One of the best perks of being a gear reviewer is being able to borrow gadgets and the specialized tools to help test them. I don't get to keep these things I test, but more often than not, that's just fine. Last summer, though, I called in a ThermoWorks Smoke thermometer to help me test a grill and it was so useful, I bought it. When a new accessory called the Smoke Gateway—which puts the Smoke's data to good use—I bought that, too.
Understanding and mastering the control of heat, and being consistent in that mastery are some of the most important tenets of cooking. Used together, the Smoke and Smoke Gateway give you the ability to make hardware like your grill and your oven more accurate, and make you a better, more consistent cook. If mastering heat is a place you want to go, using these tools is like a freshly paved HOV lane to get you there faster.
For now, this involves two purchases: The Smoke (technically the "Smoke 2-Channel Wireless Alarm"), a $99 two-probe thermometer with an easy-to-read base station and a radio-frequency remote; and the Smoke Gateway, an $89 accessory referred to as a "Wi-Fi bridge," which uses RF to connect to the base station and relays its data to your phone via the cloud. Some people will get very excited about the ability to zip down to the mall and check their brisket temp in the Smoke Gateway app from the parking lot, but its real power is being able to chart that temperature on the app, giving you a visual understanding of what's happening. You can see a time-temperature graph of what's going on inside your oven or grill without opening the door; you can understand the heat. This enhancement of a tried-and-true piece of kitchen hardware is some of the smartest work of the smart kitchen.
I started wishing for capabilities like these when reviewing the Weber Genesis grill using an iGrill 2 thermometer and the stopwatch on my phone to log data manually, essentially building the graph by hand. It was worse when I tried to monitor the internal temperature of foods in the luxurious Weber Summit with a handheld thermometer, dumping heat every time I opened the lid to check on my food.
I would have loved it for the Traeger Timberline, when I had the Smoke alone and did a lot of babysitting to figure out that both the Traeger's internal thermocouple and the probe gauge were off and that it had trouble steadily holding the low-and-slow temperatures that should be its forte. When the brisket I had in there encountered what's known as "the stall," that graph would have been definitive proof and visual certainty that the meat's internal temperature had plateaued.
Once I bought the Smoke Gateway, I quickly learned how underpowered the Tasty One Top was when following their recipe for fried chicken, tracking the fry oil temperature using the high-heat probe that comes with the Smoke, conveniently threaded through a $4 clip on the edge of my Dutch oven. Here, the graph showed the expected drop in temperature and the less expected slow (slow, slow) reheating between batches.
Out of the batch frying and into the Mellow countertop sous vide machine, I could see that machine spent way (way, way) too long in the danger zone when cooling food, needlessly courting disaster.
At home, I got to know my own appliances better, first using the Smoke's included "Air Probe" to track temperatures in my electric oven. I turned on the app, set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, went and did other stuff for half an hour, and came back to learn that the oven doesn't get up to temperature quite as quickly as it thinks it does, but after 12 minutes, it settled in at 358 degrees, a number which, as far as ovens go, rhymes with great. Interestingly, when I switched to convection heat for a later test, it ran about five degrees low, but still, that's fine.
On my humble, hardworking, three-burner Weber Spirit grill, I learned that cranking up just the left burner to high on a cool day would give me a classic "two-zone" setup with searing capabilities on the left third and a consistent 225 degrees Fahrenheit of indirect heat on the right. Dropping the left burner to medium and the middle burner to low, I could cook on indirect heat at 325 degrees. I'll double-check this when the outdoor temperature warms up come springtime, but having that graph on the app and the readout on the base speeds the process of hitting these marks, and assures it's consistent.
For kicks, I even tested my friend Julie's old Kitchen Aid gas oven before I cooked a tray full of bacon in it, setting the oven to 375 and watching the Smoke's probe settle in at 371. Not bad!
What I like so much about the Smoke/Smoke Gateway setup is how it allows you to understand not only what's happening inside of your roast or brisket, but it also shows what's happening with the tools we use at home everyday, and understand how to use them to their fullest potential. My oven's not that far out of whack, but many are. I now know the next time I have a recipe that calls to roast something at 350 degrees, that I should set the oven for 340.
Sometimes, I'm happy to crack open a beer, shoot the breeze with a buddy and wing it on the grill, but the Smoke Gateway setup allows me to see and know exactly what's happening. For my reviews, this info can be a clear early indicator of quality, helping me judge whether to recommend a product or run away screaming. Without much bother, it'll tell you if it's time to have your oven calibrated, or how to make the most of your grill, or smoker, or fryer.
The Smoke and Smoke Gateway combo isn't a perfect setup. For now, at least, you can only save five graphs at a time on the app, and it can't put two probes' worth of information on the same graph. Its exporting abilities could certainly be improved—for now, you can only export a spreadsheet, not a graph, but this is very clearly a first effort and it's easy to imagine updates to improve the app and an all-in-one (or two) model being rolled out in the future.
But you know what's awesome? Instead of releasing a whole new piece of hardware and leaving the owners of the original Smoke in the dust, ThermoWorks gave an existing machine new capabilities—what a blast of fresh air in the age of planned obsolescence!
It's worth noting (and applauding) here that Weber's line of iGrill thermometers and their app now have very similar capabilities and cost much less. Comparatively, I prefer the Smoke/Smoke Gateway, particularly as it has a large number of probe choices for different applications, a big readout, and that rock-steady RF connection. The iGrill has only two probe style options and the iGrill Mini and iGrill3 have no base-station readout which makes no sense at all, but I like the $99 iGrill2 and the iGrill app is slick and has become better over time. If you use and enjoy the iGrills, there's almost no reason to consider switching.
Yes, like its name/names, the Thermoworks Smoke/Smoke Gateway is a bit clunky, but put them to good use and you'll get more out of your appliances, better understand what you're cooking, and do nothing less than become a better, more consistent cook.