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Definitive Guide: Monitoring and Controlling Temperature

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Greetings Gurus...


These questions come up very frequently around here so I decided to make a sticky post on it with a LOT of my own opinion injected for good measure :)


Instant Read Thermometers


Every grillmaster should own at least one instant read thermometer.  There is NO better way to know when a piece of meat is properly cooked than by checking the temperature.  Looks and feel are good measures but neither of those will always work perfectly.  A thermometer will tell you accurately what the internal temperature of your meat is at any given time.  


People ask frequently what they should buy when it comes to instant read thermometers.  I'm going to show you three options along with thoughts and explanations.  


The Thermapen



$96.00 (unless you catch a sale or buy a refurb)




The Thermapen by Thermoworks is sort of an industry standard for barbecue and grilling.  It's the go-to thermometer for a large number of professional cooks in all types of kitchens and cooking environments.  It's durable, splash resistant and FAST.  These thermometers give you accurate readings in 3 seconds (advertised speed.)  I have one of these and have no complaints about it other than the price tag.  It's simply EXPENSIVE.  The LCD is easy enough to read in the daylight but not as easy at night.  Thermoworks makes a back-lit LCD version of this thermometer that sells for $112.00 for those who might be interested.   I'm not quite sure how this device earned its place in the world of cooking, but it definitely has done well.  People love them and when you ask what to buy, this product is sure to come up as a preferred choice.  


If your Thermapen, for some reason, gets out of calibration, you have to send it in for repair.


The Maverick PT-100



$99.00 MSRP (can be bought on Amazon for $49/$69 depending on the day... $53.55 today)




The Maverick PT-100, which I also have, is as good as the Thermapen in terms of speed and accuracy.  I have tested the two side by side and the differences I measured were negligible.  I LOVE the back-lit LCD display on the PT-100.  It's easy to read in any conditions.  The PT-100 is physically a little larger than the Thermapen but it's also durable and splash resistant.  Since I own both the Thermapen and the PT-100, I use the PT-100 because I like the LCD display better.  I have never had any problems or failures with the PT-100 or the Thermapen.  Both work exceptionally well.  The bonus of the lower price on the PT-100 is very attractive.  The PT-100 also can not be user-calibrated if it ever gets out of adjustment.


Thermoworks Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer (RT301WA)



$19.00 (Normally $29.00)




The Thermoworks Super-Fast Pocket Thermometer is yet another thermometer I have in my inventory.  This thermometer is fully capable of satisfying the needs of any barbecue and grilling readings you may ever want to take.  It's also CHEAP compared to the others.  It's advertised speed is 5-6 second readings but my experience says that 8 seconds is pretty accurate.  It's also water resistant like the others but maybe not as durable.  The LCD display is a lot smaller which makes it a little more difficult to read.  This one DOES have the ability to adjust the calibration if needed.  If saving 4 to 5 seconds when taking a temperature reading is going to make or break your cook, go with one of the previously mentioned models.  If you have a few seconds to spare, this is a great tool to have in your box!


These three thermometers are definitely not your ONLY options, but they are three excellent choices to consider.


CDN offers up a lot of inexpensive thermometers that work very well also.  Here's a link to have a look at those...



CeramicGrillStore.com carries quite a few of the CDN products if you are interested in purchasing those...


Continuous Temperature Monitoring


Most of us enjoy having a thermometer that can monitor the internal temperature of the meat while it's cooking for roasting and low-and-slow BBQ cooks.  Let's take a look at some of those...


Maverick ET-732 Wireless BBQ Thermometer Set



$69.00 MSRP - Can be had from $45-$55 on Amazon at any given time...




Like the Thermapen, the Maverick ET-732 is a definite favorite among barbecue cooks.  Everyone loves the wireless remote so you can monitor your grill AND food temperatures while away from the grill.  The ET-732 has a base unit that connects two probe wires.  One for your internal meat temperature and another for the grill temperature.  I have one of these as well.  For the most part, this unit works pretty well.  I have had to replace both probe wires on this unit due to failure.  These probes are very sensitive to moisture.  Everyone doesn't experience that problem though.  The only consistent problem I have with this unit is when I'm cooking a chicken or turkey at temperatures in the 350-400 degree range.  After a bit of time, this thermometer will give you a false reading and you won't realize it.  When the grill is running at that temperature, I believe the thermometer probe absorbs that heat and it radiates down the probe into the meat, giving a false high temperature.  You will think your meat is done before it's actually done.  I have duplicated this problem on several cooks with two different sets of probe wires.  Foiling the probe MAY help eliminate this issue.  I have had NO problems with temperature accuracy for low-and-slow BBQ cooking, which is mostly what people seem to use this device for.  As for the wireless functionality, the results will vary from home to home.  When I'm using this to monitor my temps remotely, I'm typically placing the remote receiver on my computer desk, which is just about 30 feet away from my grill.  The wireless connectivity is spotty, even with fresh batteries.  The signal is having to pass through two walls.  Other than that, this unit works pretty well when I use it.  


Maverick Dual Sensor Oven & Roasting Thermometer (ET-85)



$34.99 MSRP - Can be had for $20-$25 on Amazon...




Since I'm not particularly interested in remote monitoring of my temperatures (which will be discussed momentarily) this is my GO-TO monitoring thermometer for cooking meat.  I love its simplicity.  It will monitor the internal temperature of the meat and the grill temp at the same time with the single dual sensor probe.  I actually have two of these and have used them extensively with no probe failures.  It's accurate and dependable.  It's also a good bit less expensive than the ET-732.  


