The Minnesota Problem

 

Back to: The Kitchen

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We have a lot of technology in our new home and with the benefits of technology also come problems. That’s a simple reality. I’ve worked with technology long enough to know it and expect it. Some of it (much of it?) is user error and my/our learning how to use something correctly. Some of it comes from honest mistakes that get fixed in a timely manner such as software/firmware bugs or something goofed up in manufacturing.  And some of it is… something else. Base stupidity or ignorance perhaps?

Our WiFi network serves about 140 devices from 47 manufacturers. Devices from 46 of these work well – our Memphis Grill the lone exception.

The technology in our home includes products from; Control4, Anthem, DSC, Miele, Bosch, Honeywell, Cisco, Ubiquiti, Scotsman, Tylo-Helö, Carrier, Samsung, Lennox, Dahau, Triad, Phillips, Lutron, Sharp, Apple, Toto, Breville, Electro Industries, Aprilaire, NTI, Truth/Sentry, Paradigm, Leviton, Sub Zero, Bluestar, Perlick, Memphis, Fantech, Accurex, uRAD, Sony, Seura, LIFX, Juno, HSU, Maytag, LG, Tesla, Electrolux, Yale, Dante, Liftmaster, APC, Synology, SSI, IotaWatt, Infratech, Arris, Bella Lift, Tecmar, Broan, Hunter, FXL, Davis, Dacor, Noble, Taco, Radiance, Avallon, Hot Springs, GE, Proline.

That’s a lot of companies making a lot of technology that all has to work properly. And for the most part it all works as it should.

There are however three that stand out from the rest. Not because of how good they are but because of how poor of quality they are and the amount of our and others time they’ve consumed trying to deal with problems. And all three are Minnesota companies.

That the three worst quality products in our new home are all local Minnesota companies is interesting and embarrassing.

Our brand new Memphis Grill (Bloomington MN) is overwhelmingly the most problematic, least reliable, worst quality product we have. The grill itself, the stainless box, is great, the controller not so much. A distant second is Resideo/Honeywell’s (Golden Valley MN) Redlink system and far behind in third is Tylo-Helö (Mankato MN). 

 

#3 – Tylo-Helö (Mankato MN). 

1IMG 4585

Our sauna heater and controls.  The primary problem is actually one caused not by Tylo-Helö but by Underwriters Labs – a very low limit on how hot a sauna in the U.S. is supposed to get and that results in temps below the 85-100°c temps @ 1m above the sitting bench recommended by the Finnish Sauna Society and the International Sauna Association for both health and safe hygiene.

The issue with Tylo-Helö was that when we were having problems with our heater shutting itself down they tried to force us to use a venting system that would not provide adequate ventilation and would result in very high and unhealthy levels of CO2 (and other VOC’s and PM). This issue seems now to be fixed. For more on sauna ventilation for those interested see Sauna Ventilation – Finding Good Pure Air

 

#2 – Honeywell/Resideo (Golden Valley MN) – Redlink System. 

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This is Honeywell’s system that allows control of the HVAC system from phones or home automation systems. Problems here are mostly an annoyance as we can mostly get around them but this is far from what we were promised and paid for. This is also disappointing because this is not something that is difficult to do so Honeywell/Resideo should be able to do this reliably.

There are two problems:

  1. Unreliable communications between apps, Redlink controller and thermostats. Frequently the HVAC system cannot be controlled by the Honeywell/Resideo iPhone app or their Control4 driver. This is not catastrophic but is a PITA when you have to traverse two flights of stairs to change the temp in a room when you are supposed to be able to do it from your phone or HA system. As well, we have a few things programmed in to our HA system for controlling the HVAC system to make life easier and this is a key reason why we paid for and installed the Redlink system. For example, a button that turns off all 6 zones when we open windows for fresh air and then turns everything back on to default settings when we close them. 
  2. Error messages cannot be cleared. We get a lot of errors because of the communication failures with their system and unfortunately we cannot clear them ourselves. We have to call Honeywell/Resideo, wait on hold, and then they can clear them for us. So that’s a pain and waste of time. The problem with not clearing them though is that if we click on a thermostat to make a change, such as ML-LivingRm above, we have to click on and acknowledge EACH and EVERY one of the errors EVERY time so one time it took me nearly 2 minutes just to clear all of the error messages for something that should take about 3 seconds.

