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Surely you know somebody who loves outdoor cooking who deserves a gift for the holidays, birthday, anniversary, or just for being wonderful. There he is, right in the mirror! Here are our selections of best ideas, all Platinum or Gold Medalists, listed by price.
GrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips, pellets, or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill needs them.
The PBC has a rabid cult following for good reason. It is absolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world. Period. This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier. Best of all, it is only $299 delivered to your door!
The smart folks at ThermoWorks have finally done it: The Swiss Army Knife of thermometers, two in one. Start with the industry standard food thermometer, the Thermapen MK4, (Platinum Medal winner) truly instant (2 to 3 seconds) precise (+ or – 0.7°F). Then they built in an infrared thermometer ideal for measuring the temps of pizza stones, griddles, and frying pans (also great for finding leaks around doors and windows in your house).
Heat Resistant Gloves With Extra Long Sleeves Hold The Hot Stuff
If you're using oven mitts at the grill, it's time to trade up. Say hello to these suede welder's gloves. They're heat resistant enough to handle hot grill grates, and flexible enough to handle tongs. The extra long sleeves even let you reach deep into the firebox to move hot logs without getting burned. Our Fave.
The Good-One Is A Superb Grill And A Superb Smoker All In One
The Good-One Open Range is a charcoal grill with an offset smoke chamber attached. It is dramatically different from a traditional offset smoker. The grill sits low in front and doubles as a firebox for the smoke chamber which is spliced on above and behind so it can work like a horizontal offset smoker only better. By placing the heat source behind and under the smokebox instead of off to the side, Open Range produces even temperature from left to right, something almost impossible to achieve with a standard barrel shaped offset.
The amazing Karubecue is the most innovative smoker in the world. The quality of meat from this machine is astonishing. At its crux is a patented firebox that burns logs above the cooking chamber and sucks heat and extremely clean blue smoke into the thermostat controlled oven. It is our favorite smoker, period.
The First Propane Smoker With A Thermostat Makes This Baby Foolproof
Set ThermoTemp's dial from 175° to 350°F and the thermostat inside will adjust the burner just like an indoor kitchen oven. All you need to do is add wood to the tray above the burner to start smokin'.
The PK-360, with 360 square inches of cooking space, this rust free, cast aluminum charcoal grill is durable and easy to use. Four-way venting means it's easy to set up for two zone cooking with more control than single vent Kamado grills. It is much easier to set up for 2-zone cooking than any round kamado. Beautifully designed and completely portable. Meathead says it is his preferrred grill.
Auber Instrument's latest entry into the charcoal barbecue temperature controller market is the SYL-2615. It adds to the features of its earlier entry, the SYL-1615, with a food probe and programmable steps to allow autonomous cooking cycles. It communicates with the user either via its panel display and buttons or an app that runs on either Android or Apple phones. The remote operation requires an Internet-connected Wi-Fi router, something most of us have. When set up for the Internet, the status of the controller can be viewed and controlled from the phone app anywhere that has Internet service. Cooking parameters can be remotely set as well.
Connecting the controller with the router is very simple: connect to your router with your phone via Wi-Fi. Using the app, enter your router's SSID and password and everything happens automatically, taking about 30-60 seconds. After that, just power up the controller and it connects to the router without further prompting. You can communicate with the unit anywhere an Internet connection is available. No complicated IP address entry required. I think it's magic, and it works.
Once connected, any setting can be made using the phone and the app: temperature targets for the cooker or the food, cooking times, operating parameters, you name it. You can also make these inputs via the front panel display and the push buttons, but it's a little clunkier. The unit displays both the cooker and the food temperature, along with the fan output and the programmed step parameters. The latter refers to the ability to set up three stages of cooking. Each stage is completed when either a time period elapses or a food temperature is reached - your choice. At the end of each stage, the next stage begins. So, you could set the controller up to maintain 275º for two hours, then reduce the temp to 225º and continue until the food temp reaches 203º, then reduce the cooker temp to 160º for three hours, then shut down. You can also use the controller to just hold a desired temperature indefinitely and manage times yourself. You can also set audible alarms for high and low cooker temperatures and a target food temperature. (Currently, the audible part is only available on the controller, not the app, but the manufacturer says that feature is coming.) The controller senses when you open the lid, and it delays the onset of fan output that would otherwise result in temperature overshoot. This feature can be defeated in the configuration menu.
