I Don’t Need a Pit Controller, I Need Two
If you are going to be wrong, at least be wrong in a way where the right answer is an improvement. Historically I have not felt the need to use a Pit Controller. When I owned my Chargriller Smokin’ Pro horizontal offset barrel smoker, the Yankee in me couldn’t see spending more for a Pit Controller than I had for the smoker itself. When I got the Big Green Egg and saw the stability possible with a ceramic grill, I dismissed a pit controller for a backyard griller like me as an unnecessary toy. My first smoke on my first BGE had gone over 9 hours before I had to tweak the dampers. This served to reinforce my thinking on the matter. Also working from home allowed me to do many cooks during the day that I would have done overnight before. Then I started having a change of heart late last year and bought a BBQ Guru CyberQ WiFi. I have already written a series of blog entries on that topic, which I will link to at the bottom of this entry. In a remarkably short time, I have gone from a skeptic to a total convert. I am actually toying with the idea of getting a second CyberQ. This blog will describe what has caused such a big switch in my line of thinking, and what I have come to love about using a pit controller with my Big Green Egg.
QUALIFIERr: Before i get to the items where I have come around to be a fan of using pit controllers, let me mention one opinion that hasn't changed-now or ever. I would make sure to learn how to light and control your Big Green Egg manually. This will help you know the proper damper openings for the the Dual Function Metal Cap sitting atop the dome of the Egg. With a pit controller you still set these similarly to the way you do manually. The most important reason to know how to manually control your Egg is in case you suddenly have to. Here are three possible scenarios, and it doesn’t take much more imagination to come up with many many more:
Until you can answer all of these questions and a bunch more like them with a resounding YEAH!! Sure!,! I suggest you hold off using a pit controller. Be sure you can light the Egg and cook at all of the various temperature ranges you would use a pit controller for.
- You have a very expensive ($100 plus) beef rib roast on your Egg for Christmas dinner and 30 minutes into your cook the lights go out. A snow covered tree branch has come down from the wind and taken the power line with it, Not a quick fix, particularly on a holiday. Since your oven is electric, you can’t bring the roast inside. You will need to finish the cook manually or risk ruining an expensive piece of meat and having a Holiday Horror Story on your hands. Can you remove the CyberQ and finish cooking the roast at 275 by yourself?
- It is the summer and you are cooking a brisket. It cooked through the night incident free, but now the next morning some severe thunderstorms roll through. You lose the lights for who knows how long, Can you control a low and slow cook without the help of the CyberQ?
- It is Thanksgiving morning and you are going cook your turkey at 325 on your Big Green Egg. Besides giving you a great tasting bird, it frees up your oven for side dishes, desserts etc. You go to light the Egg and turn on the CyberQ and something is wrong and you can’t get it working. Can you start the Egg, get it up to 325 and cook your turkey unassisted?
BENEFITS:Here is what I have learned in my two months if using the CyberQ WiFi:
Total Control: A pit controller takes over from the moment you light your Egg and controls it throughout the entire cook. You have to get the meat on and off at the right times and do any intermediate steps such as mopping, turning etc. at the right time. The CyberCook software I use helps me with this since it has 5 count-up and two count-down timers. But the bottom line is you have to do very little out at the grill.
Trouble Free Startup: One of my favorite things about the CyberQ is how it takes over the startup process. If you are going to be going low and slow, you light the Egg and make sure to set the top vent correctly for the temperature you plan to use. The Egg will start up in the same time frame it normally does with the big added bonus that you don’t need to really keep an eye on things. It saves you making one or more trips to the grill to tweak the dampers. If you are doing a higher temperature cook, then you need to take one additional step to aid the startup. You should leave the top cap off or wide open like you normally do for a higher temperature cook. When the temperature gets to within about 100 degrees (55C) of your desired cooking temperature, you close it down to the setting you would normally use for a manually controlled cook at that temperature. The bonus here is you should not overshoot your desired cooking temperature. If you do happen to overshoot, the CyberQ WiFi should knock it down in 10 minutes or less.
