Test on the Field
When I had my license, unfortunately almost three decades ago, the cars did not have the integrated sound system like it is now used but was installed separately by the electrician. Soon after the purchase of the car then, the choice of the car radio represented the great rite of passage that officially sanctioned the newly gained autonomy. I distinctly remember when that choice was up to me. We were in a phase of technological transition: the car radios that until then were rough parallelepiped with a knob on the left for the stations, one on the right for the volume and the cassette slot in the middle (and above this, the CD one in the most expensive models), year after year they were giving way to increasingly daring solutions, from LCD screens, to the first integrated satellite navigators. At the time I was hang up for a model just launched on the market by Pioneer: a crazy car radio with two screens, a 16 color front that covered almost the entire surface and a 7″ one hidden in the body, coming out on request by means of a servo-assisted mechanism and becoming in effect a small television, through which you could manage the navigator, select the music source, equalize up to the sound (a thing that was very fashionable at the time, today virtually disappeared) and even be able to show video files, astonishing for those years. It costed a bang but I was definitely convinced, I saved the money and I had it installed on my third-hand Lancia Delta. I also remember the consternation with which I faced the constant and frequent breaks that I went through in the year and a half in which I owned it, especially when compared with my friends who instead opted for a Blaupunkt, a car radio that left less room for frills but that was damn solid, well structured and with good finishing, reliable. In other words without too many fireworks, it worked and did it well. I felt the same sensation by testing this FireBoard fan control: it is a pitmanager that compares for functions the high-end models of other big brands on the market but does so by looking at many small and big details related to the quality of construction that added together they make the difference and make of it an extremely reliable and precise instrument.
Let’s start this review by the necessary premises: we are not sponsored by Fireboard and we do not receive a Euro to write this post. We simply spoke with our dear friend and opponent in many competitions of the circuit, Clint Meyer, European importer on the site BBQEurope of excellent brands like Yoder or ButtRub, of its recent distribution of FireBoard products and offered us to try one with a free expression license. The Fireboard is actually receiving considerable acclaim on the market, not least a top-scores obtained in a review on amazingribs so we were excited to accept. We thought it useful to tell you how it went in order to complete your knowledge of pitmanagers offer on the market.
The first impression of course comes always from unboxing. In our case, Clint was kind enough to provide us with the Ultimate Drive Edition, the most complete version that includes the Extreme Edition, the real thermometer and the FireBoard Drive, the extension that makes him a pitmanager, beyond to all the accessories available on his store. Basically indeed, the FireBoard is a thermometer that can be consulted through the cloud via a dedicated app, which was then made expandable through several packages, including of course the automatic temperature management. Let’s see them one by one.
FireBoard Extreme Edition – The thermometer is compact, solid, with only the screen at sight and two simple keys (selection-confirmation) through which to move easily in the menu. At the base the entrance for 6 probes and for the power supply and on the right side the communication port through which the Fireboard connects to the fan. The connection is both wifi and bluetooth 4.0 and the Fireboard constantly updates the data on a cloud account, available through the app from any device, wherever you are or directly through access from the FireBoard site. If the thermometer is connected via Bluetooth to a mobile phone and this has a data connection, it is possible to update the data even without the wifi. Another nice thing is the compatibility with Alexa by Amazon so to be able to manage the Fireboard through voice commands (already arranged for Italian, for when also the Alexa system will be). The power supply has the interchangeable plug and the thermometer battery assures an autonomy of up to 24 hours. The most surprising thing, however, are probably the probes: our Extreme version has been enriched by the 7 “competition” probe pack, which includes in addition to two cooking chamber probes with relative springs for hooking on the grill and two of the 6 probes included in the classic version, a series of precision probes of various lengths and shapes with a finer and sharper needle for precise positioning, even in the most difficult cuts like a money muscle or a steak in an SCA competitions and claimed to not leave any hole in the meat once cooked. In addition to these, are available probes with screw entry to replace the original ones of some smokers, probes for sous vide or specific probes to monitor the cold chain. But even more than that, the craftship is appreciated: range from -18° C to 300° C, solid and sturdy, waterproof, spring on the wire coupling to prevent the connections from being uncovered with using, cables of 1.8 meters of length. In a word: done really well, like a good probe must be.
