The most common concern I hear about cooking with charcoal grills is about temperature control. How do you maintain the ideal temperature on your grill when you’re using charcoal? How do I make sure that temperature doesn’t increase or drop while I’m cooking? I have some good news for you. There is now a gadget you can buy that will address ALL your charcoal grilling concerns. The Thermoworks Billows Temperature Controller.
Enter the Thermoworks Billows
Thermoworks is the industry leader when it comes to temperature monitoring. Their products are found across different industries. Some of their better known products include the Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4, a super quick and accurate instant read thermometer, as as well as the Thermoworks Smoke and Signals, both leave in temperature monitoring devices.
Having an established reputation in the temperature monitoring space, it only makes sense for Thermoworks to expand to the temperature control space. And that’s exactly what they did, they released the Thermoworks Billows. Thermoworks provided me with a Billows unit to review and test out. So let’s see how well it did.
Overview and Setup
The Billows unit is a fan that will regulate airflow to your charcoal grill, BUT it still needs an outside controller to function. And at the moment, the only compatible controller is the Thermoworks Signals, a 4 channel temperature monitoring device. This is important to keep in mind, since the Billows unit itself retails for $59.99 AND it also needs the Signals, which retails for $229.99. So all in, it will cost you $289.98. The total price is in line with other temperature control devices, and the plus side here is that you also get the Signals which can be used on its own as well.
The Billows unit is made from hard plastic and is designed to clip into the air intake of your charcoal grill. For example, if you have a Big Green Egg, the until will clip to the bottom air vent of the grill. It attaches to the Signals with a supplied, custom made cable. In order to use the fan, the Signals controller needs to be plugged into a wall outlet with the supplied power adapter. Again, a standard process compared to other devices currently on the market.
The Signals controller comes with a grill grate temperature probe, which clips to your grill grate and plugs into the Signals controller. With the Billows clipped to your grill, plugged into an outlet and the grill grate probe connected, the unit is ready to go.
There is no additional setup needed to connect the Billows to the Signals controller. The fan is automatically recognized when it’s connected via the provided cable. You can now set your desired temperature using the buttons on the Signals controller and the Billows will automatically speed up or slow down to maintain that temperature using the input from the grate temperate probe.
Online and Remote Connectivity
Operating and setting the temperature from the Signals device is very easy. But there’s also another way to do it. Thermoworks has a nifty app, available for both Apple and Android, that will allow you to do all that and more remotely.
The app is free to download and only needs to be setup once to connect with the Signals device. You can do a Wi-Fi as well as a Bluetooth connection. Having both available is a plus, and allows you to the unit with you if you’re doing events or catering outside your home. The app is very easy to use and will not only display the grate and set temperatures, but it will also display the temperature readings from the other 3 probes that come with the Signals controller. Remember, it’s a 4 channel controller – 3 channels are used to monitor the internal temperature of whatever it is that you’re cooking and the 4th channel is used to monitor the the grate temperature.
Once connected, you can set your grill temperature via your phone as well as high and low temp alarms. If you run out of charcoal, or there’s a spike in temperature, the app will notify you when that happens. This can be a lifesaver, especially when smoking a brisket or pork shoulder, where the cooking process takes 12+ hours.
Real World Performance
I had the chance to try out the Billows unit on the Big Green Egg recently. I tested it out during a few different cooks on my grill. Here are my thoughts.
What I liked
The setup and installation process is very straightforward. it’s very easy to clip the Billows unit on the Big Green Egg and connect it to the Signals controller. Same goes for the grate temperature clip as well as setting your desired temperature.
Pairing the Signals controller to your phone was also very straightforward. The provided instructions are very clear and the unit was paired with my iPhone X in no time. The app itself is also very user friendly, making temperature changes very easy.
Once installed and connected, the fan spins up automatically to get the grill to your desired temperature. I found the warm up time to be much shorter when using the Billows than without it. That’s to be expected, since air is now being blown into the grill by the fan.
Thermoworks specifies that the your grill will be with 10 degrees of your set temperature and I found that statement to be accurate. My first cook I had the temp set for 275 degrees, and it never fluctuated more than 7-8 degrees either way. That’s a good thing.
One thing to keep in mind is that these temperature controllers are meant for low and slow cooking, and more specifically, indirect cooking. I would never use this to keep my grill at 500 or 600 degrees. Such high temperatures will just burn the grate temperature sensor and the fan might not be able to provide enough air.
What I didn’t like
The biggest downside of the Billows and Signals combo is that it has to be plugged into an outlet to work. The Signals on its own can operate from the internal battery but once the Billows is connected, you have to plug it into an outlet. This, of course makes sense, since the fan needs extra juicy to run, but having something like an external battery pack would be very convenient. And wouldn’t require you to be close to an electrical outlet.
The other downside is the fact that the Billows works only with the Signals controller. Not everyone needs a 4 channel unit, like the Billows, but you will have to purchase one if you want to use the Billows. It would be great if it could be connected to the less expensive Smoke controller, which only has 2 channels.
Overall, I really liked the Billows unit. It does make cooking with charcoal much easier, especially for those new to charcoal grills. You really are able to have the best of both worlds, the convenience of automatic temperature control with mobile connectivity, as well as the charcoal flavor you love.
Same goes for the Signals controller unit. Yeah it’s pricey but you have 4 channel monitoring, wifi/bluetooth connectivity and Billows control.
Check out the Review page for other reviews.