Raising the IQ of Your BBQ: Next-Generation Grills & Smokers

The latest digital control systems allow you to control your grill by using voice commands or to monitor your grilling temperature remotely. Meanwhile, three manufacturers introduced smaller two-burner gas grills to allow for more room in your backyard or on your patio.

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Beef brisket is considered to be one of the most challenging barbecue meats to smoke, because it typically requires that you monitor a smoker for at least 10 hours to make sure that you maintain a steady cooking temperature of 200 degrees Fahrenheit to 230 degrees F.

If you don’t want to stand by your smoker or grill for 10 hours, you’ll be happy to know that we spoke with four grill experts who believe that built-in Wi-Fi control will be added to grills in the next 3 years. One pellet-grill manufacturer and two third-party grill-accessory makers now have Wi-Fi-enabled controllers that allow you to control and monitor your charcoal grill or smoker through a Web application from anywhere that you have an Internet connection. In other words, you now can put your brisket in the smoker in the morning, watch TV in your living room, follow the progress of the meat on your desktop computer, notebook computer, smartphone or tablet computer and remotely control an air blower to lower or raise the temperature of your smoker as needed to have your brisket cooked by dinner.

MAK Grills, which makes pellet grills, is the first grill manufacturer to produce its own Wi-Fi-enabled controller. The MAK Grills Mobile ($300), which was introduced in 2013, monitors the internal temperature of grilled meat and the internal temperature of the pellet grill through digital probes (three for food temperature, one for smoker temperature) while you, say, watch TV or work indoors. You can track the cooking progress of your meat through the MAK website. You adjust the temperature by clicking a button on a website that remotely operates a small blower that controls the flow of air into the grill. The system notifies you when your food is done through an alarm, an email or a text message. If the network connection is lost, the system automatically lowers the temperature of the grill to smoker mode until the grill runs out of fuel, says Matt Tucker of MAK.

MAK’s system is the latest digital innovation that allows grillers and smokers to “set it and forget it,” as those who are in the industry like to say. However, third-party Wi-Fi monitoring systems now can be added to almost any charcoal grill or pellet grill to do the same thing. BBQ Guru’s CyberQ WiFi ($295) works just like MAK Grills Mobile does and can be operated in a mode to work also with electric grills. Rock’s Bar-B-Que’s Stoker (starting at $330) is the only model that we found that can control multiple smokers remotely at once (starting at $110 for each additional blower, sensor and adapter).

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We’ve seen all three systems, and they work, but we found that they’re difficult to set up and tricky to configure with a Wi-Fi network. Even Bob Trudnak of BBQ Guru admits that the CyberQ WiFi is designed for tech-savvy grillers who know how to troubleshoot wireless networking problems. Four independent experts tell us that the technology will become easier to use over the next 3 years as Wi-Fi-enabled grills become more common.

“If I’m able to control time, temperature, relative humidity and air velocity, I can deliver incredible-tasting products,” says Antonio Mata, who is an independent meat scientist and a product-development specialist. “The technology in these connected grills is going to help cook a better product. It just isn’t quite there yet.”

We also are apprehensive about leaving a grill unattended, and the experts with whom we spoke share our concern. Tucker doesn’t try to dispute that. “You’re definitely going to make sure someone is at the house when the grill is on,” he says.

If you want to “set it and forget it,” you can use any of the 12 digital thermometers (starting at $40) that we found that allow you to monitor your food’s temperature digitally from up to 125 feet away and can help to prevent the food from overcooking. These thermometers use probes to monitor your meat temperature and your grill temperature and use Bluetooth to send alerts and updates to a remote hand-held monitor or to your Apple iOS or Google Android devices.

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