Billows Installation and Review

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ThermoWorks Billows Review and Installation

ThermoWorks has been spoiling us at Angry BBQ. They keep sending us cool gear to review and write about. We love their instant read thermometers and we are a big fan of the ThermoWorks Signals multi-probe WIFI smoker/grill thermometer, and now they sent us their Billows temperature control fan kit.

The Billows system works in conjunction with the ThermoWorks Signals or Smoke X system whereas the Signals unit acts as the temperature control module and the Billows is the actual fan unit that installs directly to your charcoal or kamado grill. All you need to do is install the Billows fan module to your grill, connect it to the Signals controller and attach a temp probe to your grill grate and Signals controller. Now you can set whatever temperature you desire on your grill and the Signals and Billows take care of the rest. No more adjusting vents to hit that perfect temperature consistently.

Billows Kit Unboxed
Billows Unboxed with Optional Damper

The system is quite simple. I’ll guide you through the installation on my Weber Kettle Premium and follow it up with an overall review during a cook. I tested the Billows on a sirloin tip roast when I was making my French beef dip recipe. Perfect opportunity to test the Billows.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageRating 8.0Rating 8.0Thermoworks Billows Fan Controller
  • Fan Controller for Signals
  • Set Smoker Temps Digitally
  • Easy Installation
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageRating 9.0Rating 9.0Thermoworks Signals
  • 4 Accurate Probes
  • Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
  • Rechargeable Battery
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageBattery Supply
  • 24 Hours Run Time
  • Cook Off Grid
  • Fast Recharge
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageDamper
  • Reduce Fan Air Flow
  • Great For Small Cookers
  • Easy Installation
CHECK PRICE

What Grills and Smokers Does Billows Work with?

Charcoal Grills

Just a quick note. Billows isn’t for every grill or smoker. Obviously this isn’t for gas or pellet grills. The Billows was mainly designed for charcoal grills/smokers. Some have attempted to put these on stick burning Offset smokers but I do not recommend it on an offset. An offset has a good draft system to begin with. The Billows fan controller will also halt airflow to lower temperatures that can make wood smolder, which is something you want to avoid because you will get the nasty white smoke. Charcoal doesn’t smolder like wood when oxygen is absent.

These are the grills that I think work best with a Billows system.

  1. Weber Kettle Style Grills
  2. Weber Smokey Mountain Style Smokers
  3. Kamado Style Grills
  4. Drum Smokers

Installation Procedure of Billows on a Weber Kettle

Overall this is a very easy installation. You need a couple tools, some basic mechanical skills and maybe 15 minutes. If you own a Kamado style charcoal grill, the installation is even more simple as ThermoWorks provides attachments that click into the existing vent areas and the Billows snaps into place.

FYI: Billows will only work if it is connected to the ThermoWorks Signals or Smoke X units. You need both to operate.

Tools Required

Billows Tools For Installation
  1. Drill – 3/8″ Chuck Minimum
  2. Measuring Tape
  3. Pencil
  4. Hole Saw Arbor
  5. 1″ Multi-Material Hole Saw
  6. Debur Tool – Optional
  7. 2 Beer

Links to Tools You Probably Need

1 inch hole saw
1″ Hole Saw
Milwaukee Arbor
3/8″ Arbor – Attaches to Hole Saw and Drill

Installation Procedure


Step 1. Clean Kettle.

Start by cleaning out your Kettle as best you can. If you have a brand new unit, disregard this step. I remove all interior components and clean all the ash from the bottom. Try your best to remove any ash or soot that is stuck to the sides of the Kettle.

Cleaned Kettle
Most Ash Removed

Step 2. Mark your Hole for Removal

Most of you will have the newer style kettle with the Tri-Star ash cleaner / vent system. (If you have the old generation with the round vent hole system, you just simply attach the Billows through one of the holes and tape the other holes shut.)

You’ll need to mark the resting place of the fingers when fully closed and fully open. Between those two marks is where you will need to mark for your hole. You also need to make sure the hole is below the grate that holds the charcoal. The image below allows you to visualize this. In the second picture you see an arrow form from your marks. My pencil is pointing to where you want to drill the hole. You can see it is below the charcoal grate hanger.

