[FTC Standard Disclosure] I paid full price for my Thermoworks Signals and Billows. I used Thermoworks products for over a decade before recently agreeing to become an affiliate seller for Thermoworks. All links in this post are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you purchase through these links.
Last week, I was speaking with a relatively new user of kamado grills and he wasn't familiar with electronic controllers. That made me realize I had not yet written up my review of the Thermoworks Signals/Billows combination for controlling smokers/grills.
|Here is the Signals controlling my large BBQ pit while smoking 3 briskets.|
I own 6 models and 3 brands of controllers.
I have used this controller for 18 months.
So this is an in-depth, thorough review.
Intro to Electronic Controllers
Electronic Controllers are equipment that uses some type of processor (CPU) and a fan to control the temperature of your smoker/grill at a chosen temperature. It's a feedback loop. The CPU reads from a probe inside the grill and if the grill temperature is less than the chosen temperature, the CPU tells the fan to cut on. The fan will stoke the fire, increasing the temperature. The CPU checks back for the result and readjusts. It's more complicated than that, but that's the gist.
- Consistent monitoring leads to a consistent fire (within variables)
- SLEEP! It's nice to sleep during overnight cooks without having to worry about the temperature dropping or the smoker getting too hot.
- Things can still go wrong when using a controller, for example - the grill runs out of fuel, airflow gets restricted, the temperature probe fails, or power failures.
- Learn fire management first! I strongly recommend people use the manual controls of their grill or smoker for six months before starting to use an electronic controller. There's no substitute for knowing how to manage the fire on your grill.
So now that you know WHAT an electronic controller does, HOW WELL does the Signals/Billows combo do that?
The Signals is the CPU or "brains" of the controller. It is what monitors and analyzes what's going on in your smoker/grill and it's what tells the fan what to do.
|The Signals is a 4-channel cooking thermometer that is useful for BBQ, oven roasting, deep frying, sous vide cooking, home brewing, and candy making. You can monitor 4 meats or 3 meats and 1 cooking temperature probe at the same time.|
Connectivity and Smart Technology
|The Signals device has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology. The smartphone app unleashes the full power and flexibility of the Signals unit. More about that later.|
TIP for Wi-Fi - Most home routers today offer 2.4GHz (longer range) and 5GHz (faster speed). Most grilling areas are far from the router so most BBQ and grilling devices are designed for the 2.4GHz. If you experience connectivity issues with grilling equipment, make sure the 2.4GHz setting is enabled on your home router.
|Each channel has audible (90db) high-temp and low-temp alarms. That's as loud as a subway or a motorcycle 25 feet away, so you're not likely to miss it. Also, you can have alerts sent to your smartphone.|
- Durable - The first thing to go bad on most BBQ electronics is the wire (aka lead) to the temp probe. Many remote probe thermometers max out at 572f° (300c°)
- Flexible - The Pro-series is compatible with most consumer-grade Thermoworks products. This lets you share probes between devices, saving money.
- Options - The Pro-series offers a variety of probes, such as; curved, straight, short, long, needle, and waterproof (for sous vide).
|The signal uses the Thermoworks Pro-series temperature probes, which are also compatible with Smoke, ChefAlarm, and DOT series thermometers.|
Device Construction and Design
The Signals has a plastic composite body with molded seals that give the Signals weather resistance, slip resistance, and magnetic mounts. It's easy to clean the unit after each use.
|The plastic body with molded seals gives the Signals an IP66 splashproof rating|
|The back of the unit has 2 magnets that are strong enough to securely support the device when mounted to a metal surface. |
|The bottom has a non-skid strip to help the device secure. I have three other competing products and I've accidentally pulled and/or knocked those off of a grilling table before.|
Most controllers use proprietary cords, making it difficult to find a replacement in a bind. I was very impressed that the Signals and Billows utilize standard USB and USB-C cables. You have 3 options for powering your Signals.
- Long Battery Power - The Signals can run up to 16 hours using the onboard battery.
- AC Adapter - You can use the AC adapter for UNLIMITED POWERRRRRR (Emperor Palpatine's favorite)
- Battery Pack - If you're in for a long cook, somewhere where there is no electrical power, you can buy the optional 12v Battery Bank to get 24 hours of power.
Choice of color -
As with most of the consumer-level products from Thermoworks, the Signals is offered in 9 colors.
The large LCD screen (nearly 2" x 4") is well laid out. It lets you simultaneously see all four of the channels at a glance.
|One of my favorite features is being able to "name" each channel so you know exactly what you're looking at when you have multiple meats cooking on the grill. Here, I was cooking three briskets so I named each channel after the name of the person who was receiving the brisket.|
|The display is also backlit, which is useful for those overnight cooks.|
During a cook, the Signals records your maximum and minimum temperatures.
|In this case, the channel was recording my pit temp which was set at 250f. You can see the pit temp was 82.2f when I started. It also hit a max temp of 276.6f which sent me a notification. In this specific case, the high temp was during start-up because I had forgotten to close the top vent of my pit.|
So the Signals is the brains of this operation, which leaves the Billows to be the brawn.
Adding the optional Billows turns the Signals into a fully featured electronic controller. I have used multiple fan models from 3 different brands and the Thermoworks Billows is my "fan favorite" because of its power and flexibility.
