How to shop for a smart grill

How to shop for a smart grill


Smart grills are expensive. Companies definitely make you pay a premium for the conveniences that a little Wi-Fi can afford. When it comes to pellet grills, you’re likely going to pay over $1,000. Ditto for gas models that have wireless connectivity. For this reason, it’s important to consider what types of cooking you plan to do and how often you plan to do it when you’re shopping. Do you cook burgers for warm-weather holidays or sear the occasional steak? Dropping that much money might be overkill. But if you prefer to cook outdoors nearly year-round and are ready to expand your culinary skills to include low-and-slow smoking, you’re in the right place.

The real benefit of a smart grill is being able to keep tabs on your food without having to stand next to it the whole time. Most models allow you to monitor temperatures and offer some degree of cooking guidance. There’s convenience for beginners and experienced cooks alike, especially for things that take several hours to complete. However, if you’re happy with a Weber Kettle or Big Green Egg, there are ways to get smart grill features without making a pricey purchase.

ThermoWorks

You can get the basic function of a smart grill for $100 or less. All you really need to keep tabs on temperatures from a short distance away is an RF thermometer that has meat probes. For its accuracy and ease of use, I prefer the ThermoWorks Smoke line. The most affordable option is $99 and it comes with one food probe and one ambient temperature probe. For $169, you can upgrade to the longer-range two-probe Smoke X2 and the four-probe Smoke X4 is $199. All of these allow you to monitor things from inside and they offer the ability to set both high and low temperature alarms for audible alerts. ThermoWorks also sells an additional accessory that can add Wi-Fi to the base-level Smoke model, allowing you to send stats to your phone.

Of course, those devices only monitor temperature. They don’t do anything to help you adjust heat levels. For that, ThermoWorks built Billows. It’s a temperature control fan that eliminates the need for you to manually open/close vents on a smoker or grill that’s burning charcoal or wood. You’ll need a ThermoWorks controller to use it, like the $239 four-probe Signals unit. Signals is more expensive than the Smoke models, but it has Wi-Fi built in, so it works with your phone right out of the box.

If both Wi-Fi and step-by-step guidance are your thing, the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub is a great option. This adds nearly every smart function to any grill. Weber’s app not only offers tips for how to prep food, but it also walks you through the entire process – from flipping to wrapping and resting. Timers let you know when the next step is coming and the hardware/software combo can even estimate when the cook will be complete. That last bit comes in handy when smoking things like brisket that can take 8-12 hours. The Hub can accommodate up to four probes, so you can keep tabs on multiple foods and grill temp via the simple on-board interface.

If having cables criss-crossing the inside of your grill sounds like a hassle, and it very well can be at times, there are wireless options available for keeping tabs on temperature. My preferred product is the Meater 2 Plus ($130 and up) that can pull double duty with one probe. It’s completely wire-free and is equipped with six temperature sensors: five for internal temps and one for the ambient heat level of your grill on the other end. The Meater app has an estimator algorithm that predicts how long it will take to cook your food and recommends an amount of time for resting it afterwards. The Meater 2 Plus also has updated Bluetooth that extends its range to up to 250 feet. Plus, this model can be used over a direct flame and it’s waterproof, making it suitable for deep frying, sous vide and the dishwasher.

Traeger Pro 575 pellet grill

Traeger

When it comes to smart grills, the backyard cookers that burn wood pellets are some of the most popular models. Basically, a heating element in the bottom of the grill ignites compressed wood that’s fed to the fire pot via an auger. A fan that’s run by a controller on the grill regulates the size of the flame and overall temperature. Of course, all of this is done automatically once you set the temperature. What’s more, Wi-Fi-enabled pellet grills allow you to monitor and adjust temperatures from your phone, so you can stay inside and entertain your guests.

A key advantage of pellet grills is their versatility. Most of them can handle low-and-slow cooking at as little as 180 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as searing high-heat temps of 600 degrees or higher. This gives you the ability to cook everything from brisket, ribs and pork butts to burgers, pizza and steaks. Some even have a slider that allows you to sear over the flame of the fire box. These grills allow you to “set it and forget it” for long cooks, and even for short ones, they don’t require much attention other than flipping or saucing foods.

There are more affordable smart pellet grills on the market, but for the mix of hardware and software performance, Traeger and Weber are the best picks. Traeger has a variety of models, almost all of which are Wi-Fi-equipped, starting at $800. The company’s completely redesigned Timberline series is basically an outdoor kitchen. It can accommodate a variety of accessories to expand its abilities and there’s a built-in induction burner on the side for making sauces, cooking sides, and searing. The cook chamber has double-wall insulation and the grill comes with a set of Meater wireless thermometers that connect to its touchscreen controller. However, all of the updates to the Timberline will cost you a whopping $3,300. And that’s for the smallest size.

