ThermoWorks Smoke Review

ThermoWorks Smoke

ThermoWorks, maker of a number of great thermometers for food, oven, grill, and smoker, has released a new tool ideal for outdoor cooks called “Smoke.” I got my hands on a pre-release copy and have begun testing it. This is a very cool $99 device with a transmitter attached to two probes and a remote receiver that you can put in your pocket or hang from a lanyard around your neck and carry up to 300 feet away while you watch the game or cut the lawn. It can be paired with unlimited receivers according to ThermoWorks (at $45 each). A wireless Wi-Fi gateway that sends your temps to the cloud and smartphones is scheduled to be released by Spring of 2017 for $89! Smoke ships with two probes, one for air temp and one for food temp.

In addition to these novel features, what sets it apart from the competition is a user interface designed so that you really don’t need a manual. You can take it out of the box and be up and running in minutes. Competing wireless remote reading devices

(Similar reviewed equipment) such as Maverick’s ET-732 and 733, iGrill2 and others, can be confusing with hidden menus and options. Smoke is $40 more than the Maverick ET-732 and the same price as the iGrill2.

The receiver works on radio frequency (RF), not Bluetooth. Hallelujah! I have tested numerous Bluetooth devices and in general, I hate them. They are often a pain to pair, the connection is easily dropped, and range is short. Only some of the Mavericks use RF, one reason I have recommended the ET-732 so highly. RF rocks. Our tests indicate that the Smoke will communicate at 300 feet (~91m) when in line of sight, and it is quick to indicate a loss of signal from the transmitter, responding in about 15 seconds. For a video showing how we tested the range capability:

Smoke’s proprietary Pro-Series thermistor probes are the same ones used on their popular DOT and ChefAlarm meters. They are very thin and have silicone encased wiring wrapped with braided stainless steel that connects to the body with a tiny headphone-style jack. Both ends of the cable have a spring strain relief to prevent kinking. The plastic grips on the sensor end of the probes are said to be able to withstand 640°F air temp, a much higher temp than we cook at most of the time, but be careful if they come into contact with hot metal or above direct flame. Infrared radiant heat from coals or flame can produce damaging energy even though air temp is 640°F. The probe tips are rated up to 572°F, much higher than we need for measuring fry oil or candy. The air temp probe comes with a clip that holds it above the grates.

As with all probes on cabled devices, Smoke’s probes need to be treated with care. Repeated kinking of the cable, yanking on them, slamming the grill lid on them, exposing them to really hot surfaces or open flame, and submersing them when washing can damage them. Replacement probes cost $16-17. Just to test this sensitivity, I submerged both probes in a sink of hot water and monitored them for a few hours. They did not appear to malfunction despite the claimed sensitivity to immersion. I'm not suggesting you ignore the manufacturer's advice, but it does seem to be a bit conservative.

Thermoworks says you can run the cables under the hood of a grill, but my experience is that repeated opening and closing can damage cables like these over time. It is much better to drill a hole in the side of the grill (not the lid) and run the probe through the hole. Don’t worry, the small amount of hot air and smoke that might escape won’t impact your cook. If you want, you can get silicone grommets from Grainger to fill the gap.

Probes are billed as water resistant and it is recommended they not be submerged. That’s too bad because this device competes head to head with devices from Maverick and iGrill, both of which have the same limitation. We really need submersible probes for people who don’t read the instructions and throw them in the sink for cleaning. There are three additional probe models available for purchase and one claims to be water proof.

The food probe is L shaped and I’ve never understood why they do this. A straight probe is always better in my book. I also wish they used the industry standard thermocouple K probe which would make a huge range of probes available.

The transmitter has magnets on the back so it can be easily mounted to the cool parts of steel grills (do not attach to the hood), and a flip out stand so it can sit upright on a side table. The LCD display is very user friendly, better than the competition. The numbers are large and easy to read and it has a backlight that remains on for about 20 seconds. There are two sets of numbers, one for each probe. Each has a large number for current temp, and smaller numbers for the min and max temp that probe has felt. There are also numbers for high alarm and low alarm so you can tell it to beep if the oven or meat go above or below your targets. Setting the high/low is easy and intuitive, much easier than competitors, and there is a volume control and an on/off button to disable one or both alarms. There are no preprogrammed cooking temps for different meat types, but a cheat sheet with recommendations does come with the unit. I recommend our Meat Temperature Guide to help you select the appropriate doneness temperatures.

Like the transmitter, the receiver is easy to read and has a backlight. It has a beeper for high/low alarms and the backlight button also silences the alarm. The transmitter and the receiver come paired from the factory, but it can be re-synced with a simple procedure if they get confused. The receiver beeps and the backlight illuminates when first turned on. There is no audible sound when the backlight button is pushed after it is on, so you could set the receiver on a night table and check it without disturbing your sleeping partner. With the long battery life, you can leave it on all night without fear of depleting the AAs.

