Summertime is rolling around, and that means one thing for me- backyard BBQs. There isn’t much better than enjoying great company on a warm weekend day with a cold beverage and some delicious food cooked over an open fire— or so I thought so until recently. The traditional BBQ battle is charcoal vs. gas, but a new contender has entered the ring with the Zgrills Pro 7002 Electric Grill, and my mind was blown.
Grilling is typically an ancient connection to our early communal beginnings, celebrating the progression to more advanced technology with mastering fire and hunting tactics. That said, I typically don’t think too much about modern technology in grilling beyond a propane tank, however I’m always open to something that adds useful tech to a common product. Right around the same time Zgrills showed up with this shiny new toy a MEATER Smart Bluetooth Meat Thermometer landed on my desk, so I figured it would be as good a time as any to get my tongs ready and do some field testing.
Why Use an Electric Grill?
I’ve always used propane for grilling and hard lump charcoal for smoking, and I have to say they each have their drawbacks. Generally I try to keep tabs on my tank level so I can always be prepared, however inevitably there have been times where I’m halfway through a cook and I cash a tank.
It is a huge pain to need to run to the market to refill while the meat sits in its partially-cooked state, losing valuable time and quality in the process. Since electric grills use an unlimited energy source, you can literally run the grill nonstop and never run out of fuel.
Another benefit of electric grills is an even heat distribution and lack of flare-ups. Both problems with gas or charcoal grills can cause uneven cooking and either nasty gristle or overcooked food, which makes for a bad time. An electric grill is kind of like an oven, in the sense that it doesn’t have a series of open flames that can come into direct contact with the food. Flare ups are caused when grease drops on the flame, so you don’t have to worry about some portions getting toasted while others are undercooked if you don’t have that bare flame to contend with.
What a Seven-in-One Electric Grill is All About
The Pro 7002 model is the middle tier of the Zgrills lineup, following the successful $426,000-plus Indiegogo campaign last year for the Elite 900 model. Their pro model looks every bit the part from top to bottom, which has a durable powder coated steel construction and a stainless steel grill to protect the surfaces for years. The casters are an interesting choice, resembling roller blade wheels that actually make it very easy to pull the 140lb grill over steps or cables where some other caster designs falter.
At $550 it comes packing far more technology than the typical grill, and in fact it can grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, BBQ, or sear— all maintaining a clean and consistent cook with 24,000 BTUs.
One of the most unique things about the Zgrills models is that they all have a built-in wood pellet hopper, which has an automatic auger to pull the fuel as it is needed, delivering some delicious smoke and heat to the cooking chamber. The hopper off to the left of the grill can take up to 20lbs of wood pellets, and the amount of heat and smoke is controlled by a knob and electric temperature gauge on the unit.
How a Zgrills Electric Grill Works
Since there is no open flame emitted directly from the unit to produce heat, the electricity heats up a hot rod in the fire pot. Once the auger dumps the little wood pellets onto the hot rod, they combust and produce heat along with a wonderful aroma.
Being that the auger is electronically controlled with the internal digital temperature control unit, it automatically adds pellets as needed to regulate the temperature and thus makes it easier to precisely dial in just the right setting. Convection heat distribution allows for rapid heat circulation throughout the cooking chamber so flavors and cooking temperature is even.
The other little nifty bit about the Zgrills design is the grease pan that sits below the grates. This is angled just the slightest amount so grease that falls from the food slides over to one side, where it is funneled into a chute that leads directly to a catch can. The best part about the design (aside from the fact that it keeps your food from getting scorched) is that this plate is simple to remove and wipe down, unlike the burner covers in most gas grills.
Smoking with an Electric Grill
I like to smoke meat from time to time, and my typical method is one of the big black drum-looking units with big hard lump charcoal and wood chunks. While I love this method and it produces tons of robust flavor, there are a few downsides to it.
One is that the wood chunks must be first soaked in water for a minimum of 30 minutes, before they are tossed on the hot coals. The soaked wood smolders, producing a low heat and high flavor which is exactly what you want for smoking. The problem is that once the wood heats up and dries out, it goes into full flame and drastically raises the temperature so you can get fluctuations over the course of a four-hour cook time.