Trager also redesigned the Ironwood series, giving it a lot of the updates that the new Timberline offers. There’s no induction burner, wood shelving, storage or dual-wall construction, but the touchscreen controls, new accessories (including a modular rail system) and, most importantly, the company’s redesigned grease and ash management system are all here. The Ironwood does have an open shelf on the bottom and a large side shelf in place of the Timberline’s burner. And while it doesn’t ship with Meater probes, this grill does support them if you buy them separately. The lack of high-end features makes the Ironwood far more affordable, starting at $1,800.

With the Traeger app, you get access to a massive library of recipes, all of which can be sent to the grill so you don’t have to dial in the settings. You also get step-by-step instructions, timers, food probe temps and the ability to activate special modes. All of that is in addition to remote control and monitoring for grill temperature. The software is compatible with all of the company’s Wi-Fi-enabled models, including older ones, so you don’t need the newest Timberline or Ironwood to take advantage of what the app has to offer.

Weber’s SmokeFire pellet grill used to be in this discussion, but since it was replaced by the Searwood in the company’s lineup, I’ve removed it from our recommendations. I’ll be reviewing the Searwood soon, and based on the list of features and brief demo I got at CES, that new model will likely earn the spot previously filled by its predecessor. The Searwood has an all-new design and a special cooking mode that allows you to sear and griddle with the lid open.

Weber Genesis E-325s gas grill

Engadget

Smart options aren’t limited to pellet grills, though. If you don’t have a need for the lower-temperature cooking, a propane or natural gas model might be a better option. In 2021, Weber brought its Connect smart grilling platform to its gas grills, offering three- and four-burner configurations, some of which also have a side burner for extra cooking space. Just like on the SmokeFire, Weber Connect not only allows you to monitor both food and grill temperatures from a comfy chair, it can guide you through the process and give you time updates. You still have to manually adjust the burners, but Weber’s app can alert you when you’re running low on fuel (propane models).

Masterbuilt Gravity 560

Masterbuilt

Both pellet and gas grills have their merits, but some folks prefer the tried-and-true flavor of charcoal when cooking outdoors. While the purchase of one of the previously mentioned accessories will probably achieve what you’re after for a kettle or kamado-style grill you already have, there are some charcoal smart grills that offer a degree of connectivity for your cooks.

For fans of the kamado-style ceramic grills, Kamado Joe recently announced the Konnected Joe. Silly spellings aside, the unit addresses two key issues with these types of grills: lighting the charcoal and regulating temperature. To help with the former, the company installed an ignition system in the bottom of the cooking chamber that lights the fuel at the press of a button. The Konnected Joe is also equipped with built-in smart grilling features that help you keep the temps consistent while being able to monitor food and grill temps remotely via an app. Before now, if you wanted smart features on a Kamado Joe grill, you had to invest in the iKammand add-on. The big caveat here is that I haven’t yet tested one yet. They were announced in March but won’t ship until June (pre-orders are open though). At $1,699, this grill is another significant investment, though that figure is on par with the company’s other models that lack the added features connectivity brings.

If you prefer charcoal but still want a versatile smart grill, Masterbuilt’s Gravity Series does everything from low-and-slow smoking to high-heat searing. The gravity-fed charcoal hopper allows you to cook with a fuel source that’s more familiar to most people while the unit’s digital fan maintains temperature. You can monitor the grill from your phone and adjust the heat levels as needed. The company’s latest version, the Gravity Series XT, has an updated controller with a color display and a number of other design improvements.

Weber Slate

Weber

Flat-top griddles are having a moment. These grills are insanely popular for their ability to accommodate smash burgers, fajitas, fried rice, breakfast and anything else that would otherwise fall through a normal grill’s grates. There are endless options here, most of which offer the same basic premise: multiple burners underneath a steel, aluminum or cast-iron flat top. Except for Recteq’s SmokeStone that burns pellets, the rest of the griddles I’ve seen run on propane.

Since the basics are pretty much the same across the board, you’ll want to look at finer details in the design of a griddle while you’re shopping. How much space will you need? What’s the cooktop made out of? Does it have an attached lid? Are the side shelves big enough to hold everything you’ll need to cook? These are the types of questions you should be asking to make sure you buy something you’ll be happy with long term, since you’ll be spending several hundred or maybe even a thousand dollars on a griddle.

One option that I think goes beyond the normal menu of features is the Weber Slate. This is the second griddle for Weber, a company with a decades-long history of charcoal and gas grills. The Slate’s cooktop is made of rust-resistant carbon steel, which requires less maintenance and is more forgiving when you forget to clean it immediately after cooking. There’s also a front-mounted temperature display that shows the average reading across the cooking surface. Lastly, Weber offers a line of accessories designed for the Slate, including a caddy, condiment holder, cutting board and storage bins. These tools allow you to reconfigure the griddle so it’s a prep station/cooking area combo, which means fewer trips to and from the kitchen.



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