Billows Mark For Hole 1
Vent in full open position and marking line.
Billows Hole Mark 2
Vent in full close position and marking line.

Step #3. Drill Out The Hole

Get your drill and attach the Arbor and 1″ hole saw. I drill from the inside out. Optional: Debur the hole with a scotch pad attachment if you have. This step is not necessary.

Drilling hole in weber kettle
Hole Drilled
Deburring

Step #4. Install Billows Unit to Grill

The Billows fan unit output port comes with a spring mechanism. You need to squeeze the spring legs together and push them through your cut hole. There is some tension but it is quite easy to snap in place.

ThermoWorks Billows Review and Installation
Fan Port Faces Down
Billows Installed Interior Shot
Spring Mechanism Holds Billows In Place

Step #5. Connect to Signals Controller

Now it’s time to wire the Billows unit to your Signals controller. This is quite straight forward but there are a couple important items to point out.

The Billows kit includes a USB-C cord that has an adapter at one end. The adapter has two female ports. One port is for the Billows Fan and the other is for Power. The power port can be plugged into the 12V AC adapter that is included with the kit or the optional 12V battery pack which is a very nice feature for travelers or camping folk.

Signals Adapter
The adapter connects to the Signals USB-C port as shown
Adapter Connected
Power port connects to the 12V battery or the 12V AC adapter. The fan port connects to the Billows

Now that we have power going to the Signals and Billows unit, we need to connect the temperature probes so the Signals unit knows when to turn the Billows fan on or off to achieve the desired temperature.

Install the Signals High Temp Air probe to the grill grate with the included probe clip. You will want to place the probe close to where you put the food. Then connect the probe to channel four on the Signals controller. It must be on channel four or it will not work.

Signals High Temp Air Probe
Air Probe Attached to Grill Grate
Billows Connected to Channel 4
Probe connected to Channel 4

When you have completed all connections and turned the Signals unit on, it will automatically go into controller mode on Channel 4. Now you can use the button on the Signals or the ThermoWorks app to set your desired temperature. Installation complete. Your Signals screen should have a little fan on the top left corner on channel 4. You are ready to set your temps.

Signals Temp Setting

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageRating 8.0Rating 8.0Thermoworks Billows Fan Controller
  • Fan Controller for Signals
  • Set Smoker Temps Digitally
  • Easy Installation
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageRating 9.0Rating 9.0Thermoworks Signals
  • 4 Accurate Probes
  • Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
  • Rechargeable Battery
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageBattery Supply
  • 24 Hours Run Time
  • Cook Off Grid
  • Fast Recharge
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageDamper
  • Reduce Fan Air Flow
  • Great For Small Cookers
  • Easy Installation
CHECK PRICE


Using the ThermoWorks Billows

Getting the Grill to Temp with the Billows

After you have completed installing the Billows unit on your grill, you are ready to start using it. I have a recommended fire up procedure for the charcoal. You will want to light your charcoal with the Billows off. With the bottom vents wide open, put in about a 1/2 chimney of unlit charcoal in the grill to one side (two zone grilling) and light the other 1/2 of the chimney in your charcoal chimney. Once the charcoal is fully lit, dump it on top of the unlit charcoal.

1/2 Chimney Lit Coal

Once the grill starts to heat up, I turn on the Signals and Billows unit. Set it to your desired temperature and close the bottom vents. I left the top lid vent about 25% open. I set the temp to 350F for this cook.

Below is a picture of my cook. I’m slow roasting a Sirloin Tip roast. Air temp probe on the left, meat probe in the roast with lit charcoal in a Slo n’ Sear and a couple wood chunks.

Smoking a Roast with Billows

Billows Temperature Management

I was impressed how quickly the Billows got the grill to temperature and how well it held the temps. The charts below are from the ThermoWorks Signals app on my iPhone 10. The charts demonstrate how consistent the temps stayed at 350F. Where you see a temperature fluctuation is when I opened the lid to check on the roast. After I open the lid the Billows brings the temp back quickly and then slightly overshoots the 350F, however, it brings it close to 350F in about 10-15 minutes.

