This Kettle-Style Grill Add-On Making Controlling Temperatures A Cinch
In the past 10 years, there have been several thermostats for controlling charcoal grills introduced. They are especially good for managing temperature for cooks that take hours. They all work on the same basic concept: Regulating the amount of air (oxygen) that reaches the coals. Restricting oxygen cools the cooker, and adding oxygen allows it to heat up.
The best I have tried is the Venom from Spider Grills for use on the hugely popular 22-inch Weber Kettle, Performer, and Summit Charcoal. Venom can also be made compatible with the 26-inch Kettle with optional Conversion Clips. The Venom is not compatible with the Weber Ranch Kettle Grill, the Weber Smokey Mountain, or kettles from other companies. Other thermostats can be adapted to almost all charcoal cookers.
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How it works
Venom works by measuring the temperature inside the kettle and it then moves the arm that opens and closes the vents at the bottom of the kettle and a gateway on the venom that allows air in, then and a fan moves the air to the charcoal. The screen on the Venom shows you how to set the top air vents.
Only available in the US, Venom can control temps between 150 and 550°F. It is cleverly designed, although installation can be a pain. Some other fan thermostats require you to drill holes in the bottom of the grill to attach a port for a blower. Not Venom. It clicks into place on the underside of the kettle covering all three air inlets and sealing with a long-lasting fiberglass gasket. There is a digital controller attached that lets you set the temperature and set a timer. There is also an app so you can monitor and control the grill from your living room or across town, but the device is fully functional without it. That is a good thing because pairing these sorts of devices is often problematic and there are complaints from owners on the internet about this one. I was unable to pair mine simply because my wifi network didn’t reach my grill.
There are three mini-jack ports for temperature probes, one that is placed within the kettle and clipped to the grate to monitor its air temperature and two for inserting into foods. But it ships with only two probes — the air temperature probe and a probe to be inserted into the meat. The company also sells additional probes.
You need a nearby outlet or extension cord to power the unit although you can purchase an optional battery pack about the size of a sandwich for about $55 here.
The manufacturer says it can run the Venom for 24 hours and it can be recharged with a USB Type-C cable. I never tested the battery limit which certainly is impacted by how often the fan is turned on. I did an eight-hour pork butt on it no sweat.
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The “gotcha” is the installation. It attaches with three short flanges that fit in the gaps between the leg sockets and the bottom of the bowl. Getting them in is a pain because the gasket is a fraction of an inch too thick. I know they want to control airflow, but a scooch more flex would make what is a pain in the butt so much easier. This is especially true on my Performer where the bottom shelf kept me from putting my weight behind the effort.
The task is best accomplished by removing the lid, grates, and if you have a Performer, the charcoal bin. Then empty all the ash and turn the kettle upside down on the lawn or on cardboard so you don’t scratch the bowl. They say it can be done right side up, but I strongly recommend against it. Flipping is pretty simple on a standalone kettle, but a little more difficult with the heavier Performer model that has a side table.
On Performers, you need to remove the Weber’s ash catcher assembly before attaching the Venom. There’s nothing in the manual that tells you how. It is attached to the legs with three aluminum tabs that are easy to bend out of the way with a screwdriver. The assembly can then be discarded.
Once upside down. Slide the Weber vent/ash guide sweeper handle through the slot in the Venom. On my Performer, I had to reposition the vent/ash handle so the control panel of the Venom faced out rather than under the table. That turned into a project because the handle on my ancient Weber was corroded, and I finally had to replace it with a new Weber 22-1/2-Inch One-Touch Cleaning System Kit. They are inexpensive and easy to install unless the old ones are corroded in place like mine were.
Once the handle is in place you have to snap the Venom’s tabs into the spaces between the leg tubes and the bowl. Because the gasket is thick it isn’t easy, especially on a Performer. I needed a screwdriver and a few curse words to snap the tabs into place. Then you attach the hook to the vent/ash sweeper handle. Again, the tolerances are unforgiving. I had to bend the bracket holding it a fraction of an inch.
Venom has its own ash bucket. It is important to empty the kettle of ash and then the ash bucket after every cook because the fan can blow ash onto your food. Getting the Venom ash bucket off is no problem, getting it back on however is trickier because, once again, the fit is insanely tight and you have to register it perfectly. The flange and clip on the ash bucket are on opposite sides so getting them aligned is tricky because you can’t see both at once.
Finally, plug the probes in and place them in the grill. The cables for the probes enter the kettle between the lid and bowl. Unfortunately, I have had problems in the past with other brands of cables wearing down or breaking this way. The cables also keep the lid from fitting tightly and let in air. So long ago I drilled small holes in the kettle’s bowl just above the cooking grate through which I snake probes and cables. One can buy grommets to reduce air incursion or use putty but frankly, unless the holes are large any air entering through them should be inconsequential if you select the right size drill bit.
WHEW! The whole installation took me about an hour including replacing the ash sweeper.
Once the probes are in place, set alarms for time and temperature and toggle to your choice of Fahrenheit or Celsius. All this can be done on the Venom if your phone battery is dead or you can’t connect. The device will notify you if there is a firmware update. I wish it had backlit buttons because they are impossible to see at night. The app comes with helpful videos on how to set things up. Alas, there is a video for beer can chicken in which they continue to spread the silly notion that beer can flavor your chicken. Click here to see this myth busted. Venom forgets the wifi connection so you need to press the wifi button on every cook in order to connect the app. Some users report that the app freezes in the middle of the cook. You can tell because the temp doesn’t change. Just quit the app and relaunch it. There is no low-temperature alert on the app.
To cook, you can set up the charcoal however you want — in the middle, in a snake, on one side, or install the Slow & Sear attachment. I highly recommend this gadget. I always recommend getting the charcoal on one side in a 2-zone configuration. If you use a chimney starter, and I recommend you do, you will then have very hot coals, and when you put the lid on it will take a short while for Venom to cool them down if you want to do that. Still, temperature changes are surprisingly fast with Venom.
To connect to the app (named SpiderGrills, not Venom), first download it and register it. You need 2.4 GHz, not 5.0. Turn on the Venom and, with the phone nearby, press the wifi button on the Venom until it beeps. Then tell the app to pair. Name the device, select your network, and enter your username and password. Users on the internet complain about pairing. It’s hard to pin the blame for problems users have with this. It could be the Venom, the app, or more likely your phone or wifi network.
A few minor nits to pick
The Bluetooth suffers from the same problems as all other Bluetooth devices: Short range. When out of range there is no error message, it just keeps asking for your password.
The device loses contact with the app when I walk into my house.
In the dark you need a flashlight to see which button does what. It would be very cool if they had backlights like some computer keyboards do.
The manufacturer says it is rain and snow resistant but they recommend you use a cover that descends almost to the ground. I have not tested it in freezing weather yet but I will soon. Venom’s page on Amazon says it has a 1-year warranty but the manual says it is warranted against defects in materials and workmanship for only 3 months. Is this an indicator that they don’t have a lot of confidence in the device? Spider Grills also makes a pellet burner for the kettle that we haven’t tested yet.
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Meathead, BBQ Hall of Famer - Founder and publisher of AmazingRibs.com, Meathead is known as the site's Hedonism Evangelist and BBQ Whisperer. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller "Meathead, The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling", named one of the "100 Best Cookbooks of All Time" by Southern Living.