The BBQ Guru PartyQ is one of several models of temperature regulators from this company. This is the basic unit. It is easy to set up and does a good job of regulating the cooker temperature.
The idea behind a controller like this is to regulate the temperature inside the cooker by adjusting the airflow. The more air, the hotter it gets. A temperature probe clipped to the grill grate and routed out of the cooker to the controller provides the feedback needed to make airflow decisions. It's a lot more complicated than that, but that's all you really need to know to use this device.
Test Procedure: This product was tested on an 18.5" Weber Smokey Mountain. I loaded 2 lbs. of Kingsford Competition Briquets into the cooker, and lit 1 lb. of the same charcoal in a chimney, and poured it on the unlit coals already in the smoker. The water bucket was about 2/3 full, and there was no food in the cooker. (Shoot me!) The Weber adapter was inserted into one of the lower vents, and the others were closed. The temperature probe was clipped to the center of the top cooking grate. Another temperature probe was mounted close to the sensor and plugged into a ThermoWorks BlueTherm Duo that was monitored on my computer for temperature recording purposes. The set temperature was 225ºF, consistent with smoking practices.
The outside air temperature was from 85 to 105ºF. Winds were light and variable. Measurements began shortly after the smoker was closed up. The charcoal burned for a little over four hours before the blower began to run full-time, signaling that the fuel was nearly exhausted. At that point, I terminated the test. The captured data from the ThermoWorks sensor was plotted, and the raw data was exported to Excel so that I could calculate temperature maxima, minima, average and standard deviation. The last value gives a measure of how consistent the temperature remained. If the temperature was dead constant, the standard deviation would be zero. The larger the swings in temperature, the higher the standard deviation would be. The values for this test are:
Maximum temperature: 228ºF
Minimum temperature: 213ºF
Average temperature: 223ºF
Standard deviation: 2.5ºF
At some point during the test, I jostled the smoker to dislodge ash from the coals. This gives rise to a spike in the temperature that the thermostat must compensate for. This occured around the mid point of this test.
The graph of temperature versus time was converted to a jpg image so that you can view how consistent the temperature was. (Click on the graph to see a larger version of the image.) Keep in mind that the data extends beyond the time when the charcoal was essentially exhausted, so you can ignore the decline on the right side of the graph. On the left side, at the beginning of the test, the thermostat was learning the characteristics of the smoker/fuel/ambient, so the temperature variations were not representative of the degree of temperature regulation. Overall, the PartyQ did an average job of regulating cooker temperature.
This unit runs on batteries, and their usable life is difficult to predict. In cold weather, the fan will have to run more, reducing the time between battery changes. I would like to see an AC adapter that could be plugged in, eliminating concerns about power depletion. On the other hand, not having to snake an extension cord over to the cooker is a plus.
Some temperature regulators are quite complex to set up. This one is not. All you have to do is mount the blower on the smoker - no tools are required, set the probe in place, turn it on and set your desired temperature. The PartyQ does the rest well. You won't need to understand wireless network protocols or any complicated concepts. Just plug and play. The simplicity comes at a cost - you have to be there and you can't log the cook data - but that's something that most folks won't care about anyway. If you're a real geek (like me), you might want to consider some fancier units that are more configurable and more costly.
I'm giving the PartyQ a Bronze medal for its simplicity of operation and performance. You'll wonder how you lived without one of these after using it.