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Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling

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About the features, specs, and technical terms

Adjustable. Some thermometers' accuracy can drift and they can then be adjusted to bring them back to the correct reading.

Alarms. Some devices can be set to alert the cook when a high or low temp is reached either with an audible alarm, such as a beep, or a visible alarm, such as a flashing display.

App. BlueTooth and wifi enabled devices have a smartphone or tablet app that talk to the device.

Auto shutoff. If you don't use the device for a set period of time, it will shut itself off to save batteries

Backlight. Digital thermometers are hard to read at night unless they have a backlight.

Bi-metal dial thermometers. Most bi-metal coil dial thermometers mounted in grill hoods should be called heat indicators, not thermometers. We do not recommend them. They have round clock-like readouts and the sensor uses two strips of metal bonded together and rolled into a coil. Each metal expands at a different rate, turns a shaft, and this provides the reading on a dial. Bi-metal meat thermometers can take up to 30 seconds to give an final reading and because the sensor can be 1/2" long or more they c annot read a specific location in meat. Most thermometers built into grills and smokers are bi-metal, but they are often low quality in order to keep the grill price down. They can easily become unreadable if they fill with smoke and or water. Also, these grill thermometers are mounted in the dome where the temp can be very different from the temp at the cooking surface making them both unreliable and misleading.

C/F Switch. Most thermometers have a switch to change the display from Centigrade to Fahrenheit.

K-Probes. Some thermocouple thermometers have a standardized spade-like connector for scores of interchangeable probes.

Liquid filled thermometers. Old-fashioned liquid filled thermometers are very small glass tubes filled with a liquid that sit in a bulb at the bottom. As the liquid warms it expands. They are slow but they can be very accurate. Because they do not need batteries, they make good refrigerator and freezer thermometers, but they cannot read a small area such as the center of a hunk of meat well.

Logging. Some thermometers can remember the readings taken over time and create a log that can either be printed or exported to a spreadsheet.

Margin of Error. Most thermometers are considered to be accurate if the are within plus or minus 3°F of the target tempderature. High end thermometers are more precise than this.

Min / Max. The minimum and maximum temperatures it is capable of reading. On some devices, especially those which use differnt probes, the Min / Max can vary with the probe.

Oven. We often refer to an oven to cover a range of cooking devices including grills and smokers, which are, essentially, outdoor ovens.

Popup thermometers. Popups 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 to prevent litigation. Pop-ups are why your turkey tastes like cardboard. Throw them out.

Price. Usually the manufacturer's suggested retail price. When that is not available we use the approximate street price.

Sensor. Thermocouple, thermistor, liquid, bi-metal. They are described in detail below.

Speed. We measure how long it takes the thermometer to go from 32°F to 212°F or from 212°F to 32°F. But you have to be careful about the time manufacturers quote. Often they use an industry standard called "time constant". That is the time it takes to get to 63% of a full reading, and a full reading is be five times that. So if they say the time constant is 0.6 seconds, as is the Thermapen, it will be precise in about 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 Thermoworks K-type 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 if you plug it into the MTC meter, which refreshes every 1 second, the probe is actually faster than the meter, and combined they are slower than the Thermapen. Another factor is the conductivity of the medium you are measuring, food, which is mostly water, reads faster than bread, which is mostly air, a poor conductor.

Thermistors. Thermistors are usually not as quick as thermocouples, they tend to be thicker, and they can be slightly less accurate, usually with a margin of error of 5°F. They are best for leaving in large roasts and oven for continuous readings. Thermistor units send a current through a wire in the probe with a resistor in the tip. Its resistance to the electrical flow changes with temperature and the meter measures the voltage across the resistor.

Thermocouples. Thermocouples are the best food thermometers because they're fast and precise, with a small sensor, ideal for rapid read thermometers. Their margin of error can be less than 1°F. Thermocouple probes have two tiny wires of different metals welded at the tip, most often nickel and chromium (called Type K). The heat causes a tiny voltage to appear across the dissimilar metals which are connected to a meter that measures the voltage and calculates the temperature.

Water resistance rating. Some manufacturers simply specify that a thermometer is "water resistant" but this is not a regulated description and should be taken with a grain of salt. Some manufacturers use a third party service, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). It rates devices using an International Protection rating code (an IP code). An IP code might look like this IP65. The first digit is protection against solids like dust, and the second digit is protection against liquids. They range from IP00 to IP68. If a thermometer was IP65, it was tested and found completely protected against dust as well as protected against low pressure jets of liquid from all sides, so it is OK in the rain, but NOT protected against a swim in the BBQ sauce.

Where to buy. We provide links to some suppliers, especially to those who pay us a finder's fee if you buy from them. In some cases, our links provide a Compact AmazingRibs.com Meat Temperature Guide with the product. You will only get the guide by following the link provided.


Best Value Awards

Gold Medal. Among the best of its type in its price category. A strong buy recommendation if this is your budget.

Silver Medal. A fine product among the best in its price category with only minor shortcomings. Recommended for purchase if a Gold Medal is not available.