Best In Class Airflow
The Billows boasts a best-in-class airflow of 45cfm, which is the most powerful fan I have used. A more powerful fan means faster start-ups and quicker recoveries after opening the grill.
|The Billows (center) has an airflow of 45cfm compared to 6.5cfm on the left and 10cfm on the right. The BBQ Guru seems to run better than just 10cfm but that's their rating. Also, the Pit Viper from BBQ Guru can run at 25cfm.|
Rugged, Weatherproof Composite Body
The housing for the Billows is a composite material that holds up to the rigors of outdoor cooking.
|The composite body is durable, weatherproof, and cool to the touch.|
Choice of Controllers
The Billows works with several products from Thermoworks, including Signals, ThermaQ2
, and SmokeX
- This lets you save on costs if you already own one of the other compatible devices.
- This lets you tailor your setup to your exact needs. Not sure which Thermoworks product is for you? Check out this guide.
This isn't NASCAR but I highly recommend buying the optional restrictor plate aka Billows Damper
. It lets you get dialed in with micro-adjustments and I find it is necessary if using this powerful fan on smaller grills. Pony up the $2.99, you'll be glad you did.
|IMO, to best control temperatures, especially on smaller grills like a kamado, you will want the optional restrictor plate.|
Making A Connection
Two things I like about the design of the way Billows mounts to your grill: it minimizes air leaks and has a variety of mounting options.
|Billows shown with 2 threaded mounts for large pits and a plate for mounting the unit onto a kamado grill. Mine came with the kamado attachment. The threaded adapters are optional and must be purchased separately. |
|A closer look at the gasket. That is the original gasket so it has lasted for 18 months and not starting to degrade yet. I am surprised it has held up to the high heat of being attached directly to the metal vent of a kamado but it has been durable.|
|Billows mounted onto a Big Green Egg. The foam ensures an airtight seal.|
|Close-up showing the Billows attached to a threaded mount on a much larger pit.|
|My Signals/Billows is the controller I use for my Deep South Smokers GC36 gravity-fed smoker.|
Teamwork Makes The Dream WorkThermoworks does offer an expansion kit that lets you attach 2 Billows to a single controller. However, even with my big red smoker, I've never felt like I need a second blower.
Smart Phone Apps
The Thermoworks smartphone app provides even greater flexibility and extra features.
The best thing about the app is being able to monitor and control my cook from the warmth and comfort of my bed during overnight cooks. When connected to Wi-Fi, you can literally control your grill from anywhere with a mobile data connection.
|The app lets you view current cooking and internal food temperatures. It also lets you raise or lower your cooking temperature remotely. |
A visual representation of your cook makes it easy to spot a trend or change with your cook, such as, knowing when you are heading into a "stall".
|The graph from a cook of 12 pork butts. I had probes in a butt on each rack. I suspected the middle rack represented by blue really wasn't running 20 degrees above the rest. When I repositioned the temp prob at 6:51am, it confirmed my suspicion.|
The app will trigger notification alerts, such as; when your grill temp is too high, or too low, or when your food is done.
- Learn from History - The app will maintain a history of your more recent cooks.
- Customization - The app lets you change the titles and colors of the 4 channels. You can change your notification preferences, temperature scale,
- Device Updates - The app will download and install firmware updates to your device, keeping your device secure, up to date, and in some cases, adding new features.
- Not All Apps Are Equal - A lot of smart BBQ devices have apps these days. Some are well-engineered with planning and forethought while others are thrown together just "to say we have an app". My tip is to go to the app store and read the reviews. Case in point, a competitor to the Signals has excellent hardware. But the competitor app has persistent connectivity issues making the app worthless and limiting the device itself. Two years of reviews clearly show this and the company's inability or unwillingness to resolve the issue.
Performance of the Signals
My experience over the last 18 months is that the Signals and Billows as a BBQ pit controller are steady, accurate, powerful, and reliable.
- Steady and accurate - The temperature readings are accurate and the devices keep my BBQ pit temperatures where I want them to be.
- Powerful - The best-in-class fan ensures quick start-ups and fast temperature recovery.
- Reliable - I have had minimal problems and have confidence that it has things under control.
|I did a 4-hour temperature stability test when I first got my Signals/Billows and it shows what has also been my experience - the Signals/Billows does a great job maintaining a stable set temperature.|
|My testing and experience have shown the temperature readings of the Signals to be spot-on accurate.|
|From left to right: FlameBoss 300*, Signals/Billows, and BBQ Guru UltraQ|
I have used all three of these units considerably in the past 1 1/2 years, so I have a good base for comparison.
*FlameBoss 300 has been replaced by a newer model, the 500 which I have not used.
|The Signals/Billows combo works excellently on smaller grills like the Big Green Egg.|
|The Signals/Billows works well on insulated box smokers like Humphrey's Battle Box.|
|The powerful Billow's fan means the Signals/Billows can handle large cooks like when 12 cold pork butts go into the smoker at once.|
|The Signals/Billows combo rocks even on larger pits like my Deep South Smokers GC36. It has become my preferred controller for this big smoker.|
I still use multiple brands of controllers. The FlameBoss and BBQ Guru models are fine choices. If someone told me they were going with one of those, I wouldn't try to talk them out of their choice. The brands share good performance and have many similar features.
But when I was pressed last week for WHICH ONE I would buy today, I recommended the Signals/Billows combination because of it's
- more informative display,
- significantly more powerful fan,
- better app connectivity, and
- very surprisingly.....PRICE.
Of the models I have discussed, the combination of the Signals and Billows is currently just $318 ($45.50 to $61 less expensive than the other models).