5 Smart GRILLING Gadgets to Up Your BBQ Game. Meater, FlameKing, ThermPRO and More.November 9, 2020
Today on the hookup I’m going to show you how to make your next BBQ a little bit smarter and ease some of the stress that can come with everyone’s favorite CDC approved get together.
Hi, my name is Rob and I suffer from barbeque anxiety. I love cooking, and entertaining, but whenever it’s time to throw meat on the grill I have two primary concerns: first, I’m always concerned about walking the fine line between perfectly cooked meat and giving my guests food poisoning. And second, have you ever run out of propane in the middle of a barbeque? I have, and it sucks.
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Do you remember what it was like to drive somewhere unfamiliar before GPS? Depending on how old you are, your memories may be of foldable maps and a magnifying glasses, or using mapquest to get turn by turn directions, which you’d then print out and keep with you in the passengers seat. Either way, if you’ve been driving more than 15 years or so you should remember when it wasn’t possible to just jump in your car and drive to a completely new address without some prep work.
In the same way that GPS revolutionized driving, leave in grilling thermometers have revolutionized grilling for me. All the uncertainty, guesswork, and skill of grilling is gone, and every piece of meat comes out perfectly cooked, no matter the size, type or cut… without the need for any prior research.
Previously, I’ve relied on sous vide to ease my stress and ensure my steak and chicken was safe to eat, but not overcooked, but if you’ve ever messed around with it, you’ll know it’s not exactly a quick process and not something you want to dealing with when you have family and friends around ready to socialize. With leave in thermometers, you can spend more time with your friends and family and less time worrying about your cooking.
My first experience with this new cooking technique was with the high end “Meater” Block, which costs $279 and gives you 4 wireless probes, a nice mount, and the ability to use their standalone LCD interface, or the meater app on your phone. And This. thing. is. incredible… but it kind of should be for $279, so I felt like it was important for me to explore other options that aren’t so hard on the wallet.
To do that, I bought the top selling wired solution on Amazon, made by ThermPro for $43 and I also picked up the less expensive meater solution, the meater plus $99… although if you think about it, 4 meater pluses would cost significantly more than a meater block.
The ThermPro has a standalone display that shows the temperature of each of the four probes, as well as a Bluetooth app that allows you to set up each probe for a specific type and preparation of meat. The main unit will beep at you when the meat reaches its desired temperature so you know when to take it off the grill. The ThermPro is easy to setup and easy to use and accomplishes basically everything that the meater block does for a fraction of the price. But I would still highly recommend the meater block.
With the Meater Block you get 4 WIRELESS probes and the ability to setup the cook directly on the block, rather than using a phone… and those two small things make all the difference in the world to me. Raw meat is sticky and messy, and even a little dangerous, and the last thing I want to do when working with raw meat is be swiping around on my phone so the ability to use the built in LCD to set up my cook is a night and day difference between the meater block and the thermpro, but it’s not even the biggest advantage.
Wireless probes are a game changer. When you set up the probes on the ThermPro each will have a wire leading from your meat to the base station, and there are two problems with wires on the grill. First, as you move the meat around to avoid hot spots and get an even cook those wires get tangled. Second, if one cut of meat finishes cooking before the rest, you’ll need to untangle it to be able to remove it from the grill and Last, when you transfer your meat to the cooked platter you’ve got two options with the thermpro: either use a glove to remove the probe, in which case you’re going to lose a lot of hot juices. or unplug the wire from the base and just let the probe wire dangle off the side of your platter… two not great options in my book.
With the meater block, you leave the probes in. In fact, the meater will tell you when to remove your meat from the grill, but it will also tell to how long to “rest” the meat before removing the probe.
This channel is usually all about making small tradeoffs to save some money, but in this case I think the Meater block may be legitimately worth 6 times the price. One of my biggest problems with these cooking gadgets is that if they are inconvenient to use I know they will just sit in a drawer and never get used again. The meater block is simple to use, simple to clean and is something that I’m pretty sure I will end up using every time I fire up the grill.
If you do want to get fancy and use your phone or a tablet with the meater block, it also can connect to your network via WiFi and use their cloud service so you can monitor your meat from any distance, even from a completely remote location. Not fancy enough? The creators of the meater, apption labs, have an open web API to allow you to access data from your meater and build custom programs and integrations with your smart home. I seriously love this thing… and it’s got to be one of the best “gift for the guy who has everything” options I’ve ever experienced. Fathers day, Christmas, groundhogs day, whatever your occasion, I can pretty much guarantee that this is a gift that will not only be well received, but will also get used regularly… and no, this is not a paid sponsorship.
I do have two minor annoyances with the meater block: First, it can only use 2.4gigahertz wifi, which gave me a little bit of trouble at first since I had my outside access point setup for the 5 gigahertz band only, and second, there’s an option to plug in USB instead of using the AA batteries, but the usb plug is on the side, so if I wanted to permanently mount the meater block to my outdoor kitchen there’s no good way to hide the wire. Super minor inconveniences in an otherwise amazing product.
