In yesterdays tip, Marcus talked about keeping control of your cooking and a big part of that is making sure your BBQ is at your desired temperature. Controlling the temperature of your BBQ is one of the first skills you will have to learn and, depending on what style of BBQ you are cooking on, it can be one of the trickiest. Gas BBQ’s are a little easier to master as they are closer to a conventional oven in the way they are controlled but charcoal can be trickier.
Before you think about controlling your temperature, you will need a way to monitor it so in this article we will look at the different thermometer options and the pros and cons of all of them. Any of them are a good way to start but some will give you a more accurate reading than others.
Why is it important to monitor your BBQ temperature?
Different foods will cook at different recommended temperatures, similar to how you cook in a conventional oven. An oven includes a thermostat which will monitor the ambient temperature inside the oven and adjust the heat accordingly. Whilst similar devices are available for BBQ’s, most of this is done manually when you are starting out.
If a recipe states that your BBQ temperature should be at 180C, unless you have some way of reading the ambient temperature, you will simply be guessing what the temperature actually is.
I like to think of it this way.
If I asked you to drive a car at 40mph but disconnected the speedometer, you would struggle to maintain a constant speed. There is a good chance you would be second guessing yourself and constantly speeding up or slowing down to what you thought was the target speed.
Add the speedometer back into the equation and now you know exactly what speed you are doing and it is simple to make small adjustments to stay at that constant speed.
Most BBQ’s today will include some form of thermometer to monitor the ambient temperature inside your BBQ. When you are starting out, they are a great way to tell if your BBQ is at the desired temperature however they are not without their flaws.
Depending on the quality of your BBQ, there can sometimes be a dramatic difference between the reading on your hood thermometer and the actual temperature at grill level where your food is cooking.
The placement of the hood thermometer can also be an issue. On a BBQ like a Weber Kettle, the thermometer is placed at the opposite side of the lid to the top air vents. If you are cooking using an indirect heat set up, the vents should be placed above your food to draw heat and smoke from the charcoal, over your food and out the vent. This means that the hood thermometer will be placed directly over the coals giving you a false reading of the temperature where your food is placed.
As long as you are aware of these differences, you can take them into account when setting up your BBQ to your desired temperature.
If you are finding it difficult to judge the grill level temperature based off the hood thermometer reading, you can place a small oven thermometer on the cooking grate beside your food. You can leave this style of thermometer in whilst you are cooking and it will allow you to compare the difference between hood and grill level temperatures.
It is a relatively inexpensive way to get a reading however you have to open the lid to check your temperatures which isn’t ideal as you will be losing heat. Fluctuating temperatures on a BBQ is the number one issue that will slow any cook down. Hence the phrase “ If you’re lookin, you ain’t cookin”!
By comparing the hood and grill level temperatures using this method, you will learn what the difference between them is and it will allow you to better estimate the grill level temperature from your hood readings.
Wired Grill Probe
By far, the easiest and most efficient way to keep track of the temperatures inside your BBQ is using a probe. These have some similarities to an instant read probe however, like the oven thermometer, they can be left in the BBQ for the duration of the cook and will allow you to monitor the temperature from an external unit, allowing you to avoid opening the lid.
There are a number of different probes available with a host of different features. They can be as simple as a single probe, connected to a small unit that sits beside your BBQ and gives you a temperature readout. Some more advanced models will allow you to use multiple probes meaning you can monitor grill temperatures and meat temperatures at the same time. You may also be able to setup alarms that will notify you when your BBQ rises above or drops below a certain temperature range or when your food is ready.
There are a few Bluetooth options available, such as the iGrill by Weber, which allow you to connect to the unit via bluetooth and monitor the readouts from your phone or tablet.
You can go as fancy or as simple as you desire when buying a probe but I would highly recommend buying one that comes with at least 2 probes and has the capacity to add more. The bluetooth features are nice but not essential to get started
Any of these methods will help you to monitor the ambient temperature inside your BBQ with varying levels of accuracy but the key thing is to keep an eye on them and learn how different grill setups affect your temperature.
Most recipes will give you a guide temperature but as long as you are within a range of that guide you won’t run into too many problems. Practice will help you dial in your temperatures and get them closer to where you want them to be.
We are almost at the end of week one of 30 Days to better BBQ but we are just getting started! There are plenty more tips to come, all designed to help you make the most of your BBQ this year and give you the confidence to take your BBQ up a gear! Remember to enter your name and email address below to become a member of the website to receive updates on 30 Days to better BBQ.