Update: As of March 20, 2017, the Flame Boss 300 will replace the Flame Boss 200. Like the FB200, the new Flame Boss 300 will have WiFi capability and will be available in Kamado (BGE, Kamado Joe, etc) and Universal (Weber Smokey Mountain, etc) configurations. However, the Flame Boss 300 will have the ability to use 1 pit probe and up to 3 meat probes (1 included) with the use of optional Y-Cables.
For years BBQ Guru has been the first name in automatic temperature control for smokers, dominating the market with controllers that maintain a consistent temperature for hours. As with all great products, however, other brands have adopted the technology and pushed it forward. Perhaps the most notable of those brands is Flame Boss. With a ground-breaking variable speed fan and simple out-of-the-box usability, Flame Boss has become a legitimate alternative to BBQ Guru, spurring discussion about how the two compare. In fact, of all the questions we receive, it’s perhaps the most frequently asked.
As a company that specializes in BBQ, FireCraft carries the latest models of BBQ Guru and Flame Boss, and in order to best serve our customers, we know them inside-out. As people who love and live BBQ, we are also customers, having used BBQ Guru and Flame Boss, which puts us in the unique position to break down what each offers.
Similarities Between BBQ Guru & Flame Boss
In many respects, BBQ Guru and Flame Boss are similar products. Both have a base model (BBQ Guru DigiQ and Flame Boss 100) that can control and monitor smoker and food temperatures, as well as a WiFi-enabled model (BBQ Guru CyberQ and Flame Boss 300-WiFi). Both are PID controllers that use algorithms to achieve and hold target temperatures. And both feature comparable bells and whistles, including open lid detection, temperature hold, power-loss memory, and alerts and alarms that tell you if temperatures fall out of range and when food is done.
BBQ Guru vs Flame Boss: How they Differ
For all their similarities, there are significant differences between BBQ Guru and Flame Boss. The included hardware, controller display and interface, and WiFi connection differs between brands and sometimes, in the case of BBQ Guru, individual models. (The Flame Boss 100 and 300-WiFi are nearly identical in every respect except WiFi capability.)
More is More vs. Less is More - Whether you buy a DigiQ or CyberQ, BBQ Guru offers an adaptor for nearly every major smoker, providing a one-to-one match that assures a good fit. For those smokers they don’t have specific adaptors for, several generic adaptors are available. The list of adaptors available from BBQ Guru is both impressive and overwhelming. In fact, there are so many options that shopping for a BBQ Guru can become confusing and overly complicated.
Conversely, Flame Boss takes an either/or approach to adaptors. Both the Flame Boss 100 and 300-WiFi are available as either a Kamado Smoker Controller (for ceramic cookers) or a Universal Smoker Controller (for Weber Smokey Mountain and many “drum, barrel, and offset style” cookers). Just those two options account for the majority of smokers being used, so by narrowing the choices, Flame Boss created a simple shopping experience that satisfies the needs of most of the people buying automatic temperature controllers.
Fixed Speed vs Variable Speed - The DigiQ and CyberQ come with BBQ Guru’s 10 CFM Pit Viper fan, which is suitable for most smokers. Both can also be upgraded to the 25 CFM Pit Bull Fan. However, the DigiQ and CyberQ rely on fixed-speed fans. A fixed-speed fan (also called single speed) is either off or on. It can only blow at 100%. That’s fine for raising or lowering temperatures by several degrees, but maintaining tight temperatures requires consistently and repeatedly achieving small changes of a degree or two. That type of control is difficult when the fan is limited to blowing at full strength or not at all. BBQ Guru attempts to solve that problem by having the user manually adjust a damper on the blower to better refine airflow to the fire. While adjusting the damper will eventually get you closer the desired cooking temperature, it can be a time-consuming and laborious process of trial and error (Note: the CyberQ display lists Output followed by a numerical percentage, leading some to believe it's a variable speed fan. However, that number represents the percentage of time the fan is on, not the strength at which it's blowing.)
The Flame Boss 100 and 300-WiFi Kamado Smoker Controllers have a 6.5 CFM, while the Flame Boss 100 and 300-WiFi Universal Smoker Controllers include a 15 CFM fan. These fans represent Flame Boss’ single biggest advantage. That’s because they’re variable speed fans, and Flame Boss is the only BBQ temperature controller with multi-speed technology. Unlike BBQ Guru’s single-speed fan, the Flame Boss can blow at any strength, from 0–100%. That gives it the ability to fine-tune temperatures—it can blow at 100% to stoke the fire, drop to 65% to get within 5°F, or puff at 25% to gently nudge the temperature 1°F. It allows the Flame Boss to achieve a precise temperature and stay there for the entirety of the cook.
Currently, one of the obvious differences in fans is that BBQ Guru offers a 25 CFM fan for extra large smokers. Flame Boss is set to release its own XL fan in the near future. In the meantime, since variable speed capability is dependent on an advanced algorithm, those who want a stronger fan can use BBQ Guru’s Pit Bull fan with a Flame Boss controller (both brands sell their components individually).
Pit and Meat Probes Included - The number of probes included with a BBQ Guru depends on the model. The DigiQ can accept 1 pit probe and 1 meat probe, while the CyberQ has 1 pit probe and 3 meat probes, which is convenient for larger cooks when you need to monitor multiple foods at once. The Flame Boss 100 has 1 pit and 1 meat probe, while the Flame Boss 300 WiFi has 1 pit probe and can accepts up to 3 meat probes (1 included) with the use of optional Y-Cables.
