Back in October out of the blue, I was contacted by Michael Collins of Flame Boss.
Hi, I am the manufacturing a new product, Flame Boss, a temperature controller that works with BGE. Would you be interested in reviewing it? I welcome your honest feedback.”
I had never heard of Flame Boss before, but I was floored that somebody would want my feedback on their and of course who doesn’t like new BBQ toys? Some of you may be scratching your heads. What’s a pit controller? Why would I want one?
Flame BossTM manufactures digital temperature controllers for your charcoal or wood burning smoker or grill. The controller monitors the temperature of your smoker and controls a blower that manages the amount of air flowing to the fire, which controls the size of the fire and thus the amount of heat it generates. Flame BossTM uses this mechanism to make your smoker work like an oven. Just set the temperature you want and Flame BossTM will take over. It also functions as a meat thermometer and timer, two tools commonly used by pit masters.
Flame Boss is a newcomer to the world of pit controllers having just started in 2013. Now, I am no expert when it comes to pit controllers. The only one I have used is the Auber Instruments Pit Controller, but there are quite a lot of players out there ranging from the simple and inexpensive PartyQ, iQue110, Auber Instruments and NanoQ all the way up to fancy and complex ones like the DigiQ II, StokerWiFi or CyberQII that will control more than one pit and allow you to monitor and control your pit remotely over the internet. It just depends on what you want to do and how much are you willing to spend. Do you want just the basics and start out at around $140? or is the techno geek inside you drooling away at the more impressive and complex ones that you can drop upwards of $500 dollars on? Flame Boss has positioned themselves right in the middle of this market, offering a few more bells and whistles than the simpler ones and coming in at $289 at the time of writing this.
When I opened the box that the Flame Boss was shipped in and inspected the package, I noticed that the meat temperature probe was sticking out of the packaging. Not the kind of thing you want to see right away. If I went to a store to purchase one and saw that, I would skip over it and take the one hanging on the rack behind it. It did appear to be fine and damaged in no way that I could see once I did open the package.
The back of the packaging explains some of the features of the Flame Boss. Right away you notice that it has two temperature probes (one for the pit and one for the meat), Open Lid feature and a Ramp Down feature. Those are things that not all of the basic pit controllers offer.
Once you open the package, you will find the Flame Boss Controller, a 110-240 volt AC power adapter, a pit temperature probe, meat temperature probe, a blower and two separate adapters for your smoker.
Since I already own the Auber Instruments Pit Controller, I thought I would do a side by side comparison of the two units. Keep in mind that the Auber is two years old and has seen some use and abuse, not to mention that their controller has undergone some changes. Whether those are just cosmetic or not, I have no idea. But, it’s what I have and what I can compare it to.
Upon inspection, the blowers from both companies appear to be identical. The one on top is the Flame Boss and the bottom one is from Auber. If you want to get nit picky, the nuts holding the blowers together are different, but the Auber is two years old. The one from Auber is rated at 6.5 CFM (cubic feet per minute). Although not listed on their site, Flame Boss told me that their blower is also rated at 6.5 CFM. They also informed me that they have designed their own housing and have ordered tooling to manufacture it, so expect changes to come once they get up and running
Score: Tie (awaiting new design from Flame Boss)
Pit Temperature Probes
Both units came with a K type thermocouple to measure the temperature of the pit. They have an alligator clip to attach them to the grate near your meat. According to Auber instrument’s site, their pit probe has a maximum working temperature of 550F. No information was included with the Flame Boss. Wary of burning out a probe, I sent them an e-mail and got a quick response later that same day. They assured their probe is rated to 550F, which they say is probably a conservative number and that it will be addressed on their website and future versions of their packaging. Flame Boss showed great customer service to me with that e-mail.
Power Adapters. They supply the power to the unit. Not much to say about them. They both have little green LED lights so you know they are working. They were interchangeable to both units. Not really something to judge either one on.
Score: Tie (even if not very important)
Mounting adapters are exactly what they sound like…an adapter that allows you to connect the blower to your smoker. In the picture above, you can see the adapter for Auber Instruments on the left (a bit dirty from years of use) and on the right are the two that come with the Flame Boss. With Auber instruments, you select the smoker you own and they send you the adapter you need. Flame Boss sends you two adapters that allow you to use it on a Medium, Large or XL Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe’ Big Joe 18 and 24 or Primo’s Oval and Kamado Grills. The adapter for the Auber and the one on the bottom for the Flame Boss are identical. If you happen to own multiple ceramic grills from different manufacturers, having two different adapters would be nice.
Score: a slight advantage Flame Boss
So in the side by side comparison on the Meat Temperature Probes…wait just a minute. You don’t see two meat temperature probes? Maybe that’s because the Auber doesn’t include one. In fact, the Auber doesn’t have the ability to monitor the temperature of the meat at all.
