Category Archives: Cooking Apps

Looking for an app to help out in the kitchen? We’ve reviewed a few.

App Update: iGrill

CLICK to buy your own iGrill

Back last February we did a piece on the new iGrill thermometer/app.

The iGrill is a slick little smartphone application that lets you monitor the cooking temperature of whatever you happen to have on your BBQ or smoker. Since our original post, the app has had a major overhaul. And, I’m here to report that the changes that have been made make for a much improved user experience.

In addition to the refinements to the smartphone app, there is now a new iPad application for the iGrill. This version still has the old school meat thermometer interface that has apparently been removed from the new phone update (if it hasn’t been removed, I can’t figure out how to get to it).

The iGrill iPad App

The biggest problem I had when first testing the iGrill was its ability to stay connected to the base unit. The latest update seems to have remedied that issue. The connectivity problems have disappeared.

The user interface has been redesigned. It’s still pretty straightforward, time and temp, very readable and simple. I have to admit that I do miss the option of having the meat thermometer (pictured above) as a choice on the phone. That was pretty awesome (maybe it will return in a future update).

I decided to use the smoker this time for my evaluation. And, for consistency, I cooked chicken once again. I also thought the 4 hour smoking time would be a fair test of the Bluetooth handshake problems that I had encountered previously.

Chickens in. Connection seamless. So far, so good.

I wanted to make sure that my chickens smoked to 180 degrees. But, I didn’t want them to get there too fast. I checked in regularly with the iGrill and made the necessary temperature adjustments to the smoker. The app performed fantastic. No problems at all. Connected flawlessly each and every time I fired up the phone.

The connection distance seems to have been increased a little too. Granted, I couldn’t check from my beach chair, but, I could monitor in between bean bag tosses.

This is a very successful update for the iGrill. The app was great before. But, now with all of the issues I had experienced during my first use addressed, it’s going to be a regular part of my BBQ/smoker tool arsenal. iDevices should take a bow for making something already good, that much better!

Oh, and the chickens ended up being some of the best to come out of my smoker! My Guinea pigs were most happy!

Buy your very on iGrill

iGrill: A Glimpse of the Grilling Future

 

Toys are fun. Toys that can actually make your life easier, well…

iGrill

A FedEx box arrived. Everybody likes it when a FedEx box comes to their house. Especially, if it’s not even close to Christmas, your birthday or any other gift giving occasion. This being the end of February, it was to late for a Valentine’s Day whatever and a little on the early side for a vacuum packed corned beef and cabbage.

Once I tore into it, I discovered what could possibly be the coolest BBQ gadget of all time. The nice folks at iDevices had sent me the most talked about cooking tool at this years Consumer Electronics show. The iGrill. This would be fun.

Like every guy on the planet. I love to grill. It’s been said that the urge to grill is woven into the DNA of every man alive. I won’t dispute that. I know from my own personal experience that I can smell a grill being lit or a juicy burger cooking from a half mile way. And, once I smell that smell, the urge to participate is overwhelming.

The contents if the iGrill box is pretty simple. Thermometer unit, probe and a short instruction sheet. It doesn’t get any easier than that. Oh, they even include 4 AA’s in the box. What a pleasure not to have to root around in my kitchen drawer for batteries that still had some life in them.

iGrill

You’re looking at the whole thing right there. Simplicity.

Once unpacked, I was determined to put the iGrill through it’s paces. I thought about a roast of some kind for it’s maiden voyage. Maybe chicken. It probably should be something that didn’t need flipping or too much moving around on the grill. A beer can chicken would work great.

I downloaded the latest iGrill software from iTunes and was ready to check things out.

I seasoned up a 4 pound roasting chicken with some Memphis rub from a recipe in the BBQ Bible by Steven Raichlen. This is a fantastic mix of spices. Great on beef, chicken or pork. I thought this would give my chicken a little extra zip. You should try it.

Beer Can Chicken - Uncooked

I inserted the temperature probe into the breast making sure not to have it touching the bone. I found a can of Old Style. Opened it, drank half and used the remaining beer and can for the recipe.

I started pre-heating the grill and paired my phone with the iGrill base unit. A simple procedure. The phone found the iGrill with no problems. I placed the chicken on the grill and was ready to have some fun.

The iGrill’s phone interface is great. Simple to use and super easy to understand what’s going on under the hood of your BBQ.

igrilldisply1200pxJPGigrilldisplay320pxJPGigrilldisplay2200pxJPG

Check out the display options. From left to right. The first is what I called the master display. You have target temperature, current food temperature, a time until complete approximation and a graph on top of the temperature history. Lots of info. Next there is a traditional meat thermometer display. It has the temp in digital form and an old school thermometer reading that we all know and love. Lastly there is a timer. I wish it had the option of count up as well as count down. I like seeing how long something has been cooking, not just the time to completion.

