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CyberCook-A Fresh Look-Pt. 1

First Image
This is the continuation of a recent blog entry I wrote: EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - 2016 where I talked about using my Pit Controllers after a 6 month time out. I got a fresh perspective on things after the time away. My intention was to follow that right up with this entry on the CyberCook software I use on my iPad to control the Cyber Q WiFi. When I was getting ready to write the blog entry, I was asked to be a Beta tester for a new version of the software. I held up writing this blog entry so I wouldn’t have to worry about talking about things that may change with the new version. When I started writing this entry I decided to make it a two part entry. Part 1 (here) will discuss my fresh perspective on using CyberCook after some time away from it. PART 2 will be a discussion of the new features in CyberCook v3.0.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Last year I bought and paid for CyberCook after buying, trying and disliking several other solutions. I had some questions which the developer, answered in great detail. We got into some email discussions about features. CyberCook was developed at first for completion BBQ teams. I gave him a lot of feedback on the app from the perspective of a backyard BBQer. He valued this information was nice enough to give me a code where I could get a free copy of CyberCook Mini for the iPhone. Total cost: $6.99. The update to Version 3 of CyberCook was a free update for all at the time I am writing this. If you add up the amount of time I spent writing emails with reports about the two versions of CyberCook I’ve used, my hourly rate would be measured in cents per hour. I will leave it to the person reading this whether my opinion can be bought for $6.99.



BACKGROUND
Last year around this time I wrote a series of blog entries about my CyberQ WiFi. I also wrote an entry on the pit controller software I finally found to use with my iPad: CyberCook. This was after I tried several other pieces of software I paid for, tried out and ended up hating. These other programs were overly complex, hard to set up and had hideous user interfaces. CyberCook had the features I need, a nice user interface and worked well. I used this software for about 3 months and then had to take a hiatus from grilling for 6 months. When I began grilling again and using my CyberQ WiFi again, I began having troubles getting the CyberQ WiFI on my network. So while I could use the CyberQ as a pit controller, I couldn’t view it’s readings or control the device remotely. I found after 6 months off, I had a new perspective on the CyberQ. To use CyberCook, the built-in web-based interface, or any other pit controller software the device must be able to see the WiFi network, It turned out my router was in a slow death spiral. Once I replaced the router, I was able to start using CyberCook again. At this point 9 months had passed and I also had a fresh perspective on using the software. Unlike last winter, I now had spent 3 months using the pit controller without any software. When I was able to start using CyberCook again, it was different than a totally new user’s experience. I knew exactly what the software could do. I just might not remember the specifics of using a particular feature. One thing that sets CyberCook apart from most software these days is it’s documentation. There is a quick start type guide about the features as well as a full fledged users manual. I wrote a blog on my fresh perspective regarding the CyberQ WiFi. I planned on the second part of this blog being a fresh perspective on CyberCook v2. I was asked to be a beta tester for v3, and I postponed the blog entry. Instead of writing about an old version of the software you could no longer buy, I could talk about the current version of the software. This portion of the blog will cover what using this 3rd party pit controller software adds to the equation. In PART 2, I will talk about some of the new features of this release.

WHAT IS CYBERCOOK?
CyberCook is a piece of iOS software written specifically for the iPad. It displays the information that the CyberQ WiFi broadcasts over the WiFi network. These include the readouts for the pit temperature probe and the 3 probes and fan output. It also allows you to remotely change many of the settings on the CyberQ such as: the desired pit temperature, allowable pit temperature deviations, food probe temperatures, and customize the names of the probes. If you know the WAN address of your network you can view and change this information anywhere in the world you can get an internet connection. Now all of this can be done by bringing up a web browser and entering the IP address of the CyberQ. You get a very crude interface to do this. CyberCook provides a much cleaner and easy to use interface. But this is not all. CyberCook lets you go beyond what you can do with the built-in browser based software that comes with the CyberQ WiFi. CyberCook lets you:
  • Store Information About Your Cook - Items such as event name, the date, the grill/smoker you used, the charcoal, smoking wood. air temperature and any notes you may wish to input.
  • Create a Graph of the Cook - This is a huge feature for me. Having a graph of previous similar cooks helps give you insight into the current cook. I place big value on of having historical information about my cooks. Since I was not going to get more than an hour or two of sleep any way with my CG Smoker, I sometimes used to actually stay up so I could get reading every 30 minutes throughout a cook.
  • Recall Stored Cooks - Any saved cooking session can be recalled together with it’s graph. You can quickly toggle back and forth between your active cook and any stored session to compare the results.
  • More Timers - There is a screen with customizable timers: 2 count up (elapsed time) timers and 4 count down timers. There is another count-down timer on the main Control Panel screen.
  • Highly Customizable Alarms - You get a much higher degree of control over the alarms than you get with the built-in alarms of the CyberQ. You are able to set various thresholds to avoid nuisance alarms. Version 3 added an even higher degree of control over the alarms. While some of these alarm settings are primarily of interest to competition cooks, many are also very useful to backyard cooks.

