller with a dial from 175°F to 375°F (F only). There is no readout telling you what the actual temp is on the IQ110, but there are LED indicators that give you feedback. On the more expensive IQ120 there is a readout of actual temp.
This device is an incredible hi-tech solution. It has a probe that goes into the cooking chamber and sends the info to a digital controller via a cable. The controller turns on and off a blower that regulates the airflow to the charcoal combustion chamber and thus controls the temp extremely accurately.
You can have up to six probes for multiple pits and meats and it is expandable. You can set it cook high for half an hour and then drop the temp or the inverse. Or you can have it cut back the temp when the meat hits a mark. Or it can set off alarms. It can even be connected to a WiFi router or ethernet cable and you can even control it with your computer, tablet, or smart phone. You can even use K-type thermocouples with adapters.
There are a wide variety of blower attachments machined to fit many different smokers and there is software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. I tested an earlier version and found it difficult to manage and control and the manual was way too complicated. But this version looks a lot more user friendly.
Here are some products we have tested and do not recommend.
I include this only because people ask me about it often. It is not recommended. With two probes, this thermistor is not suitable for barbecue although the promotional materials say nothing to that effect. It will probably work fine indoors.
The two cables attached to the probes are plastic coated, and although they are rated for 14 to 392°F air temp, they will probably melt if they make contact with hot metal on a grill. Also, this is one of those therms that has alarms set for different meats, and the alarm temps are waaaay to high. The minimum temp for beef is set to 140°F, well past medium rare. Pork is set 160°F even though the new USDA recommended is 145°F, etc. There is a program mode where you can set you own temp, thank goodness. You can set two timers, and it has a magnet so it can attach to your oven.
This is a nice unit that has a single probe for the meat. It does not go high enough to read a hot grill/oven. But it does have a remote that you can take with you into the house.
Maverick also makes a thermistor that has a probe that can be inserted into meat on a rotisserie and it can read remotely. Hooking it up can be tricky, there are many parts and options, but once you get the hang of it, it works. I found it to be more trouble than I wanted to put up with, so I just periodically switch off the motor and stick the meat with an instant read. If you do a lot of rotisserie cooking, this might be a worth the hassle.
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