The transmitter also displays when the batteries are low (both transmitter and receiver take two AA batteries, and you can use rechargeables). If communication between the transmitter and receiver is lost, or if a probe fails, the receiver will display an error message and sound an alarm. The back of the transmitter has several recessed buttons to prevent accidental activation. There’s an on/off button, another that allows you to switch between ºF and ºC, and a button to turn off transmission to save battery life. A very cool feature: There can be more than one receiver paired to the transmitter – if you are a barbecue team. Just turn off the pairing button, and then turn it on again. Better still, the temperature can be calibrated if it gets off target. You can adjust it by putting the probes in ice water or boiling water, and with a button, return it to true.

Both the transmitter and the receiver are a bit larger and heavier than possible in the age of miniaturization (8.5 ounces and 5 ounces with batteries, respectively) but they feel more solid than the competition. There is no timer function, a feature found on most competing units.

Smoke ships with batteries included, with transmitter and receiver paired, a food temp probe, an air temp probe with grate clip, a snap on/off lanyard, and a simple instruction booklet. It is my new fave in the category, but if you are shopping on a budget, for $40 less, the Maverick ET-732 is still a great tool. We are giving the Smoke a Gold Medal for ease of use, quality of construction and high performance. It would be hard to beat this unit, even though the price is a bit higher than the competition.

Smoke is available only from ThermoWorks at the moment. Click here for more info and to order: ThermoWorks

Thermometer Function: 
Leave in Food
Leave in Cooker
Wireless Remote
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: 
Transmitter, receiver, two probes, grill clip, instructions
Food: cable: 50" (1.27m), length: 6" (15.2cm), diameter: 0.138" (3.5mm), tip: 0.086" (2.2mm) Air: cable: 50" (1.27m), length: 2" (5cm), diameter: 0.138" (3.5mm)
Battery type: 
4xAA, included
Battery life: 
1800 hours
Min / Max: 
-58 to 572ºF (-50 to 300ºC)
Ambient operating temperatures: 
32 to 122ºF (0 to 50ºC)
Display precision: 
At 32ºF it actually reads: 
32.8/32.6 (food probe/air probe)
At 130°F it actually reads: 
At 225°F it actually reads: 
At 325°F it actually reads: 
Speed from 32°F to 212°F: 
Speed from 212°F to 32°F: 
Size of numbers in display: 
(Temps) Trans: 0.688" (17.4mm), Rec: 0.5" (13mm)
Water resistance rating: 
IP65 (excluding probe connector)
Trans: 8.5 oz. (0.24kg), Rec: 5 oz. (.14kg)
C/F Switch: 
Auto shutoff: 

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About the features, specs, and technical terms

Adjustable. The accuracy of some thermometers can drift, and these thermometers can be adjusted to bring them back to the correct reading.

Alarms. Some devices can be set to alert the cook when a high or low temp is reached either with an audible alarm such as a beep or a visible alarm such as a flashing display.

App. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled devices have a smartphone or tablet app that talk to the device.

Auto shutoff. If you don't use the device for a set period of time, it will shut itself off to save batteries.

Backlight. Digital thermometers are hard to read at night unless they have a backlight.

Bi-metal dial thermometers. Most bi-metal coil dial thermometers mounted in grill hoods should be called heat indicators, not thermometers. We do not recommend them. They have round clock-like readouts and the sensor uses two strips of metal bonded together and rolled into a coil. Each metal expands at a different rate, turns a shaft, and this provides the reading on a dial. Bi-metal meat thermometers can take up to 30 seconds to give a final reading and because the sensor can be 1/2" long or more they cannot read a specific location in meat. Most thermometers built into grills and smokers are bi-metal, but they are often low quality in order to keep the grill price down. They can easily become unreadable if they fill with smoke and or water. Also, these grill thermometers are mounted in the dome, where the temp can be very different from the temp at the cooking surface, which generally makes these bi-metal dial thermometers both unreliable and misleading.

C/F Switch. Most thermometers have a switch to change the display from Celsius to Fahrenheit.

K-Probes. Some thermocouple thermometers have a standardized spade-like connector for scores of interchangeable probes.

IR (infrared) sensors. Infrared-sensing thermometers measure the energy radiated from a warm surface and convert it to a temperature reading. Some surfaces emit more infrared at a given temperature than others, so some units allow the user to adjust the emissivity setting to fine-tune the accuracy of the thermometer. This should rarely be necessary unless very high accuracy is needed. These units are useful for determining the temperature of a cooking surface like a skillet or griddle.

Liquid filled thermometers. Old-fashioned liquid filled thermometers are very small glass tubes filled with a liquid that sits in a bulb at the bottom. As it warms, the liquid expands. These thermometers are slow but they can be very accurate. Because they do not need batteries, they make good refrigerator and freezer thermometers, but they cannot read a small area such as the center of a hunk of meat well.

Logging. Some thermometers can remember the readings taken over time and create a log that can either be printed or exported to a spreadsheet.

Margin of Error. Most thermometers are considered to be accurate if they are within plus or minus 3°F of the target temperature. High end thermometers are more precise than this.

Min/Max. The minimum and maximum temperatures it is capable of reading. On some devices, especially those which use different probes, the Min/Max can vary with the probe.