 

 

#1 – Memphis Grills (Bloomington MN) – Elite Built-In Pellet Grill. 

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Note (2021.05.30): Memphis are rumored to be introducing a v3 of their controller in summer of 2021 to replace the v2 that has been so problematic for so many people. If this controller is better designed, has better firmware/software, has gone through better QA and so fixes most or all of the problems that so many of us have been experiencing then this will be very welcomed. Here’s a photo of the rumored new controller.

Screen Shot 2021 05 31 at 10 30 09 AM

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Let me say up front – when this grill works we love it. The problem is that it too often does not… Or rather, the controller does not which means the grill does not. We don’t know when it will or will not work correctly and so cannot ever rely it – we always have to have a cook-inside backup plan. And that does not make for the pleasant grilling experience we expected from one of the most expensive grills you can buy. 

We love to cook outside and we do several times per week throughout the year. Yes, even in Minnesnowta winter!  Our lakeside porch and really the entire first floor of our house was designed around being outside; cooking, eating and enjoying fresh air. Cooking outside in our new house has, thanks to Memphis, been a bigger disappointment than we could have imagined. Over half of our attempts to use our new Grill have resulted in problems causing us to abandon using it and move cooking indoors. I cannot adequately express the frustration this causes when so much was designed around something that we find out is so problematic and when we want to have friends over to cook out but can’t because there’s a greater probability of our new grill not working than of it actually working.

When we selected it this was supposed to be the best pellet grill you can buy and perhaps the most expensive grill available. If it worked as advertised it’d arguably be worth the money. But it doesn’t work reliably. The grill itself, the stainless box, is well done. The electronics and firmware however are quite poorly done and easily make this the worst quality product in our new house (and worse even than bargain basement stuff I’ve purchased off Alibaba that you expect to have problems).

After the grill caught fire (apparently from overfeeding pellets) we replaced the original controller and probes. After that controller continued to exhibit problems we replaced it with a third. We installed a special WiFi access point just for this grill and created a special WLAN since Memphis’ software doesn’t support secure passwords. More recently, at their request, we installed a special dedicated electrical circuit for it. We’re still having problems. We still cannot rely on being able to cook on it.

The problems (other than unreliable WiFi and ‘calling home to mama’ which have existed for several years and not yet fixed) seem to be with products manufactured after 2019 and mostly built-in units though there are increasing  reports of problems with recent portable units. Those manufactured prior to 2020 appear somewhat more reliable (and there have been more than a few people cheering when they found one to buy) though still not as reliable as those from other manufacturers. 

For the past several months (winter & spring 2021) we’ve only been able to use it for weekly pizza. Any attempts to change the temp or any other settings results in a variety of abnormalities and inability to use it until we can get it back to where it was which is kind of a statistical crap shoot – keep trying until it accidentally does what its supposed to.

One point I’ll make is that Eric, Zak, Marshal and others at Memphis have been friendly and seem to want to resolve our (and many other people’s) issues with these grills. Unfortunately I think the quality problems with Memphis and Dalsin Industries are out of their hands. The general consensus (a number of people having these problems are engineers and software folk) seems to be that the problems are poor quality hardware design including lack of proper electrical filtering, poor quality software coding, mismanagement of the move of manufacturing overseas, and a management team at Memphis and Dalsin Industries who are disinterested in fixing any problems as two of the problems have been well-known to customers and Memphis employees for several years and after over a year of the very significant problems many are experiencing there is yet no indication from Memphis that a fix is coming for those who unwittingly purchased a Memphis product.

That some Memphis owners are now recommending using a controller that appears to be built by some high school students is testament to how poor quality the controller that Memphis and Dalsin produce is, but that’s another topic for another day (Memphis would likely be miles ahead to simply begin using this or another controller rather than trying to create their own without the knowledge and experience to do it).

What we, and many others, want is for Memphis to provide us with the quality product that we were sold and paid a lot of money for. We chose Memphis over MAK, Coyote, Twin Eagles, Recteq, Weber and Traeger for a reason.