Total Peace of Mind: After a few cooks where you see just how accurately the CyberQ is able to control your cooks, you will be able to relax and go with the flow. This is a bit of an intangible until you experience it for yourself, but it is really a great feature. The CyberQ WiFi is typically controlling my main dish and there is something wonderful about handing off these duties. Your main dish is often an expensive cut of meat. Knowing the CyberQ has things under control and you don’t need to sweat this item is very relaxing. It doesn’t hurt that the CyberQ seems to be able to control the cook better than you could manually. You have delegated the most important function of a cooking session (the main meat) to a device that can do a better job than you could. This is a big win.
Worry Free Overnight Cooks: With my CG Smokin’ Pro I was lucky to get two hours of steady cooking temp before I needed to make a tweak. I would sometimes take a two hour cat nap several hours into the cook, but I can tell you it was not a restful sleep. As a result on the next day I would be tired and groggy, not the best way to be doing a cook.The Big Green Egg is a very stable grill. As I mentioned my first low and slow went 9 hours without requiring any vent tweaks. I had not done any overnight cooks on my Eggs, but recently I had been toying with the idea. I figured to light the Egg early enough to be extra sure it was stabilized at the cooking temperature before adding the food. I was reasonably sure I could then let it run unattended for 6 hours or so without the temps getting too far out of range. After seeing how amazingly accurate the CyberQ was on daytime cooks, I had zero worries turning over a 16 hour brisket cook to the CyberQ WiFi and CyberCook software. I also used the CyberCook Mini software for my iPhone which I can bring with me when I go to bed. I just needed to decide what to do about the alarms.
The software I use to control the CyberQ: CyberCook has very loud alarms you can enable to warm you if the pit temps go out of range or one of the foods reaches it’s doneness temp early. CyberCook also gives you a warning if the CyberQ looses the WiFi network for more than 15 seconds. If the condition persists for 3 minutes, you get a second warning which is called a power failure warning, This warning has this name because a power failure is a most likely cause for this type of interruption. For an overnight cook you have to decide which type interruption is more important to you. If you have a weak WiFi signal out by your cooker which sometimes drops too low, you must decide what to do. The CyberQ will continue to function without a WiFi signal. It simply uses the last settings stored in it. By not having a WiFi signal you lose the alarms function. Also if you are graphing your cook you will lose the data from the time period you are off the network. So with CyberCook I decide which I don’t want to lose: Sleep or WiFi Connectivity. If I don’t want to lose sleep, I turn off the alarms and live with the consequences: missing graph data and lack of probe alarms. A power failure wakes me up anyway because all my computers are on Uninterruptible Power Supplies which have their own alarm. If I don’t want to lose WiFi I turn on the alarms. I will lose some sleep, but I may be able to get my CyberQ back on the WiFi Network.
Remote Control: With a WiFi enabled pit controller like the CyberQ WiFi, you can monitor and control most aspects of the cook from your Kitchen or anywhere else where you can see the WiFi network. This saves you some time and you’ll really appreciate it on those sib-zero days where you are able to remain in the warm and toasty Kitchen.
Less Trips out to the Grill: One of the things I discovered when I added my third Egg, was even though the Egg can be very stable and requires few trips out to the grill, three Eggs still add up to a decent sized number of trips. They never seem to be needed at the same time. I am often cooking things 3 different ways, with 3 different setups and 3 different cooking temperatures. Having a pit controller on one of the three Eggs doesn't reduce trips out to the Egg by 1/3, but it is close. This frees up lots of time for more uninterrupted prep or dealing with getting ready for your guests to arrive. Because the combination of the CyberQ and the CyberCook software will typically just get things done for you and warn you if things aren’t going right, you are able to focus more on other tasks. You don’t have to keep double checking readings on your Mavericks to make sure you don’t need to head out to the grill to adjust something. This is a bit of an intangible until you experience it. You suddenly notice you are getting more done because you aren’t running out to the grill as much and aren’t glancing at the temps every minute to make sure they don’t get away from you.
