Weber grill is known for their iconic kettle grill. It’s been the mainstay of outdoor chefs the world around for decades, and as the grill market continues to evolve how does Weber plan on keeping up?
When Weber announced their SmokeFire series of wood fired pellet grills, I was instantly excited. I first came to know Weber grills through my neighbor who uses only Weber grills in his backyard, and the smells wafting our way from his grills attract many a neighbor when he’s rolling smoke.
I heard that Weber was going to be offering a wood fired pellet grill for the first time ever from my local Ace Hardware rep. We have grills in and out of service with them pretty regularly since we’re always testing grills here at the lab. He asked me if I had heard of Weber’s new pellet grill, and I thought he was rolling a different kind of smoke… (if you know what I mean.)
I headed online and searched for any leaks of pictures or articles surrounding the new grill, and there was hardly anything to be found. There was a single picture of a leak from a hardware catalog ad that just said, “Smokefire” and I was instantly intrigued.
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Weber is known for their enameled exterior on almost all of their grills, and the Smokefire is no different. The outside looks like it’s been dipped in liquid black metal, and that finish miraculously just sticks to the outside of the grill. Okay, it’s enamel coated steel, but nonetheless, it’s impressive looking.
The sides are double walled steel in a day where almost all grills have single wall steel throughout. There’s a handle on the left end for moving the grill around, and the wheels look to be up to the task to make things easy enough.
When compared to other grills on the market, the outside coating is built to last much longer than simple cold rolled steel. Most wood fired pellet grills aren’t yet made of stainless steel, so rusting is a major problem for any of us who keep a grill outside. Even with a cover, rust is always coming for our grills and it’s just a matter of time before we find the first traces.
This is where the exterior of the Weber line of grills excels. The porcelain coating is designed to last for many years, and their pellet grill version follows the same build quality we’ve come to know from Weber products.
Here’s how they size up.
EX4 – 648 square inches of cooking space, 18inx24in grates
EX6 – 1,008 square inches of cooking space, 18inx36in grates
There are two levels of grilling grates inside both units, and the extra height of the cooking chamber allows for ample vertical space on both shelves to actually be used.
In many grills on the market, there’s just no space for the top shelf to be of any use, but Weber seems to have done a great job making sure that there’s a shelf that can be utilized.
The triangular bars that are commonly found underneath the cooking grates of gas grills are commonly called “Heat tents” or “flavorizer bars.” We have to ask the question, “Why don’t we see flavorizer bars on a wood fired pellet grill when they’re included on almost every propane grill and cheap gas grills on the market?”
Many a wood fired pellet grill offer a single plated steel baffle plate that sits under the pellet cup where the pellets are ignited and consumed. This large metal plate runs the width and the depth of the grilling chamber, ensuring that no direct heat can get to the meat you’re cooking.
While this method can help ensure that there are no hot spots on your pellet grilling surface, it also means that you can’t really “grill” on it either. Grilling means a connection to direct flame over high heat, and Weber has gone against the norm with this pellet grill offering.
There is a large flavorizer bar in the center of the grill that keeps the pellet cup from burning anything directly above it, but it by no means covers the entire cooking surface.
There are at least 4 additional flavorizer bars arranged on each side of the main bar to help distribute heat evenly across the cooking grate. As juices drip off the meat and onto the flavorizer bar, that liquid will evaporate and come back up to flavor the meat. It’s meant to be the best of grilling and smoking in a single unit, but user experience with the unit will tell us if they got it right.
Ash & Grease Drawer
Ash and grease fall down into a drawer where it’s collected instead of needing to vacuum (ash) out the grill every couple of uses. For the last 10 years, pellet grills the world over haven’t had very good solutions to getting rid of ash and grease, and Weber is finally bringing what we see in more expensive brands to the $1,000 market.
The fire pot itself is slotted, allowing pellet dust and smaller unconsumed fragments to fall through the bottom of the pellet cup and into the waste pan.
The drippings (or grease) are funneled from the entire cooking surface into an aluminum pan that’s situated in the ash drawer. Just behind the aluminum pan is where the ash from the bottom of the fire pot falls. You can clean out the grill by simply pulling out the drawer, emptying the grease or replacing the aluminum pan and dumping the ash into the garbage.
This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any need to sweep out the grill anymore. Weber is speculating that around 70% of the pellet waste will be captured in the aluminum drop pan and the remainder will collect in the bottom of the grill.
For years, I’ve had pellet ash “seasoning” my food during a cook because all of the ash was stuck in the pellet cup with a fan blowing underneath to provide oxygen to the fire. Weber is shaking up what we’ve come to know about each of these sections of the grill, and we can’t wait to cook on it in person.
The Weber SmokeFire EX4 and EX6 both have a cooking range between °200-°600 degrees. With this kind of range, everything from super low and slow cooking to high heat searing can be accomplished on a single cooking surface.