Controller Display and Interface: Multiple Fields vs Everything-at-a-Glance
Available in black or green, the DigiQ’s aluminum controller has four soft buttons for navigating fields and menus. The main screen shows a single set of numbers—the Pit Temperature or Food Temperature—which are displayed as red dashes against a black background (think old school digital clock). Using the buttons, you can toggle between the two values and adjust the target temperatures. At the top of the screen, between the numbers, dots light up to indicate whether the fan is on, which temperature is being displayed, and if the controller is in ramp down mode. The DigiQ’s temperature display flashes between bright and dim to indicate the percentage of time the fan is running. Ultimately, to get all of the vital information, there’s a fair amount of scrolling and toggling through menus and screens, as well as deciphering dots and flashes.
The CyberQ’s hard plastic controller has 5 soft buttons for navigating and an easy-to-read back-lit screen. Of the five pieces of information available on the main screen (Pit Temperature, readings for up to 3 meat probes, and Fan Output), the CyberQ displays two at a time, the others can be viewed by scrolling down. The Set Temperature is on a separate screen entirely and must be toggled to. An asterisk indicates if the fan is blowing. The fact that the CyberQ makes more information available at-a-glance is an improvement over the DigiQ. However, getting all the desired information still requires plenty of scrolling and toggling.
Like the CyberQ, the Flame Boss 100 and 300-WiFi controllers are hard plastic, but have just three flat buttons, one for the menu and one each for up and down. The back-lit screen displays four pieces of information: Set Temperature, Pit Temperature, Meat Temperature, and Fan Speed. At a glance, you can see all of the vital information for a cook, no toggling buttons or scrolling fields. The simple interface and everything-you-need display makes using the Flame Boss incredibly easy and, once the temperatures are set, nearly hands-free.
Connecting to WiFi
Flame Boss Wifi Mobile Interface
CyberQ Wifi Mobile Interface
BBQ Guru and Flame Boss each have a WiFi enabled controller, the CyberQ and Flame Boss 300-WiFi respectively. Once connected, both offer graphic cook data, allow you to monitor and control temperatures remotely, and set text or email alerts. But the process by which each model connects to WiFi is surprisingly different.
The CyberQ can make a wireless connection two ways. The first is ad hoc mode, which allows you to connect your phone or tablet directly to the CyberQ. The process is fairly easy—your device will recognize the CyberQ as an available network and ask for the password. However, ad hoc mode has such a limited range that it’s unlikely you’d be able to monitor and control your cook from anywhere but right next to your smoker, which defeats the purpose of buying a WiFi enabled controller. Furthermore ad hoc mode disconnects your device from your home network, so you can’t browse the internet or use other apps without first disconnecting from the CyberQ.
The other way to connect the CyberQ is infrastructure mode, or, in layman’s terms, through your home WiFi. It offers better range (the same range as your WiFi network) and allows you to use other apps while monitoring your cook. Once you’ve connected via infrastructure mode, you can monitor and control your CyberQ from any device that’s connected to your home network. In infrastructure mode you can also set up “port forwarding,” which allows you to access the CyberQ and control it remotely from any computer, smartphone, or tablet that can access the internet. However, in our opinion, connecting via infrastructure mode is unnecessarily complicated, involving several steps that could be problematic for anyone unfamiliar with accessing and editing router settings or forwarding ports. So, while connecting your CyberQ via infrastructure mode gives you the ability to control your smoker remotely, it could require calling in a favor from a tech-savvy friend.
Compared to the CyberQ, connecting the Flame Boss 300-WiFi is refreshingly easy. In fact, the process should be familiar to anyone who has ever connected a phone or tablet to their home WiFi. The Flame Boss will provide a list of available wireless networks. You simply choose the right one and enter the network password. Boom, you’re connected. You can then either use the free Flame Boss app (available Spring 2017) or go to myflameboss.com to access your cook data and control your smoker remotely. There’s nothing more to it.
BBQ Guru vs Flame Boss: The Past vs. The Future
As the dominant automatic temperature controller on the market, BBQ Guru has the advantage of a trusted name and a proven track record. Beyond the merits of past performance and name recognition, BBQ Guru also enjoys advantages specific to their controllers. By offering adaptors for nearly every smoker, BBQ Guru all but ensures that the DigiQ and CyberQ will have a great fit on almost any smoker. Guru also gets the nod for making the CyberQ out-of-the-box ready to use 3 food probes and including those probes with purchase.
Flame Boss, despite being relatively new to the market, has already proven itself as a worthy alternative to BBQ Guru. Its ground-breaking variable speed fan is nothing short of a game changer. Flame Boss’ ability to consistently zero-in on a temperature and hold it makes cooking great BBQ easier than ever. Meanwhile, the easy-to-use interface and convenient everything-at-a-glance display is a welcome feature for any BBQer. At every step, Flame Boss has made using its controllers simple and hassle-free, a sentiment that’s reflected by the company’s claim, “No instructions necessary…but they’re included just in case.” The one exception is the confusing process of adding extra food probes to the FB300 by adding optional Y-cables, and those Y-Cables should probably be included with the kit.
In the end, comparing BBQ Guru and Flame Boss may not be a question of which is better, but which is the future of automatic temperature controllers. Because while BBQ Guru has been a forerunner in in the market, the technology and ease-of-use established by Flame Boss will likely be the future standard. In fact, in November 2016 Flame Boss announced that its Flame Boss 300-WiFi can be controlled via Amazon's voice-enabled Alexa app, which is compatible with the Amazon Fire and Echo. All you have to do is tell Alexa to raise the temperature to 250°F and, outside, your Flame Boss will turn up the heat. Need to know the current internal temperature of your brisket? Just ask Alexa. It's another indication of Flame Boss' commitment to continuing the evolution and advancement of temperature controllers.