Oven. We often use the term "oven" to cover a range of cooking devices, including grills and smokers, which are essentially outdoor ovens.

Popup thermometers. Popups have a compound in the tip that melts at a determined temp and releases a spring that pops the stem up. This type of thermometer often comes pre-inserted in your Thanksgiving turkey. Although there is a chance that it will be accurate, the thermometer will read only one small part of the turkey, may stick, and will likely be set to a high temperature that is meant to prevent litigation rather than produce a juicy bird. The popup thermometer is often to blame when your turkey tastes like cardboard. Throw it out.

Price. Usually the manufacturer's suggested retail price. When that is not available, we use the approximate street price.

Sensor. Thermocouple, thermistor, liquid, and bi-metal. They are each described in detail above and below.

Speed. We measure how long it takes the thermometer to go from 32°F to 211°F and from 212°F to 33°F. But you have to be careful about the time manufacturers quote. Often they use an industry standard called "time constant." That is the time it takes to get to 63% of a full reading, and a full reading takes five times that. So if they say the time constant is 0.6 seconds, as does the manufacturer of the Thermapen, the unit will be precise with a full reading in about 3 seconds. Another factor to consider is how fast the display refreshes itself. The Thermapen refreshes every 0.5 seconds. This means you can slowly insert it and remove it and it will give you a new reading every 0.5 seconds. The Thermoworks K-type Fast Response Meat Probe #113-151, which can be plugged into different meters, is slightly faster with a time constant of 0.5 seconds and precise read in 2.5 seconds. But if you plug it into the MTC meter, which refreshes every 1 second, the probe is actually faster than the meter, and combined they are slower than the Thermapen. Another factor is the conductivity of the medium you are measuring. Food, which consists mostly of water, reads faster than bread, which consists mostly of air. That is because water is a better conductor than air.

Thermistors. Thermistors are usually not as quick as thermocouples. They tend to be thicker, and they can be slightly less accurate, usually with a margin of error of 5°F. These sensors are best for leaving in large roasts and ovens for continuous readings. Thermistor units send a current through a wire in the probe with a resistor in the tip. Its resistance to the electrical flow changes with temperature and the meter measures the voltage across the resistor.

Thermocouples. Thermocouples are the best food thermometers because they're fast and precise with a small sensor, making them ideal for rapid read thermometers. Their margin of error can be less than 1°F. Thermocouple probes have two tiny wires of different metals welded at the tip, most often nickel and chromium (called Type K). The heat causes a tiny voltage to appear across the dissimilar metals, which are connected to a meter that measures the voltage and calculates the temperature.

Water resistance rating. Some manufacturers simply specify that a thermometer is "water resistant," but this is not a regulated description and should be taken with a grain of salt. Some manufacturers use a third party service, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). It rates devices using an International Protection rating code (an IP code). An IP code might look like this: IP65. The first digit quantifies protection against solids like dust, and the second digit quantifies protection against liquids. The digits range from IP00 to IP68. If a thermometer is rated IP65, it was tested and found to be completely protected against dust as well as protected against low pressure jets of liquid from all sides. So it is OK in the rain, but NOT protected against a swim in the BBQ sauce.

Where to buy. We provide links to some suppliers, especially to those who pay us a finder's fee if you buy from them. In some cases, our links provide a Compact Meat Temperature Guide along with the product. You will only get the guide by following the link provided.

Best Value Awards

Gold Medal. Among the best of its type in its price category. A strong buy recommendation if this is your budget.

Silver Medal. A fine product among the best in its price category with only minor shortcomings. Recommended for purchase if a Gold Medal is not available.

Bronze Medal. A good product, better than average, but may be lacking in features or quality compared to higher rated products. Worth considering for purchase if you cannot find or afford a Gold or Silver Medal.

Not Recommended. These are products that we think are poor choices compared to competitors based on price, features, and construction quality.

Not Judged Yet. These are products that may be award caliber, perhaps even Gold Medal caliber, but we do not know enough about them yet to give them an award.

How We Test, Review, and Rate Thermometers

We purchase almost all of the thermometers we review. These are truly unbiased reviews. We do not make or sell anything, and our advertising is sold by third party ad networks. We are not involved in the process. Rest assured that when we recommend a product, it is really because we like it, not because someone has paid us to say so or because the company is an advertiser or sponsor. Manufacturers are never charged to have products reviewed or be included in the listings.

Bill McGrath, an electrical engineer, does all our thermometer testing, ratings, and reviews. He uses special equipment calibrated and rated by the National Institute of Standards & Technology to check the accuracy and speed of thermometers. He uses an ice water bath and a boiling water bath to measure the time it takes each thermometer to go from 32° to 211°F and to go from 212° to 33°F. After taking objective measurements, he evaluates based on subjective criteria such as ergonomics, ease of use, flexibility, warranty, access to support, and build quality. Finally, we consider value when giving our awards.

nist calibration machine

"The instant-read thermometer, used frequently, solves most issues." --Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist and cookbook author

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