WHAT DO I NEED TO USE CYBER COOK
:For CyberCook v3.0 you need an iPad2 or newer running iOS9.

CYBERCOOK REDUX

Big Picture: Historically I only saw a compelling use case for pit controllers for cooks on the competition BBQ cooking circuit. They needed to control multiple pits over long amounts of time with a high degree of accuracy. I toyed around with the idea of getting a BBQ Guru pit controller for my CG Smokin’ Pro smoker. Ultimately it seemed like a questionable venture to spend more money on a pit controller than the cost of the whole smoker. Then I got my first Big Green Egg. I saw how relatively easy it was to control and how it could run for 10 hours or more at a stable temperature. To me getting a pit controller seemed crazy and an unnecessary luxury. At best I used to have to run outside every hour or two. With a stable Egg I could go 10 hours or more. If I didn’t need a pit controller for the CG, it made even less sense for a Big Green Egg. Then after 3 years, I was suddenly up to 3 Eggs. Individually a Big Green Egg can be easy to control and doesn’t require many trips out to babysit it. Having and using 3 Big Green Eggs at once for a single cook is a bit of a different story, Each Egg is still easy to control, but you are making more trips outside, longer trips outside or both.

For Christmas of 2014 I was going to be cooking a USDA prime grade standing rib roast together with baked goods, desserts and side dishes on all 3 of my grills as well as making some items indoors. There was only one of me doing all of this. The thought of overcooking a rather expensive roast because my time was divided between too many things kept haunting me. While I made several items ahead of time, there was still going to be lots of things to do Christmas morning. The thought of getting a pit controller to take the control one grill off my hands occurred to me. Assuming it was as accurate as everyone said, I could focus the time saved on other things. A potential future use was on long overnight cooks. I had done some during the day with my Eggs, but no overnighters. I was 95 percent sure I could stabilize my Egg and successfully do an overnight cook, but a pit controller would help insure success. Plus I could get a good night’s sleep knowing if anything did go wrong, I would be alerted right away. In addition to freeing up some time and being ideal for overnight cooks, a third feature loomed large in my decision to buy a WiFi enabled pit controller: graphing and archiving past cooks. With the right third party software this valuable feature was a button push away.

First Cook-Built-in Software: When I started using CyberCook and the CyberQ WiFi I was amazed at how much time it saved, how accurate and dependable it was and the peace of mind it gave me. I did a dry run test of the CyberQ WiFi with just the built in software on an empty Egg a day before. I kept my iPad in the Kitchen and once the fire was lit I took my iPhone with me to run some errands. At every stop I checked in on how the CyberQ was doing. I found the CyberQ was able to control the Egg as well or better than I could. It easily handled a 30 minute indoor rest for the meat where the Egg needed to have the temperature raised to sear the meat. I discovered my new setup had reduced the required trips outside to the bare minimum:
  • I needed to light the Egg, but then could let the pit controller get the Egg to temperature for me while I was inside.
  • I needed to put the meat on the Egg, but then the pit controller got the Egg back to the proper cooking temp.
  • If the recipe required basting, mopping, turning, flipping etc. I needed to go out for that too, and could go back inside to continue other work.
  • The pit-controller could handle any recipe required temperature changes with ease too.
More time on my hands and peace of mind. Cooking on 3 Eggs had become a little stressful and complex. This had happened incrementally over time but the CyberQ lightened the load from the first use. Three months later I picked up a DigiQ (non-WiFi) pit controller to control my baking Egg and life got even simpler.

