I was kindly sent the SmokeFire EX4 for review by Weber as part of a new campaign to raise awareness of the product. The following overview is formed, based on having cooked on the grill for 1 week, covering a range of cook types and styles and utilising all the grill’s features. Whilst I was gifted the SmokeFire grill and accessories and as such is a paid promotion, this review will be unbiased and fully my own opinion.
Weber announced they were releasing a pellet grill in September 2019 and the BBQ world stopped and took note. Arguably one of the biggest names in BBQ were throwing their hat into the ring for a piece of the pellet smoker pie, and whilst pellet grills in the UK are largely represented by only a handful of brands, in the US they face some seriously tough competition. Some had been making pellet grills for over 30 years but, Weber have been in the BBQ game for nearly 70 years so if anyone had the know how to come to the market with something good then it would be them. So, have they done it? Is this the pellet grill everyone needs? Read on!
For those who may not know and may not have seen them, let’s start with a quick rundown of what a pellet grill actually is. Usually styled as a barrel style smoker you generally fill a hopper with small wood pellets made from compressed sawdust, these are then moved away from the hopper via a corkscrew auger system into a burn pot. Here the pellets are ignited using a heat rod or similar, and once the pellets are lit, they are fanned to the desired pre-set temperature. The main benefits are a super consistent burn that can be held for hours and hours on a single hopper of pellets, meaning less work and minimal fuss. They also burn very cleanly meaning there is less chance of dirty smoke tainting your food. So, if you want to sit back and let a BBQ do its thing whilst you enjoy life a little, then a pellet smoker may be for you. In recent years advances in technology mean many of these BBQ’s can be connected via Bluetooth or WIFI, to your mobile device and run via an app. Nifty stuff.
So back to Weber. They launched 2 sizes of their new SmokeFire pellet grill called the EX4 and EX6, with the EX6 being the larger of the 2 units. The EX4 has a dual grilling space of 4270sq cm and the EX6 has 6370sq cm and are priced as £1,199 and £1,449 respectively (correct RRP at time of going to press). I will be focusing on the EX4 model as that’s what I have been sent for review. For more info on the EX6 or indeed the EX4 please head to the Weber website at the bottom of this review. The SmokeFire started to land in consumer’s backyards early in 2020 and anticipation and excitement levels were at a peak. Everyone out there was keen to get their hands on a SmokeFire or see how they perform. As with many brand new to market grills there were a few issues that came up with some of the first wave of units, but Weber listened to the customers and set to work on the issues. Then, through some small hardware changes and some bigger software updates they now claim to have ironed these out. As well as the grill I was also sent the grill cover, some foil drip pans and trays, a snazzy little Weber apron and their latest BBQ book called ‘Weber BBQ Bible’.
So, what does the Weber SmokeFire do differently to other pellet grills? There are a few design features like an auger that sits higher above the burn pot which is meant to stop burn back issues. That’s when the pellets in the auger ignite and the burn works its way back to the hopper. The SmokeFire also has the trademark ‘flavouriser’ bars seen on the Weber gas grills. These are there to allow fat drips and moisture from whatever you are cooking to hit the bars and vaporise sending flavour back up onto the food. The SmokeFire also houses the ‘Connect’ system which is the Weber cook monitoring system. It can run up to 4 probes to monitor the internal temp of each dish independently, and this information can be seen on the grill display or also via the Connect app. At the low end of the temperature range you can now set the Weber to use the SmokeBoost function. This will help the pellets burn in such a way that more smoke is produced to give your food a stronger flavour of your chosen pellet. The SmokeBoost mode can only be used at the lower temperatures on the grill, you can turn it on at higher temps but the controller then cools the grill to the lower temp range where maximum smoke is available. But the headline feature the SmokeFire boasts over some of its competitors is the high top-end searing temperatures, meaning the grill can both smoke at low temps and get some serious grilling action at the top end. 235-250c was the top end for most pellet grills for some time, searing at that temperature is possible but is a little short of some charcoal grills for example. But Weber came in with the SmokeFire set with maximum temperature of 315c. That’s a hefty jump. And whilst that gap has been closed a little now with some competitors the Weber is still amongst the hottest out there. That should mean that getting that perfect sear on a showstopper Tomahawk steak should be even easier.