Bronze Medal. A good product, better than average, but may be making in features or quality compared to higher rated products. Worth considering for purchase if you cannot find or afford a Gold or Silver Medal.

Not Recommended. These are products that we think are poor choices compared to competitors based on price, features, and construction quality.

Not Judged Yet. These are products that may be award caliber, perhaps even Gold Medal caliber, but we do not know enough about them yet to give them an award.


How We Test, Review, And Rate Thermometers

We purchase almost all of the thermometers we review. These are truly unbiased reviews. We do not make or sell anything, and our advertising is sold by third party ad networks. We are not involved in the process. Rest assured that when we recommend a product, it is really because we like it, not because someone has paid us to say so or because the company is an advertiser or sponsor. Manufacturers are never charged to have products reviewed or be included in the listings.

Bill McGrath, an electrical engineer, does all out thermometer testing, ratings, and reviews. He uses special National Institute of Standards & Technology rated and calibrated equipment to check the accuracy and speed of thermometers. He uses an ice and water bath and a boiling water bath to measure the time it takes each thermometer to go from 32° to 211°F and to go from 212° to 33°F. After we take objective measurements, we evaluate based on subjective criteria such as ergonomics, ease of use, flexibility, warranty, access to support, and build quality. Finally, we consider value when making our awards.

nist calibration machine


"The instant-read thermometer, used frequently, solves most issues." Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist and cookbook author

FireBoard FBX11

By Bill McGrath

FireBoard has set a new standard in food thermometry. It is a new thermometer by a new company and it has gotten off to a scorching start. Its first offering is a very clever device sure to please serious cooks, competitors, restaurateurs, and caterers. It is a remote read, cloud connected, data logger, with connections for up to six probes. What’s all that mean?

Remote read means that you can plug probes into the meter and it will send the info to your smartphone, tablet, or Amazon Alexa, so you can watch the progress of your cook from indoors or while you are cutting the lawn. You can see when your coals are dying, or estimate how long it will be until the meat is done. It uses either Bluetooth 4.0 (BLE) with a 100 foot range or WiFi depending on which is available.

Cloud connected means that you are not restricted by the short range of Bluetooth or even the longer range of radio frequency. Bluetooth may be the method of choice when you are in a park at a BBQ competition, but when you are home it will connect to your home’s WiFi. That means you can go to work downtown and follow the progress of your 12 hour brisket cook.

A data logger records the time and temp and about your cook so you can learn from it. The app shows a chart on your mobile device and if you are using WiFi the chart also appears under your account on their website in real time. On the website you can hover your mouse over the chart and it will tell you the exact temp at the exact time. You can even save charts for future reference, or download the data in a csv file that you can open in a spreadsheet or charting program if you want to create your own customized graph. FireBoard will even synchronize with the cloud after a power outage or if the connection goes down, or if you are out of range and using Bluetooth. That’s pretty amazing.

Six probes mean you can measure lots of things at once. For example, you can use one for measuring the air temp in your cooker and the other five for measuring five different pieces of meat. Or, if you want, you can measure four locations within one brisket and the air temp at the top and bottom of your cooker. That’s a lot of capability, more than any other device.

The meter is surprisingly small for all this capability, 4.5 ounces and about the size of a pack of cigarettes, less than half the size and weight of the Thermoworks Smoke. While Smoke has two ports for two probes, FireBoard has ports for six probes, another port for a USB connector that charges the device, and an 8 pin mini DIN auxiliary input port that at the moment has no function but could be used for accessories in the future, possibly a fan to control airflow to a fire and thus control temperature. If you leave it plugged in it will run forever while most of its competitors run only in battery mode and the batteries eventually die. There is a small LCD display that shows battery life, whether or not you are connected, and it cycles through the probe temps. It has a power button, a select button that allows you to select the probe that is being displayed, a small indicator light that tells you power is on, another that tells you if it is plugged into USB, and another that flashes every 5 seconds to confirm that the meter is polling the probes. The thermometer device itself is rated for 32°F to 113°F (0 to 45C), however the manufacturer has done successful early testing in colder environments (down to approx. -10°F). We conducted some of our own tests at low ambient temperatures. In one, we ran the unit for 27 hours outside at temps that ranged from 19.5º to 29ºF with no operational problems. Another test was conducted in a home freezer at 7ºF with no problems. The unit will shut down automatically when the internal battery voltage reaches 3.2V, so there is no risk of completely depleting the battery.

The firmware can be updated, and, in fact, when I unpacked mine and fired it up it alerted me that there was an update. Yet another nice feature.

Probes are RTD PT-100, a design that has a reputation for accuracy, repeatability, and stability, and the temp range is said to be -94 to 752ºF (-70 to 400ºC). The manufacturer warns against exposing the cables to direct flames that can get hotter than 716°F and to be careful not to crimp them under the lid.  Each probe has a 6’ long braided stainless steel cable, they appear to be solidly build, and, unlike many other manufacturers’ probes, can be submerged in water for washing. Another nice bit of cleverness: The air temp probe is threaded at the base so it can be mounted to the wall of your pit.

