If you like the thought of turning your charcoal smoker into a hands off ‘set it and forget it’ style smoker then you need to consider getting a temperature controller.
These units connect to most smokers and work by regulating the air flow to maintain a steady temperature. They take the guess work out of constantly adjusting air vents. They also do a good job of shutting up your smug electric smoker owning friends…
You can buy controllers that come with WiFi so you can control them from your phone or tablet, and others that require manual adjustments on the unit.
The big advantage with WIFI is that you can keep an eye on the temperature from the comfort of your home. You can also adjust your desired pit temperature. These units also come with more features that let you produce cool cook logs and graphs.
Non WiFi units can be had for much cheaper though, and the units we’ve picked below all do an excellent job regulating the temperature without all the bells and whistles (and extra cost).
Click to jump straight to each topic
- Best budget automatic temperature controller – Pitmaster IQ120 BBQ Temperature Regulator Kit
- Another (slightly less) affordable bbq controller to consider – DigiQ BBQ Temperature Controller
- The best WiFi temperature controller with all the features – BBQ Guru CyberQ
- Another excellent WiFi automatic controller – Flame Boss 200-WIFI Grill & Smoker Temperature Controller
- Why you should consider using a temperature controller
- How temperature controllers work
- Installing your smoker temperature controller
- A word of warning if your smoker runs hot
Best budget automatic temperature controller – Pitmaster IQ120 BBQ Temperature Regulator Kit
With the IQ120 PitmasterIQ have improved on the older IQ110 to create an excellent budget temperature controller. This is still a relatively basic option without some of the bells and whistles of other models.
But if you just need a unit with excellent temperature control throughout a whole cook it doesn’t make sense to waste money on features you’re never going to use.
And this unit is great at doing the basics. It can hold the temperature on your smoker within +/- 1 degree F.
While it lacks a larger digital display, WIFI capability and some of the other options, and the build quality isn’t quite as high as other units like the CyberQ, the IQ120 just gets the job done.
And at a fraction of the price point this is an excellent affordable option.
The unit comes with a 6′ food temperature probe and a 6′ smoker ambient temperature probe.
Unlike other units like the CyberQ, the IQ120 blows air through a hose to the smoker. This means you can hang it easily out of the way (you don’t want to accidentally kick your new unit).
How the IQ120 compares with the IQ110:
- The unit now comes with an LED display for reading temperatures and setting alarms. Nice upgrade, although the screen size is still on the small size.
- Can now set a pit temperature alarm so you are alerted if the temperature gets too hot or cold
- Can choose between Farenheit and Celsius
- Comes with a food probe as well as pit probe.
None of these features make it worth upgrading from the IQ110 to the IQ120, but if you are buying a new unit, for the price difference you might as well go straight for the IQ120.
Neither units come with smartphone connectivity however, so if you want that feature you’ll need to look at a more expensive model like the CyberQ.
Setting the IQ120 up is very straightforward. The unit can be installed on most smokers without tools. You start by connecting the adapter to a lower air vent using the thumb/toggle bolt that comes with the unit. The remaining vents are sealed up with high temperature aluminum tape (that also comes included).
Actually setting up all the options can be a bit tricky on the small LED screen though.
While the unit runs on 12 volts and needs to be plugged in to the electricity to run, you can buy a cigarette lighter adapter that lets you run the unit off your car battery.
So now there are no excuses for bad barbecue even when you are camping or tailgating.
What we don’t like:
One of the downsides with this unit is that the hose that connects the metal bowl that goes over the vent is made out of plastic. We’ve heard of people that managed to melt the plastic barbed connector. If this does happen you can always replace it with a spare hose.
We would have preferred a more durable hose though. Just make sure you check how it sits around your smoker, and make sure it’s not close to any major heat.
Other than the cheap plastic hose, the IQ120 comes with a rich feature set for managing your smokers temperature. If you struggle keeping an ideal temperature or just want to take some of the pain out of long cooks then the IQ120 can make the whole process much more enjoyable. Get the latest price from Amazon.
Another (slightly less) affordable bbq controller to consider – DigiQ BBQ Temperature Controller
The DigiQ from BBQGuru is their middle of the range blower. It’s a decent upgrade over the PartyQ which runs off AA batteries and provides temperature control for smaller cookers. Unlike the CyberQ, it doesn’t come with WIFI for remote monitoring and control though.
Just like the IQ120, you get two probes. One for monitoring the cooker and the other for monitoring your food.
The adapter is easy to install into most smokers, and the control box is clearly durable and built to last. The unit performs well in tests, and keeps the temperature closely regulated.
The IQ120 vs the BBQ Guru DigiQ
When looking at the best affordable automatic temperature controller for your smoker, it’s all about the IQ120 VS the DigiQ.
While the DigiQ is usually slightly more expensive, the features are pretty similar, and both units have fans that swear their unit is the best.
- The IQ120 comes with a variable fan speed that lets you set 5 CFM, 10CFM or 15 CFM where as the DigiQ will adjust the fan for you automatically but can’t be overruled.