Let’s move onto the general features. On the left-hand side of the grill you get a large grab handle which makes it super easy to move around. This grill comes with all 4 wheels as caster wheels meaning it can be moved in any direction, 2 of these can be locked to secure the grill in place either in it’s chosen cooking location or when safely stored away. The lid is made from the signature Weber porcelain enamel with the same stainless braces you see on the lids of their gas grills. This does make for an easy clean up and I am told it’s scratch resistant too, but I’ll let someone else test that. Underneath the main chamber there is a pull out drawer which acts as both an ash catcher and holds the replaceable foil grease pans. Then moving onto the right-hand side of the grill there is a small stainless steel shelf which has 2 tool hooks on the front and houses the Connect controller with its LCD display at the back. This is where you start up and shut down the grill, change the temperature, add SmokeBoost and set your probes and timers etc. As standard the grill ships with 1 food probe but more can be purchased and added separately for checking multiple temperatures. All of this is controlled by a main jog wheel and 3 buttons to keep it simple. Then around the back of the grill you have the pellet hopper, accessed via a flip lid, which can hold up to 10kg of pellets, handy as the bags of pellets come in at 9kg so a full bag tips straight in. Inside the hopper there is a sensor to let you know via Connect or the app that your fuel is running low. There is also a slide you can pull out should you want to empty the pellets in the hopper after use (which Weber recommend) or to simply change the flavour profile you are wanting to cook with say from apple wood to hickory wood. Just hold a clean bucket or container under the slide and pull it out, then pull any remaining pellets towards the opening. Also, at the back of the grills are the air vents from the cooking chamber to allow smoke to be released. Then finally underneath you’ll find the connection for the mains power cord and the on/off switch, this keeps them tucked away from the elements. My first 4 cooks using the SmokeFire were in the rain and I just sheltered the grill under a garden parasol to keep the bulk of the rain off. Inside the grill you will find 2 cooking levels, the top-level slides on it’s runners to help you find your perfect cooking spot and is also easily removeable. The main lower rack comes in 3 sections which are simply left, right and the central circular cut out. This cut out is called the Gourmet BBQ System or GBS for short. Weber have a whole range of accessories that can be added to their grills where the circular grill insert sits, these range from griddles, Dutch ovens, woks, pizza stones, even a waffle iron and many more. This really does up your BBQ game and give you a whole range of cooking options and styles. And the best part is the accessories will fit any other Weber grill you have that has the GBS system.
So, let’s have a rundown of what I cooked across the week. I ran through the manufacturers instructions and did the first burn and pre-season with an empty grill, this is good as it only takes around 45 minutes and is purely to clear away any residues in the grill from the manufacturing process.
First up were some thinly cut pieces of chicken thigh, breaded and into some hot oil I heated with the GBS Dutch oven insert. A nice quick and easy cook with the grill still warm from the first burn, all I had to do was heat the oil in the pan. No mess and the chicken went into some tasty tacos as shown in the pictures.
Cook number 2 was along a similar line but I took around 2kg of chicken wings and spread them all out across the lower grill and set the SmokeBoost feature on the grill going. I have to say the level of smoke produced at the lower temperatures is really very good and it was telling in the final taste of the wings. They had a great smoky note to them even with the sauces applied. I split the wings after smoking, some I straight grilled with higher heat on the bars to give them that real BBQ flavour, and as I had the oil from the day before I heated that back up and fried off some of the wings after smoking them for more crunch. Both batches of wings came out very well and we even shared some with the neighbours too. Lucky them huh?
Cook number 3 was a bigger and much longer cook as I’d chosen to do some glazed St Louis cut pork ribs and some chicken halves in Alabama white sauce. Total cook time for these was around 5 hours. End result were some lovely smoky, tender ribs and some tasty chicken with nice crispy skin. This is a favourite cook of mine, so I am well practised but the SmokeFire makes it easy. Set the grill going then you can walk away and as long as the grill is connected to WIFI or Bluetooth, and you have the app downloaded, you can keep an eye on it from your phone. The ribs and chicken are the ones you can see on the platter in the pictures in the review.