The meater plus? That was a miss for me. No on screen display, a single probe, Bluetooth only, and a pretty steep price tag make it a no go, at least for my application. I could see how it might be useful if you were smoking one large brisket, but the meater block is so far superior in every way that I don’t think I’d recommend the meater plus as a lower cost replacement.
Okay, one cookout stressor taken care of, on to the next: How much propane is left in the tank? Up until a few weeks ago, my solution to monitoring propane levels was super low tech: A line pressure valve in between the propane tank and the gas line for the grill. But for me it seemed like the arrow always jumped from “everything is fine” to “sorry, no more propane” within a single cook.
In search of a better option I found three different types of solutions: Bottom mounted ultrasonic sensors, weight based sensors, and float based sensors that require something called an R3D ready propane tank… which you probably don’t have on your grill, since they are generally only installed on much larger tanks.
$50 and a few days later I had both the flame king weight based sensor, and the Mopeka ultrasonic sensor in hand.
My initial impressions were great… better than I ever expected. I installed two AA batteries in the flame king and put it under the tank, after switching the power on, and pressing the sync button, the flameking app connected via Bluetooth and showed me that my tank was 44% full, easy and exactly what I was looking for.
The Mopeka sensor installed under the tank with magnets, so I followed the instructions, cleaned up the bottom surface of the tank and put a pea sized bead of the included petroleum jelly onto the sensor tab. After holding down the synch button to activate the device it was discovered via bluetooth in the Mopeka app and it read 42% and I was honestly blown away at how similar the two readings were, making me wonder why there were so many poor reviews of these devices.
Later that night I grilled some chicken breast and in the middle of the cook I got an alert from the Mopeka device that the tank was empty, which was a surprise since it was at 42% just a few hours earlier. I decided to double check the tank level in the Flameking app, but the flameking app refused to connect via Bluetooth… The reviews were starting to make sense.
Of course, the switch and the sync button for the flame king are on the bottom of the unit, so you have to remove the propane tank to trouble shoot, and unsurprisingly, after lifting the propane tank back off of the flameking base so I could flip the switch on and off it magically decided to reconnect and confirmed that my tank was still over 40% full.
Suspecting user error on my ultrasonic sensor I went online and read that the sensor is very sensitive to tank corrosion and placement, so I cleaned the contact surface again and made sure it was in the dead center… but the tank still reads empty. In fact, I haven’t been able to make the mopeka sensor work again since the first day, and since there’s likely some complex math and engineering going into the propane calculations of an ultrasonic sensor it’s not likely that I’ll be able to fix it or modify it even if I wanted to.
The flameking product on the other hand is about as simple of a concept as you can get: An empty propane tank weighs 17 pounds, and a 20 pound propane tank gets filled with 20 pounds of propane, giving it an overall weight of 37 pounds. If you can semi accurately measure the weight of the tank, then calculating the % of propane left is just middle school math.
Taking apart the inexpensive Flame King device reveals an absolutely no frills design where cost has been reduced to an absolute minimum. Instead of a typical 4 load cell network like you’d find on a digital bathroom scale, the flame king uses a 3 load cells to save some costs. The only other components are a cheap battery holder for two AA batteries that are not included, and a small logic chip with a Bluetooth transmitter.
Aside from my connection issue and the annoyance caused by the terrible switch location there is one other serious issue with the flame king: According to their own documentation, the two AA batteries that are used, but not included, can last UP TO 3 months, UP TO, meaning probably less. I use my grill once or twice a week and I can’t remember the last time I went through a propane tank in under 3 months, meaning I’ll be replacing the batteries on my tank monitor more than the tank itself.
Why not just turn off the unit so it doesn’t drain the batteries, and turn it on before a cookout? Maybe I would if they hadn’t mounted the switch on the bottom of the unit in a completely inaccessible location!
I also spent about 3 hours trying to reverse engineer the Bluetooth signals so I could capture them in home assistant, my home automation platform, but after a few setbacks and the annoyance of the Bluetooth signal randomly dropping out I decided to just say screw it and build my own out of some scrap plywood and an $8 load sensor kit from amazon. I already had a nodeMCU wifi controller for my landscape leds and my countertop leds, so it was easy to just wire this into some spare pins and write a little bit of code to send the propane values to home assistant via MQTT. I’m planning on doing at least a write up on my website on how I did it, but if you’re interested leave a comment below and I may make a whole video on it.
Zemismart, Moes, Tuya, if you’re watching, this is a product with a large market and no good options, that could be wildly profitable if you got it right, especially with a nice rechargeable battery and the option to use a wired power supply.
Did I miss any essential barbeque gadgets? Let me know down in the comments. Thank you to all of my awesome patrons over at patreon for your continued support of my channel. If you’re interested in supporting my channel please check out the links in the description. If you enjoyed this video please hit that like button and consider subscribing, and as always, thanks for watching the hookup.