Sunday, December 18, 2022

Product Review: Thermoworks Signals and Billows

[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.

Thermoworks Signals
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. 

  • Advantages
    • 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.
Credit: Thermoworks

So now that you know WHAT an electronic controller does, HOW WELL does the Signals/Billows combo do that? 

Signals Features

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.

Four Channels

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. 

It's Alarming!

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Having Fun With a Wok Stove

[FTC Standard Disclosure] We received no payment for this post. Any links that might earn us a commission are marked [Affiliate Link].

Have you ever cooked on a wok stove? I stumbled across this 13" clay stove on sale for like $20 at my local Asian supermarket and couldn't resist it. It sat in my garage for a while but I recently got the chance to play with it.

Clay stoves are ubiquitous across Asia. China has the wok stove, Thailand has the tao charcoal burner, Vietnam has the lo than, the Philippines has the ulingan or kalan de uling, and Japan has the hibachi and hotpot. I have zero experience with these but live-fire cooking is live-fire cooking, so let's play with this grill of sorts.

How It Works

This clay stove looks and functions a lot like the internal parts of a kamado grill, only smaller in size.

  • Hot coals go into the top part, resting on the ceramic grate with holes.
  • A cooking vessel (wok, pot, grate) rests on the three clay knobs.
  • The airflow is from a wide-open vent on the bottom.
  • So temperature control is basically a matter of the quantity of coal. More coals hotter, fewer coals cooler.
There is a removable section that theoretically lets you add coals. I've also seen cooks use this to insert pieces of wood to add smoke to the equation.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Fall 2022 North Florida Eggfest - St John' County

[FTC Standard Disclosure] We received no compensation for this post. Any links which may earn us a commission are tagged [Affiliate Link]

The North Florida Eggfest is held each Spring but this year, Pinch-a-Penny decided to squeeze in an extra Fall version. The Nibble Me This grilling team couldn't wait to cook at this event when we found out that the proceeds were going to Operation BBQ Relief

When the smoke cleared and the crowd voted, we won 2nd place. Congratulations to Cline's Custom Meats Butcher Shop for besting the reigning champ (that would be us!).

Our team celebrated our 2nd place finish with jello shots with friends.

Here's a look back at the event through the mobile phones of our team members.


Just like KCBS BBQ competitions, the key to a successful and fun Eggfest is doing as much prep as humanly possible before you've stepped foot on the event grounds. 

My North Florida Eggfest started with a longer-than-usual drive since I had to drive through the remnants of Hurricane Nicole. The traffic frequently came to a standstill adding about 90 minutes to the normally 8 hour drive.

So the team started without me. Here Rhonda was making green chile smoked pork - one of the key ingredients of the perennial crowd favorite Jordan's Drunk Pickles. I spy two Thermoworks Chef Alarms in the background being used to monitor the internal cooking temps.
Thermoworks Chef Alarm [Affiliate link]

We coat the butts with AlbuKirky Green Chile Rub and smoke them until they are an internal temp of 200f+ and probe tender. So it takes a while.

Sean explaining the work they had done over the summer to create their new grilling area. Or he might have been fibbing about the last fish he caught...he's a fisherman after all.

Sean and Carson using the Blackstone griddle to prep some of the ingredients for the breakfast casserole. Rhonda and Sean's new grilling area makes me BGE green with envy!

Pre-cooking ingredients wheen possible is a great way to minimize on-site work and the amount of cleaning at an Eggfest.

Have to make the jello shots as part of the prep!

Breaking up the green chile smoked pork for the pickles.

Laurie shredded Swiss cheese for the pickles.

Scott, Carson, and Sean coring the pickles so we can stuff them at the Eggfest. We get about 35-40 servings per jar, and we have done as many as 1200 for a single event. We did just under 500 for this event and we didn't have a single leftover pickle.

Here's everything that goes into the pickle - green chile pork, Boar's Head ham, Boar's Head salami, and Swiss cheese. 

Laurie, Scott, Sean, and Carson taking a break while I'm in the background cooking. That's only fair since they cooked all day while I was driving.

Rhonda has some of our food festival awards lining the back wall of her new outdoor kitchen.

Eggfest Day

It's finally here! Typically you have an hour or two to start cooking before the gates open so you have to hit the ground running.

The first action for the Eggfest is getting your Eggs fueled and up to temp so you can start cooking. For this Eggfest we had two demo XL Big Green Eggs to use, plus we had Carson and Rhonda's Mini-Maxes to use for searing, warming up sauces, etc.

Rhonda always does such a good job with creating our menu board for the event.

Here's our menu for this food festival. The back side of the board also had our dueling breakfast casseroles listed.

Laurie, Sean and Scott getting ready to tackle pickle stuffing time.

Where did all the pickles go?

There they are! 

Carson getting the grills ready for a day full of action.

Memorial Park is a beautiful location. It's on the water, has nice flat, even ground, and the ancient oaks provide a welcoming canopy.

Me trimming up two beef tenderloins.

We slow roast the beef tenderloin to temp and then sear off a section when we are ready to serve them later in the day. The seasoning is my NMT Umami Steak recipe.

The two skinnier portions have already reached full temp but these two larger butt ends of the tenderloin needed about 10-15 more minutes. Things are busy so we monitor the temps with a Thermoworks Smoke X2 so we don't accidentally overcook them.
Thermoworks Smoke X2 [Affiliate link]

The park was set up with teams lined up on two opposite sides.

