Menu
Search
Menu
Close

May/June 2015

Pitmaster IQ

The Pitmaster IQ120 promises to regulate the temperature in a charcoal grill automatically, but does it actually make barbecuing easier?

How We Tested

Producing fall-apart-tender barbecued meat requires many hours of steady, gentle heat inside the grill. The trouble is, opening the grill to refuel releases heat. Over the years, we’ve come up with some tricks to regulate heat: setting vents to regulate airflow, arranging the pile of charcoal to burn gradually, and adding more charcoal at intervals during cooking. But we were intrigued when we heard about the Pitmaster IQ120, which promises to regulate the temperature in a charcoal grill automatically. A metal funnel connected by a plastic tube to a digitally controlled fan, it covers one of the vents at the bottom of your grill while you tape the other two vents shut with electrical tape. Its temperature sensor clips to the grill grate and relays readings back to the fan, telling it when to feed or starve the fire of oxygen to increase or reduce the heat to maintain the target temperature you set.

To see if it made barbecuing easier, we compared barbecuing with and without the tool on duplicate models of our favorite inexpensive charcoal grill, preparing side-by-side batches of hot-smoked salmon, barbecued spareribs, and barbecued beef brisket.

Our first discovery: The Pitmaster has a steep learning curve, starting with setup. We needed to watch videos on the company’s website to understand the installation process (once we did, the process was simple). More significantly, using the device requires adapting recipes (the company suggests calling its representatives for guidance) and inevitably a lot of trial and error.

First, there’s choosing the amount of fuel. The directions recommend starting with half as much fuel as you’d typically use—the Pitmaster’s more-controlled airflow means less of the charcoal burns, and adding too much charcoal may make the fire too hot—but it took us three attempts and scaling back up to the entire amount of charcoal the recipe called for before the grill consistently held our target temperature.

Second, there’s setting the target temperature. Some recipes, like our barbecued brisket, are written to account for how a fire cools over time, so picking one target temperature from start to finish requires adjusting the recipe. For example, the fire in our brisket recipe typically starts around 400 degrees and falls to about 250 degrees over six hours; to adjust the recipe for the Pitmaster, we took a guess and decided to set the target temperature to a moderate 325 degrees, and we found that we did not have to refuel. The key is to observe the temperature on the device’s monitor: If it falls steadily, you must refuel. The device comes with an alarm to alert you if the temperature goes outside a certain range.

Third, the rib test taught us that the Pitmaster doesn’t work well with recipes that require frequent basting because the grill lid must be lifted too often for it to effectively regulate heat.

The good news was the food itself: The insular, slow-and-steady cooking environment improved the quality of the food. Once we got the setup right for all three recipes, tasters preferred food cooked on the grill with the Pitmaster, noting that the salmon was more moist, the brisket juicier, and the ribs smokier and more tender than the same dishes cooked on the regular charcoal grill. But given the fussy setup, the considerable trial and error, and the steep price ($199.95), we think the Pitmaster is only worth buying if you’re a barbecue aficionado who routinely cooks meat low and slow and feels comfortable experimenting with fuel amounts, target temperatures, and time.

Try CooksCountry.com FREE for 14 Days

START YOUR 14-DAY FREE TRIAL MEMBERSHIP

Every Recipe, Every Rating, Every Video from Every Magazine & Every Episode!

  • 10+ years of Cook's Country Foolproof Recipes
  • Complete Cook's Country TV Video Library
  • 3,800+ Equipment Reviews and Ingredient Taste Tests
  • Step-by-Step Technique Photos
  • Save Favorites, Create Menus, Print Shopping Lists

Dear Home Cook,

If we were new to CooksCountry.com, we might think, “It’s easy to get free recipes on the Internet. What makes your recipes different?” Well, unlike recipes from blogs, message boards, and other recipe sites, our recipes are exhaustively tested by our team of full-time test cooks until they offer consistently great results. That means fried chicken with a crunchy coating and moist meat, a low-fat recipe makeover for macaroni and cheese that’s as creamy and cheesy as the full-fat version, and fork-tender slow cooker pot roast.

We’re obsessive in our quest to find and foolproof the best of American home cooking, from fuss-free weeknight dinners, to updated, simplified versions of regional specialties, to slow cooker and make ahead meals. CooksCountry.com is the only place you can find every foolproof recipe published in Cook’s Country magazine since 2005, plus objective ratings and test results from both Cook’s Country and Cook’s Illustrated for cookware and supermarket ingredients.

Let us make a simple, no-nonsense offer. Try out our website FREE for a 14-Day, No-Hassle Trial Offer. We’re pretty confident that CooksCountry.com will quickly become an invaluable resource for everything from a quick Tuesday supper to your next get-together with family and friends.

Thanks for your consideration,

The Editors of Cook’s Country

The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.