Like peanut butter and chocolate, two things that go great together are fire and electronics. Ok, maybe not usually, but in the case of the Stoker Power Draft System by Rock’s Bar-B-Que, the level of convenience you get on a long cook makes it worthwhile. “The Stoker” as it’s affectionately known is a small computer-controlled system that regulates grate temperature, meat temperature, and airflow via a small fan with mounting bracket. (You can find an outstanding review of the original on The Naked Whiz’s site – safe for work.) By using the Stoker’s small computer to regulate the temperature inside the smoker, you take the work out of continually monitoring those long cooks. The original includes an Ethernet port on the back for connecting to a home network or laptop for continual monitoring. Apparently I’m not the only one, as over 55 competition teams now use the Stoker in their cooks.
I’m a gadget hound as-is and after one too many nights when my temps got low or the fire went out, the Stoker was the way to go. I’ve used one of these little gems for about two years now and after rigging a wireless access point to the unit and building a homemade box for keeping it all out of the elements. Now, I haven’t gone to the lengths of this guy in building my own box, but I’ve had it on my home network and updating via Twitter regularly. Quick run to the store? No problem. I can check the status via my phone. If you’re really into the developer side of the experience, you can find the latest software builds for the unit here but be forewarned – this isn’t for you unless you’re into programming.
The Stoker today also includes a basic Web server for management and monitoring, but the lack of processing power in the unit really shows it’s head. When Twitter made changes a while back, it broke compatibility with the software. What’s needed is a solution that harnesses the power of the full PC, using data from a Stoker.
Going Deep with a Windows PC and Stokerlog
Fortunately, one programmer I know (and used to work for) is – AmirM has built an app called “Stokerlog” for Windows as a free app. A former tech executive, Amir and I never shared that the other was a student of good BBQ until I came across his app on the The Virtual Weber Bullet Board years later. Thanks to his efforts, with Stokerlog, you get great features including:
- Graphed Statistics – Plot temps and fan rate on a line graph that’s easy to read.
- Lid Detection – Detects when you open the lid to baste, move, or check the cook and ensures the fan doesn’t go wild, spiking your temp and ruining your meat.
- Keep Warm – Set the Stoker to keep food warm without continuing to cook.
- Timed Cooking – Shut off the Stoker and shut down the fire at a predetermined time.
- Fire Alarms – Use your PC to shout at you should the fire, meat, or other monitor hit a predetermined temp.
- Twitter – This feature was also broken by the Twitter updates, I’m not sure if it’s working again.
- Fire Stability – Statistics that gauge your fuel stability and burn rate.
The app is freeware and can be downloaded here from Kaytat Software and has a few issues – most notably you have to manually set it to run in Admin mode for Windows 7. Otherwise it’s a great addition.
All of this is great, but the need for an external WiFi access point is clunky. What if WiFi was built in?
On July 5th 2011, Rock’s announced a new unit, billing the new Stoker Black Box power draft system is great for backyards BBQ enthusiast or competition cooks. Easy integration, coupled with the temperature stability of the Stoker, allows you to spend more time entertaining guests than hovering over your cooker. You can watch football and keep an eye on your cooker temperatures all from your couch. You can even share your BBQ experience with friends and family all over the world by sending them the link to your Stoker Web page.
Stoker Black Box upgraded features include:
- Built-in WiFi capabilities to improve integration into your home network.
- Rugged and sleek Black powder coated exterior.
- New 2-piece design with front hood helps improve visibility and weather resistance. Additional 6th port to accommodate even more Stoker devices.
All good news right? There’s a catch. The bad news is that WiFi isn’t yet enabled on the device. They ran into issues with the software and the estimated delivery date is in January. I know football fans, that’s a long time to wait, but at least you can get a discount on the new hardware and get your software update in the future. I do agree with some recent complaints that the website didn’t clearly call this fact out, however Rock’s Bar-B-Que has since remedied the situation by updating their website to make this more clear.
Personally, I’m a fan of The Stoker, and look forward to evaluating the new unit once the software is released.