Let me start by saying that for the money, this is a VERY impressive thermometer. I'm not going to go all infomercial on you by describing all of its features and benefits and then asking you "how much would you pay?" or anything, so I'll come right out and say it. $24.99 is all this thing costs. Maverick did an amazing job with the design of this unit, and I'd gladly pay $40 for one now that I've used it.
I've used digital thermometers in the past to measure the internal temperature of something I was cooking, but never one that gave me the air temperature in the cooking chamber of the grill. For this I've tried bi-metal candy/fryer thermometers stuck in the vents, standard off-the-shelf oven thermometers and the venerable Outset F810 (which since writing my previous review got stuck at 300F and has gone to glory) on the surface of the grill; while these are all inexpensive solutions, none of them are really ideal. With any dial type thermometer on the grill surface you have to lift the lid to check your temp, which gives your coals additional oxygen, making it even harder to keep the temp regulated. The thermometer in the vent is good for some things, but the tip never gets near the grill surface (dome temp and grill surface temperature can vary by 30 or more degrees) and can bang into your food when you put the lid on. Additionally, you can't close the lid vent all the way to cool the coals down and still monitor your temperature.
While this Maverick BBQ thermometer is their entry level product for this application, don't let the low price fool you. This thing is packed with features, and all of them are very well thought out and easy to use. The first time I used it, I didn't even look at the instructions. I'm not saying this to impress you with my dazzling ability to figure things out, but to give you an idea of how intuitive the design really is; anyone can read the instructions and use something the first time, but what will happen if they don't use it for a year and can't find the instructions again?
Included in the package is a probe with a metal clip that holds it to the underside of the cooking grate, the thermometer unit and a stand. The stand stays clipped to the back of the thermometer when you aren't using it to keep it from wandering off; in this position it can also be used to hang the unit on a wall. On the back of the body of the thermometer are a pair of magnets that can be used to stick it to any nearby metallic object. I wouldn't think it would be wise to stick it to the outside of your grill when it was in use, but you could also use this model as an oven thermometer.
The real beauty of the design is that not only does it display the temperature inside your grill, but it allows you to set a target temperature; if you go more than 15 degrees above or below an audible alarm goes off to let you know your grill needs attention; since it goes on average temperature over a 10 second span, the displayed temperature isn't shooting all over the place making it harder to read quickly. When you are close to your target temperature the display will read "optimal" to let you know you're making the right choices. The Start/Stop button on the top of the thermometer can be used to temporarily silence the alarm, I'm a big fan of the placement of this button as you can easily hit it without removing your gloves. If the beeping gets to be too obnoxious while you're shuffling your food around with the lid open you can always switch the alarm off. The display is huge and very easy to read from a distance, which is certainly a plus.
The folks at Maverick didn't stop there; they added a timer so you can keep track of how long you've had the food on, or put it in count down mode so an alarm goes off once time has expired.
The probe is built to withstand temperature spikes up to 700 degrees, but the manual recommends that you not exceed 482 degrees for more than 4 hours as the braided stainless probe wire might deteriorate; placing the probe close to the edge of your cooking grate away from direct heat should keep it well below that unless you're trying to use your grill as a blast furnace.
This is a great device to help you learn the basics of temperature control as well; I sat next to the grill and maintained 350 degrees for around a half hour in an empty grill with very little effort. In fact, I was seated most of the time enjoying a beer, not hopping up to check the dial. I can't wait to try it out on a much longer smoke in the very near future.
This thermometer can be purchased semi-locally at Fred's Music and BBQ Supply in Shillington PA (just outside Reading) as well as on Amazon for a few dollars more.
Go grab one- pick up a couple racks of ribs while you're out to save yourself a trip later!