Pellet grill models that have been going to good homes across the nation for the last 10+ years usually top out at °450-°500, and even then oftentimes trigger a shutdown because of a high heat warning.
Searing steaks on a pellet grill sucks. It’s usually a super confined space that’s available to sear (on models that even have a sear option) that opens the flame pot to grill grate exposure. Rarely is it enough to sear more than 1 steak at a time. This is where the Weber Smokefire sets itself apart from the competition.
Weber seems to have come to the backyard ready to play, and searing is one of the areas where they look to hit a home run. From the videos I’ve seen from BabyBack Maniac and Harry Soo over on YouTube, flames abound on the SmokeFire. We can’t wait to get our hands on one of these in the future and put it through its paces.
Weber SmokeFire Price:
The EX4 can be found for $999 and the EX6 can be found for $1,199 in the U.S.
Weber has positioned their new grills in the same price range as the Traeger Pro 780 ($999) and their big brother, the Traeger Ironwood 650 ($1,199). The Camp Chef 36″ Woodwind ($999) and the Louisiana Grills 60800 ($1,199) are also in the same price range, and it’s going to be interesting to watch as the Smokefire drops into the market on February 10th.
Venting & Smokestack:
In case you haven’t noticed, there isn’t a smokestack on the Weber smoke fire grill. The grill vents out of the back of the cooking chamber through slits in the metal, and they’re vented in such a way that rain shouldn’t be an issue.
Each vent is sculpted with an arch so that direct rainfall won’t let water inside the grill. Rainfall is an issue for a few of the grills that we’ve tested here at The Barbecue Lab, and we’re happy to see that this new unit from Weber solves the issue.
Pellet Hopper & Capacity:
The pellet hopper holds 22lbs of pellets and is located along the back length of the grill. In a day where most pellet grill manufacturers have a pellet storage unit hanging off the side of the grill, Weber incorporates their pellet storage along the entire rear of the grill.
This system of storage keeps the grill a little further away from any wall or railing you might have it backed up against, but we’re not supposed to have a pellet grill that close to the house anyways, right? 😉
Pellet Auger & Slide:
There is an 8″ auger to the firepot on the SmokeFire, and it’s a vertical auger. Yes, you read that right, the auger pushes pellets up a slope and then sends them down a slide into the heating cup. Weber says that this system was designed to reduce jams and is much shorter auger than you’ll find on the average pellet grill.
Auger length aside, just the fact that the auger is a vertical auger that pushes pellets vertically to let them fall is new to the pellet smoker scene. Most augers in current pellet grills are 18-24″ in length, so they have created a considerably shorter run from pellet storage to the fire cup.
The pellet slide delivers the pellets to keep the unconsumed fuel away from the fire pot. It’s a safety feature, and we love the idea. Keeping the actual auger this far away from the heat source and letting the slide do the feeding is genius, and I can’t wait to see it in person.
There’s a laser in the pellet hopper that sends out a low fuel warning when you have less than 2lbs of pellets left. Can I say I’m in love? I just ran out of pellets two days ago on another wood fired pellet grill I own, and it messed up my cook. Sure, I should have checked to see how many pellets were in the grill before I started, but an alert would have been lovely and even saved my cook. It’s even rumored that the alert will come to your phone or smart device as well as show on the grill itself.
One of the features that we’ve heard about on the SmokeFire is that when you shut the grill off, the auger runs in reverse to send all of the unconsumed pellets back into the hopper for storage. This is next level for us, and we can’t wait to experience it in person.
Weber Connect PID control system
The Weber Connect system is both bluetooth, wifi and a PID controller to boot. You’ll find the Weber Connect digital controller mounted to each unit ready to connect to your smart phone or digital device no matter where you might be.
The Weber Connect system comes with ability to plug 4 probes into the control system to monitor meat and air temperatures. The grill supposedly only ships with 1 probe though, and more can be added as they’re needed.
Weber Connect even provides messages when food will be done according to the current temperature range. These “food doneness alerts” can be sent directly to your phone. Is smoking and grilling even a challenge anymore?
There’s a rumored “SmokeBoost” mode that will allow pellets to smolder more and get more smoke with less temperature in the grill. It’s unknown if this feature will be available at launch, but it’s rumored to be. If it’s not, the manufacturer has said that it will be available in an update to the control system.
A PID controller is a controller that utilizes incremental changes in both auger and fan speeds to create a more stable temperature range. Many pellet grills on the market are known to have a wide swing in temperature range, and the PID controller helps to narrow the variance between the temperature you set and the actual temp you get.
Traeger has been the behemoth in the pellet category for many years, and Weber is the new kid on the block with a shiny new toy. Regardless of who wins the pellet wars of 2020, the real winner is us, the backyard cook.
Competition is fantastic in every arena because it keeps us and our companies at our best and continually innovating. This is what I’m looking forward to the most from both Traeger and Weber in the wood fired pellet grill market.
Continued innovation will serve backyard cooks everywhere, and when the leaders in the industry actually lead, other brands will follow.