FireBoard Drive – It is the extension that transforms the thermometer into a real pitmanager through the management of a controlled ventilation of the embers. The main element is the connection cable that plugs into the data port of the FireBoard and flows into two plug-in inputs: one for a transformer (included in the package) if you want to simultaneously power it during use, without relying on the battery and the other one for the fan. The input is compatible with the plug of any 12V fan, so even with that of the Guru if you already have one. FireBoard fan connections dedicated to various types of smokers will soon be available. In the meantime, the package includes a universal fan with a spring hook and a gasket, adaptable to the main existing models such as WSM or BGE. A nice detail of the included model is a sort of non-return airflow door, which opens when the fan flow is active and then closes again for simple gravity, once that ceases.
FireBoard Case – It is a pack through which to protect the FireBoard from atmospheric environments. It includes the actual case, which presents in the plug in areas a flexible rubber seals inserted to isolate the connections, a window on the front compartment that leaves the screen and two rubber buttons in correspondence with the selection ones below, over two spare seals in case of breakages. On the bottom, the case has inserted two sufficiently powerful magnets that guarantee a comfortable hook to any metal surface. Including, there is also a band with velcro closure that can be inserted in a special slot in the case so that it can be attached to anything at that point.
FireBoard Battery Pack – It is an external emergency auxiliary battery, not different from the power banks used for mobile phones, which is used if for any reason you do not have an electrical connection and you are afraid that during the overnight the battery of the FireBoard may run out. It is also a good 4000 mAh battery with the microUSB cable necessary for connection to the FireBoard, integrated and retractable. The pack includes the micro USB-USB cable through which to recharge the battery once exhausted and the battery has an additional USB output through which you can recharge other devices, cell phones primarily.
The Cooking Test
We tested the FireBoard on a WSM cooking a pork loin. We decided to try to make its work as difficult as possible to see how it behaves:
- We will use a WSM47 instead of our usual 57 to decrease the thermal inertia and make the instrument more sensitive to forced ventilation. In other words, we will try to make the temperature fluctuations around the target more likely each time the fan is activated.
- Anyone who routinely uses the pitmanager of any brand knows that the most correct use is to make the instrument intervene only in maintenance, ie after it has already proceeded to carry out a brief manual stabilization. Instead, we will deliberately introduce a quantity of lit coal into the minion, below the standard one and we will immediately activate the FireBoard to evaluate its ability to manage the temperature over wide ranges.
- No water, no sand, no salt nor any other thermal flywheel in the water pan that will be left strictly empty.
- We have a fan of a Guru with kettle/wsm adapter that fits tightly with our smoker but we will use for the test the fan supplied, which as explained is for the moment a generalist model that installs to the smoker simply through a spring. In reality, however, about this we quickly realized by mounting it, not to have penalized the FireBoard much: the spring system in its simplicity is firm and stable and assisted by the seal ensures a more than good tightness.
- We will start cooking the loin at 110° C for 2 hours and then raise the temperature to 140° C in order to measure how the FireBoard behaves towards the thermal inertia.
N.B. The fan in the picture is positioned in that direction to let you see the details. To allow the non-return door to function properly, it must be placed in reverse during use.
The first step is the synchronization with the mobile phone and with the wifi network for updating the data in the cloud which in itself is a very fast and simple procedure but after a bit of testing, we believe should be followed in a precise sequence. For the benefit of those who may need to manage it: after creating an account on the site, download the app on the phone (without login to the account), turn off all connections but Bluetooth, search for the Fireboard through the app (not using the bluetooth of the phone) and associate it, enter your wifi network via the app, restore at this point all other connections on the phone and access via login to the account. Made this way, all this takes about 60 seconds and you have at this point the update almost immediately through any connection (bluetooth, data network, wi-fi network) on the mobile app or on a PC screen through the FireBoard website.
