The Billows BBQ Temperature Control Fan


The item(s) contained in this review were purchased by The Naked Whiz website, using funds sourced from reader donations and web site advertising.


Introduction

Thermoworks recently began teasing us all with a post on Facebook showing a closeup photo of their Signals BBQ Alarm Thermometer that included a small image of fan blades and the words "SET TEMP." Naturally, we all guessed that they were coming out with a new product that connects to the Signals unit and controls a BBQ cooker. Naturally, we were all right. The next thing you know, Thermoworks has announced the Billows BBQ Temperature Control Fan. This marks the first time that Thermoworks has come out with a product that is intended to compete with products like the BBQ Guru and Flame Boss temperature controllers. How well has Thermoworks been able to shoehorn a temperature controller into the existing Signals BBQ Alarm Thermometer? Let's take a look and see how this new product competes in a marketplace that already has at least 20 other controllers from 13 manufacturers.


Features

Here is a list of features and specifications for the Billows unit from the Thermoworks web site:

  • Maintains constant temperature control (10F/6C typical) over entire cook
  • Best-in-class airflow capacity 46 CFM (cubic feet per minute)
  • Fastest initial speed-to-temperature
  • One integrated system to monitor and control smoker and meat temps
  • Control with Signals hardware or the ThermoWorks BBQ App
  • Cool-touch industrial-molded weatherproof composite
  • Uses replaceable USB-C connector cables
  • Easily attaches to most smoker types without extra adapters
  • True charcoal flavor without the hassle of fire tending
  • Airflow 46 cubic feet per minute (CFM)
  • Opening 1.18 x 1.57 inches (30 x 40 mm)
  • Power 12V AC powered (sic, power brick says DC)
  • Water Resistance Weatherproof
  • Operating Range 500F (260C)
  • Controller Temp. Accuracy: 1.8F
  • Stability: 10F Typical
While this review will focus primarily on the temperature control functions of the Signals/Billows combination, here is a list of features and specifications for the Signals BBQ Alarm Thermometer, also from the Thermoworks web site:
  • Probe Range: -58 to 572F (-50 to 300C)
  • Cable Max Temp: Max 700F (370C)
  • Accuracy: 3.6F (2.0C) from -58 to -4F (-50 to -20C)
                   1.8F (1.0C) from -4 to 248F (-20 to 120C)
                   3.6F (2.0C) from 248 to 392F (120 to 200C)
                   5.4F (3.0C) from 392 to 572F (200 to 300C)
  • Max Sounds Volume: 90dB
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi Radio802.11b/g/n (2.4 Ghz)
  • Wi-Fi Range: dependent on router
  • Bluetooth Version: 4.2
  • Bluetooth Range: About 95 feet line of sight (device dependent)
  • Approvals: US (FCC), Canada (IC), EU (CEComplies with all relevant directives for Europe), AU/NZ (RCM)
  • Water Resistance: IP66 Splash-Proof
  • Operating Range: 32 to 122F (0 to 50C)
  • Backlight: 20 seconds
  • Resolution: 1.0F (C)
  • Units: C/F switchable
  • Sensor: Thermistor
  • Battery Life: Rechargeable, about 16 hours
  • Charging Time: About 12 hours
  • Charger/AC Power: USB-C cable and 12V US adapter (included)
  • Display: 1.88 H x 3.97 W inches (48 H x 101 W mm)
  • Product Size: 3.26 H x 5.19 W x 1.92 D inches (83 H x 132 W x 49 D mm)
And finally, we'll throw in some items of our own:
  • Food Temperature Probes - 3 thermistor probes with 49" steel-braided cables.
  • Pit Temperature Probe - 1 thermistor probe with 49" steel-braided cable.
  • Use up to 3 food probes simultaneously.
  • Power Glitch Safe - Continues running at the saved set temperature when power returns.
  • Meat Temperature Alarm - Lets you know when your cook is finished.
  • Pit Temperature Alarm - Lets you know if your pit temperature has strayed too far (±25°F), from your target.
  • Billows unit dimensions: 6¼" x 3⅜" x 1¼"
  • Billows unit weight: 8¼ oz
  • Signals unit weight: 8¾ oz


Compared To Other BBQ Temperature Controllers

Like most other temperature control systems, the Billows/Signals system is blower-based, controlling airflow through the cooker with a blower. Unlike other controllers, however, the Billows/Signals system has been, in essence, retrofitted into an existing BBQ alarm thermometer rather than starting with a design for a temperature controller.


The Basic System

In order to use the Billows blower, you must first buy the Thermoworks Signals BBQ Alarm Thermometer. Here's what comes with the Signals system:

  • The Signals base unit
  • 12 volt power supply with USB-C power cable
  • 3 thermistor food probes
  • 1 thermistor pit probe with grate clip
  • Colored silicone rings to identify the various probes
  • Printed Signals Operating Guide

Then to turn your Signals unit into a BBQ temperature controller, you buy the Billows blower. Here is what comes with the blower:

  • Billows blower
  • Yellow silicone fan plug
  • USB-C to USB-C cable
  • Fan adapter cable
  • Strip of foil tape for attaching the Billows to your cooker
  • Printed Billows Operating Instructions
It is worth noting that no adapter for attaching the Billows to your cooker is provided. At this time, Thermoworks does not sell any adapters for attaching the Billows to any cooker. (They have stated on their website that adapters are on the way.) We would recommend that if you intend to purchase the Billows unit and attach it to kamado-style cookers like the Big Green Egg, purchase the Flame Boss Kamado Adapter Set from the Flame Boss web site. Also, the included operating instructions are really not complete. You also need to visit the Thermoworks Help Center on their web site and search for the article on setting up the Billows.


A Few Observations About The Components

The Signals unit is in a plastic case which is not submersible, but rated to IP66 (Ingress Protection rating) which means it is protected from total dust ingress and protected from high pressure water jets from any direction, limited ingress protection. The Billows fan is encased in plastic and Thermoworks states that it is weatherproof, not watertight, but should be able to resist some moisture. The temperature probes all have braided stainless steel insulation, while the plugs have sturdy spring protection where the cables enter the plugs and probes. In general, everything feels sturdy and well built.


The System Unit

The Signals system unit is a small plastic box about 3.26" x 5.19" x 1.92" in size and weighs about 8¾ ounces. The case is not submersible, but is listed as splashproof. The case houses the electronics and has the display and control buttons on the front. The display itself is 1.88" x 3.97" and is a backlit LCD display. There is a power switch on the back, along with two magnets for attaching the unit to a metal surface. It has an internal battery that should last 16 hours on a single charge, and takes about 12 hours to completely recharge. However, when using the Billows fan, the Signals unit must be plugged into the provided power supply, which in turn plugs into a 120 volt AC power source. The unit has connections for the temperature probes and a USB-C connector.


Controls

First, let's look at the front panel controls:

From left to right, you have:
  • CH - Channel seletion button that allows you to switch focus from one channel to another.
  • SET - SET button allows you set values for alarms and temperature.
  • Down and Up arrows - These buttons allow you to change values such as temperatures.
  • Light Bulb - Turns the display backlight on and off.
  • VOL - Allows you to adjust the volume of the built-in alarm beeper.


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