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Big Green Eggs are tricky so let the Smartfire Controller babysit your BBQ

Good barbecue is hard, but the Smartfire grill system makes it easy.

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Kamado grill fire is tricky to tame. The Smartfire controller system is here to help.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Kamado-style grills like the Big Green Egg are all the rage. That's because these wood-burning cookers produce delicious, smoke-tinged flavor in everything they prepare. Kamados require lots of hands-on temperature adjustment, especially if you're shooting to cook at precise temperatures. And rock-steady temperature control is the key to smoking food low and slow.

If left alone Kamado fires can easily die. Open their air vents too much, too fast, and internal temps will skyrocket. That's why personal attention is a must, unless you buy an add-on that'll babysit your barbecue pit for you. One such gadget is the $239 Smartfire Controller kit. 

 Read more: Best portable grills of 2019   

The Smartfire helps grills maintain very specific heat levels. It monitors the temperature of your food as it cooks, and it connects to the cloud, and your phone via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth so you can receive alerts and watch the proceedings remotely. So with the Smartfire installed, you can leave your kamado smoker unattended during those lengthy barbecue sessions. 

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The Smartfire kit comes with four probes, plus a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-connected fan.

Brian Bennett/CNET

What's in the box?

At the heart of the Smartfire system is the Smartfire Controller Pro unit. About the size of a deck of playing cards, the rectangular device houses a small fan. Through an adapter, the Controller attaches to your grill's intake vent. There it limits or increases airflow through your kamado by either increasing or decreasing the fan's rotation speed. 

The Controller also has ports for four waterproof temperature probes (included). One probe reads how hot your Kamado is, right at grill grate level. The other three probes are designed to measure internal temperatures of any food on the grill. The kit bundles four cable winders, one for each probe, to facilitate tidy storage. All these parts fit inside a compact carrying case.

Everything comes bundled in the $238 Super Summer Smartfire Controller Pack. That's a lot of gear for the price. Other barbecue controller kits cost a little less but are also less capable. For instance, both the $219 Flame Boss 400-WiFi Smoker Controller Kit and $229 Big Green Egg Egg Genius can handle just two probes (one pit, one food).

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It all fits inside a handy case.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Another trick the Smartfire can do is run off of an external battery. That's handy when you're smoking in a location without access to easy power, like a tailgate parking lot. Instead of using proprietary cables, like the Flame Boss and Egg Genius, the Smartfire has a USB port. It does come with its own cable, but you have to supply your own power brick. Still, that also allows you to attach a compatible battery pack.  

Big Green Egg installation 

You can order the Smartfire kit to fit a wide range of grills. I opted for the Large Big Green Egg package, but there are plenty of other choices for popular grill varieties. They include the Char-Griller Akorn, Kamado Joe, the Weber Smokey Mountain and even the classic Weber Kettle, just to name a few.

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The Smartfire comes with an adapter that's made to match vents of specific grills.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Setting up the Smartfire takes a little effort. A metal adapter, basically a square plate attached to a short pipe, fits inside your smoker's bottom air vent (intake). A metal clip (in the box) slips onto the top left corner of the adapter plate. It helps you to wedge the adapter in snugly. You'll also have to bend the right edge of the adapter slightly. That way it'll fit flush against the curved wall of your kamado.

Next, connect the Controller unit to the adapter, and link any temperature probes you plan to use to its ports. A grill clip lets you position the grill probe between grates and just above the cooking surface.

The Controller units has a variable speed fan. It hooks up to the adapter that sits inside the intake vent. 

Brian Bennett/CNET

I had more trouble getting the Smartfire to play nice with its app and my phone (Pixel XL, Android 10). No matter how hard I tried, the app failed to detect the Controller during the initial setup. I was successful when I used an iPhone 6S (OS 12.4.1).   

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When your coals have calmed down a bit, it's time to let the Smartfire take over.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smoking with the Smartfire

To put it to the test, I set up the BGE to smoke a nice hunk of pork shoulder. The Smartfire worked astonishingly well. It kept the grill within 5 to 6 degrees of my chosen temp (225 F), for the majority of my 15-hour cook time. 

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Cooking pork shoulder low and slow with the Smartfire.

Brian Bennett/CNET

The only time I was forced to make an adjustment was towards the end of the cook. During hour 13, the coals in the fire pit began to die down. To compensate, the Smartfire cranked its fan up to full throttle. At that point, I opened up the Big Green Egg's top vent from a mostly shut position to an extra inch of ventilation. That eased the pressure on the fan so it could cycle down. 

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The Smartfire demonstrated excellent temperature control during most of the cook.

Brian Bennett/CNET

I was also relieved to learn that although sometime overnight the Smartfire lost hold of my weak Wi-Fi backyard signal, it kept the grill right on trucking at the temperature I set. So while I couldn't receive emergency kamado alerts while I slept, I also had no cause to worry.

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Pulled pork, smoked low and slow.

Brian Bennett/CNET

A smart kamado add-on 

Cooking with Kamado grills is fun, but it can be a lot of work. And those marathon smoking sessions can be particularly stressful, especially when a pricey brisket is on the line. That's why I definitely recommend the Smartfire. It takes a great deal of hands-on demands out of the smoker equation. Android setup issues aside, the Smartfire runs well too.

Yes, its $239 price tag isn't cheap, but it's worthwhile if you use your kamado a lot. The Smartfire kit also does things other barbecue controllers can't, like support for four temperature probes and run off of external batteries, for $20 more. All that adds up to a shrewd smoker upgrade.

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