As the cooking got underway, the temp started working it’s way up. Things were going great until I hit a small snag. I powered on my phone and couldn’t get the app to connect. It wouldn’t show any of the three screens above. I went out to the grill to check the base unit. It had the temperature displayed just fine.

My Bluetooth connection said it was working. I re-started my phone. After it finished re-starting the display came right back on and with the correct temperature. If I kept the phone on it was fine. If I turned the phone off without first closing the app and turned it back on again it was OK. But, if I closed the app, then turned off the phone. No connection. If I re-started the phone all was fixed and all of the up to date temp details were accurate.

iGrill

It’s a little glitch in the program. I’m not even certain if it might just be an isolated incident. In any event, it’s something that I am sure will get smoothed out in a future update of the software. And, the problem isn’t big enough to consider not purchasing the unit. Even with that minor blip, the operation of the device and it’s reporting of the temperature was right on. The convenience of not having to wonder what was really happening to your soon to be meal was liberating.

Beer Can Chicken

When my chicken reached my target temp I was ready to see if the internal temperature of my bird matched the what the device was reporting. After sampling a couple of different locations on the chicken with an instant read, I am happy to report that the temperature was right on the money.

The Bottom Line

If you like grilling and you like gadgets the iGrill is for you. It had a small hiccup in the Bluetooth handshake, but, I think that’s something that will get resolved quickly. The accuracy was great and the clear, readable displays let you “look under the cover” of the grill as it’s cooking. This would be perfect for monitoring something on the smoker. It seems the smoker is even more mysterious than the BBQ. I’m going to give that a whirl next. Can someone say pulled pork.

I know one gift giving occasion that is on the horizon that the iGrill would be perfect for. Father’s Day. And, it’s closer than you think…

buythisappJPG

What’s For Dinner? An App Can Help

 

I figure if I stare at my open fridge long enough, something will jump out at me.

What's For DinnerWhat's For Dinner

I assume that’s the way many of you go about concocting some kind of meal plan too. I know it’s not the most efficient way of going about things, but, it seems to work. Most times.

Once you get over the shock from the not so subtle mood lightning inside that appliance, some decisions need to be made. Are there leftovers? If there are, are they even close to still being consumable without a potential ER visit? You probably have some staples. The milk might have a chance of escaping on it’s own once the door is open, but, the other stuff like butter, jellies, bottled sauces, in all likelihood are less problematic. So the hunt begins…

At this point you could continue combing through the wreckage that is most peoples fridge or maybe switch on your phone for some much needed assistance. That’s right, phone.

I discovered this app a few days ago. What’s For Dinner aims to help make that agonizing decision a touch easier. It’s a great little app, with some handy features. First, how about an online recipe search feature? Just type in any possible ingredient and it will be searched for.  I mean any. I tried a whole host of different possibilities and I was unable to stump the thing.

Imagine this, you’re at work wondering what you could possibly prepare for your starving family after you’ve put in a hard day at the plant. Sounds great already, right? You somehow remember that you have a package of chicken thighs in the fridge. Type it into the app and you’re well on your way to planning your families next culinary expedition.

After you pull down your recipe choice you can make a shopping list out of it. That’s especially nice if you’re going to the store to shop just dinner and not trying to cram in your weekly shopping on top of it. Here’s what I decided on.

Garlic Cumin Chicken

Garlic Cumin Chicken

Here how to do it:

Ingredients
2lb. Chicken Thighs, boneless/skinless
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
16 cloves garlic, peeled & smashed
1 Tbsp. cumin, ground
1/3 cup parsley, chopped for garnish
4 lemon wedges

Method
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Melt butter in a heavy bottomed skillet that is large enough to hold the chicken. Add chicken and brown on one side (about 5 minutes). Turn chicken and add garlic cloves. Cover and cook over medium low heat. Turn a couple of times until chicken is nicely browned and cooked through. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with cumin. Turn heat to medium high. Cook uncovered 3 to 5 minutes. Turn once.

Remove chicken from skillet to serving plate. Spoon garlic and crispy brown bits from pan over top chicken. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon wedge.

Garlic Cumin Chicken

Oh, I served mine with some rice pilaf topped with feta and a little of the leftover parsley.

What's For Dinner

Make no mistake about it. This little smartphone app isn’t going to cook your dinner for you (If they added that feature it would be killer). But, it sure can take the pain out of guessing what to make. And, as a bonus, it’s fun to use.

