Cooking food outside over fire is an ancient practice. A new gadget from Weber, though, attempts to merge the old ways with the new. For $129 the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub accessory is designed to transform any basic barbecue grill into a smart, internet-connected one. And through its mobile app, the Weber Connect can walk you through recipes step by step.
I admit it sounds appealing. I'll gladly take any help to automate my backyard cooks. Less time worrying means more time relaxing or tackling weekend chores. Plus, if the Weber Connect can prevent me from ruining pricey cuts of meat, that's money well spent. So I took the product for a whirl, and here's what happened.
What's in the box
Packed inside the box is the main Weber Connect unit. It's a nondescript black plastic square about the size of a hockey puck. On the back edge of it are ports for four temperature probes. Weber supplies two in the kit, one for ambient grill temperatures and one for food.
You also get a USB cable, Micro-USB on one end and standard size on the other. You use this to charge the Connect unit. Likewise you can run the device off a compatible AC adapter or an external battery.
The first step is to charge the Weber Connect's battery. That can take a good amount of time (about three to four hours) depending on its charge level. Another annoyance I ran into was a barrage of software updates.
Using my Pixel 3XL (running Android 10) and the Weber Connect app, I couldn't pair with the Weber Connect right away. Before that happened, the app instructed me to download and apply numerous firmware updates.
I definitely remember running at least six update cycles, but after that I lost count. There were glitches too. For instance, in the beginning the app would repeatedly forget my home Wi-FI credentials minutes after I entered them. It wasn't until I removed and reinstalled the app that the issue went away.
Thankfully the physical side of things is dead simple. Just connect the two probes to any of the four ports on the device. Use the ambient probe's metal clip to secure it to your grill grate. If you have a grill with a side table, place the Weber Connect there. Hot grill surfaces will damage it.
I do like the Weber Connect's bright LED display. It's big and easy to read even under intense sunlight.
Cooking with the Weber Connect
I was expecting the application to have some wild and challenging recipes. That's been my experience with Traeger app for the company's pellet grills. What the Weber Connect app provides, on the other hand, is utilitarian. There are five food sections to choose from (red meat, pork, poultry, fish, lamb). The "red meat" and "lamb" areas had the most options.
That said, each offers several cuts of meat, including ribeye steaks, rib roast, lamb chops and so on. Most of the variation here, however, resides in each cut's doneness level (rare, medium rare, medium, medium well, well done).
The app covers many grill and barbecue staples. A few were notably missing. For instance, there was no chicken thigh cooking program under poultry. That's a huge omission in my book. Roasted and wood-smoked chicken thighs are one of life's great pleasures. You can set up a manual cook in the app though. I used it to grill some thighs to an internal temperature of 175 degrees Fahrenheit at 300 degrees F.
I did find the Weber Connect's brisket recipe to be spot-on. While I relied on the charcoal snake method to regulate grill temperatures in my Weber Classic, I followed the app's other advice. I smoked the meat low and slow (225 F) for seven hours. Then I wrapped the brisket in foil and continued smoking it for another five hours.
Last, I wrapped the meat (still in foil) in towels then placed it in an empty cooler. There it sat for another eight hours while I slept from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. This practice is called "faux cambro." It helps the meat to tenderize and also retain moisture. In the morning I was treated to some of the best beef brisket I've ever made. I wasn't expecting a lot either since I used just the brisket flat cut, not the whole (point and flat). It was piping hot too, with an internal temperature that was above 140 F. For the record, the US Department of Agriculture recommends serving meat at 145 F for proper food safety.
The rub I picked up for it wasn't over the top either, just all-purpose Pork Barrel BBQ seasoning. Nevertheless, the meat was super soft, juicy, smoky and delicious. I guess the three chunks of hickory smokewood did the trick.
The $129 Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub is definitely useful as a wireless, connected thermometer. That said, you can do much of the same thing with products that cost a lot less money. A simple, not smart, wireless digital grill thermometer will set you back just $39.
Neither does the Connect take the extra step of controlling the temperature of your barbecue pit. For that you'll have to spend a little more on products like the $179 BBQ Guru DigiQ and $238 SmartFire.
And while the Weber Connect app's guided instructions are nice to have, after a little bit of experience you won't need them. The recipe library isn't extensive either. So, excellent brisket recipe aside, I suggest you pass up this product. Spend your extra cash on what counts: meat and fuel.