My favorite thing about a fancy gadget I recently tested involved being nine feet away from it and sipping a cold one. I did nothing, almost nothing: I talked to my brother-in-law Ben while occasionally glancing at a countdown on a screen next to the grill.
This timer is a feature of a new sophisticated Bluetooth probe thermometer from Combustion. You plug in the desired cooking temperature of the food you’re cooking and it uses the sensor data to estimate how long it will take before that temperature is reached, displaying the countdown alongside the target and current internal temperature. This helps you know how much time you have to relax.
Although it is properly marketed as catnip for barbecue aficionados who like to oversee long, slow cooks in their fancy smokers and grills, I have incorporated Combustion into my daily cooking, often grilling for a group of family members, and he fits in perfectly.
The $199 Predictive combustion thermometer and display is a wireless probe with a base station. Technically you could buy just the probe for $149 and connect it to your phone, then you save fifty dollars but lose much of what makes Combustion so endearing.
The probe has eight temperature sensors spread across its length, which is crazy considering most thermometers only have one, but combustion takes advantage of each one in a way useful and stupid. Most notable is how these sensors monitor the temperatures inside, outside and on the surface of the food, allowing the predictive part to work with surprising accuracy. Insert the probe and after a few moments the screen displays the estimated time remaining. Part of what’s so nice is how it hides the technology behind the display’s simple interface.
One evening I put dry brined pork chops on the grill, essentially a “sear, sear, let finish in a cooler place” operation. Using a screen that’s not your phone to monitor this task feels like an expansion of your culinary senses and, to borrow a cheesy title from the late, great Jimmy Buffett, a license to relax. (RIP, Jimmy!)
It didn’t need to be complicated. Mom and Dad love Marinated Chicken Breast The first butcher in New Hampshire, and for good reason, especially when it’s not overcooked, although that never happens when Dad cooks. Likewise, the Combustion performed well with bone-in chicken breast one evening and steak tips another.
Combustion certainly has competition. I’m a big fan of ThermoWorks Smokewhich sports two wired probes and has no predictive timer but now costs $89, great value. There are also Bluetooth thermometers like the MeatWhat am I less fan de, with its worryingly thick probe and its lack of display except that of your phone.
These differences may seem small, but a thermometer’s ability to create ambiance should not be overlooked.
Back home in Seattle, I switched from grill to oven and got slightly more sophisticated. In general, I haven’t had any connectivity issues while working with the probe in the oven, unless I’m using something like a covered Dutch oven. It would have been cool if it had worked, but it was pretty easy to see why it didn’t work. Roasting, however, posed no problem. I always like to use roast chicken as a reference, and Combustion creator Chris Young I went recently I made kitchen equipment review videos and ended up an overcooked bird when roasting a chicken in a Breville Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro.
This was the same problem I encountered when I tested the Joule oven in 2022, so I thought it would be fun to put combustion to a similar test. I riffed on a favorite recipe—Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken– dry brined, then brushed with butter and put in a hot oven. Guided by Combustion, the result is excellent, especially at the breast level, the easiest part to overcook.