In retrospect, I was too cocky this Thanksgiving. Backed by cooking technology and cloud connected apps, I thought making my first turkey would be a breeze. I’d turn a dial, tap a button on my phone and voila! A perfectly cooked turkey would emerge.
Like some folktale about technology versus tradition, I was wrong. While the turkey did come out beautifully, it had almost nothing to do with any connections built into my appliances. In fact, the technology I used almost created more stress than relief.
Thanksgiving is already a stressful holiday. You want your guests to eat on time and enjoy delicious food and, especially with a turkey, you want to make sure no one gets sick. That is partly why I armed myself with so much technology when smoking my first turkey. I had the Traeger Pro 575 WiFire wood pellet grill and a Meater block of WiFi enabled meat thermometers.
Stage 1: Excitement
My initial plan was to use the Traeger app to monitor and control the cooking and the Meater thermometer to ensure that the bird was cooked thoroughly. Easy peasy.
In my previous tests with the Traeger, I noticed that while the accompanying app was useful for remote monitoring and control of the grill, the guided cooking features were a little too automated and on the rails. There wasn’t a place to pause the cook program, so it would just barrel through to the next step (like raising the temperature) even if you weren’t ready. I needed a little more flexibility with a 14-pound bird on a cold day.
For extra accuracy, my plan was to use the Meater thermometers not only to monitor the internal temperature of the bird, but to also help ensure accuracy of the ambient temperature inside the cooking cavity. This backup would just help make sure the grill was cooking at the right temperature.
I’ve used Meater before and found it to be a great experience. The app is intuitive, and while the probe itself is a little thick, it’s easy to set up and use. Or at least it was before. Almost immediately I had issues connecting my Meater app to a thermometer, and even when I managed to do so, that connection was lost as soon as I placed it in the grill and shut the door. After a half hour of re-starting and re-connecting, I just abandoned the Meaters altogether.
Stage 2: Mild Panic
Suddenly, I was left to my own devices and not the ones I thought were going to save me.
Again, this is the first time I’m making a turkey. I wanted it to be done and I didn’t want to get anyone sick. With its slick interface, tons of data and directions on when to pull out the turkey to let it rest, I was counting on the Meater to help me through. But now that was out of the picture.
And the Trager app wasn’t much help, either. The recipe had two main instructions: cook on low heat for a few hours and then move the bird into a foil pan and ratchet up the heat when the color of the bird looked right. Looking right may be the sort of vague direction that works for people with confidence in their cooking, but I only had sort of an idea of what a smoked turkey should look like two hours in.
As a result, I kept opening up the grill to look at the bird, which dropped the temperature of the grill each time and made the cooking process longer. Finally, after a few hours, it looked good and I covered it in butter, wrapped it in foil, set it in a pan and put it back in.
I had started the process at 8 a.m. and it was coming up on noon. Guests would arrive in an hour and we were eating at 3, and this bird was nowhere near done.
Long story short: while the recipe said it would take five hours, the cook actually took more like seven hours, and I had to make adjustments like turning up the heat beyond what was instructed to get the internal temperature to a safe 165 degrees.
Stage 3: Relief
Despite technological shortcomings and my steady worrying, the turkey came out beautifully and was delicious. Really. Not to brag, but it tasted better than the turkey we cooked in a traditional oven and was so good that I’ll probably smoke another one next year.
What I learned is that I can’t rely on gadgets to make it happen though. The connected kitchen still has lots of idiosyncrasies to work out. Devices should connect without hassle and the design of apps should not be an afterthought.
Hopefully the industry can come together to create technology that helps cook the turkey — not be the turkey next Thanksgiving.