Billows Temp Chart
Red = Grill Temp. Green = Meat Temp.

Since the Signals unit is controlling the Billows, I have full control of the cook with the use of my phone. Signals has WIFI connectivity so I can monitor or adjust temps wherever I go. Below are screenshots from my ThermoWorks app. I can set the desired temp of the grill and keep an eye on my roast temperature.

ThermoWorks Screenshot with Billows

I’m very pleased with the results I had during this test. A Weber Kettle can be hard to maintain consistent temperatures especially when it is cold or windy outside. I also learnt that the built in temperature gauge on my Kettle is extremely inaccurate. I need to upgrade that in the future.

Billows Accessories

Below are what I consider worthwhile accessories that increase Billows performance or aid in the installation of the Billows system.

Fan Damper

I recommend getting the fan damper. Without the damper, the Billows has a lot of air flow especially if you’re cooking on a small kettle or Kamado grill. I find adding the damper and keeping it half open works well for grills/smokers of this size. It’s cheap. Get it.

Mounting Kits

Thermoworks has you covered with various mounting kits that make installation easy. They have several different mounts that cover many different grill types. Pick the right one for your grill.

Battery Pack

The Battery Pack is a great option if you’re cooking off the grid. It will power the Billows and Signals for up to 24 hours. That’s more than long enough for any large cut of meat.

What I Like About the Signals and Billows System

Overall I’m a big fan of the Billows unit. I’ve been using the Signals for sometime and have gotten comfortable with it. I knew it was capable of controlling the Billows fan system, so I’m glad I finally installed it and started using it. Below are my favorite points of the Billows.

  1. Ease of Use: Very easy to use when controlled by the ThermoWorks Signals. Turns your simple charcoal grill into an easy to use pellet style grill.
  2. WIFI connectivity and control: Again since the Billows is controlled by Signals, I can be anywhere in the yard, town or Country and still monitor or alter the grill temps and monitor the food temps.
  3. Battery Power Source: ThermoWorks includes a 12V DC battery kit that can power the Billows and Signals unit. I can take this camping in the bush and have it manage my cook. No generator or wall plugin required.
  4. Temperature Consistency: The Billows with Signals does exactly what it advertises. It holds temps very well in my kettle and will also work well in Kamados, Smokey Mountains or other charcoal grills.

What Makes Me Angry About the Billows

I can’t say I have any negative opinions of the Billows. It seems to be priced fare on its own. However, if you do not already own a Signals system, you are looking at a $300+ investment to make this work. That is more than an average Weber Kettle.

  1. Too Much Airflow Stock: You’ll want to purchase the optional damper for the Billows. Without the damper, the Billows can produce a little too much airflow. Install the damper and set it half open.
  2. Ummmmmmm
Billows Damper Half Open
Damper Half Open

ThermoWorks Billows Final Thoughts

If you’ve read the entire review, you’ll see I’m quite pleased with the Billows. ThermoWorks makes quality products and you can trust that the product will do what they state, and the Billows doesn’t disappoint.

If you’re serious about charcoal and doing long low temp cooks on a Kettle or Kamado, then you should really consider the Billows and Signals system. We all live busy lives and creature comforts like this help your BBQ results and allow you to do a couple other things during the day.

I think some people feel this is cheating, but I disagree. If technology is developed that will make better BBQ, then we should embrace it. We all live very busy lives and if technology can allow us to do other tasks during the day and not just sit by our smoker or grill, I think we are all better off.

IMAGE MODEL FEATURES
byb2-table__imageRating 8.0Rating 8.0Thermoworks Billows Fan Controller
  • Fan Controller for Signals
  • Set Smoker Temps Digitally
  • Easy Installation
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageRating 9.0Rating 9.0Thermoworks Signals
  • 4 Accurate Probes
  • Wi-Fi & Bluetooth
  • Rechargeable Battery
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageBattery Supply
  • 24 Hours Run Time
  • Cook Off Grid
  • Fast Recharge
CHECK PRICE
byb2-table__imageDamper
  • Reduce Fan Air Flow
  • Great For Small Cookers
  • Easy Installation
CHECK PRICE

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