With the Zgrills electric smoking method this is not an issue, since the internal temperature is regulated you get heat when you need it, and not when you don’t. These electric grills can operate from 180°-450°, which covers pretty much anything one would need to smoke or cook (and with 700in² of grill space, that is plenty of whatever your belly desires).
Is this the best electric grill? Well, in all honesty this is the first I have used, however it is also the most intuitive design that I have ever seen. If there is another electric grill that comes with a robotic arm to flip burgers itself, that might beat the Zgrills out for the best electric grill. As far as I’m concerned, this takes the cake for now.
Meet MEATER, the Smart Meat Thermometer
Another Indiegogo success story, the MEATER is the world’s first wireless smart meat thermometer, that absolutely crushed it with $2.77M raised in their crowdfunding campaign in late 2015. Since then they have made some improvements to the app, making the functionality extremely intuitive and making a name for themselves in the Smart Home space.
The premise of the product is actually quite simple, make a Bluetooth meat thermometer that can accurately monitor temperature without wires, making it ideal for various cooking scenarios. It’s the stellar execution of the app and the intuitive details that make it such a massive success.
Besides just measuring the internal temperature of the meat (up to 212°)while cooking, the MEATER also has a thermometer inside the handle to measure the ambient temperature (up to 527°) of the oven, grill, or smoker that is being used to cook. This is actually really useful if you aren’t using something that is as steady with the temperature as the Zgrills, so you can know exactly what the status is without checking constantly.
The MEATER itself is a sleek design of stainless steel and ceramic, that charges via a single AAA battery when it is nestled inside its bamboo case. One charge gives the thermometer 24 hours of cook time, and the one battery can charge the MEATER up to 100 times. The case is also magnetic, so it can stay on the side of a BBQ or fridge at full charge until needed and you don’t need to worry about it being dead when it is called upon.
Using the MEATER is extremely simple, in fact literally all you need to do is insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat up above the mark, launch the app, and start cooking.
How a Wireless Smart Thermometer Works
The MEATER is actually a pretty interesting device, and when operated as a single unit it utilizes Bluetooth connectivity for what MEATER claims is a 33-foot range in a pan, oven, or gas grill (10 feet for a BBQ or smoker). When using the MEATER Block of four meat thermometers, the housing acts like a smart Bluetooth to Wi-Fi bridge to extend the wireless range up to 165 feet, which is very unique.
All the smarts for the thermometer are really in the Android and iOS app, which has a step-by-step guide to narrowing down the perfect cooking temp based on the type of meat, the cut, and the preferred cook temperature. The interface is very simple to navigate, and explains the different steps as it walks you through them.
Inside the app there are displays for the internal meat temperature, target temperature, and the ambient temperature all on a clear readout with estimated remaining cook time. There is also a temperature graph, so cooks can keep track of the heat progression of their meat along with the peak internal temperature.
A really cool feature of the app is the alarm system for keeping tabs on the cook progression. I set a specific alarm for a five-minute warning, when the meat was ready to rest, when it was ready to be cut, and also an emergency alarm in case it was left too long and overcooked.
Is a Smart Wireless Meat Thermometer Worth it?
I don’t want to say the MEATER makes cooking meat “idiot-proof”, but this device gets as close as you can possibly get. I have used the wired digital meat thermometers, and they work, but do nothing special. The metal cable ends up getting dirty and pinched, and it doesn’t have any intelligent features like this one.
Thinking about all the times I have tried to multitask and ended up burning something on the grill, or missed the ideal cook temperature by letting the meat rest too late, the MEATER would have come in real handy to notify me specifically of what to do and when.
In practice, I found that in my oven the wireless thermometer range was closer to the 10 feet, but that may have been a result of my walls, which are thicker material than normal. When using the thermometer on a grill I was actually able to get farther away, since it was out in the open.
Electric Grilling with a Bluetooth Meat Thermometer is the Future
There are always the purists who say there is one way to do things, and for grilling it should be done the “old fashioned way”. Well, to that I say if more technology helps make better food, more consistently, and without as much wasted time I’m all for it.
When I used the Zgrills Pro 7002 and MEATER, I could literally set it and forget it, locking in consistent flavor and the optimal cook temperature several times while I went off to do other things. No burned meat, no time sitting in front of the grill killing time, no worrying about ruining dinner. To me, that is the pinnacle of innovation— using technology to optimize a process. The favorite pastime of millions of people just got way easier, in time to have a summer loaded with fun.