Teemu Nivala and Joseph Cruz smelt burning from the barbecue – and not in a good, charred way. Had they cremated the sausages, incinerated the steak?
Telling the story, Nivala, a Finnish software engineer relocated to Leicester in the UK, admits that a drink might have been taken to distract the cooks from the task in hand. But it wasn’t just their lamb joint that had been burnt to a crisp, so had the thermometer wire that was meant to alert them when the meat had reached the right temperature. Melted metal is not the best marinade.
“That was when the concept of a completely wireless meat thermometer was born,” says Nivala. The rest is smart cooking history, as the MEATER was made, now selling around the world.
“A lot of people were talking about the concept, but it is not easy and requires a lot of work, commitment and innovation,” says Nivala.
He and Cruz had worked together on electronic products, as well as video and audio projects for various businesses, so decided, in 2015, to set up their own company, Apption Labs, and put their computer science know-how into transforming the practicalities of outdoor cooking, injecting a bit of cool into the heat; clever tech into the elemental world
of BBQ food.
“We worked on proof of concept for MEATER and tested its viability and popularity through very successful crowd funding. It was clear people wanted the product,” says Nivala, chief technology officer.
“It was just Joseph and I at the start, but now we have over 40 people in the company and the business has grown to three products in the market – MEATER, MEATER + and the MEATER Block.”
Meater has been used for well over three million cooks and counting.
Despite rapid expansion, all the engineering, as well as marketing and logistics, happens in the UK, out of the company’s Leicester headquarters in the East Midlands.
“We try to avoid outsourcing and do it all ourselves, controlling how the products look and work – the industrial design, the mechanical design and its applications, testing everything in-house.”
There are now hundreds of thousands of MEATER products out there – in meats and on smartphones – in a global marketplace stretching primarily across Europe, the USA and Australia.
“We are really growing in the UK. No more burnt burgers, many more low and slow ribs and pulled pork,” says Nivala (below).
BBQ enthusiasts were already using wired thermometers, so it was a natural pivot to MEATER, offering a superior product and solution.
The MEATER app is constantly refined and rigorously tested, so cooks can continue to up their game and their enjoyment, as MEATER develops new software.
Working on BBQs, smokers and ovens, any grill expert, novice or kitchen cook can benefit from the wireless system.
The MEATER connects to a smartphone or tablet and monitors your meat while cooking, sending alerts, estimating cooking times and notifying you when it is ready.
The original MEATER has a Bluetooth range of 10m, with the MEATER+ range up to 50m. For multiple meats, the MEATER Block charges up to four MEATER+ probes, while its Cloud features allow you to share cooks in real time.
What gives the MEATER a distinctive edge is its app and look – the slick blend
of technology and design. It is not, says Nivala, one of those dull, ugly, unloved consumer electronic products you use once and put away.
“You can make the MEATER a showpiece in your kitchen – inside or out. It is the sort of product that looks good, so you are happy to keep it visible, which, in turn, is a reminder to regularly use it.”
Nivala describes himself as a “typical weekend warrior on the BBQ”, the burnt lamb of that game-changing home barbecue but a distant memory.
“I am a keen hobbyist, but certainly no pit master. I do nail the temperature every time though! The trend over here for American-style low and slow is on the rise and people are looking for nice quality meats for their cooks, as well as the equipment.”
You can have all the gear and no idea, but barbecue can still be very forgiving – unless you get the temperature wrong, which brings MEATER into its own.
“The thermometer gives you consistency of results, whether in a kettle barbecue, a kamado, a pellet smoker, a firepit or an indoor oven – and no need to keep lifting lids, checking and poking.”
Living in Leicester, near the MEATER offices, Nivala baulks at the mild British winters. True to his homeland, he loves smoking fish outside over live fire.
“We get real winters in northern Finland where I am from, with snow on the ground half the year.”
MEATER manufacturing takes place in Taiwan and there is a sales and marketing office in Los Angeles, where Cruz is based.
MEATER releases regular software updates and is working on new products yet to be announced.
“We are always looking to improve and customer care and service is very important to us, building the community.
I may be Finnish and draw on the knowledge and experience of our international workforce, but we are very much a British company – a Leicester company – and a fast-growing one we are proud of, producing great products we believe in.”
Its Leicester offices include the ultimate ‘staff canteen’, for it is actually a demonstration kitchen with a professional chef creating recipes, testing cooks on a range of indoor grills and smokers, with the latest commercial ventilation system built in.
MEATER is a short walk from Welford Road, home to Premiership rugby club Leicester Tigers. The biggest cat there is the great Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo, an aspiring pit master, passionate about the world of barbecue and sharing his cooks on social media.
Should Nadolo get a whiff of the meat cooking in the MEATER kitchen he’ll be round like a shot and at 6ft 5 and over 19 stone try stopping him.
“He can cook and eat what he wants,” says Nivala. “As long as he uses a MEATER!”
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