- The DigiQ has more mounting options and doesn’t rely on the “dog dish” like attachment and cheap plastic hose (although the hose does allow for more flexibility with placing the unit).
- The DigiQ can also reach a higher fan CFM which is useful for larger cookers.
- The DigiQ uses Platinum RTD probes while the IQ120 uses thermocouple technology. RTD usually allows for more accurate temperature readings, and can continue to produce stable readings for longer. Thermocouple gets the edge for temperature measurement speed though. (Learn more about the difference between RTD and Thermocouple).
Lastly the DigiQ can stop blowing when the lid is open. Normally opening the cover would drop the internal temperature, causing the blower to try and make up the difference. This can lead to increased temperature spikes, which are avoided by the unit simply turning itself off when you open the lid.
Both blowers are great units, so it’s hard to go wrong. In a test run on amazingribs.com the IQ120 did perform slightly better in temperature stability, but the DigiQ seems to have better all around build quality.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
The best WiFi temperature controller with all the features – BBQ Guru CyberQ
With three digital food thermometers and one pit probe, the WiFi CyberQ from BBQ Guru is the ultimate solution for serious pitmasters who want to monitor multiple items of food at once, while being able to control the smoker from the comfort of their own home on phone, tablet or PC.
The CyberQ almost feels like cheating.
Because the CyberQ uses WiFi you don’t need to worry about range so long as both devices are connected to the same network. This is a nice change from the connection and range issues you get with bluetooth thermometers.
The CyberQ packs a huge range of impressive features, including a “full-time adaptive control algorithm” that learns about your individual smoker over time so that it can better control and stabilise temperature.
The folks over at nakedwhiz.com do a great job breaking down the extensive feature list.
Some of the main things we like about this unit include:
- It’s much easier to setup the device using your PC or phone than relying on the small screen on the device. Once it’s connected you can easily name each probe, set your desired temperature and different alarms.
- Comes with a Pit Viper medium fan which is good for medium to large cookers.
- You can connect in a few ways. Adhoc mode is really easy to setup and allows you to connect 1 other device (e.g. your phone or laptop). You can also connect to your homes WiFi.
- If you are on the technical side you can even setup the CyberQ in infrastructure mode (PDF) so you can monitor and control temperatures when you leave the house. This will require setting up port forwarding though so you may want to stick with the default Wifi hot spot setup.
The temperature probes are also super accurate, matching the reading from a ThemaPen.
You can see the CyberQ in action in the video below.
You can use the pitpal barbecue app on your Android phone which comes with a bunch of cool features including:
- View your smoker and food temperature live on your phone.
- Direct access to the Guru web console (so you don’t have to go through a browser on your computer)
- Temperature notifications on your phone
- Track history for multiple foods during a cook
- Store old cooks with detailed notes, photos and temperature charts
It’s hard to find much to fault with this unit, and at nearly $400 we should hope so! It will cost as much (or even more) than most smokers you use it with. The only issues you are likely to have are with connecting the WiFi, and even that is mostly straight forward. The unit comes with an instruction manual which is fairly easy to understand.
While the price is on the high end, you should think about the CyberQ as an investment. In the long run it will save you a lot of time, frustration, and even money. With better temperature control you will get increased efficiency and lower charcoal usage.
It’s also highly likely that once you’ve installed the CyberQ you’ll be much more likely to fire up the smoker more often. Set it up the night before and then enjoy brisket for lunch. Sounds good to me. Get the latest price on Amazon.
Another excellent WiFi automatic controller – Flame Boss 200-WIFI Grill & Smoker Temperature Controller
When everyone else is trying to sound cool with high-tech names like “CyberQ” and “DigiQ”, you’ve got to respect the manufacturers for simply calling this unit the Flame Boss.
And a boss you will be. With WiFi controller that connects to any device with a browser (it will work on your phone, tablet or computer), you can easily monitor and adjust your smoker setup.
This unit fits most popular smokers, including Big Green Egg, Kamado and Weber Smokey Mountain.
While you’ll mostly be checking temperatures remotely, we actually like the display on this unit. It always shows your target temperature, the actual grill temp, your food temp and the fan output. The screen is large and bright enough to be easily read.
What we liked about this unit:
- Setup including WiFi setup is very straight forward as you can see in this YouTube video.
- The controller learns your smoker so the temperature control gets better over time. The first few cooks will be a bit of a learning experience (for both you and the Flame Boss!), but after that it’s all smooth sailing
How the Flame boss compares with the CyberQ
There’s no doubt that the CyberQ from BBQ Guru has the best reputation, but the Flame Boss looks like an interesting challenger, and at a slightly lower price point we were curious to see how well they stacked up.
- If you’ve connected a phone or tablet to WiFi before, then you can setup the Flame boss. The process is easier than on the CyberQ which come with multiple connection methods. Once connected you can go to myflameboss.com and view your cook data and control your smoker.
- The Flame Boss comes with a multi-speed fan which allows it to blow at any strength. This lets it fine tune the oxygen intake, rather than adjusting between a few preset speeds. This gives the Flame boss the edge when it comes getting a precise, consistent temperature.