There are lots of other options on the market for monitoring your food internal temperature while you are cooking.  These two work well and I have a lot of experience with both of them.  


Temperature Control Systems


As I mentioned earlier, I have lost interest in being able to remotely monitor the temperature inside my grills.  I know how my grills behave and what to expect from them.  After the grills have settled in at my desired temperature, they typically stay that way without the need for any additional adjustments.  This, in my opinion, makes remote monitoring a useless tool for me.  


If I want to be sure my grill stays at a specific temperature for a long period of time without having to come in and out making vent adjustments all day (or all night) I will use a dedicated temperature control system to perform that task.  


The BBQ Guru Party Q



$129.00 + Adapter Cost ($10 to $25 depending on your Grill)




The Party Q works very well for me on my kamado grills.  This device is simple and straight to the point.  It monitors and controls the temperature in my grill without any need for intervention during the cook as long as the fuel supply (charcoal) is adequate.  What I love about this particular unit is that it's battery operated with four AA batteries.  There is no need for a power cord to be run to the grill to use this device.  The user interface is very intuitive and you can also calibrate the thermometer as needed with a few simple pushes of the button on the controller.  This device attaches to air intake vent with the help of the proper adapter plate.  The 6.5 cfm fan on the unit provides the proper amount of air for your fire to set and keep it at whatever temperature you like.  This device truly makes your grill a set-and-forget cooker.  


The BBQ Guru DigiQ II DX



$185.00 + Fan ($57.00 or $72.00) + Adapter for your grill ($10-$25)


Total Cost: $252.00 to $282.00




The BBQ Guru DigiQ II DX is a step up in the world from the Party Q.  This model works the same way the Party Q does by providing air from a fan to keep you grill at a steady temperature.  The DigiQ II DX monitors the temperature inside your grill AND the internal temperature of the meat you are cooking.  The DigiQ is also powered with an AC adapter rather than batteries, so you need a power source and probably an extension cord to use this unit on your grill.  The DigiQ also has an interesting feature that you can use if you are cooking a big piece of meat that will ramp the grill temperature down as the meat approaches your chosen level of internal temperature.  This can be handy to keep you from over cooking something if you are going to be away from your grill for an extended period of time.  


These two models cover the basics of automatic temperature control.  There are other options on the market, including the IQ110 and IQ120 from http://www.pitmasteriq.com that work pretty well also.  The IQ models are a little less expensive but I'm not a big fan of their 'bulk' when compared to the BBQ Guru products.  


You can also step into the world of remotely controlled automatic temp control systems if you want to fork out the bucks to do it.  If you want to monitor and control your grill from a smart phone or a computer, those options are also available at a premium.  


In Conclusion


What do you NEED?


In my opinion, a serious BBQ cook needs an instant read thermometer, a way to monitor the internal temperature of meat that is being roasted or smoked, and potentially an automatic temperature control system if you intend to leave your grill unattended for a long time.   There is no substitute for having an instant read thermometer.  This is a MUST if you want to produce consistent results from cook to cook.  In reality, that is ALL you need.  Experience will teach you how long to cook a particular cut of meat and even how to tell when it is ready WITHOUT a thermometer.  Since we are all creatures of luxury, the other items on the list are simply nice to have.  


Personally, I would skip the wireless thermometer.  I know that idea is going to stir up a lot of crap but I truly believe it's not necessary.  I do believe it's important to have a temp probe to monitor your meat on longer cooks.  This tool will allow you to keep the grill lid closed instead of having to open it periodically to check your temp.  Keeping the lid closed is important to help maintain the proper temperature inside the grill.  Monitoring the meat temp allows you to avoid this problem.  


If you need or want to be away from your grill for an extended period of time, you can't go wrong with one of the automatic temperature control systems (This is also why I think the wireless thermometer is not a must-have).  They will keep your grill at the proper temperature without you having to think about it.  This will turn your grill into a set-and-forget smoker or roasting oven.  This tool is super handy for managing LONG cooks that run for more than three hours.  The temp control system will allow you to run your grill at 225 degrees (or any other temperature) overnight so you can sleep during the cook and not have to worry about what's going on inside your grill.  


The final thing you NEED is PATIENCE :)  If you don't have time to tend your grill, plan your cook for a day when you do have time.  



*** EXTRAS ***


Video Review of the Thermoworks "ThermoPop"



List Price: $29.00

5 to 6 second temperature readings


I haven't tried this unit yet but I might pick one up just to see how well it works.  

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 Thanks John this is a much needed sticky. It has the potential to eliminate a few thousand of the same questions.


I do think that the Auber is another very good temp controller and it fits the AKORN with out an adapter. It works great but its power supply is sketchy and I ened up with a router powers supply. It is also affordable.

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Also key on using the instant read thermometers is to insert the probe into the longest, thickest side of the food. For example, in a brisket insert the probe in parallel to the grill surface and through the longest axis. Then slowly pull the probe out of the meat and note the lowest temperatures as it comes out. Don't rely on just one spot check; find an average and also the lowest temp.


Thanks for posting this John, it's very good information.

Edited by LargeRedJoe
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  • 3 months later...

Awesome! Bought the PT100 on ebay at a price somewhat less than the Thermoworks. Works just fine. Bought some Thermo Pops for some cooking buddies but haven't hard any reports back yet. I built my own temp controller as referenced in the DYI thread and am working on a Heater Meter. Fun, fun.

Forgot to mention the Maverick 732 which has worked real well.

Edited by ske1eter
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