In The Shawshank Redemption, Red refers to geology as a question of pressure over time. Barbecue is fundamentally a question of temperature over time. Hours and hours of carefully regulated heat turn a big hunk of third rate meat into a culinary diamond. The best way to control that heat starts with a quality thermometer system that gives you the information you need. For years, we’ve been fans of the Fireboard, and now they’ve come out with the Fireboard 2. We jumped on it right away to see if it would live up to our expectations and have a place between the smoker and the big poster of Rita Hayworth.
Our goal was to see if the Fireboard 2 is hands down the best thermometer for barbecue.
- Jacob Cordero | Top Geek
fireboard 2 (FBx2) & drive (FBX2D)
Fireboard is a technology company founded by Ted Conrad and Steven Briggeman in 2015. After developing and testing their thermometer system over the course of a year and a half, they burst onto the market with a successful Kickstarter campaign that took them from enthusiasts with an intriguing prototype to a real company.
The original Fireboard has been one of our favorite Wi-Fi thermometers since it came out. The Fireboard is a base unit that connects to six wired temperature probes and, through a separate Drive cable, a fan for temperature control. Its interface is primarily a phone app, which connects to the base unit through a direct Bluetooth connection or via Wi-Fi to Fireboard’s cloud service. It’s been one of our favorite thermometer systems thanks to its best-in-the-business app, which offers detailed, annotatable charts and straightforward alerts.
In the years since the original Fireboard came out, the company has expanded vertically by bringing manufacturing in-house to their Kansas City facility. Now, they’re introducing the Fireboard 2. It does all the same things as the previous model, but adds display and control capability to the base unit itself. Instead of a one-line text display that cycles between the different probes, the Fireboard 2 has an LCD screen that fills the entire front face. From there, you can view any or all of the probe data, including graphs of temperature over time. There are also improvements in power efficiency, raising the expected run time to 30 hours. The updated model also adds a weather-resistant casing, where the original Fireboard needed an extra case to be water-resistant.
Fireboard 2 Models
The Fireboard 2 comes in three models. The base model is what’s described above, and costs $189. That includes the base unit, two food probes, one ambient probe, grill clip, and USC-C charger. This model needs a special fan control cable to run a thermostatic fan unit.
Fireboard 2 (FBX2)
Fireboard 2 Drive (FBX2D)
The Fireboard 2 Drive, at $249, comes with everything the base model does, but integrates the fan control hardware into the base unit. It can run the fan directly out of the box without the special control cable.
[Updated January 2021]
The Fireboard 2 Pro, now available at $299, has the Drive’s fan control port, but swaps the six 2.5 mm probe inputs for three Type K thermocouple probes that can operate at extremely high temperatures. The 100K thermistor probes that come with the standard Fireboard top out at 572°F (300°C), while the new Type K probes can operate up to 1,202°F (650°C). Obviously this sort of thing is the opposite of low-and-slow barbecue. Instead, the main audience for this is people running pizza ovens that need to get up in the 700° range. It’s hard to manage that level of heat, especially with live fire, so this new Fireboard 2 Pro can do an incredible amount to show you what’s really going on with your pizza oven.
Buyer's Guide to Smart BBQ Thermometers
What Is a Wi-Fi Thermometer
A Wi-Fi thermometer is one of those simple ideas that make you say, “I wish I’d thought of that!” It uses one or more digital thermometers to measure temperature data, a small computer to aggregate that data into a sensible form, and an app to display that data and provide control. Of course, a lot of people thought of this idea, but it takes a lot of careful engineering to make it all work, make it robust enough to stand up to a working environment, and make it usable by a non-engineer. Do all of this right, and you have a device that lets you constantly monitor multiple thermometers from your phone. Add the Drive component (or a comparable product), and the temperature monitoring feeds back automatically into temperature control. A good Wi-Fi thermometer can turn barbecue from something only weathered experts with hundreds of tries under their belts can pull off into something anyone can do.
What Makes a Good Wi-Fi Thermometer
A good Wi-Fi thermometer needs to do a lot of things right. Starting with the simplest, the thermometer probes need to be accurate. It needs to be simple to connect to your phone and maintain a good connection even under difficult conditions. The data it reports needs to be well laid-out so you can easily make sense of what you see. Alarm setup should be simple, and alerts should be noticeable and clear. In short, the user interface should be effective and usable. The fan control should be easy to set up and needs to work correctly to maintain temperature in a reasonable range. As a portable battery-powered device, it needs to be durable enough to stand up to the occasional accident and maintain battery life for an all-day cook.
Review: what we're looking for
To evaluate how the FBX2 & FBX2D stacks up to the original Fireboard and to other muliprobe WiFi/Bluetooth thermometers we considered the following:
User EXPERIENCE / User Interface (UI/UX)
A device is only as good as your ability to use it. We’re looking at how easy and effective the displays and controls are on the Fireboard 2. We’ll be testing both the on-board interface and the phone app, plus the process for connecting one to the other.
build quality / durability
Your smoker lives outdoors in a big, dangerous world, and your thermometer needs to be able to handle whatever life throws at it. We’ll subject the Fireboard 2 to summer heat, water damage, and general bashing around to see if it will last for the long haul.
