iCelsius sells a line of thermistor probes that attach directly to your iOS 6.0 or higher devices or to your Android 2.3.3 devices or higher. Your can chose 30 pin or lightning connectors.
On my iPhone 4s, I just turned on the iPhone, plugged in the probe and the free app launched itself. It ships set for Celsius. Touch the big C on the temperature display, and it switches to F.
The BBQ Probe is 4.25″ long and the cable is 5′ long, plenty long to get your phone away from the heat of the cooker. Unlike most other cables, this is not a metallic weave, it is silicone based, and the junction between the cable and probe is double crimped, so rain or submerging it when cleaning are not likely to ruin it as can happen to the probes for many of its competitors. Still, I recommend you clean the probe with a sponge and not take a chance on shorting out the probe by submerging it.
The cable is said to be able to withstand up to 482°F but they warn to keep it away from open flame. And because it does not have the metal cladding, you need to close the lid gently on the cable so you don’t cut it.
The app displays the temp up to one decimal point, but the meter cannot be adjusted or calibrated if it strays from true. According to data from the manufacturer, in the typical meat temp range from fridge to finished, it is accurate to plus or minus about 1°F, and as you approach the high end of its range, the error is plus or minus 5°F. This means that it is highly accurate at measuring meat and low temp smokers, and less accurate at measuring high temp grills. The probe can also be used for candy and frying.
At first I was concerned about leaving my iPhone outdoors in the sun, rain, and smoke, but I then put it in a plastic zipper bag to protect it. At a public event or a competition you might be concerned about passersby walking away with your iPhone, but you don’t have to leave it attached. You can leave the probe in place and disconnect the phone and drop it in your pocket. Then when you come back it will start reading again. Alas it cannot take up where you disconnected.
You could also purchase multiple probes and just move the phone from probe to probe. The graphing feature can keep up with more than one probe, but disconnecting breaks the continuous line of the graph. With multiple probes you could get near instant reads from different meats and different parts of the pit this way.
For long cooks, the battery will surely die before the meat is done, so you can disconnect the phone and charge it, but remember the graph will break.
While writing this I took my body temp several times by inserting the meat temp probe under my tongue. It rose rapidly to 97°F, within a minute, and it took about another 30 seconds to stop rising. Benchmarked against a medical thermometer it was under by about 0.5°F on one attempt, 0.6°F on another, and 0.2°F on another. That may not be good enough for my doc, but it is plenty good for my meal. The company now has body temp probes which I presume will be more precise in the body temp range.
The app is capable of tracking multiple probes, handy for the wifi module which supports two. You can also use more than one wifi module. The home screen, called the Live screen (why can’t we call it the home screen?) shows the current temp and a simple graph. Touch the High-Low icon and you get a screen to set an alarm at upper and lower limits. Just remember to take your phone off mute. You can take a screen shot at any time.
There is another screen with a graphed chart marked in 12 second intervals and you can record the chart, email it, save it to your photo library, post it to Twitter or FB, send it to Dropbox, or other applications, or print it. On the graph screen, if you tell it to record, there is a subtle white triangle that if you touch lets you take notes, take a screen shot, or drop a pin.
The graph can be pinched to fit a long cook all on one screen. The time shown is the real time from the iPhone’s clock. I would like to see some more options on the graph, like showing elapsed time, not to mention larger numerals for these aging eyes. And charts don’t always show the initial time. Scrolling back to the beginning of a long cook can take quite a while!
Double tap the big R on the Live/home screen and you get beef and lamb recommend temperature presets, but they are converted from Celsius, so ground beef is 159.8°F instead of 160°F. Perfectly safe, but odd. The raw ham preset is 159.8°F. It should be 145°F. Pork ribs, shoulders and brisket (I think they mean beef brisket) is 159.8°F. It is perfectly safe at that temp but it will be tough. They need to go much higher, like 190 to 203°F to gelatinize connective tissues and melt fats. Alas, the presets cannot be edited but there is a way to add your own and even shoot a photo of the meat. Very nice.
Alas, because iOS really doesn’t multitask, when the phone rings, or when you want to go to a website for recipe info, the graph breaks and previous readings are lost unless you had chosen to record the graph. Not sure how this works on Android. But it does pick up where it left off when you re-launch iCelsius. If you chose to record, the app will nag you if you go to another screen asking if you want to save and stop recording.
There is a relative humidity (RH) probe you can buy that reports to a page that tells you if you are in your comfort zone. Humidity plays such an important role in low and slow cooking so I asked the AmazingRibs.com science advisor Dr. Greg Blonder to test one. “RH is very important for pitmasters if they care about bark and tenderness. With a homemade hepafilter sock to put over the tip to keep smoke out, the iCelsius is one of the few affordable humidity meters on the market. But I had to make my own hepafilter sock.”
I asked the manufacturer and he said “We are concerned about the longevity of the RH probe in that environment, as this application has not been considered in its development. Our current product does not have a filter, and cannot be washed as it will not be able to be submerged in water.”
Soooooo, if you can make your own hepafilter sock, you could have fun with this one probe.
Leave in Food, Leave in Cooker
Where to buy (buying from this supplier supports this website):
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.