I love to cook. My ideal vacation isn’t a trip to the beach or trek to a national park. I spend my off time with my butcher or fishmonger asking for strange cuts of meat or exotic sea creatures before roasting, smoking and curing them in my kitchen or backyard.
Consequently, I’ve collected a sizable number of kitchen implements over the years, and among the tools in my drawers is every kind of cooking thermometer you can imagine: instant-read stick thermometers to meat probes that connect to my phone via Bluetooth. So when Supermechanical released its new Range iOS cooking thermometers that claimed to be able to replace the various gauges and probes in my drawers, I welcomed the opportunity to test them out.
After a battery of tests on its Ember and Aqua thermometers, I’m not tossing out all my other temperature measuring gear, but in the Ember, I did find one of the simplest and best-designed smart thermometers that I’ve ever used. But if you’re a casual cook who wants a handy gadget for gauging the doneness of your chops on the grill or the monitoring the temp of a roast an oven, then the Ember would be a handy solo thermometer to own, pulling off the tasks of multiple tools.
Lamb and Pralines
The Ember is a roasting thermometer designed to be jabbed into meat, while the Aqua, as the name implies, is designed to take the temperature of liquids such as oil for frying or boiling sugar for candy making. Both are made from high-heat resistant metals and silicone (up to 450 degrees) and both have clips in their handles so then can be attached to pots or roasting pans.
Most significantly, though both probes have 5-foot silicone cords that connect to an iPhone or iPad’s headphone jack. A slickly designed iOS app is where you see all of your readings, set temperature alarms and generally follow the progress of a dish. For those of you experimenting with different temperature or timing patterns, you can save a historical graph of your dish’s progress.
I’ll start with the Ember because that’s the one I found myself using much more. Two weeks ago I put it to what I considered the ultimate test: a 7 lb. bone-in lamb shoulder roast. It’s a tricky cut of meat because it has a complicated bone structure that requires a lot of individual readings to get an accurate internal temperature. It spends four hours in the oven, but for the first thirty minutes I blasted it with 425 degree heat to get a good crust started before letting roast gently at 325 degrees.
The Ember handled the challenge beautifully. I was able to leave the probe in my roast throughout the entire cooking process, while a lesser thermometer would have been damaged by the initial heat blast. The heat-resistant cord tailed outside of closed over door and linked to my iPhone on the counter. The Range app then track the general temperature of the meat throughout the cooking process , alerting me when it hit particular temps. But when it came time to test different sections of the meat for doneness, the roasting thermometer turned into an instant-read thermometer. I’d poke it into different areas of the roast and get a temp in less than 5 seconds.
That’s an important thing to note because cooking thermometers these days are often designed to do one thing well, but fall down when presented with other tasks. If you want to get super-geeky about it the difference usually comes down to the type of sensor used: a thermistor versus a thermocouple.
Thermocouples are generally regarded as the superior, faster sensors while thermistors are slower but more durable. (For a more detailed explanation – as well as reviews of every conceivable digital and smart thermometer out there — check out Meathead Goldwyn’s exhaustive exploration of the topic on AmazingRibs.com).
According to co-founder John Kestner, Supermechanical basically sourced the best thermistor it could find when it created Range. The result is a thermometer that can truly pull double duty. So instead of spending 5 minutes hovering over my open oven to take half a dozen temp readings, I was able to take them in 30 seconds.
For my test of the Aqua, I made pralines, those little pecan, cream-and-sugar candies hailing from New Orleans. The Aqua has a much longer (6 inches compared to the Ember’s 3 inches) blunted-nosed probe designed to remain suspended in a pot of liquid. It’s apparently very popular with beer brewers, but I found it a bit awkward to use.
Unless I was using a very large pot, it basically got in the way of what I was cooking, and it’s tip constantly touched the bottom of the pot, which interferes with an accurate reading. An old-fashioned clip-on candy thermometer was much better suited for making pralines. And to be honest, Aqua uses the exact same technology as Ember so if you needed a liquid thermometer in a pinch you could use Ember for the task.
The bottom line
They may be versatile, but Range thermometers can’t do everything. They’re tied to your iPhone or iPad, dependent on its battery life and vicinity to use them properly. If I’m smoking a brisket or grilling over a very low flame, I’ll use my trusty iGrill, which has a base unit that I can leave outside, yet still get a constant temperature reading sent to my iPhone over a Bluetooth connection.
But as a general-purpose cooking thermometer the Ember is very impressive. I think Kestner and his team managed to combine the best aspects of Silicon Valley industrial design with true kitchen utility. I love my iGrill, but operating it is sometimes like programming an 1980s-era clock radio (you hold this button down while pressing this button for so long, etc…).
The Range app is clean yet simple to navigate. To set a temperature alert, you just hold down the your finger on the screen and move it up and down to set the temp you’re aiming for. To set a timer you move your finger in a clockwise or counterclockwise motion.
What I’m most excited about seeing, though, is the cooking technology ecosystem Supermechanical plans to build around Range. The company has launched a Kickstarter project for what it calls Range Oven Intelligence, which basically creates a wireless hub that acts as an intermediary between your thermometer and other gadgets and appliances.
Supermechanical wants you to be able to monitor your roast’s temperature from your LG TV or your Pebble smartwatch. It’s opening up its APIs so kitchen app makers can access its thermometer readings directly from their recipe pages. Instead of just providing a nifty connected tool, Supermechanical has ambitions to help build the connected kitchen.
The Ember and the Aqua both sell for $69.95 on Supermechanical’s website.