Next up for cook 4 was another quick cook with some Cajun style shrimp. This cook is simply this, get the skillet in the GBS insert hot, toss in the shrimp in their Cajun marinade and in 2 minutes you are ready to go. So that’s 10 minutes for the grill and skillet to heat up, 2-minute cook then just click shutdown and the grill does it’s cooling cycle whilst you eat. That’s as close to gas convenience as you’ll get.
Then for cook 5 we tried some pizzas which is a chance to get the grill raging as hot as I could. We used a pizza stone we already had and just left in on full temp at 315c for around 15 minutes to make sure the stone was up to full temp. Then threw the pizza in and shut the door as quickly as we could so as not to let out that heat. Quick peek after 2 minutes and it was nearly done, so a quick 180 degree turn and back in for another minute. The results showed a nice even heat across both the surface and also the base of the pizza. Was a thumbs up from us and our little boy. We did two pizzas in total and had nicely melted cheese on both and evenly cooked toppings on the second. The grill obviously does use a fair amount more pellets when it’s cracking along at maximum temperature so make sure you are well topped up. And obviously each time you open the lid you are letting some of that built up heat escape, so try and keep it as infrequent and quick as you can.
After the pizzas we turned down the heat to 180c and knocked up a batch of double chocolate peanut butter brownies for cook 6. They took around 35 minutes to cook, again giving them a 180 spin after 20 minutes. They came out so fudgey, just how we like them and I have to say, the smoke flavour on them was really nice, and it also seemed more intense on the ones we ate the following day too. So that’s right, the SmokeFire bakes as well! It’s made possible by the constant temps it will run at, so essentially any dish you cook in an oven can be given a smoky twist on a SmokeFire.
And the final cook, number 7 was the big one. There will be more cooks coming but this early review needed to be written. Number seven was a 1.5kg beautifully marbled USDA prime grade Tri-Tip and I went against the Weber rules. The new notes and handbook now all state that low and slow or big cuts should be cooked with a drip pan underneath, whether that be meat on the upper shelf and a pan on the lower, or meat on the lower and pan sitting on top of the bars. This is to stop unnecessary fat build up’s in the bottom of the smoker. But I really wanted to test this SmokeFire so this nice fatty tri-tip went straight on the bars, no drip pan. I know. Rebel.
It was smoked using SmokeBoost for around 1hr 20 minutes before the app was reading my desired internal temperature of 50c. At this point I took the meat off and cranked the grill temp up to its max of 315c. I had already inserted the Weber GBS sear grate to get some nice grill marks on the beef. In around 8 minutes the grill was at max temp and the beef went down with a slap onto the bars, that instant sizzle is a good sign we were in the sear zone. Lid down for 90 seconds to keep the heat in then a quick check, turn over and back on for another 90 seconds. This was fat cap down this time with no drip pan so when I opened the lid back up there was a nice lick of flames as the fat was hitting the flavouriser bars, but all under control.
Back on the other side for 30 seconds, then a final 30 seconds back fat cap side down and finished. Grill off and meat out to rest before slicing and the result? Nicely smoked, tender beef cooked to the perfect temperature in under 2hrs. So that’s 7 cooks in as many days and as a family we were happy with all the results.
Cleaning the grill. This is something that you really should be doing after every cook to ensure the grill runs as well as it can do. There is a handy scraper tool supplied with the SmokeFire and the process I did between each cook took less than 5 minutes and that was this. Scrape the bars to knock off any debris leftover from the last cook down into the bottom of the cooker, then lift out the grates and flavouriser bars so you can see the heat shield over the fire pot and bottom of the smoker.