CyberCook Then: It took me a little while to settle on a third party iOS based software to use with my CyberQ. The built in software worked in a pinch. I wanted to be able to graph my cook and enable some of the extra features which you could only do via 3rd party software. It took me buying, trying and hating several other pieces of 3rd party software before I found CyberCook. Using CyberCook took things to a new level. I could leave my iPad on the counter and could view the easy to read control panel from anywhere in my kitchen. With the Cyber Q’s somewhat simplistic web based interface, you had to walk up to the iPad to see anything and the iPad could go to sleep on you. CyberCook was visible across the room and could be set to stay on if it was the foreground app visible on screen. I got alarms that would wake the dead. These sounded if the pit had gone out of the temperature range I set or if my food was done. When I was awake I knew I would hear them from any room in the house. I got to graph and save my cooks. Additionally you could enter information about the grill used, the charcoal, woods, and any other pertinent info about each cook. These could be printed out or recalled in the future. CyberCook had suddenly made using my Egg like I was using the indoor oven in my Kitchen. Adding CyberCook Mini on my iPhone was the icing on the cake. While the iPhone version can do everything the iPad version does, I use them differently. CyberCook on the iPad is like my Mission Control center. I keep the iPad in the Kitchen and can view and control the cook from there. With the large screen of the iPad, the information is highly visible from anywhere in the Kitchen. I use the iPhone version, CyberCook Mini, more like a communicator where I can monitor and communicate with the CyberQ from anywhere on my WiFi network. By changing from my LAN to my WAN address I can communicate with my CyberQ from anywhere in the world where I can get internet service on my phone. One limitation of Version 2 of the software was it was best to change settings from the same device every time. It would sometimes confuse the software if you changed settings on one device and the next time changed it from another. Version 3 fixes this. With CyberCook Mini running I did not have to keep running into the Kitchen to check on the progress of the cook. I could visit with my guests anywhere in the house or out in the back yard and stay totally informed. I could also leave the house to run errands and keep tabs on things. This made cooks easier, less stressful and fun again.

CyberCook Now:
After a 6 month hiatus, I returned to regular full time grilling and smoking in late September. One thing that had changed in my routine was my DigiQ had become fully integrated into my baking and sometimes grilling activities. You don’t need a food probe for baking. You just need to know your grill was preheated to your baking temperature and that the grill will be held at that temperature for the 1 hour or less that you will be baking for. The DigiQ also works well for under 450 degree (233 C) indirect grilling sessions where you don’t need a food probe. These could be small thin items like ribs or items cooked on the griddle grill or plank grilled. In late September and October I was doing a lot of indirect small item cooks and then a run of wok cooking. These did not require the use of the CyberQ WiFi. With the approach of Thanksgiving I fired up the CyberQ for the first time since early April. Even though nothing had changed in that time, it would not find my WiFi network. I didn’t find out until later, but my router was in a long slow death spiral which ended around New Years. So now I was faced with using the CyberQ for long cooks without the WiFi capabilities and therefor no remote monitoring capabilities.

I got to see first hand the difference in cooking a turkey and standing rib roast without the benefit of remote monitoring. For the first time ever, for Thanksgiving and Christmas 2015 I was faced with cooking the entire meal from appetizers to dessert by myself. I used the DigiQ to monitor the baking Egg activities and the CyberQ (non)WiFi) to handle the main dish. I did notice several differences without the software. I was definitely having to make more trips out to the grill. The CyberQ handled controlling the pit temperature with ease, but I wasn’t able to remotely view the food probe temperature readings. I needed to go outside to see for myself when the meat was going to be done to avoid overshooting. I needed to be proactive and go out early to make sure the meat wasn’t cooking too fast. I also missed being able to have my iPhone with me to check on things from anywhere in the house, like say the Dining Room while I set the table. I missed it even more when I had to go pick up my dad to bring him over. I usually get him around 10:00 AM. I had to make sure things were under control in every sense of the word before I left. I was not going to be able to keep an eye on things from the road. One other difference I noticed is when I am able to monitor everything from inside the house, it frees up enough time that I am able do some extra tasks. These included things like easily staying ahead of the dishes as I used them and do several loads of dishes while I am cooking. The pace of the cook seems a bit more leisurely too. I am able to see and anticipate what is going on with the cook, as opposed to having to run outside to see where things are. There is a big difference between seeing well in advance the temps are rising faster or slower expected versus going outside and discovering it part way through the process. Once I replaced my router and got the CyberQ back on my WiFi network, I was able to start Beta testing CyberCook v3 on a half dozen long cooks. After having used CyberCook, then being without it and now being able to use it again, I am more convinced than ever the CyberQ WiFi and CyberCook are the way to go for me.

