Automatic temperature controllers can remove a lot of the baby sitting required with a charcoal smoker.
In the past you had to pay a lot for getting this set and forget luxury on your smoker.
The Flame Boss 400 is more affordably priced, thanks to a simpler design.
By removing the LCD screen and moving all the controls to the free companion App they’ve managed to cut the price compared to other models.
Flame Boss sent me a free Flame Boss 400 in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Flame Boss 400 Overview and First Impressions
The Flame Boss 400 is a pit controller made to adapt to most bbq pits. It controls airflow into your pit based on temperature readings from a probe in the pit.
It reports data from your cook – including the pit temperature, meat temperature, and fan output – that you can directly access through an app available for iPhone and Android.
Data from your cooks is saved “in the cloud” so you can go back and access prior cooks and results at any time.
You get two temperature probes included, one for measuring the temperature of your smoker and the other for the food.
What we like:
- Constant data on your cook – If you’re a data nerd like me, you’re in heaven!
- Control your cook from anywhere – no need to be near your pit or even on your home network.
- Straightforward setup – and many adapters for many types of pits.
What we didn’t like:
- Wireless of the Flameboss 400 is flaky – I have a reasonable but not great network in my backyard. The unit had repeated connectivity issues. I think Flameboss could have focused on making that more robust.
- Durability – The adapters could be a bit more robust and provide a better seal.
- Limited documentation – While I found setup to be fairly straight forward, it would have been nice to see some more setup instructions.
You can choose between a universal and Kamado model so make sure you order correct one for your grill.
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Unboxing & Manufacturer Specifications
The Flame Boss 400 came simply packaged in a single box.
The box has the main unit, two probes, a power supply, and then a number of components for adapting to different cookers.
Instructions are straightforward. However, I would have liked more details on how to adapt and best connect to different pits.
It was a bit too much “figure it out yourself” – other brands of regulators understand how important this is and put a bit more time into this.
Also, with the FlameBoss you need their app.
Setup on my Android phone was straightforward.
Using the Flame Boss 400
Use of the Flameboss is straightforward.
You use one of the adapters provided to insert the Flame Boss into an air intake vent on your pit. You then close off all the other vents except the exhaust vent.
Thus air control is managed by the Flameboss. The unit has connections for power, a pit probe, and a meat probe.
That’s it! Quite simple. Not other buttons or controls – everything else is through the app.
I installed this unit on a Backwoods Smoker Extended Party – not the most common cooker out there so a good test.
As shown in the photos, I put an adapter plate in one of the tracks for the air intake, and then closed the intake. The Flame Boss hooks into that plate.
This was pretty straightforward. However, I would have liked a tighter seal and I think going forward I’ll use some high-temperature tape to make a tighter seal.
Through my cook, I got the feeling too much air was getting in making temperature control harder than it should be.
Using the app
Once you’ve physically installed the unit, its time to use the app. The app is available through the App Store/Play Store for free.
Through the app you first have to configure the Flame Boss to get it on your home wireless network.
This is similar to installing other devices that use WiFi but do not have a screen or keyboard, say a Roku stick or a Nest device.
The Flame Boss creates a temporary wireless network of its own with its own network name; you connect your phone to that network (prompted by the app), enter the details into the Flame Boss of your home network (network name and password), and then the Flame Boss connect to the internet and thus can connect with your phone.
You also need to create an account with Flame Boss to keep track of all your cooks.
The app can connect to multiple Flameboss controllers.
It provides a graph showing your set target temperature, pit temperature, meat temp and fan output throughout the cook.
I found this pretty interesting and very helpful. It will be even more helpful during my next cook.
You set your temp target directly from the app, and can set alarms for pit and meat temperature.
What I also noticed is the Flame Boss isn’t talking directly to your phone. Instead the controller connects to a system Flame Boss runs, and your phone also connects to that service.
That means you are constantly recording even if your phone isn’t on, and best of all you can leave your own network (i.e. leave home!) and still control your Flameboss!
The catch to all of this and likely the biggest negative of the Flameboss is its ability to connect to WiFi.
I have reasonably good, but not outstanding, wireless coverage in my backyard (e.g. 3 out of 5 bars). From my backyard I can use my phone, pads, and laptops on wifi without much issue.
The Flameboss however repeatedly lost connectivity. When it does this you cannot change settings or get data from the unit. The latter wasn’t so bad as when it reconnected the data was immediately uploaded.
But repeatedly I tried to set temperatures targets to no avail.
This was a huge frustration and may have me give up on the unit.
I strongly recommend you check your coverage in your cook area before you invest in the Flame Boss and make sure you have a strong signal and/or are willing to be very patient in repeatedly trying to set the unit.
Alternative temperature controllers you might want to consider
I also own a BBQ Guru DigiQ controller. It doesn’t have wireless and doesn’t save data.
But at the same time I’m not dependent on WiFi for my cook.
I really dig the data the Flame boss gives me and the history, so I may solve my problem with an outdoor WiFi repeater – but that is an awfully expensive workaround.
With BBQ Guru I could also order an adapter they had explicitly built for my Backwoods Smoker pit (and they have many such adapters).
For more comparisons see our guide to the best temperature controllers.
The bottom line
Except for the connectivity issues, I found the Flame Boss 400 a great addition to my smoker cooks.
If you really like data and history of your cooks, I’m not sure how you’d improve on this – all the data is there.
While the Flame Boss is quite straightforward to set up, if you’re not a fan of tech, I’d go with a simpler non-wireless unit.
Also, you do need to ensure very good connectivity to your cook area or you’ll just get frustrated.
You should definitely check the quality of your connection where you plan on setting up your smoker before purchasing.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
As a tech exec working in the heart of Silicon Valley, I’ve found the low-and-slow of BBQ to be the perfect antidote to the daily grind and pace of my work life.
There’s no better antidote to stress than a weekend spent smoking a brisket or a few racks of ribs. Then, of course, the best part is getting to share the result with family and friends.
I love understanding the “science” behind the cook and, being a techie, I enjoy figuring out if new gadgets can give me a better cook. But most of all, I just love eating bbq!