The app allows you to name and date each cooking session and type notes. Probes can be named (point or flat for example) or hidden and it can show the min/max for each probe. You can set alarms for when any of the probes hits a target temp and it can even send a text or email. Alarms can be customized so they only go off after a certain time, or if conditions last longer than a time you specify. Best of all, the app creates nifty charts of the cook that are really educational. They can be stored on your device and on the FireBoard website.

Here’s a chart for my Thanksgiving turkey (text in red was added later in Photoshop):

Temperature while cooking turkey

  1. I placed the 18 pound turkey on a Weber Kettle outfitted with a Slow ‘N Sear  at 1:30 p.m. in the indirect heat zone and placed probe 1 on the cooking grate next to the meat, and inserted probe 2 into the breast. I was experimenting with charcoal made from coconut husks. They produced a lot of heat and very little smoke. The temp climbed steadily to 357°F at 1:57 (I usually shoot for 325°F).
  2. I lifted the lid for 1 minute and added a handful of wood to the coals. Air temp immediately dropped to 256°F but as soon as I put the lid on it went right back up. Notice also that the meat didn’t even notice the lid was off. So much for the old husband’s tale that if you’re lookin you ain’t cookin.
  3. At several points I checked the meat readings with handheld Thermapen and you can see the dips. FireBoard was right on the money.
  4. I normally like to cook turkey at 325ºF but this coconut charcoal was burning hotter than I expected, peaking at 397ºF at 2:30 but the meat was only 129ºF. So I closed all the air vents, and air temp started down. I removed the bird at 161.7ºF at about 3:11 p.m.

Initial setup is a snap. Download the free app, create an account, and configure it to your taste. Press the power button for 3 seconds. BLE Bluetooth does not need pairing if you don’t have WiFi, and if you do, the device easily found my WiFi network.

You can also use FireBoard to monitor your fridge, keep track of your brewing temps, calibrate your oven, and more. Here’s the chart of my indoor gas oven set for 350°F with two probes, one on the bottom rack, one on the top. The sinusoidal wave is typical of ovens because they switch on and off aiming for an average at the designated temp. Notice that my oven is running about 20°F hot, and that, surprisingly, the top shelf is hotter than the bottom.

Testing oven temperature using FireBoard

Complaints are few. If I wanted to be picky I would ask for more horizontal lines on the charts, for waterproofing (they say a case is in the works, but until then, you can use a plastic bag), and for it to be able to handle temps down to 15°F since I and a lot of good cooks don’t let a little freezing weather stop us (the owner says he has tested it at temps much lower than the official rating of 32°F of some of the components).

Pricing. Built in Kansas City, FireBoard sells two kits, a basic unit comes with the meter, charger, and three probes, two for meat and the other for air temperature, with a clip for the air temp probe for $189.

The Extreme BBQ kit comes with the meter and charger as well as two air temp probes, and 6 meat temp probes for $249. It comes with a 6 month limited warranty. Additional probes cost $15. There is also an auxiliary battery pack for $15 and a 6’ extension cord for probes for $7.

We're giving the FireBoard a Gold Medal for it ease of use, quality of construction, and features.

Features:

  • Hand-held
  • Leave in Food
  • Leave in Cooker
  • Wireless Remote
  • Infrared Gun
  • Refrigerator / Freezer
  • Thermostats/Temperature Controllers

Price: 

$189.00

Where to buy (buying from these suppliers supports this website): 

FireBoard

Included: 

Controller, power supply, three probes, grill clip, instructions

Probes: 

Cooker: 0.166 dia., 2.025" len., 6' cable (4.2mm dia., 55mm len., 1.8m cable) Food: 0.158" dia., 0.120" tip, 4.2" len,. 6' cable (4.0mm dia., 3mm tip, 10.7cm len., 1.8m cable)

Accessories: 

Additional cables available on website or kit, probe extensions.

Battery type: 

Li-Ion, Internal

Battery life: 

24 hrs, rechargeable

Min / Max: 

-94 to 752ºF (-70 to 400ºC)

Ambient operating temperatures: 

32 to 113ºF (0 to 45ºC)

Display precision: 

0.1º

At 32ºF it actually reads: 

32.0, 32.3, 32.9°

At 130°F it actually reads: 

130.0,130.1,130.0°

At 225°F it actually reads: 

223.2, 224.7, 225.3°

At 325°F it actually reads: 

322.6, 324.6, 323.6°

Speed from 32°F to 212°F: 

n/a seconds

Size of numbers in display: 

Display dimensions: 0.375" x 1.375" (9.5 x 35mm)

Water resistance rating: 

Not waterproof but covers will soon be available

Alarms: 

Audible/Visible

Weight: 

4.6 oz. (130g)

Logging: 

On portable devices and via browser

C/F Switch: 

Yes

Backlight: 

Yes

Adjustable: 

No

Auto shutoff: 

No

App: 

Yes: iPhone, iPad, Android

Colors: 

Black

Sensor: 

Thermistor

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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, science, mythbusting, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, and how to cook great food outdoors. There are also buying guides to hundreds of barbeque smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, pulled pork, Texas brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, chili, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best all edited by Meathead Goldwyn.

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