We start the first settings. The device can be renamed, so you can have more than one recognizing them, as well as the probes. On each you can access a page of highly configurable alerts. For example, in addition to setting the classic minimum and maximum temperatures, add an infinite number of thresholds to be alerted, choose the warning mode (SMS and/or mail), how often to repeat the warning in case of non-response , the tolerance limit (for example give 5 minutes to the system to rebalance before sending a warning or choose a time slot in which to activate the warnings (for example during an overnight stay). Setting everything then is really simple, intuitive.
The drive with fan management has its own dedicated section, where the reference probe can be associated with temperature management. In a dashboard, the trends of the probes are compared graphically or on a table level with that of the smoker compared to the target. An interesting thing in the graph is the representation of the intensity of use of the fan. It seems trivial but says many things: think for example when the coal is running out and you need a reset of the minion, which would be noted by an over-use of the fan to maintain the same temperature. As soon as the device is closed with a minion of coal and a lit half chimney, we set the room temperature to 110° C and the loin target to 55° C with a warning SMS message. The first thing we notice is the “delicacy” with which the FireBoard manages the fan intervention. Although it is just at 30° C compared to the required 110° C, for the first 5 minutes the fan does not rise above 33%. Once a greater need for intervention is detected, it passes to 90% (I have never seen it reach 100% anyway) and then go down to 70% as soon as a minimum increase in temperature has been detected. From then on, it proceeds with little “taps” guaranteeing a slow growth up to the proximity of the objective. The positive side is that compared to other pitmanagers there is not the typical oscillation of values above and below the target temperature before stabilizing but rather a slow approach curve, much more precise. The cons could be a difficulty in temperature variations. Let’s see.
The opportunity comes precisely from the achievement of the 55° C of the loin, punctually reported by the arrival of a text message on the mobile phone. We move the target to 140° C and set a new alert to reach 86° C, this time adding the notice via email. Surely it is not the ideal cooking temperature for the loin but it will give me a period of time adequate to evaluate the behavior of the FireBoard. Since we are on, we also try the “open lid” function, also present in other pitmanagers, which blocks the activity of the fan when it detects a collapse of the temperature in the cooking environment. The function effectively responds promptly and responsively. This time the temperature growth is much more sudden: in exactly 19 minutes we are stable at 140, much faster than what happened at the initial start. Evidently there are algorithms that differentiate the behavior of the FireBoard according to the operating conditions and the temperature gap to be covered. In any case, the approach remains very “sensitive”, sweet, with light and short but frequent interventions of the correction fan. The approach to the management of temperature we honestly liked a lot, even in “limit” conditions like these. Working on a smoker already near the target temperature the FireBoard should really reach a remarkable degree of precision.
As soon as reached the 86° C of the loin, punctual arrives both the SMS on the mobile phone and the mail in the mailbox messages. The remaining battery is over half, which if we consider the almost uninterrupted use of the fan in the first part of cooking, it is not bad at all. We also tried to bring the mobile phone with us while shopping at the supermarket and connect through the app: it works perfectly. It is possible to read charts, intervene on the settings of the device, set up new alerts, etc. in a very fluid and functional way.
Our opinion is that the FireBoard is a very high level instrument, at the limit of the professional. Taking up the initial example of the car radio, the FireBoard is positioned on paper for functions alongside the other big names of the pit management on the market but the cooking test has confirmed our initial impressions of a solid and extremely reliable accessory, those that do not betray. He really impressed us with constructive solidity, level of performance and ease of use. The FireBoard simply does well what it has to do and lets itself be used willingly. In the end, this is not what really matters?