Less Problems with Opening the Lid: This can be an area where you get into lots of trouble and you don’t need this extra trouble during a cook. When you open the lid you are lowering the pit temp, but this is also combustion air. The Egg is a closed system which uses very little air to keep the fire going. Your opening the lid initially causes a temperature drop. The amount and duration of this temperature drop can vary depending on the time of year. But then you may find when the Egg recovers, it shoots right past your pit temperature and heads up 100 degrees (55C) beyond. You are tempted to open up the vents to try to recover quickly from the initial loss, but you may be setting yourself up for a temperature spike. The beauty of the CyberQ WiFi is it micro-manages the temps in a way you can’t. It also has a feature you can enable called “Open Lid Detect”. If you have this feature on and the CyberQ decides your temperature drop was caused by an open lid, it holds off turning on the blower fan to see if the temps rebound on their own. If the temps don’t rise or don’t rise fast enough, it turns on the blower fan and starts carefully trying to raise the pit temp. Also unlike you opening and closing the damper in large coarse amounts several minutes apart, the CyberQ turns the blower fan on and off in short bursts. This works better to prevent unwanted temperature spikes. Under human control you often get a series of overshoot and undershoots until you settle back in to the right temp. These are all trips out to the grill, which are avoided when using the CyberQ. The CyberQ deals with open lid conditions VERY, VERY well. When I added a 16 pound brisket to my Egg I had to fiddle around with the meat and temperature probe positions to get the lid to close tightly. The lid was open far longer than I wanted and I lost 100 degrees (55C). The CyberQ got it back to 275F (135C) within 20 minutes and with ZERO overshoot. I did not have to lift a finger and got to stay inside and deal with other things.
Less Problems with Temperature Changes:The CyberQ WiFi does a great job handling your needs to raise the pit temperature in the middle of a cook. I recently cooked a series of roasts from the same cookbook, which all required going from 275-350 (135-177C) to finish up. The meat had been wrapped in foil and was brought back to the Kitchen to rest in the foil while the pit came up to temperature, The recipes said this would take 20-30 minutes. The first test cook I did was a food free dry run, where I did the identical cook without any food involved. This recipe had this type of temperature change. I opened the lid for the amount of time it would take to get a real roast of the grill. Under control of the CyberQ, it tok 25 minutes to go from 275 (135C) before the lid was opened, to 350 (177C). I have done this for real 3 more times since then, and it has taken 25-30 minutes each time and with no overshoot. The beauty of this is I can devote my attentions to other things during this 30 minutes. I don’t need to worry about keeping a close eye on my remote read thermometer and be on call at a moments notice to close the dampers down to try to settle in at the new temp. I worked for 25 minutes undisturbed without even thinking about this. At 25 minutes I looked at my iPad running CyberCook to confirm the Egg was up to 350 (177C), then I unwrapped the meat and returned it to the Egg, As mentioned before, the CyberQ deals easily with the open lid condition. Once again all of these “one less things to do” items are a bit of an intangible that all ad up.
Accurate Temperature Probes: The temperature probes in the CyberQ are not the typical less expensive thermistor based probes, but the faster more accurate thermocouple type probes found in high end instant read thermometers like the Thermapen. I’m sure this comes from the pit controllers heritage as an essential device on the competition BBQ circuit. What this means to you is fast, consistent and highly accurate readings.
Effortless Graphing: Using the CyberCook software for my iPad, I can begin the process of creating a graph of my cook in a minute or so. You create a new Cooking Session and fill in some info such as the grill, charcoal, wood chips etc. You start the session and at this point you are able to create a recording to graph the cook. You can set the time interval readings are taken from every minute to every hour. I like 5 minutes readings. After this, as long as you keep your iPad powered up and keep CyberCook as the front most app you will get a graph of your entire cook. You do not have to do another thing. Contrast this with my old method. I needed to run out to the Kitchen every 15 or 30 minutes (depending on my mood) to take a reading on my Maverick remote read thermometer, I had to use the Maverick in the Kitchen because the foil faced sheathing on my house weakened the signal to the point that the signal only reached the Kitchen. Then I would look at a weather app and get the temperature reading for a weather station at a school 2 miles (3.25km) away from my house. I would write the info down on a sheet of paper and later on I needed to enter it into a chart on my computer. If I wanted to take a nap, that would be at the expense of getting readings during that time. Fast forward to today: I create a Cooking Session in CyberCook and push a button to record the session. At this point there is no further action required by me. I can take a nap or do other things and I know my cook is being recorded and graphed. I use the third food probe, which I normally don’t need for a food item, to record the air temp. When I light the Egg I position this third probe outside the Egg in a slot in the mounting bracket for the CyberQ. I can scroll and look at any section of this graph throughout the cook. Tapping on a pit temperature reading point on the graph brings up a popover menu with readings for the Pit Probe and 3 Food Probes at that time in the cook. The graphing functions are one of my greatest pleasures owning the CyberQ WiFi/CyberCook hardware software combination.