They have two versions. There’s a free version that lets you store a minimum amount of recipes and search several sights. For $2.99 you can have the premium version which allows you to add recipe labels, add your own ingredients to the shopping list function and even add photos.

The Bottom Line:

Cooking dinner for your family should be fun. Treasure hunts are great, but, maybe we should reserve those for a kids party rather than your daily encounter with the refrigerator. What’s For Dinner makes deciding what’s for dinner less of a challenge.

buythisappJPG

Boiled Water: There’s An App For That

 

I’m not sure which is the most basic of recipes, boiled water or making ice cubes. It might very well be a tie.

screenshot2JPGscreenshot1JPG

There used to be a time in the not so distant past when the mechanics of making a meal was VERY different.  You either opened up an oil stained cookbook or just cooked from memory and taste. All of that is changing at a pretty rapid pace.

This past weekend I not only cooked with my Mac laptop sitting on the counter, BUT, I cooked using my iPhone! AND, I enjoyed it!

New York Times columnist, author and food journalist, Mark Bittman is at the forefront of making that change happen. His How To Cook Everything app for the iPhone is just another example of how our everyday kitchen “tools” are evolving.

I decided to check out how cooking off your phone would be. I know it’s really a miniature computer, but, it’s still a phone. But, what to try first? The Bittman app is loaded with thousands of recipes, tips and helpful kitchen hints. I figured I would let the wisdom of the crowds guide my decision. It turned out to be a good choice.

One of the features of the application lets users give a “thumbs up” to recipes they have tried and liked. I start my journey with the most popular one. Boiled Water.

How could a recipe for boiled water be the favorite of so many people (1928 votes as of this writing)? I think I should get to the bottom of this.

The recipe is described as “a Mediterranean classic” that is almost as simple as boiling water. As it turns out that isn’t too far from the truth. Here’s what you’ll need to make this quick and easy recipe.

Ingredients
6-10 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 Bay Leaf
4 cups water
1/4 cup, Olive Oil
4 Slices French Bread
1/2 cup, freshly grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Romano cheese
Chopped parsley for garnish

Method
In a large saucepan or small stockpot add water, bay leaf, garlic and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover partially and reduce heat to very low. Low enough for the cooking liquid to boil gently. Boil for 15 minutes.

breadsliced610pxJPG

In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat. When heated add the bread slices. Brown on both sides, turning once for a total of about 5 minutes.

breadtoasted610pxJPG

When bread has browned, place in bowls and top with grated cheese. Strain solids from the soup and pour into the bowls. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Serve.

Serves 4

soupfinished610pxJPG

This really could not have been much easier to make. I poured my broth over the cheese topped bread. I figured this would melt the cheese a little.

There were a couple of issues that came up. First when you add the bread to the skillet, side one soaks up 90 percent of the oil in the pan. This leaves no oil for toasting the second side. The recipe suggests using slightly stale bread. That may help a little with that problem.

The second is more of an observation than a problem with the recipe. When you add the broth to the bowl, the bread turns soft and broth soaked rather quickly. I liked the texture of the mushy bread. It gave the soup a little more body. If you don’t expect a crunchy crouton kind of experience, then you won’t be disappointed.

I was surprised at how much flavor this recipe actually had given the few ingredients that it contains. It really has a lot of depth to it. A pleasant surprise.

When we finished slurping, all of my tasters agreed that this would make an excellent first course for a roast chicken dinner. Nice and light, but, more than enough taste to carry the dish.

We know that the recipe turns out fine. Now, what about the app itself. Here’s how it all breaks down.

groceryscreenJPGThe app runs great. The search feature usually turns up a good amount of recipe options. Each of the recipes is broken down nicely into sections. An overview, ingredients list and the steps themselves. If there is a timing element (which of course there is in most recipes), then a handy link lets you use the timer in the app without setting another external one. That’s nice.

You can save your favorite recipes. I love the grocery list function. You can add in all of the ingredients for your recipe with the touch of a button. You can then sort that list by store aisle or alphabetically. I have to say that it’s surprisingly useful. I’m pretty much of a pencil and paper guy when it comes to my shopping list, but, who knows, this might change me.

The Bottom Line

How To Cook Everything, the iPhone/iPad version isn’t a substitute for Mark’s fantastic in print book. But, if you just want to whip out your phone, do a quick search and make a great meal, then this app will do that and even a little more. The app runs $4.99 which is on the high side for iPhone apps. Now, I’m not saying it’s not worth five bucks, but, a lot of folks are used to 99 cents or free. My advice to you, pony up the fin and get cooking.

buythisappJPG