It’s got to actually do its job. We’ll test the thermometers for accuracy to make sure the data coming from the Fireboard 2 can be trusted, then we’ll try out the fan control system with the Drive fan to see if it can run the whole cook on its own.
Testing the Fireboard 2
The original Fireboard’s number one weakness is the interface on the base unit. With just a tiny screen that showed one temperature reading at a time, it expected you to run everything off your phone, with the barest minimum available on the unit itself. The Fireboard 2 blows the original out of the water on this score. The entire front of the base station is a screen with several possible views.
See more only @ Fireboard.com
You can see the current temperature on one probe, current temperature on all probes, a graph of temperature over time on one channel, or the same graph plus current readings on all probes. One button switches between modes, another switches probes, and a third switches view options (like graph timeline). The unit can detect its orientation and rotate the display to appear right side up.
These view options are very useful. You can use the base station as either a full-featured display or a big across-the-room display, which are both nice. My favorite was to have the graph of the ambient probe plus readings on all probes. Any serious problems would be immediately obvious on the graph, but everything’s where I can see it.
The screen itself is high quality. It’s visible in full sun and doesn’t power itself off, so you don’t have to go over and bump a button to wake it back up. Even better, it held up to the Arizona summer sun without glitching out, which is pretty rare. There are indicator lights to verify that the Fireboard is on, transmitting with Wi-Fi, and transmitting with Bluetooth, which is nice enough, but not overwhelmingly useful.
The only downside is that you still can’t program alarm setpoints on the base station, so you’re tied to your phone for alerts. You can’t hear them without a phone either since there’s no speaker. Fan control is possible, but kind of a pain.
The three buttons to change view settings are well laid-out and do sensible and consistent things, but pushing a button repeatedly to cycle through modes doesn’t feel worthy of a high tech device. It feels more like setting a clock radio than navigating a phone.
The phone interface is one of the best features of the original Fireboard, and it kept rolling right along with the Fireboard 2. I pulled it out of the box and it synced to my phone right away, as easy as pressing “Add Fireboard” in the app. The app automatically configured the Fireboard 2 for use with my Bluetooth without needing any fiddling about with logins. That was as easy as any thermometer connection I’ve ever tried. I messed around with the Wi-Fi for a while but never got it going right — maybe there’s something with my old Fireboard 1 causing trouble? I didn’t have to mess with it that much since Bluetooth did everything I needed.
The app is just as good as before. All the data shows up neatly, and you can set labels to make everything make sense. The graphs are annotatable so you can learn from your mistakes. All of your graphs are available from Fireboard’s cloud storage or are downloadable for local use.
Alarms are easy to set, with a nice variety of options, including a custom start/end time that was very useful for the overnight brisket cook. Fan control is straightforward, and any channel can drive the fan. There’s a more powerful version of fan programming available too, where you can change fan settings as time and temperature change. Looks interesting, but was beyond this test.
We checked the probes against a calibrated reference thermometer in an ice bath and in a hot water bath temperature-managed with an immersion circulator. The probes in the ice bath were accurate to ±0.3°F while the hot water test had them at ±0.05°F. Both measurements are excellent.
Cook #1: Brisket
The first cook was a whole brisket, smoked overnight in a Pit Barrel Cooker. Fireboard 2 performance was perfectly smooth. All the data logged as it should giving a good record of the cook. The base unit impressed us by not reacting at all to the scorching heat of the Arizona sun, which often wrecks batteries and screens.
Cook #2: Tri-Tip
The second test was designed to try out the fan control functions with the Drive. This cook was a tri-tip roast in a kettle grill.
Setting the fan parameters was simple, and the grill maintained a nice, easy 245° for the whole cook (or at least until we started the durability test and sprayed the grill with water). A nice feature the Fireboard 2 offers is Lid Detection. When you take the lid off the grill, the temperature drops hard, which should max out the fan, but the Fireboard detects this and leaves the fan off. That’s good thinking, and there are options for fine-tuning your grill’s lid settings. That fan control makes this cook a breeze.
The battery on the Fireboard 2 is seriously good. It came out of the box at 90%, and after 12 hours of operating in the sun, it claimed 40% remaining. There’s no sleep mode either — if it’s running, it’s running.
The manufacturer says that the Fireboard is weatherproof, which means it’s water resistant, but not waterproof. We sprayed it with a hose for 75 seconds with no ill effects. You should avoid that sort of thing, but it’s not the end of the world if you spill a drink on it.
OVERALL TAKE OF THE FIREBOARD 2
Fireboard 2 (Drive) Raitings
Overall rating : 4 / 5
Pros & Cons
The Fireboard 2 cruised through everything we threw at it. It’s accurate, well-designed, and easy to use. The Drive worked perfectly, leading to the easiest tri-tip I’ve ever cooked.
All in all, the Fireboard 2 is a worthy successor to the original. The display is a solid step up, making it useful as a standalone unit. Set it up so you can see it through the window, and you’ve got temperature data at a glance. The Fireboard app is still the best in the business, and your best option for control. The main unit is built like a tank, and I’m confident it will last. I wish they went a little further on making the base station completely standalone and as good as the app, but the Fireboard 2 is our first choice here at Smoking Meat Geeks.