Then I just scraped and brushed down all the internal surfaces and ash towards the two run off vents at the bottom of the barrel leading to the grease and ash pan. When it looks clean put it all back together and you are ready to go. The picture shows the amount of ash collected in the pan from the first 6 cooks, usually you would tip it away each cooks as it takes seconds to do but remember I was testing this grill. But by cook 6 and knowing there would be a lot of fresh fat from the tri-tip I decided to empty it out before cook 7. The exterior just needs a wipe over with a damp cloth and then some anti-bac on the handles and side table if you’ve had raw meat on or near them.
Also, as we mentioned the pellets should be emptied after each cook, as when pellets get wet or find any moisture they swell up and are no longer useable. Leave them in that swollen state too long they go hard like concrete and can cause you auger issues. Weber kindly sent me a cover for the grill too which meant through all the rain it stayed dry, and I wanted to test for leaks, so I left my pellets in overnight each night between cooks. But that’s not the Weber advice, If I was leaving the grill for anything more than a few days unused I would empty the hopper using the slide.
The Connect app has a lot of good features once connected and is definitely worth having. Obviously now the app will let you change the temperature control of the grill, activate SmokeBoost and even shutdown the grill. We’ve all pocket dialled people before, so I think it’s a safe bet to understand why the app does not allow you start up the grill remotely. Having the ability to be out and about and have the grill push notifications to you during the cook so you can make adjustments is just super helpful, but that’s only if you are connected to WIFI. There are so many different cooks pre-loaded into the app complete with videos on prep, trim and seasoning etc that can really help anyone at beginner level or people who may want to try a new dish. Having all this built in already really is helpful and Weber can just build and grow the library of choice through future app updates. Their range of cookbooks is great so it’s only natural the content in the app will follow a similar feel.
In all of the above we have talked through the SmokeFire, all its features and benefits and also through all of the cooks I have thrown at it in the last week, but for all the good bits we have to be honest and talk about some of the bits that will take a little more understanding. Just some bits of note for your consideration and to make life a little more helpful.
4 rotating casters is good to help the SmokeFire move around but they are small wheels so don’t work so well moving around on the grass or uneven surfaces, definitely worth considering where you would place your grill in the garden. It’s not likely to tip over but most grills are naturally top heavy you do need to be careful not to test the scratch resistance.
The legs are also a little bit skinny looking and whilst they are solid enough and cause no rigidity issues they just don’t look as sturdy as the rest of the grill. Kinda like a gym hero who skipped leg day.
The side shelf is nice to have but small and would fit a small chopping board or a few tools, so ideally you may need a prep station nearby to work off with all the lovely ingredients you’ll be using.
There is also a very small gap between the grill and back of the hopper that pellets can fall down into, and as noted above they swell up in the rain and could be hard to get out, so be careful whilst pouring pellets in.
When you connect to WIFI for the first time make sure you have all you router details and credentials to hand, you have to type out your router name by hand, only a small thing but most app’s auto find the ones in the area, one typo and you have to start again. The app still has a few minor bugs but Weber are doing updates all the time and so I am sure these will be ironed out soon enough.
The fan is a little noisy when on full tilt heating the grill up to the higher temps, but it’s usually not for long, I don’t imagine you’ll be searing many midnight steaks just be mindful of the grills position in the garden.
Ash seems to blow out of the front skirt of the grill where the drip tray fits in which is good reason to keep it cleaned out after each cook, and also to make sure the grill is seated on a suitable fireproof surface.
The things above are all notes I’d made whilst using the SmokeFire that I wanted to add into the review. None of them are deal breakers for me, just felt for honesty I needed to highlight them.
I enjoyed having the chance to play on the SmokeFire and see what it can do through a number of different cook scenarios. We had 7 good meals cooked on it that were all easy and flavourful and no complaint from the family. This review had a time for release so in an ideal world I would have had at least another week with the grill and try some other cooks too. And for that reason, clearly I can’t talk about longer term ownership of a SmokeFire just yet. But maybe somewhere down the line after a few more cooks I may do a long-term update to this review.
Ultimately pellet grills are filled with tech these days and that comes at a price. So at a starting price of £1,199 you need to do your homework to see if the SmokeFire EX4 GBS is the one for you.
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