Since all I cooked tonight was some burgers and tater tots on the BS Keg, I figured I’d use this opportunity to review the GrillStar app for iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) since I’ve been playing with it for a couple of weeks now and used it (instead of the clock timer in my iPhone) to keep track of time for tonight’s meal. And as per my normal review behavior, I’ll be presenting the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in the public interest. And because it makes me happy.
First off, the disclaimer for all the Federalis out there with nothing better to do than annoy well-meaning bloggers with threats of the IRS swooping down in black helicopters with tax forms and penalties in hand. Although Ryan from BigGreenButton Software was kind enough to throw a few promo codes my way, I had already plunked down $.99 in the App Store and was already playing with the application. And I gave away most of the promo codes. And intend to dispose of the rest in a responsible fashion that doesn’t make me any money or affect my opinions on this application.
Now that we have that out of the way, on with the review. GrillStar is a timer that tracks multiple items on a grill. As you can see from the picture below, it has the ability to have three different zones on the grill, one each for searing, direct grilling, and indirect grilling. If you don’t know why this is important, I would suggest that you go find someone that knows what they are doing with a grill and get some basic instruction. But for the rest of us, this is great as times will vary greatly depending on how you are cooking, and GrillStar took this into account when developing the app. For me, this is table stakes (no pun intended, but you can read one in if you like), so without this basic function you wouldn’t be reading this review.
The (really) Good
As you can see from the picture above, you can add items to each area, and the next alarm will go off for the next item that is ready to flip and/or remove based on the time you set when you add them to the grill. Adding an item is as simple as clicking the Add button, which presents you with a menu of choices that include a selection of Meats, Seafood, and Veggies. Clicking on one of these takes you to a menu of different selections, that although a bit light at the time in selections, I am assured by the nice developer that is being extended in future releases. I won’t give away all his secrets now, but if he continues to deliver these in incremental releases this application will only get better and better with time.
You can easily customize the recommendations provided by the menu selections to meet your own personal preferences and to adjust for differing grill temperatures or other factors that affect cooking times. There are also “wild card” entries that allow you to add your own items if what you are looking for doesn’t already appear in the list of menu items.
There are two other items I would list in the Good category, the first being the ability to turn zones on or off and easily adjust their size. This is done by simply clicking on the settings wheel on the main grill screen and playing with the controls. And if you can’t figure out how to do this yourself, the other Good item is the quality of the Help screens available with the application. They are clear and comprehensive without requiring a college degree to understand. This is important, as there are a lot of features under the hood of this app that aren’t always completely intuitive. On the other hand, once you understand how the app works, it’s pretty simple to use.
The (not really that) Bad
The not-so-good (not really bad, but not yet great; the fact that they exist at all is better than any others I’ve seen) things I found with the GrillStar app are as follows.
- There is no customization of alarm sounds. Although the existing alarm is loud and distinctive, I’d really like to change this to Homer Simpson saying “Mmm… Barbecue” like I have for my iPhone clock timer.
- There is no Recipe section for Fruit or things other than Meat, Seafood, and Veggies. I often grill fruit, cook bread, and throw other things on my grills that don’t fit into the Big 3. An “Other section would be appropriate, and greatly appreciated.
- The existing list of recipes is still a bit on the light side. It will be nice when more items are available from the stock menu.
- There is no ability to add custom icons for items users add to the database. Which turns out to be related to an item that shows up in the Ugly category. See if you can figure out which one it is…
Now as I stated above, I have these items listed in the (not really that) Bad section, but the developer (did I mention he is very responsive and appreciates constructive feedback?) is very interested in adding some (if not all) of these to future releases. And they aren’t really that bad, when you stop and think about it. None of them kept me from using the app in an effective fashion, and if you really want to see proof, here is a gratuitous shot of those burgers and tater tots I mentioned earlier.
As you can see, everything is cooked, nothing is burned (other than the one burger which was hockey-pucked on purpose for the wife). And I timed it all with GrillStar.
Ok, I have a couple of ugly items, although neither will stop me from continuing to use the app.
- Only one flip time is available. There are times I’d like to check on things, not necessarily flip them and I still have to set an additional alarm to do this or futz about with the application. I normally subscribe to the “if you’re looking you ain’t cooking philosophy”, but there are still times when it is appropriate to go check on things even if you aren’t going to peek.
- Custom items you add aren’t preserved in the items database beyond the grilling session, nor are custom times remembered. Once removed from the grill they have to be reentered from scratch. If I was to ask for one item to be improved as soon as possible, this would be the one I would rank the highest. In my opinion, this would be a killer feature for this app and allow people to save their recipes and not have to reenter them every time they get ready to cook.
Having said this, the app is only a buck and well worth the money for what it already provides. My conversations with the developer lead me to believe he is firmly committed to addressing the issues above and adding additional features not already mentioned here. Some of his plans absolutely rock, and my belief is that adding some of them will allow him to potentially raise the price of the app in the future. We aren’t talking about lipstick on a pig here, we’re talking about elective surgery to remove the warts and tighten and firm the, well, you get the picture…
So what are you waiting for? If you grill and have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad (or any combination of them) run right out to the App Store and get yourself a copy before the price goes up. It is a buck well-spent. So what are you waiting for? Go. Now. And no, I don’t make a commission on any of this. However, I do have an interest in getting those new features in, and the more of you that vote with your dollar, the more likely the developer will be to put them in.
Are you still here?