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There's a lot to like about this in spite of a few flaws.

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    Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub review: Backyard grillmaster training

    A handy grilling tool with room for improvement.
    Billy Steele
    April 3, 2020
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    WiFi-enabled pellet grills are a backyard luxury for aspiring pitmasters. They not only allow you to remotely monitor temperature, but to adjust settings from your phone. However, they're a significant investment, and not everyone is keen on using compressed wood as cooking fuel. Plus, you might already have a grill you like. With the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub ($130), you can make any grill smart. It can monitor both food and ambient temperatures thanks to Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, and guided recipes give beginners the sous chef they need to cook without fear.

    Gallery: Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub review | 12 Photos

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    Key

    Pros
    • Recipe guidance
    • Bluetooth and WiFi
    • Up to 4 probes
    • Rechargeable battery
    Cons
    • Limited recipes (for now)
    • Time estimates can be frustrating
    • Only ships with two probes

    Summary

    For $130, the Smart Grilling Hub is a handy cooking companion that runs on the powerful Weber Connect app. Guided recipes are helpful for all skill levels and things like estimated completion times help you with longer cooks. There’s still some fine-tuning to be done, but this device is more than capable of giving any grill a smart upgrade.

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    Weber has been a mainstay on decks and patios for decades. It also has a few years of connected grilling experience via its line of iGrill products. The Bluetooth-enabled devices were originally created by iDevices before Weber bought the grilling line in 2016. I've been using the original iGrill Mini (from iDevices) for years now, and it still helps me consistently cook steaks to the perfect temperature -- it's well worth the $50 investment.

    There's one problem with those iGrill gadgets: The wireless connectivity is limited to Bluetooth. This means you can't wander that far before you lose the signal. The Weber Connect Hub has WiFi, giving you a lot more freedom to move about while cooking. That's especially nice for things like pork shoulders or brisket that can take 8-10 hours or more. The initial setup on the Hub was a little frustrating, but I was able to get everything connected in about 10 minutes. Since then, I haven't had any issues. Every time I turn the device on it automatically connects to my home WiFi and pops up in the Weber Connect app. When you're properly connected, the Hub displays either a blue or green icon on the right side depending on if you're using Bluetooth or WiFi.

    The Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub can accommodate up to four temperature probes, but it only comes with two: one for internal food temperature and one for ambient temperature. These are certainly all you need to get started, as the Weber Connect software uses meat and grill temperatures to calculate estimated cook times. If you're cooking multiple items to different temps though, you'll need those two additional probes -- and it'll cost you $15 each. If you ask me, it would've been nice if those other two were also in the box.

    Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub review

    You actually turn on the Hub by plugging a probe in. (Removing them turns it off.) Once you've done that, you just press the top of the device to pair it with your phone.

    There are a number of options for thermometers that allow you to keep tabs on food and grill temperature from afar. You can get them with up to four probes, and some even have WiFi connectivity and handy apps. Most of the models run on batteries though, so you have to keep a supply on hand in case you need to swap them out. Some are rechargeable, and the Weber Connect Hub is one of them. The company says you can expect up to 20 hours on a full charge. I had no trouble getting through 10-hour low-and-slow cooks with pork shoulders, but that's the furthest I pushed it in a single use.

    To help you keep tabs on your power level, there's a battery indicator that gives you an estimate of the battery percentage. The lightning bolt on the left side of the Hub glows green above 50 percent, orange for 20-50 percent and red once you get below 20 percent. In my experience, you'll want to recharge between those marathon sessions. But if you're doing a lot of hot-and-fast grilling, you'll be able to use the Hub several times before you need to plug it in. If you want to check things before you get started, pressing on the top of the Smart Grilling Hub with no probes attached will display the current battery level.

    There's a numeric display on the hub itself as well. It will show the current temperature for the selected probe or an estimated completion time, depending on what you've chosen in the app. To switch between probes all you have to do is press on the front of the Hub.

    Billy Steele/Engadget
    Image credit: Billy Steele/Engadget

    The hardware is nice, but the real star here is the Weber Connect app. It's the software that runs on JuneOS, which powers June's smart ovens. Weber Connect functions in a similar manner: It uses a combination of internal food temperature and grill temperature to guide your cooking process. You can select from a number of meat and fish presets that will give you step-by-step directions for almost everything. That includes food prep, grill setup, how to insert the probe, when to flip, when to wrap (if needed), when to remove and how long to let things rest before slicing.

    Thanks to some behind-the-scenes calculations, Weber Connect can estimate when cooking will be complete if you're using one of these presets. It also estimates when you'll need to do the next step. All of this is paired with instructional video clips embedded in the recipe steps.

    These videos are helpful for a variety of things, particularly stuff like trimming a brisket or other pre-grilling prep work. These are the kinds of skills that come with experience, and it's guidance you typically have to research on your own. I've used a Serious Eats in-depth guide or two, so there's no judgement if you like to do your homework. Weber saves you time by putting everything in the app, so even if it's your first time cooking a brisket, you know exactly what to do and when to get it right.

    Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub review

    If you don't need this much assistance, you can set a target temperature and use the Smart Grilling Hub in a more manual fashion. If you know you need to wrap a pork shoulder at 165 degrees you can set an alert for that temp, and then another for the final target temp. With either method, the Weber Connect app will send you alerts when it's time for the next step or when you're approaching that target temperature.

    Over the last few weeks, I've used the Smart Grilling Hub in both regular and manual modes. I've tested recipes that were hot and fast on a charcoal grill (steaks and chicken breasts) and low-and-slow barbeque on a pellet grill (pork shoulder and beef ribs). Using the target temperature option, I've also reverse seared Tri-tip. The Hub led me to great results every time, but there is room for improvement.

    First, while there are plenty of recipes to choose from, with options for your desired doneness and thickness along with the cut, there are several omissions in the first round of presets. There's no option for pork ribs, for example, and the steak settings are limited to rib eye and a generic "steak" setting. (You can still select thickness.) Weber has committed to adding new recipes regularly and hopes to do so every quarter. In fact, the company says the next round will be ready soon. This means that over time, you'll have more options to choose from, and they'll come with that step-by-step guidance if you need it.

    The estimated completion times can also be slightly confusing. During shorter cooks, I had no issues. They worked well, and the estimated times for both flipping and removing food from the grill were pretty accurate. For multi-hour sessions, it's a different story. There's a lot more variables and a lot more math involved. For example, if you open the grill to peek or spritz your meat, the estimate will adjust to that temporary loss in temperature. My advice is to make note of the first number you get and treat is as a rough, but reasonably accurate estimate.

    Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub review

    Both times I cooked pork shoulders, the estimates were continually changing due to those recalculations. However, the estimate at the beginning proved pretty close, getting within 30 minutes each time. That's not bad for a cook that can go well over eight hours. Trust me, it's much better to have some idea when you'll need to wrap and when you'll be done than to be relying solely on temperature readings.

    Right now, there's no way to skip steps in the guided recipes. Now, normally skipping steps in a recipe is, well, a recipe for disaster. But if you're smoking a pork shoulder, for example, skipping the wrapping stage allows you to build up more robust bark, especially if you're spraying with something like apple juice or cherry soda. This really only applies to longer cooks though -- you definitely wouldn't want to skip any of the advice Weber offers on things like grilling and resting steaks or chicken breasts. It would also be great to see some more advanced features like a temperature graph that maps out the entire cook. This type of info is handy when you're fine-tuning your process over several attempts.

    Weber says it's working on voice-assistant integration. That means you'll be able to ask Alexa or Siri to give you an update without having to reach for your phone. While it might sound unnecessary, it could be useful in situations where your hands are full or even dirty. If you're prepping sides in the kitchen, it would be nice to just ask for the status of things instead of having to pause what you're working on, wash your hands and reach for your phone.

    Tri-tip (left) and beef ribs cooked on Weber's SmokeFire grill with the Smart Grilling Hub as the guide

    Weber Connect

    At $130, the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub is priced competitively. ThermoWorks' Signals has both Bluetooth and WiFi as well, and it accommodates (and ships with) four probes (three food, one air). ThermoWorks is always one of my first recommendations for cooking thermometers. I've been using the company's Thermapen Mk4 for a while now; that's why I recommended it for our gift guide last year.

    With Signals, you can set high and low temperature alarms for each probe, and all of the info can be monitored remotely via an app. It lasts for 16 hours on a charge, which is four fewer hours than the Hub, but probably still long enough for 99 percent of what you'll cook. However, it's almost $100 more at $229, so it's definitely an investment for more experienced cooks.

    If you don't need WiFi, ThermoWorks also has the Smoke. You can still set high and low alarms, but the info is sent to a wireless 2.4 Ghz radio receiver instead. Where the Signals is rechargeable, Smoke runs on AA batteries. The original Smoke model is $99 (now on sale for $74.25), or you can splurge for the newer Smoke X option with extended range of up to 1.24 miles (line of sight). It comes in two- and four- channel versions for $169 and $199, respectively.

    I've also used the $55 ThermoPro TP20 for a few years now. It has a range of presets for its two probes or you can manually set the target temperature. One probe can also be used for grill or oven temp. The TP20 isn't as fancy as some of the other options, but I've used it on a larger barbeque pit and to double check the accuracy of Traeger's probes during reviews. It has been reliable every time I've put it to work.

    The Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub is a great option for beginners who are looking to build confidence on the grill or smoker. The guided recipes have a wealth of information: Things like prep tips and resting time info ensure that you're not overlooking the finer details that make a big difference. That being said, there's still room for improvement, especially when it comes to recipes and fine-tuning the time estimates. The company has pledged to improve both, so even if you're not yet sold on the Smart Grilling Hub, it might be worth keeping an eye on. Right now, it's a handy device that will only get better with time.

    All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
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