The meat probe from Flame Boss appears to be well made, but with no technical details to go on, it’s kind of hard to say much about it. We’ll see how it holds up once we get it up and running.
Score: major advantage Flame Boss
I think it would be unfair to compare my Auber controller to the Flame Boss, at least as far as looks go. I don’t know when they did it, but Auber has since undergone a design change. I don’t know if it is just aesthetic, but it no longer looks the same. You can check out their website to see what it looks like now.
The Flame Boss had a nice, slick black case. It appears to be well made and sturdy. I’m sure it will get dropped plenty of times and we’ll see how it holds up. There are three buttons on the front, a Menu button and a + and -. Should be simple enough even for a techno-phobe to operate. The buttons feel solid and not cheaply made. IMHO, the Flame Boss just feels more sturdy, durable and well made.
Maybe its just the guy in me, but personally I don’t care much how something looks. As long as it works and I know it works. All that being said, for looks and quality, I gotta give it to Flame Boss.
Score: Flame Boss
The connectors for the Auber are on the bottom when it is lying on a flat surface. From the above picture, you can see that the Auber has three connections. They arent labeled, but the pit probe obviously goes on the right (orange to orange). The probe does have a wide and a narrow pin, so make sure you plug them in accordingly. While the blower and power adapter connectors look similar, the plugs on both are different and are not interchangeable. No worries that you might accidentally plug the wrong one in the wrong spot.
The connectors for the Flame Boss are in the back when it is sitting flat on a surface. The Flame Boss obviously has one more connector than the Auber since it has a meat probe and all connectors are labeled. Unlike the Auber, the connectors are labeled for easy connection. As with the Auber, no worries about hooking anything up wrong, however. The two temperature probes are not interchangeable and neither are the power and blower.
Score: Flame Boss
When powered up, you can see that the Auber Instruments Pit Controller has a red LED display. When functioning normally, it only shows one number, the temperature of the pit (Scrolling through the menu, other items will be displayed such as target temperature). Below that, there are two LED indicator lights. The one on the left, OUT(AT) lights up to indicate that the blower is on. The one on the right, AL, lights up when the alarm sounds.
Flame Boss has a backlit LCD screen featuring a green background and black characters. In addition to alerting you to the temperature of your pit, it also tells you the set temperature, the temperature of the meat and how hard your blower is working (%). More info is definitely a bonus.
A majority of my cooks that I use a pit controller for are overnight cooks. It only made sense that I would have to take a compare the displays of both units in the dark. Sometimes, I peek through the windows or poke my head out the door to check on how things are going (even though I know there is no reason too). The Auber is easier to see in the dark and from a distance with its bright red LED light. While you can see the green LCD screen of the Flame Boss, making out any information from far away requires much better eyes than I have
Even though the Auber is easier to see in the dark, I feel the amount of information displayed by Flame Boss makes it a winner in the display category.
Score: Flame Boss
So I’ve unpacked the Flame Boss and I’ve looked it over. I’ve compared it to Auber. While they both have very similar appearing blowers (as of right now), pit probes, mounting adaptor and power adaptors, I have to say that the Flame Boss takes the edge. The amount of information on the display far outweighs the ease of read of the Auber’s display. The inclusion of a meat thermometer, I believe, is almost a necessity and the look and feel of the controller wins hands down.
Don’t get me wrong. The Auber is a great little unit and you can get your hands on it for $134.50 + S&H (as of the time writing this post). A great low-cost, basic entry level controller. No bells. No whistles. Just controls your pit. If that’s all you want, you won’t be disappointed in it.
But look at some of the other features you can get with the Flame Boss. A Learning PID controller, open lid detect, variable speed blower, meat temperature alarm and a ramp down function (all of which we’ll discuss in a later post). Is that worth the extra $154.40 (Flame Boss comes in at $289.00 + S&H)? That’s something only you can decide.
I know what you are probably thinking. Yeah, its great reading all that stuff and learning about it, but how well does it work? To be honest, I’ve only used it once so far, but I was impressed. I don’t feel like I’ve used it enough to really form an educated opinion on it yet, but first impressions were positive. If it performs half as well as I think it will, I wouldn’t be upset to see this sitting under my tree on Christmas morning.
Friday night will be the big night. I’ve got an Angus Choice full packer brisket sitting in the fridge right now, ready to take on the challenge of the Flame Boss. We’ll see how it works and report back to you next week. As of right now, I am totally confident that it can get the job done.
**Disclaimer – I was not paid in any way to write the above review. I have no links or ties to either Auber Instruments or Flame Boss. In fact, Flame Boss offered to include a return shipping label so that I could send back their unit after reviewing it if I felt keeping it would compromise my judgement or make me feel impartial.