Using CyberCook v3 I intentionally did a long overnight cook to give the software a long workout for Beta testing purposes. It would be only the second time I had done an overnight cook with my Egg. Since getting the Egg I had moved to long daytime cooks which I could do while working from home. With daytime cooks during working hours I had to give up on going out to the kitchen to take readings from my Maverick remote read thermometer every 30 minutes. Too disruptive and often I would be too busy or on the phone when it was time to go take a reading. I was also looking forward to being able to go to bed without having any worries about my pit or cook itself going out of control and not being aware of it until morning. A long cook would also allow me to find out just how little I would need to attend to the Egg and just how much could I leave up to CyberCook

Easy Painless Graphing: I used to have to go to the Kitchen every 30 minutes (or whatever interval I wanted to graph) and take readings from the receiver of my Maverick remote read thermometer hanging from the door of the Kitchen. I also looked up the weather conditions from a nearby weather station so I could record the air temp. With Cyber Cook you simply create a Cooking Session where you tell the software the date, smoker used, air temp, charcoal and smoking woods used. You can choose the interval (in minutes) the readings are taken: 1,2,3,4,5,10,15,20,30 etc. At this point you are able to create a graph with the push of a button. No more deciding whether to stay up and graph the entire cook or not. No more deciding whether to go to bed for an hour or so and have a gap in the readings. CyberCook just does this with no intervention required from you. Also where the CyberQ has 3 Food Probes it can monitor, I often don’t use all 3, so I use the third probe to measure the air temps for me.

Benefits of Having a Graph: Having a graph allows you to look into the past and see how this cook tracks with other similar cooks. In CyberCook these graphs are not just static objects you look at. You interact with them too. By clicking on any point on the graph where a reading was taken, you can see the actual data that was recorded and saved at that point in time. With these graphs you can look at the recent past and see what happened while you were sleeping. You can also project into the future to guesstimate when your cook may finish. This first cook reinforced my belief that historical cooking logs can be essential. This cook resulted in a blog entry called: THE CASE FOR KEEPING A COOKING LOG. At first I was afraid to go to bed because I was getting a very rapid temperature rise. Once I remembered I had graphed a brisket cook last year I was able to bring it up and compare the two. I found that the temps of the current cook should soon stop their fast rise and level off. I stayed up a bit longer and sure enough the temps did level off. CyberCook v3 added a feature where you have direct access to the current graph from the main Control Panel screen. In one push you can bring up the current graph. By going into the Saved Cooks screen you can bring up a graph from a previous cook and toggle back and forth between the current cook and a similar historic cook.

Longer Range-LAN: Because the CyberQ/CyberCook combination uses WiFi you can monitor things from anywhere in your house or yard within range of your (LAN Local Area Network) WiFi network. This differs from other remote read thermometers using a non-WiFi over the air signal. The Maverick remote read thermometers I had been using, had range limitations you really had no way to change. If the signal reached your location great, if it didn’t you were S.O.L, move closer. With WiFi, if you can get your CyberQ on your WiFi network life is good. You can then use the CyberQ/CyberCook anywhere in your house that is on your WiFi network. With a WiFi network you can get addition devices to extend the range of the network to other rooms of your house.

Peace of Mind-Local Access Having CyberCook running in Kitchen makes for a more relaxing cooking environment. This is one of those things where it is almost intangible, You don’t realize the difference until you experience it. The large easy to read interface can be seen from anywhere in my Kitchen. I can be working on another prep task and have my iPad sitting on a counter section well away from any potential spill or mess. I can glance over and see the temps and what is happening. I don’t have to remember to run outside in 10 minutes and check on the temps and reset dampers. CyberCook and the CyberQ take care of this for you. If you are evaluating 3rd party software for the iPad, be sure to evaluate the legibility of the data displayed from across the room. If something happens when you aren’t looking, the alarms you can set will alert you to pit temperature deviations and if your food is done.

Peace of Mind-Remote Access: Viewing the CyberQ/CyberCook on the internet via its WAN (Wide Area Network) address means you can access it anywhere in the world you can access the internet. You can use other WiFI networks or Cellular Data networks to view and control your CyberQ. Once again, you can do this with the built-in the software but CyberCook (or CyberCook Mini for the iPhone) gives you a much better user interface, ease of use and many additional features. I have cellular data for my iPad and can take it with me anywhere I go. Typically though I let the iPad stay home running in the Kitchen as “Mission Control Center” and take my show on the road with CyberCook Mini on the iPhone.

Always On: CyberCook can be set so that your iPad doesn’t go to sleep after a set amount of time. Your iPad has a sleep setting in the Settings app. This is intended to help save battery life. If you aren’t actively touching the screen and using the iPad it goes to sleep after xx minutes. Often you are monitoring your cook via looking at, but not touching the screen. You don’t want your iPad going to sleep when you are in the middle of a messy prep operation. To see what is going on you’d need to stop and wash your hands. It would also stop recording the graph. But CyberCook allows you to set it so the app keeps the screen on.