So, 9 months of problems:

Long-Term Persistent Problems (that a large number of Memphis owners have complained about for a number of years):

  1. Unreliable WiFi. Numerous problems that took considerable efforts to get around including replacing the WiFi card, installing a special WiFi AP on our network just for this grill, creating a special WLAN just for this grill due to inability to handle secure/normal passwords, Memphis fixing errors in the database, …and many more. Finally got it working for about 3 months and then it stopped. Reset (which with no external button requires pulling an installed grill out, removing the back covers, pressing the reset button on the card…). Worked for two more months then stopped. Has not worked since.
  2. When turning it ON initially for a cook and setting the temp it will then frequently, after 3-10 minutes, reset the temp to whatever the last temp used for the previous cook was. Besides being a PITA, this is a safety concern when we set the temp to 375° to burn off residual grease but it changes itself to 650° which is above the flash point of most grease. This has been a problem for several years and is sometimes referred to as ‘calling home to mama’.

With the 1st and 2nd controllers:

  1. The controller sometimes gets stuck at 180°f (Smoke Mode). The only way to change it is to turn it off, wait for Cool Down Mode to complete, then turn on again. This can take 20-30 minutes… When people are hungry.
  2. Sometimes the grill temp indicated on the controller will begin to decline for no reason.
  3. Changes itself to Keep Warm mode even when meat probe temps indicated on the controller are significantly below the set temps indicated on controller. E.G., set temp is 140°, meat probe indicates 72°, but it says Done and changes to Warm Mode.
  4. Fire. After about 40 minutes of warming up to cook, the probe temp suddenly began declining very quickly. This was followed by an excessive amount of smoke and then the smell of burning rubber. We put it in Cool Down Mode. 12 minutes later we could still hear it dropping pellets in to the burn pot, it was still in Cool Down Mode, when we opened it there were excessive flames from the burn pot. Our extinguisher would not extinguish the fire nor did we feel safe climbing under it to unplug it. Fire dept came.

Since the 3rd controller was installed:

  1. Display is sometimes either blank. This is likely cold weather related (and keep in mind that this IS a MN company) and wouldn’t be a big problem if the WiFi worked.
  2. Display is sometimes gibberish. This has happened twice and one of those was a fairly pleasant day so not cold related.
  3. During Cool Down Mode it will suddenly turn itself back on and begin feeding pellets and heating up.
  4. Sometimes leaves a lot of pellets in the burn pot after Cool Down Mode. Once overflowing in to the drip pans, several times to the brim of the burn pot, several times maybe 20 or so in the burn pot. Sometimes none. Eric from Memphis says that this is normal and is to pre-dry pellets before the next cook. This however is inconsistent with Memphis’ own recommendation to clean the burn pot before every cook. And that it is so inconsistent and sometimes results in a full or overflowing burn pot is clearly an indication of a malfunction.
  5. Significant overshoot of set temp by 100°f or more. Actual temp and as indicated on the controller. However, it will not come back down to the set temp but remains high. When this happens it is numerous times during a single cook and does not happen at all during other cooks. Eric from Memphis says that this is normal. However, one key selling point of pellet grills is their ability to maintain very accurate temps. Other manufacturer’s maintain temps within about ± 5°f and owners of older Memphis grills report similar. When ours works properly it does so. This is clearly a malfunction and not normal.
  6. Press and release UP button on the controller for minor temp change but the temp setting continues to increase to 700°. Once at 700° we can press the down button, or use the app when it worked, to get to the temp we desire.
  7. Once turned itself on randomly.
  8. Will not ignite. Starting from a clean burn pot it will feed pellets but not ignite resulting in the burn pot overflowing w/ pellets, then an Error 2 – Undertemp message, etc. 
  9. Grill will not turn off. After holding OFF button the controller will display ‘Goodbye’ and turn off but then after about 10 seconds turn itself back on and begin feeding pellets and trying to ignite them. This happens when the pellets do not ignite as well as one other time. Requires unplugging (which is extremely difficult to do for a built-in appliance).
  10. Fire will go out for no explainable reason, temp will drop, but it will continue to feed pellets until unplugged. In this case there is no under temp warning on the controller or app.
  11. App error that it thinks you want to turn the grill OFF even when the OFF button is not on.
  12. Beeping & unable to turn off. After cooking but while the grill was still on it began giving a 4 second long beep every 10-15 minutes. We were unable to turn the grill off from the app or from the controller – it would restart itself about 10-20 seconds in to Cool Down Mode. Once we did get it to turn off the 4 second beep every 10-15 minutes continued for about 1 hr. This happened once.
  13. WiFi/App stopped working again in Feb 2021. 
  14. No external reset button for WiFi card. Memphis’ recommendation for fixing this includes pulling the unit out (it’s heavy), removing the rear cover, and pressing the reset button on the WiFi card.

