High-Tech Grilling Gadgets, Part 1
By Steven Raichlen Call me a Luddite. (In the early 19th century, this militant sect of English textile workers destroyed newfangled power looms in an attempt to protect their jobs.) When it comes to barbecue, I like to manage the metrics with the tools I was born with. The palm of my hand, for example, for gauging the heat of a grill. (Remember the Mississippi Test?) Or my index finger for poking a steak or chop to check its doneness.
For larger cuts of meat I’ll use an instant-read meat thermometer (see below) and I try to keep an eye on the temperature gauge built into the lids of my smokers, although they are not always accurate. But in 20 years of writing about barbecue, I’ve managed to live and eat well without the complicated array of electronics. And I’ve kept my iPhone out of the process—except for snapping photos.
No more. During a recent recipe development session for my next book (Project Smoke—due out in April), one of my recipe testers hauled me into the 21st century. That would be Project Smoke™ fire wrangler and BBQ U alum Rob Baas, who shipped in his iGrill for the marathon testing session. Before I knew it, my test kitchen echoed with beeps and flashing LEDs.
Photo by Rob Baas.
Well, count me among the converts. When you have nine smokers going at once and pork shoulders and briskets that require 12 to 16 hours of cooking, electronics can make all the difference between perfectly smoked meat and scorched hunks of animal protein. Not to mention a decent night’s sleep.
Maybe you’ve been thinking of investing in some of these devices to help take your own barbecue to the next level.
Here is the BarbecueBible.com guide to electronic grilling essentials.
ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4: This industry-standard instant-read thermometer, made by Utah-based ThermoWorks, belongs in any griller’s toolbox. Though pricier than most thermometers, the new Thermapen Mk4 is certainly cheaper than a ruined 7-bone prime rib. Features a backlit position-sensitive digital display (you can read it no matter what the orientation), a needle-slender probe, and a highly accurate temperature reading (within 0.7 degrees) in 3 seconds. A motion-sensing sleep and wake mode preserves battery life. Comes in 10 colors, too. $99.00.
ThermoWorks ChefAlarm TX-1100-XX: This unit proved its worth on the set of Project Smoke™. Among its essential features: a continuously operating min/max display that tracks food temperatures, even when you weren’t looking; a backlit display for nighttime grilling; an alarm with adjustable volume; accuracy within 2 degrees; a probe and cable from the company’s Pro series that is heat resistant to 700 degrees; and even a low alarm for delicate cold smoking; and a count up/count down timer. $59.00
iGrill2 Bluetooth Thermometer: Dual probes (the device has outlets for 2 more, but they must be purchased separately) can be programmed to min/max temperatures between -22 degrees F and 572 degrees F. A downloadable app for iOS and Android devices is included. The range is 150 feet. The unit is powered by 2 AA batteries and in our experience, burned through them fairly quickly. The digital base is magnetic, but not waterproof. $89.98.
Oregon Scientific AW133 Grill Right Bluetooth BBQ Thermometer: This device requires Bluetooth v4.0 compatibility; with that, it will work with your smartphone. (At this writing, the unit is not compatible with an iPad.) The required app is available on Google Play. One probe is included; a second one can be ordered separately. Set up alerts three ways: countdown timer; temperature; or pre-programmed meat based temperatures. The range is 150 feet. Note: the unit does not automatically shut off when not in use. Splash resistant, but not waterproof. Uses 2 AA batteries. $37.00.
BBQ Guru PartyQ and CyberQ: Unless you’ve got a masochistic streak, overnight cooks are not all that fun. The PartyQ was a game-changer. It deftly controls the temperature in your charcoal- or wood-burning smoker or grill by fanning the fuel. (A version for electric smokers is also available.) You preset your desired temperature, then the PartyQ takes over, maintaining it within 2 degrees. One probe is clipped to the grate to monitor the grill or smoker’s ambient temperature, one probe is inserted in the meat, and the controller/fan is attached to the fuel damper. Most recently, we used it to smoke a ham for 14 hours on a Big Green Egg. The PartyQ requires 4 AA batteries, but other models run on 120/240v AC or 12v DC. The new CyberQ WiFi can even send you an e-mail when your meat is cooked to the desired temperature. Prices vary. Find a dealer here.
Grillbot GBU102 Automatic Grill Cleaner: This squat but oddly endearing little machine puts some fun into a chore no one likes—cleaning the grill grate. Three brass-bristled brushes, each powered by its own motor, can be programmed for 10, 20, or 30 minutes. Place the unit (it runs on batteries or a charge) on your grill grate, then close the lid. It will noisily bounce around in there performing its assigned duty. The brushes do eventually wear out, but are replaceable. $98.99.
In our next technology blog post, we’ll cover smoke generators and other cool tools. What’s your favorite high-tech grilling device?