The Flame boss is a great option if you’re worried that setting up the WiFi on the CyberQ might be outside of your technical skills. This unit is very simple to operate, it gives you a huge amount of freedom and flexibility with your barbecue. Get the latest price on Amazon.
That wraps up our guide to the best automatic bbq temperature controllers. If you want to understand a bit more about how these units work we’ve included a detailed guide to how temperature controllers work, and what you should know before buying one.
Why you should consider using a temperature controller
Every seasoned pitmaster will tell you that the secret to cooking amazing barbecue is learning how to control your smokers temperature.
When you master the art of maintaining a low steady temperature over a long period of time (16+ hour cooks aren’t uncommon), you start to produce the most amazing barbecue.
It’s not about secret rubs, sauces or injections (although those can help cover up your mistakes while you’re learning!).
It’s all about temperature and time.
We’ve previously looked at how important it is to be able to monitor the pit temperature throughout a cook when we looked at the best smoker thermometers available.
Being able to monitor the temperature is the first half of the battle. Most of the work of smoking goes into making regular adjustments to the air flow, to control the temperature as your fuel burns.
But before you ditch your charcoal smoker, you should know that you can still achieve steady low temperatures without having to get up to constantly adjust the air flow on your smoker. There are a range of temperature controllers you can connect to your smoker that do all the work of regulating temperature for you.
So take back your precious sleep on long brisket cooks and turn your charcoal smoker into a set it and forget it machine.
How temperature controllers work
The main way you control the heat in your smoker is by controlling the level of oxygen. Temperature controllers use this principle by connecting a fan on to one of your smokers intakes. When connected to a small electrical control box and a temperature probe, the fan moderates oxygen flow to match the temperature you set.
Because it’s a relatively simple design and uses components you can pick up from Home depot, lots of people have even made their own smoker temperature controllers.
But because we didn’t listen to the teacher during electronics class, we prefer the store bought options.
Meathead explains how these work in more detail:
The controller works to smooth out the temperature swings you get on a normal smoker. These swings can happen for a variety of reasons, and can be hard to manage even when you have a good wireless pit probe setup. By the time the temperature alarm has gone off and you’ve rushed out to your smoker, it’s too late.
When your temperature spikes and you rush to adjust the air flow, you often over adjust. This causes the temperature to plummet down.
These fluctuations are exactly what we don’t want during low and slow cooking.
By constantly monitoring the pit temperature and then adjusting the flow of air to match the temperature you set, smoker controllers can help you produce much better, more consistent barbecue.
These graphs from bbqguru.com show how the temperature swings are smoothed out, resulting in a much more consistent smoker temperature.
Installing your smoker temperature controller
Actually installing the controller is pretty straight forward. You’ll need to connect the ‘adapter’ to one of the vents of your smoker. This let’s you connect the blower.
The best way to install your new temp controller will depend on your smoker type and size. In most cases you’ll need to close off your bottom vents, and then mount the adapter to one of the vents.
It’s important to close off the other bottom vents, so that the only source of air is from the temperature controller (you can keep the top vents open slightly).
The actual method of mounting the adapter will vary depending on which controller you buy. For example the IQ120 adapter connects to the lower air vent using a thumb / toggle bolt that is included.
The CyberQ from BBQ Guru requires a little bit more fiddling. It comes with a flat plate that you use as a mounting bracket. It can be mounted in numerous ways according to your smoker type.
In this video courtesy of T-ROY COOKS you can see how he slides the the flat plate mounting bracket in to the Kamado Joe smoker.
Resources to help connect your temperature controller
There are a lot of good videos that show how to connect different controllers to different smokers. Another good option is to just read the manufacturers manual (shock horror!).
BBQ Guru manuals – In particular check out the adaptors and mounts section
A word of warning if your smoker runs hot
If you struggle with your smoker running hot, even with all the air valves closed, you may have other problems you need to address.
Because the temperature controller moderates the flow of oxygen, if your smoker runs hot even with the vents closed you most likely have a problem with air leaking. This means the controller won’t be able to effectively control the temperature in your smoker.
Some people report issues like this with the Weber Smokey Mountain, although you can get a gasket kit to easily improve accuracy and control.
If your smoker is air tight and your temperature drops down with the air vents closed then a temperature controller will work very well for you.
Smokers that will benefit the most from installing a controller include Egg style smokers, ugly drum smokers, kamado smokers and Weber Smokey Mountains without air flow issues.
We should also point out that bbq temperature controllers are not good for maintaining the fire on an offset smoker unless you are using minion or snake method, or if you are using only wood to cook with.
Wrapping it up
While temperature controllers might seem like an expensive luxury, if you take your barbecue seriously, they can be a fantastic investment. Just the ability to easily setup our barbecue before bed and know that there won’t be any temperature spikes that ruin our barbecue makes the unit pay for itself.
While we personally think the WiFi features are a must have, you still get all of the benefit of consistent temperature with the lower priced options. This is nice if fussing over a phone and looking at temperature graphs doesn’t seem like your idea of a good time.
Let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve missed anything, or if you’ve had any experiences with automatic temperature controllers.