Since the dedicated electrical line was installed in May 2021:

Memphis asked us to install a dedicated electrical circuit for the grill. Our electrical contractor, who does nothing but higher end homes with a lot of high end equipment, said that he’s never seen a requirement for a dedicated circuit for other than high power use (which the Memphis is not) so this is another indication of lack of proper electrical filtering on Memphis’ part.

2021.05.22 –  We tried doing something other than pizza to test the new dedicated electrical circuit. So… Some brats.

  • 6:05 – Temp set to 350°f. After it had been at temp for about 15 minutes we grilled some brats and noticed the temp on the Memphis controller as well as our own ThermaQ probe jump to about 460° while cooking and still set to 350°f.
  • After we were done cooking the brats we closed the lid to see what the Memphis would do on its own:
  • 6:53 – Went to 480°
  • 7:10 – Dropped to 350° and stayed for about 2 minutes
  • 7:16 – Dropped to 270° and began producing substantial smoke
  • 7:18 – Dropped to 258°.
  • 7:19 – Rose to 350° and stayed for a couple of minutes
  • 7:22 – Rose to 456°
  • 7:30 – Back to 350°
  • 7:37 – Dropped to 284°. Some smoke
  • 7:41 – Back to 350°
  • 7:44 – Rose to 359°
  • 7:55 – Back to 350°
  • Held 350 for 10 minutes.
  • 8:06 – Opened lid until temp dropped to 330°f
  • 8:08 – Temp continued to drop to 273° (this might normally be expected so not in itself a concern)
  • 8:11 – Back to 350° and held.

Wild 200° temp swings are not what we and others paid so much money for.

2021.05.30 – Attempted to grill some steaks. Following Memphis’ recipe we had them on smoke mode at 225° until the internal temp reached 100°f. Grill, including probe, worked properly through this. We removed the steaks but when we attempted to increase the temp to 700° the controller was totally frozen. No response to any buttons including the ON/OFF button. We had to kill power to the grill to get it to reboot. Overall, besides being a PITA, this added about 25 minutes to the process but we were eventually able to get the steaks done and they did taste good even though they had to sit in the warming drawer for 25 extra minutes and resulted in our eating 25 minutes later than planned.

2021.06.04 – Pizzas. Grill warmed up to our set temp of 660°f. All went well for first two pizzas (from a grill standpoint, the first pizza actually burned a bit because I forgot that for 660° we do about 3m:30s rather than the 4m:00s we do for 625° so my fault). When I went out to pull the third pizza the controller indicated the temp was 738°f – 78° over set and 38° over what is supposed to be the max temp for the grill. Not surprisingly the pizza was burned to a crisp.

2021.06.15 – Ribeye’s. The grill did well for the smoking and searing of the ribeye’s and unlike with the steaks last week the controller did not lock up. We turned it down to a veggie roasting 350°f and it slowly dropped down to that and… held! All looked good for about 10 minutes. A few minutes later though the temp was 322°f. And it continued to fall. We could still hear the slot machine tinkle of feeding pellets. I looked inside and could see no fire. I removed the grill & plate to find a huge pile of pellets. I don’t think that this is the way its supposed to work.

MemphisPellets04

 

Some Insights:

The wild 100° temperature swings and feeding random amount of pellets during Cool Down mode appear to be an out of control auger.  The controller knows what the temp is because it displays it and this is inconsistent enough with no discernible pattern to be a likely software bug. The controller hardware appears to be telling the auger to do something different than what the software would be expected to be requesting. This could indeed be the result of poor electrical management such as poor filtering and grounding in the Memphis controller.

The WiFi problems appear to be Memphis using an antiquated and poorly designed WiFi card from Newport Media. These cards have been the subject of similar problems in other products such as Hunter Hydrowise Irrigation Controllers.

Again, when it works properly we really do love this grill. We hope that Dalsin and Memphis can sort this out. 

The saga continues…