Here at ThermoWorks, we get lots of questions about using our leave-in-probe thermometers—like SmokeTM, ChefAlarm® or DOT®—while grilling. The great thing about leave-in probe thermometers is that they allow you to track changes in temperature over time and can alert you when you get to your target. But is using them when grilling a good idea?
“GRILLING” = HIGH HEAT ENVIRONMENT
Grilling is, by definition, cooking food over the intense heat of an open flame. Because of the intensity of the cooking environment, the internal temperature of grilled foods usually increases rapidly—making it easy to miss your target temperatures and overcook. So using a leave-in probe thermometer (sometimes called a cooking alarm) to track internal temperatures would seem to be a winning idea.
In fact, it can be if you use the right kinds of probes and follow a few safety precautions. Most probes, however, are not cut out for grilling applications.
Grill temperatures can vary, of course, depending upon the fuel and the construction of the grill, but grill surface temperatures are commonly between 400 and 600°F (204 and 315°C). Those are temperatures high enough to burn out probes made by our competitors, but ThermoWorks probes can withstand ambient temperatures up to 700°F (370°C).
THE FLARE-UP: WHERE PROBES GO TO DIE
There is one thing, though, that can easily burn out even ThermoWorks probes: the flare-up.
Flare-ups occur when liquids (fats or oils) are expelled from meats on the grill and drip down onto the fire or coals. Fats act as fuel, propelling an open flame up to the grill surface, and sometimes higher. The temperature of those flames can exceed 1,000°F (538°C), and even armored, high-quality probe cables like those featured in ThermoWorks Pro-Series® Probes max out at 700°F (370°C).
This is why, as a general rule, we don’t recommend using leave-in thermometers for grilling applications. Our leave-in probe thermometers and probes are purpose-built for low-and-slow cooking environments, like ovens and smokers. But even our high-quality, high-temp probes can be burnt out by flare-ups on the grill. So if you’re planning to use a leave-in probe while grilling, you need to take steps to insulate your probes and cables from flare-ups. The probe tip itself should be safely tucked away in the meat or whatever you are measuring, but you still need to be careful with your cables.
HOW TO PROPERLY USE LEAVE-IN PROBES WHILE GRILLING
Remember, even ThermoWorks probe cables are only rated to 700°F (370°C) for Pro-Series Probes. So to help mitigate risk to your probes, here are some steps that careful cooks take to make it possible to use leave-in probes and thermometers like the Smoke, DOT or ChefAlarm while grilling:
- Insert the probe into food on the grill NEAR the grommet or opening, so that the cable does not need to be draped across the grill grates themselves.
- If necessary, wrap the probe cable and transition with aluminum foil to further reflect the high heat of flare-ups. You can also use a little foil to group multiple probe cables together, directing them toward the grill grommet or opening and away from the grilling surface.
PROBE CONSTRUCTION MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Simply put, ThermoWorks probes are the best probes you can buy for cooking, smoking, and grilling. Our probes are manifestly more accurate, more robust, and longer lasting than the competition. Let’s take a look at ways that ThermoWorks probes are superior to the competition.
- ThermoWorks probes have reinforced transitions. The junctions between the cable and the probe itself and the junction between the cable and the plug are the most likely parts of the probe to fail. ThermoWorks probes feature reinforced heat-resistant transitions and springs around the cables to prevent kinking. The competitors’ probes often feature metal transitions or machine-pressed seals that let the heat in and are more subject to metal fatigue.
- ThermoWorks probes feature reinforced cables. ThermoWorks probe cables are insulated and reinforced with silicone or metal braiding for great heat resistance and durability.
- ThermoWorks probes are built on more accurate sensors. ThermoWorks thermistor sensors used in our Pro-Series probes are widely known to be the most sensitive and accurate sensors in their class.
- ThermoWorks probes come with published specifications. Good luck finding the maximum-allowable exposure temperatures listed for either the cable or the transition with our competitors’ probes. ThermoWorks publishes complete specs for each of the probes we sell, including…
- Sensor range
- Cable max temp
- Transition max temp
- Probe and transition dimensions
- Cable length
(We sometimes see owners of our competitors’ products posting on BBQ and cooking forums about buying ThermoWorks probes and plugging them into their non-ThermoWorks meters. But since each brand of thermometer actually calibrates their readout electronics to work with their own brand of probes, their electronics might give false readouts with our probes. We don’t recommend this practice.)
A FINAL NOTE ON GRILLING WITH PROBES
While our probes are designed to be best of class (each batch is tested to make sure they meet our high-quality standards) and are much heartier than those of our competitors, all cooking probes—no matter what type they are, how expensive they are, or who makes them—are subject to decay over time due to the harsh conditions they are used in. Professional BBQ teams always keep extra probes on hand for this reason. Plus, it never hurts to have more types of probes on hand to handle different kinds of cooks!
In the end, it’s important to recognize that there will always be risks when using leave-in probe thermometers while grilling. Flare-up temperatures are too high for probe cables and transitions and can easily burn them out. But the simple steps outlined above, if carefully followed, can help you avoid exposing your probe cables to flare-ups or hot spots and help them stay in good working condition.