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 45°C), 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 19.5° to 29°F with no operational problems. Another test was conducted in a home freezer at 7°F 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 thermistors that have a reputation for accuracy, repeatability, and stability, and the temp range is said to be -94 to 752°F (-70 to 400°C). 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):
- I placed the 18 pound turkey on a Weber Kettle outfitted with a Slow ‘N Sear http://amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/slow_n_sear.html 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).
- 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 http://amazingribs.com/tips_and_technique/mythbusting_lookin_aint_cookin.html .
- At several points I checked the meat readings with handheld Thermapen and you can see the dips. FireBoard was right on the money.
- I normally like to cook turkey at 325°F but this coconut charcoal was burning hotter than I expected, peaking at 397°F at 2:30 but the meat was only 129°F. So I closed all the air vents, and air temp started down. I removed the bird at 161.7°F 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.
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 ease of use, quality of construction, and features.
Fireboard announced the availability of their "Competition Probes" recently. These come in two lengths: 3" (77mm) and 1" (25mm) and are much thinner than their other probes. I thought it would be interesting to test them and add the results to this review. Here are the numbers:
Actual Temp: Measured Temp:
As you can see, their accuracy is excellent. I wondered how quickly such thin probes might respond to rapid changes in temperature, making them potentially useful as instant read probes. The time to go from 32 to 212° was 15 seconds, and the time to go from 212 to 32° was 17 seconds. This response time is too slow to make them useful for quick reads, but that's not what they were designed to do, anyway. In any case, these new probes will find themselves useful for people who want high accuracy and minimal entrance wounds. Check the manufacturer's website for more information. Bill McGrath