More Timers: You have access to 2 count up and 4 count down timers on the Session Timers screen plus an additional count down timer on the Control Panel screen. You can keep track of timing all aspects of your cook from this one device in a central location. You really have no excuse for missing some critical time during your cook.

ADDITIONAL EASE OF USE:
I will cover many of the specific features that make the CyberQ/CyberCook v3 combination even easier to use in PART 2 of this blog. This will be where I focus specifically on some of the new features that v3 has brought to the table. But after using this combination for a half dozen complex multi-item cooks with 2 or 3 Eggs going all together I have come to a new realization: Using the Big Green Egg (or another kamado cooker) with the CyberQ WiFi pit controller and the CyberCook software has made the process almost as easy as using the oven in my kitchen.

Less Trips Out to the Smoker/Grill: If you have done your setup correctly you basically have to go out to the Egg to light it, baste or mop the meat, turning the food to even out the cooking, and taking the food off the grill. Some specifics compared to using an indoor oven:
  • To light the oven you simply turn it on. You need to clean out the Egg and restock it with charcoal before lighting it. But using lump charcoal as your fuel gives you several advantages in terms of being able to cook at a much higher temperature and adding wood smoke.
  • Higher Temperature Accuracy. I was surprised to find that an indoor oven controls the temperature using a series of up and down spikes centered around your target. If you set the oven to 350 degrees (175 C) the oven will rise to a higher temperature such as 375 degrees (190 C) and shut off and drift down to 325 (163 C). With the CyberQ WiFi and CyberCook I have seen variations of as little as plus or minus 2 degrees (1 C). Having the grill being controlled this accurately means your end results are going to be better and you don’t have to make trips out to the grill to adjust the dampers.
  • Mopping/Basting: Sure this item is going to be easier in an indoor oven, but you may not actually be able to do this like you would on your grill/smoker. If the mopping creates a lot of smoke from the liquid dripping down onto a hot drip pan, you may not want to do this indoors. When you do this outdoors you need to get the grill stabilized and back to your cooking temperature. Your Kitchen is 72 degrees (22 C) the outdoor air can be much hotter or colder. A pit controller helps stabilize the grill without you needing to keep running outside to tweak the dampers. Mop and move on.
  • Remote Monitoring: With either an oven or a grill there are solutions where you can monitor the temps within your immediate surroundings in the house. But to the best of my knowledge the remote read thermometer solutions intended for an oven are line of sight type radio frequencies. You need to be within direct range of of the transmitter to receive a signal. You are receiving the temperature readings from the oven, but are not able to control the oven should you need it. The CyberQ WiFi uses WiFi networking which is easily extended throughout your house. Additionally you are able to monitor and control the grill from anywhere on the network. You can actually extend this control beyond the confines of your house and view and control the grill from anywhere you can get internet access.

CONCLUSION:
I used the CyberQ and CyberCook combination for 4 months, then I was away from it for an even longer period of time. Then I came back to just the CyberQ for several months. Finally I reintroduced CyberCook into the mix. This has been valuable to me because while I knew the possibilities from my earlier use, I was away from it long enough that I was getting a fresh perspective. I already knew the basics, so I was able to look at some of the big picture aspects. The CyberQ goes a long way towards making the Egg (or other kamado grill) very reliable to use. It also makes it somewhat easier to use. Adding CyberCook into the mix makes it far more easy and relaxing to use. It allows you to stay indoors and focus on additional prep tasks or getting some extra time in with your guests.

PART 2 of this blog will discuss the changes made to CyberCook in Version 3 which make it easier to use, adding some additional capabilities to fine tune how the pit alarms work and some features for the competition cook.

SOME RELATED LINKS:

CYBERCOOK WEBSITE:
  CYBERCOOK  Developers website.

2016 CYBERCOOK BLOG ENTRY PART 2:
   CYBERCOOK - A FRESH LOOK - PT. 2   A fresh perspective on using a Pit Controller after some time away from it.

2016 CYBERQ WIFI BLOG ENTRY:
   EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL - 2016  A fresh perspective on using a Pit Controller after some time away from it.

2015 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  Attaching the CyberQ to a grill/smoker.

2015 CYBER COOK CYBERQ SOFTWARE BLOG:
   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.

  BACK TO BBQ BLOG 2016
  ARCHIVE OF BLOGS: 2016
  INDEX OF BLOGS: ALL YEARS



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