The Menu

Dueling Breakfast Casseroles

The first thing we served was dueling breakfast casseroles. Carson made his version which uses a hash brown base with bacon, onions, peppers, eggs, seasoning and cheese. Sean made his version with a biscuit base with cheese, seasonings, green chiles, eggs, and sausage gravy. Both are fantastic recipes and I will get them up on the site before two long.

Laurie, Scott, and Sean getting ready to serve the first batches of breakfast casserole.

Carson getting his kick butt breakfast casserole ready.

Jordan's Drunk Pickles (Recipe here)

We change our menu around, but we HAVE to do Jordan's Drunk Pickles EVERY time, or the crowd revolts. These delectable fire-roasted treats are a Cuban sandwich stuffed into a pickle!

Stuffing the pickles is a team effort. On the left, Scott is squirting 2 lines (no less, no more) of mustard into each cored pickle half and then Ed and Laurie are stuffing those with the meat and cheese mixture.

Onsite hot and cold storage is important at a food festival. These are ready and waiting to go onto a grill, as needed.

Carson cooking a batch of pickles. They go about 20 minutes at 350f, with a spritz of pickle juice 2 or 3 times to build the flavor.

Grab them while you can because they disappear quickly!

Jordan's Drunk Pickles are named after Rhonda's son, who is no longer with us.
This lets us honor his memory in a fun and tasty way.
And yes, the pickles are so popular that when we run out, we have a "Next Drunk Pickles" sign to let people know when the next batch is coming out. 

Reverse Seared Beef Tenderloin with Bourbon Cherry Sauce (Recipe Here)

With the holidays coming up, we thought it would be good to share our Reverse-Seared Beef Tenderloin with Bourbon Cherry Sauce. Whole or center-cut beef tenderloin roast is an exceptional centerpiece for the holiday meal.

We kept the smoked roast warm and then when ready to serve, I would sear it off on the Mini-Max for a few minutes per side.

The Mini-Max is a beast for searing roasts and steaks because the coals are close to the grate.

The roasts are already cooked to temperature, so I'm going strictly by color here.

I also made the bourbon-cherry sauce the night before so all I had to do was warm some up alongside the roast.

I spread a little of the NMT Umami Steak Seasoning on the board before slicing. This rub has 3 types of dried and ground mushrooms, which have natural flavor enhancers that bring out the flavor of the beef.

Sliced and ready to serve.

We served the bites drizzled with the cherry bourbon sauce in 2oz portion cups

Tender and delicious!

Chris Lilly's Skillet Mac and Cheese

We also made Smoked Mac and Cheese with gouda, Gruyere, and cheddar cheese. We basically follow Chris Lilly's (6 or 7 time BBQ World Champion...I've lost count) skillet mac and cheese recipe from his second book, Fire and Smoke. I actually got to help out with the production of that book and I highly recommend it for any aspiring griller.  Fire and Smoke [Affiliate Link]

Loaded with Gruyere, gouda, and cheddar, you know it's gonna be good!

Serving up the mac! Sean and the president of the Nibble Me This fan club, my father.

Thai Sticky Wings

This recipe was in my first book, The Kamado Smoker and Grill Cookbook [Affiliate Link]. The sauce recipe for these wings is amazing on wings, pork chops, shrimp, you name it! 

Carson and I pre-roasted the wings to temp and kept them warm in a Cambro hotbox. Then when we needed them, we'd grill them for a few minutes and sauce them up.

Laurie preparing pickles for service while I'm saucing a batch of wings.

We serve the wings on crispy noodles and garnish with chopped cilantro and crushed nuts. We kind of forgot the nuts this time but they were still amazing.

More wings...

With the teams lined up on either side, the center of the park made for a natural gathering place for the crowds.

Serving It Up NMT Style

The reason we love Eggfest instead of KCBS-style BBQ competitions is that we get to interact with our guests. We give them our best tips and recipes, discuss techniques, or just shoot the bull with them. I still like competing in traditional BBQ contests but it's the interaction that motivates us.

Carson and I manning the grills. Everybody on our team cooks but I'd say Carson is our grill master. His first jobs were back of the house in commercial kitchens and he knows how to crank out the food.

Sean, Laurie, Rhonda, I and Scott serving and talking with the crowds.

We are known for cutting up and I don't mean just beef :) 

Laurie and I dancing with the hip bump action to the sound of Bad Dog Mama
Carson taking a minute to hang out with my dad. He's known Carson since we were wild teenagers back in the 80s.

The crowds enjoying the music and resting up for a 2nd or 3rd round of food.

Bad Dog Mama played a fantastic set, doing some wild mash-ups of different songs. I would absolutely go see their show if they are ever up our way in Knoxville.

We got to see a lot of our favorite friends at this event, too many to name them all and we didn't get pictures with many of them this time. Here's Donny Leeper, long-time friend of NMT, who was our neighbor for this event. 

Donny's dog Charley found a friend with my dad.

Charley also knew that when we sliced beef tenderloin, he was getting a few scraps here and there!

What an absolutely beautiful day for this event.

It was so good to get to see our friends Alicia and Scott Wehner, who were there representing Jealous Devil.

Nibble Me This Grilling Team at 2022 Fall North Florida Eggfest
Toasting our day with jello shots.

Back at Rhonda's house, we cooked up a batch of smash burgers for dinner.

The perfect end to a fun day spent with old friends and family!