Off-Site Monitoring: If you get your CyberQ WiFi on your WiFi network, with some changes to a couple of other settings on your router, you can make your CyberQ accessible over the internet. You can use the built in web server software of the CyberQ or use software like the CyberCook software I use to access it on the road. This gives you a lot of flexibility and peace of mind. You know the CyberQ is going to do an excellent job controlling your grill. This gives you way of keeping am eye on things without having to be tethered to your grill. More importantly, you can keep an eye on the food temperature because this is something not under direct control of the CyberQ.Your food can be cooking up faster or slower than expected. Knowing this allows you to raise or lower the pit temperature from your current remote location. If need be, you can head home sooner so you arrive before the food is done.
More Accurate / Less Fluctuations: I am quite good at getting and keeping my Egg dialed in to my desired cooking temperature. I shoot for +/- 10 degrees (+/- 5.5C) and live with +/- 20 degrees (+/- 11C ). So far my Egg, when controlled by the CyberQ, has been amazingly accurate. It rarely overshoots the desired cooking temperature and other than dips caused by opening the lid it doesn’t run low very often at all. It does run slightly low more often than it overshoots. On one 16 hour cook I had one spike where it went +6F (+3.4C) and one dip where it went -8F (-4.4C) low. The rest of the time, the temps were within +/-2F (+/-1C) over a 16 HOUR time period. The best human Egg cook out there couldn’t hope to match that level of accuracy. Enough said.
Better Connectivity: The CyberQ uses standard WiFi networking and TCP/IP, just like the other devices on your wireless network. The Maverick remote read thermometers use some form of wireless connectivity, but I can tell you first hand it isn’t as good. My house had foil faced sheathing placed on it when I got vinyl siding. Before the siding was installed, I used to get wireless connectivity all over the house, but it only reached half of the Kitchen after the siding was installed. Using WiFi I get a decent signal out in the back yard through the use of a WiFi Range Extender. Then the CyberQ’s signal is available all throughout my house via my WiFi network. The Maverick transmitter either reaches it’s receiver or it doesn’t. There is no range extender for it. Also because the CyberQ is using standard TCP/IP over WiFi, it is accessible anywhere in the world you have internet connectivity.
Frees Up Your Time: Many of these items have mentioned how using the CyberQ WiFi / CyberCook hardware/software combination has served to make life easier and allow me to be more efficient. The end result is I am either getting more done in the same amount of time or having some free time I can spend with my guests. Having CyberCook Mini on my iPhone has allowed me to sneak out and run some errands in the middle of a long cook, when I otherwise might have felt compelled to stay around the house. My iPhone is with me most everywhere I go, so I am able to go anywhere in the house, relax, watch TV, read or surf the web will waiting for the CyberQ to warm my grill up. I can check on the progress anywhere in the house. I have also been able to sit down with my guests before dinner and not have to keep running into the Kitchen to peek at my Maverick remote read thermometers. A quick glance at my iPhone keeps me informed. I can look over at my iPad while doing prep in the Kitchen and set everything at a glance. I really don’t have to do this very often because the the CyberQ has it under control and if it doesn’t CyberCook will sound a very loud and hard to miss alarm to let me know. Using a pit controller and software to extend it’s capabilities has taken away some of the things that aren’t necessarily unpleasant to do, but necessary evils. Once you find there are better uses of your time you won’t want go back.
CYBERQ WIFI BLOG SERIES: EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - Part 1 What is a Pit Controller & why would someone want one?
EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - Part 2 Why did I choose to but the BBQ Guru CyberQ WiFi?
EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - Part 3 WiFi Networking overview and setting up an Adhoc WiFi connection on the CyberQ WiFi.
EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - Part 4 Setting up an Infrastructure mode WiFi Network Connection. More difficult but more capabilities.
EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - Part 5 Attaching the CyberQ to a grill/smoker.
EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - Part 6 First impressions after several cooks.
CYBERCOOK: CYBERCOOK - CYBERQ WiFi SOFTWARE iOS Software that enhances your use of the CyberQ. It makes it faster and easier to use & adds capabilities such as Logging/Graphing your cooks.
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