Fired up with the FireBoard
By Michael Hiller
After a year spent mostly stuck indoors, summer’s promise of blue skies and backyard barbecues sounds especially rejuvenating. Slow cooking over oak and hickory coals is one of life’s great pleasures, at least if you set yourself up for success.
FireBoard is based in Kansas City, Missouri — where they take barbecue more seriously than your 7th-generation Texas cowboy uncle — and the founders understand this well. FireBoard makes proprietary computer controllers for charcoal- and wood-fired cookers. A few months ago, the brand released its most advanced product, the FireBoard 2 Drive, which can transform nearly any barbecue novice into a pro.
Slightly larger than a mobile phone, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a thermostatic controller that uses digital temperature probes and an add-on variable speed fan to precisely regulate your charcoal fire. If you own or use a Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe or similar ceramic cooker, you know how tricky it is to keep the smoldering fire at the right temperature for hours on end. FireBoard is the solution.
While it’s monitoring and tweaking the ambient temperature at the grate, the drive is also tracking the internal temperature of the cooking meat via one or more probes. You’ll see all those temperatures displayed on the gadget’s screen and your smartphone, taking the guesswork out of the job.
The $249 FB2 Drive ships with the base unit, three temperature probes and a power adapter, but you’ll want to add the $59 drive blower if you don’t already have a similar 12V fan in your kitchen junk drawer. The blower plugs into the drive unit, then attaches to your cooker, where it stokes the air supply to the fire.
With both the drive and the blower connected, you’ll have everything you need to succeed when it comes to low-and-slow cooking. The rugged, weather-resistant base unit is equipped with an intuitive LCD screen but can also be controlled with a free phone app and web interface. You can use FireBoard’s built-in temperature settings to control the cooking process, or create a custom algorithm to ramp the temperature up or down. When the FireBoard senses that the grate temperature has dropped below a threshold you’ve set, it instructs the blower to puff air on the fire. When it needs to really kick up the heat — maybe you’ve raised the temperature to cook the food faster or add a sear at the end — the fan can go full blow-dryer.
I tested the FireBoard 2 Drive on a Big Green Egg during an overnight brisket cook. I programmed it to keep the fire at 235 degrees until the brisket temperature registered 165 degrees. The FireBoard kicked up the heat to 270 degrees, holding it there until the brisket temperature probe registered 195. And then it snuffed out the fire.
All those adjustments were made automatically, which meant I didn’t have to crawl out of bed to fiddle with the fire myself. And I was able to monitor or tweak the process from my phone. Everything about the FireBoard feels rugged and well-made, as if it were designed to be packed in a wilderness survival kit. I love that it can be accessed and programmed anywhere I have an internet connection, run on its built-in lithium ion batteries for more than 24 hours or on AC power, and send temperature alerts by text and email. Without the blower, the FireBoard can double as a Wi-Fi temperature monitor for those times I’m cooking on an offset smoker or on a pellet or
People in online barbecue forums rave about this thing. There are several competing controllers, but no other brand seems to engender such fierce loyalty. Count me among its fans.