Cooking poultry and large cuts of meat can be intimidating. Get it wrong and you'll waste a lot of time, effort and money. Worse, you could make yourself sick. Thermometers are a big help towards avoiding those pitfalls. Using them though isn't always convenient. They're often tethered to annoying wires, or they can be inaccurate, or they're not safe to put in your oven or grill. Enter the $269 Meater Block. This stylish solution tracks both the internal temperature of food, plus how hot things are inside your cooker.
Equipped with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, the Meater also talks to your phone and the cloud wirelessly. That means you can see the real-time status of cooking items from the couch, or across town. And thanks to four probes, the kit can keep an eye on up to four items at once. It'll also estimate how long your food will take to cook, and tell you when it's time to let it rest.
While the Meater is handy, it completely fails when predicting cook times of smoked meat. For instance, the estimates the device supplied for pork shoulder I barbecued low and slow were wildly inaccurate. In fact they were so unreliable, that I'd only recommend the Meater to experienced barbecue hands.
Another drawback is its high price. Instant-read thermometers like the $79 Thermapen do an adequate job for much less. Other gadgets such as the Weber $100 iGrill 2 will turn any brand of grill into one with an app-connected thermometer. And if you prefer charcoal above all, consider the $239 . It lets you monitor and control a wide range of kamado grills via app.
An eye-catching design
Made from wood and metal, the Meater Block has an undeniably premium look and feel. Its main section is a solid wooden block, with slots that hold each of the Meater's four temperature probes. The probes are compact and cylindrical, each with a pointed end.
There's a control panel that uses touch-sensitive keys as well. Above that sits a small screen that displays whether the Meater system's probes are connected via Bluetooth, if the main unit is linked to Wi-Fi, its power level and other status settings. You have two ways to power the Block. One is via a Micro-USB port, the other is through four AA batteries.
The probes themselves have rechargeable cells that are good for 24 hours of continuous cooking. The Block charges them when they're docked, providing juice from either its batteries or USB connection.
A chip off the Meater Block
If you're familiar with previous Meater products, then using the Meater Block won't throw you any curves. Like the original Meater Plus, each of the Block's probes measure internal food temperature at their tips. The probe's square, flat base records ambient air temperature.and
When you're ready to cook, insert the probe into your protein of choice. Through the Meater app, select the food type you're about to prepare. Here you can lock down your desired target temp too. Once cooking is underway, the app attempts to calculate a specific cook time.
And similar to the Meater Plus, the Meater Block serves as a wireless repeater. Unlike the Bluetooth-only Meater Plus, the Block can extend either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals. It's a big improvement, since operational range is the most frustrating drawback of previous Meater devices.
Keep an eye on your steaks
One way I put the Meater Block to the test was to let it help me handle a pair of pricey steaks. I picked two one-and-a-half-inch-thick rib eyes out at my local market. Instead of just throwing them on the grill and hoping for the best, I went Big Green Egg running low and slow (225 F, 107 C), I inserted one Meater probe into each slab of beef.. With my test
Next I placed them in the Egg, closed the lid, selected a target temp of 115 F, and closed the lid. Eighteen minutes later, both steaks were hot enough to set aside while I got the Big Green Egg searing hot. Once the temp climbed to over 800 F, I dropped the meat back onto the grates, turning them every two minutes. I pulled the rib eyes off once the Meater app reported they had reached an internal temp of 145 F.
I slightly overshot that temp due to being a tad too slow. Even so, both steaks were just a hair into the medium temperature range. They tasted outstandingly good though, tender and with tons of flavor. The estimated times provided by the app were also spot on.
The barbecue experience
Smoking meat with the Meater Block works, but I did run into hiccups, one that was particularly frustrating. Two 6-pound pork shoulders took a full 18 hours, 22 minutes. In the early hours of that process, temperature readings from the two probes I used were wildly different from each other. As a result, I added an additional probe to one of my hunks of pork. Even so, at one point I logged a 35-degree difference between the two shoulders.
The bigger problem, however, was the Meater's barbecue cook time projections. Within the first hour of the cook, the app predicted it would take about 5 hours. I knew immediately that was wrong, since in my experience, pork shoulder needs a minimum of 12 to 15 hours of smoke time. And as barbecue guru Meathead Goldwyn sagely advises, an internal heat level of 203 F tends to yield delicious results. To reach that magic number, my meat needed over 18 hours. During that time, the Meater app either didn't update these projections, or lost them entirely.
Likewise, a few minutes before my pork hit my target temperature of 203 F, the app was still saying it was hours away. So if I was relying solely on the Meater's advice, I'd be thoroughly confused. The software calculates remaining cook time by comparing ambient and internal temperature readings. While its approach works well for faster cooks like steak and poultry, the algorithm sorely needs some barbecue-specific tweaks.
Not enough meat for the money
So should you buy the $269 Meater Block? I say no, since a $79 Thermapen can more affordably tackle similar duties. The Block may interest a barbecue fanatic who often smokes multiple items simultaneously. Even then, its poor cook time prediction is a turn-off. Still, barbecue is done when it's done, and is notoriously tricky to forecast. Old barbecue hands know to look for a target internal temp above all. Inaccurate cook time projections will only hinder newbies.
Also consider that each Meater Block probe functions as essentially two thermometers in one, grill temp and food temp. That efficiency saves plenty of tight grill space. Regardless, I'd recommend that kamado grill owners go with a slightly cheaper gadget like the $239instead. While its probes are wired, it does come with four of them. One probe, however, is dedicated to pit temperature duty. That said, the SmartFire can control your smoker's fire. Ultimately that's a more critical feature.