My favorite thing about a fancy gadget I recently tested involved being nine feet from it and sipping a cold one. I wasn’t doing nothing, just close to nothing: talking to my brother-in-law Ben while occasionally glancing at a countdown timer on a display next to the grill.
That timer is a feature on a sophisticated new Bluetooth probe thermometer from Combustion. You plug in the desired doneness temperature of the food you’re cooking, and it uses sensor data to estimate how long until that temperature is reached, displaying the countdown next to the target and current internal temperatures. This helps you know how much time you have to chill out.
While it is correctly marketed as catnip for barbecue aficionados who love monitoring long, slow cooks in their fancy smokers and grills, I integrated the Combustion into my everyday cooking, often grilling for a bunch of family members, and it fit right in.
The $199 Combustion Predictive Thermometer and Display is a cordless probe with a base station. Technically, you could buy just the probe for $149 and connect it to your phone, at which point you save fifty bucks but lose much of what makes the Combustion so endearing.
The probe has a whopping eight temperature sensors spread along its length, which is nuts when you consider that most thermometers have only one, but the Combustion takes advantage of each one in useful and dorky ways. Most notable is how those sensors monitor temperatures on the inside, outside, and surface of the food, allowing the predictive part to work with surprising accuracy. Insert the probe, and after a few moments the display shows the remaining time estimate. Part of what is so nice about it is the way it masks the technology behind the readout’s simple interface.
One evening, I put some dry-brined pork chops on the grill, essentially a “sear, sear, let it coast to a finish in a cooler spot” operation. Using a display 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 chill. (RIP, Jimmy!)
It didn’t need to be complicated. Mom and Dad like marinated chicken breast from The Prime Butcher in New Hampshire, and for good reason, especially when it’s not overcooked, not that this ever happens when Dad’s cooking. Similarly, the Combustion did well with bone-in chicken breast on one night and steak tips on another.
The Combustion certainly has competition. I’m a big fan of the ThermoWorks Smoke, which sports two corded probes and does not have the predictive timer but now costs $89, a great value. There are also Bluetooth thermometers like the Meater, which I’m less of a fan of, with its disturbingly thick probe and lack of display except the one on your phone.
These differences may seem like small potatoes, but the ability for a thermometer to create a vibe should not be overlooked.
Back at home in Seattle, I switched from the grill to the oven and got slightly more sophisticated. In general, I had no connectivity issues working with the probe in the oven unless I used something like a covered Dutch oven. It would have been cool if that had worked, but it was pretty easy to understand why it didn’t. Roasting posed no problems, however. I always like using roast chicken as a benchmark, and Combustion’s creator, Chris Young, went on recent jag doing kitchen gear review videos and ended up with an overcooked bird when roasting a chicken in a Joule Oven Air Fryer Pro by Breville.
That was the same problem I encountered when I reviewed the Joule Oven in 2022, so I thought it would be fun to put the Combustion through a similar test. I riffed on a favorite recipe—Simon Hopkinson’s roast chicken—dry brining then slathering it in butter and tucking it into a hot oven. Guided by the Combustion, it came out great, particularly in the breast, the easiest part to overcook.