The control unit measures 4.4x3.3x1.3" (113x83x33 mm). An AC-to-DC power supply is included. I used an optional battery pack from Auber to avoid running an extension cord. I recommend the battery pack - it will run the unit for more than two days at full fan output, or longer in real-life applications.
The fan mounts to one of the lower vents in the Weber and plugs into the controller. The controller allows you to set the fan operation to one of three modes: pulse width modulation (percentage of time fully on and percentage of time fully off), proportional fan speed, or a manual mode where you set the fan speed yourself. The standard unit comes with a 6.5 cfm fan, although my tests were conducted with a larger 10 cfm fan. I requested the larger fan because I had had trouble getting my WSM up to 325º (163ºC) last Thanksgiving (using an Auber SYL-1615) and I wanted to try the larger fan. (The manufacturer says the smaller fan will do the job.)
The temperature probes use PT1000 RTD sensor technology. The probe cables are 6' (1.8m) long, making them easy to use outdoors. They are sheathed with a white material instead of the usual wire braid. The cooker probe has a clip to attach it to the grill grate. The food probe is an L-shaped unit with nearly 6" (14.5cm) penetration, and the tip is smaller in diameter than the shaft. The accuracy of the probes was within one degree Fahrenheit over the range tested: 130 to 325ºF (54 to 163ºC).
Unlike most consumer controllers, Auber's has a detailed set of instructions that allow you to get the most out of your unit. You can select from pre-programmed controller parameters, known as PID (proportional, integral and derivative) coefficients, for various cookers, or you can input your own parameters and save several sets of them. The instruction manual gives a detailed description of the function of each parameter to help you manage the settings. However, I found the pre-programmed values gave excellent performance, so few users will want to fiddle with this level of control. The SYL-2615 does not have the self-calibration feature of the SYL-1615, but I doubt that it will be missed by many users.
To test the functionality of the SYL-2615, I put three pounds of unlit Kingsford Competition charcoal briquettes into the fire ring of an 18" Weber Smokey Mountain, and lit an additional two pounds of the same charcoal in a chimney. I poured the lit charcoal on top of the unlit fuel. There was no water in the pan, and no food either. I clipped the temperature sensor to the center of the top grate alongside another sensor used to draw the graph below. The top vent was fully open and the bottom vents, except where the fan was mounted, were closed fully. Ambient temperature was in the mid-60s Fahrenheit (18ºC), winds were light and variable. I programmed the controller to run for 90 minutes at 225ºF (107ºC), then go up to 325ºF (163ºC) for another 90 minutes, then drop back to 225ºF (107ºC) for another 90 minutes, then shut off. I wanted to see how well the controller would handle these transitions. (Click on the graph below to see a larger version.)
As you can see, the controller brought the temp up quickly to 225ºF (107ºC), and maintained it closely. When the controller commanded 325º (163ºC), the temp rose fairly quickly. (A couple of the kinks in the curve while the temperature was rising were due to my removing the mid section of the cooker to redistribute the fuel closer to the fan input.) After 90 minutes elapsed, the controller reduced the fan output to zero and the temperature dropped back to 225ºF (107ºC). At this point, the controller powered up the fan again to maintain the temperature. Both transistions were smooth, with little overshoot or sag. Overall, excellent performance.
As I mentioned earlier, the accompanying documentation is excellent. I was working with a preliminary draft of the instructions and an early version of the app. By the time you read this, final versions should be available to fill in a few gaps that were present in the draft/early versions. Even they exceed what most manufacturers provide - something near and dear to my electrical engineering heart.
Accessibility of the manufacturer is important to me. Contact information, including company name, address, telephone number, e-mail address and website are included in the documentation. The controller and blower fan come with a one-year limited warranty. The probes are warranteed for 90 days.
At $275, the Auber SYL-2615 is priced competitively, perhaps at the lower end of the scale for Wi-Fi-enabled devices. Performance is excellent. Build is very good. This is my new favorite thermostatic controller for charcoal-fueled cookers. A solid Platinum Medal!
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