The age-old BBQ argument. Convenience of gas, flavour of charcoal. But which do you prefer?
Some of the stats out there show that gas is still a firm favourite in many a back garden these days but, there is also now a growing army of fans of flavour, who are moving across to what is considered by many, to be the longer winded and more involved version of BBQ cooking, and that’s charcoal.
But what if there was a grill that sat somewhere in the middle ground, something that bridged the gap between the two, one that also brought into play the ease and simplicity of low and slow cooks that has more recently been associated with modern pellet grills? Well maybe it’s time to take a look at what Masterbuilt have been doing since early 2020 with their latest ‘Gravity’ range of BBQ’s. It’s pretty exciting stuff that all this tech and versatility can be packed into a grill in the sub £800 category. So, keep reading to find out exactly what the Masterbuilt Gravity 800 can do.
Very quick history lesson; gravity smokers have been around for a good while but have been traditionally associated with much larger cabinet style smokers often used in commercial applications, and also a lot by competition BBQ teams. Due to their size and construction, the costs associated with these units have put them out of reach for many, especially in the backyard category. Until now. Lesson over.
Masterbuilt took the concept of a hopper filled with charcoal fuel that uses gravity to drop down onto a fire grate, that charcoal is then fanned by an electronically controlled unit blowing that flaming and flavoursome charcoal heat into the cooking chamber. This can be controlled down to as low as 150f right up to 700f, all at the turn of a dial. Impressive stuff. So now you can hold cooked food or almost cold smoke at very low temps, right up to some serious high heat searing for steaks and the likes. And the headlines from Masterbuilt make for good reading when it comes to ease saying the grill will reach 225f in 8 minutes, 450f in 10 minutes and on to 700f in 14 minutes. That’s not far off how quickly a similar sized gas grill would heat up. And what’s more, if you are into techn and apps on your phone, Masterbuilt have one so you can connect to your grill and control everything from wherever your phone or tablet has internet access.
This review is for Masterbuilt’s most recent addition to the Gravity range, ‘The 800’. In early 2020 the first model in the range called the Gravity 560 was launched, followed soon after by the Gravity 1050, both names of which refer the sq. inches cooking area of each model. The Gravity 800 model was launched to sit in-between the others in the range in terms of size, but it also came with a new trick up it’s sleeve that the previous models didn’t have, a flattop griddle cooking surface. And this addition alone instantly made it a hit. So now you can smoke, sear and griddle all on the same unit and for a very reasonable price.
The team at Masterbuilt have supplied this 800 unit to me for review, as well as the cover and rotisserie, that come as accessories at an additional cost. It took two of us, around 1hr 20mins to build and was relatively easy to follow needing minimal tools. The instructions are clear and run through the usual build, first seasoning which is something I recommend you read and follow thoroughly, and also connecting the grill and troubleshooting.
Having owned the previous Gravity 560 model I am already familiar with this range and have thrown many, many hours of cooks through the grates of that grill, but now having the 800 in the family you immediately start to see some of the refinements that have been made with this newer model versus its predecessor. And most of them are welcome too. That said, I was pleased to see so many of the features from the original model remained. So, let’s run through some of them.
The charcoal hopper is located on the right of the grill and is a large chute leading down to the fire grate. There is an access lid at the top with a rubber seal to make it airtight and closing latch. That hopper can hold around 10kg of charcoal or about 8kg of briquettes. You can choose either fuel depending on your cook style. Underneath that fire grate there is an access door on the side of the grill where you place your firelighters on a small rack underneath the coals. Under this there is also an ash collector for easy clean up and Masterbuilt recommend you add your chosen wood chunks to this fire basket. The theory being that the spent coals drop embers through the fire grate onto the wood sending the smoke up into the fan, and on into the cooking chamber. Very clever. In practice I have personally had better results using wood chips in the ash pan as they combust faster and give a cleaner smoke, then by adding in my wood chunks in with the charcoal in the hopper, layered carefully to maintain smoke through the whole cook. The access door has the same rubber seal and latch closer system. This airtight chamber means only the very bottom coals are ignited and not the whole hopper, keeping a tight control on the temperature. The rubber seals are perhaps not the best on the market and I guess will perish over time and need replacing, but time will tell on this.
There are 2 metal slides with cool touch silicone handles that are used to shut down the grill by stopping the oxygen flow, these can be neatly stored on the front leg of the grill during a cook. The unit comes with 2 large rubberised wheels at the back for easy manoeuvring over rough ground and 2 smaller locking caster wheels at the front to keep the grill in place.
There is a storage shelf at the bottom which has a cut out to house the different under grill manifolds you will need if you switch between the normal grill set up and the flat top. There is a stainless-steel folding front shelf which is always nice to have. The front shelf is fairly small and the handle sits over the top, but will hold some plates or tools. Another and perhaps more useful fixed stainless side shelf houses the electronic control unit (we’ll come back to this), has an electric cord stowaway hanger, 3 tool hangers with tool hooks underneath.
Moving up to the main cooking chamber. There is a large stainless handle for lifting and closing the lid, a large basic temperature dial to the front showing if you are in the smoke, BBQ, Grill or sear heat ranges. This dial doesn’t need to be more specific as the actual temps are shown on the LCD control panel. There are 3 cooking levels in the 800, the top two being smaller porcelain coated cooking/warming racks which are easily removable, and the main lower grill being a 2 part cast iron grate. But these cast iron Masterbuilt grates use a clever dual sided system, one side with narrow bars to get that smoke flowing round the food for low and slow cooks, and the other side with flatter wider bars to help get a nice evens sear for higher heat grilling. It’s the little things that show you the thought that has gone into the development of this range of grills.
The smoke is vented via a small channel at the top of on the back of the grill which is perfect for keeping the heat in and the cold or rain out. Underneath there is a removable drip pan for easy clean up, and on this 800 model the manifold under the grill (which is the tube the heat from the coals travels along into the chamber) clips out easily to really help with speeding things up when you are cleaning down the grill. This is where you would change the heat manifold to the vented top one then, instead of adding in the grates, you can add in the griddle plate system then you are all set for another style of cooking. Bring on the breakfasts, pancakes and all the fajitas and tacos.
We should have another look at the control panel as this is where the ease of this system shines through. It’s a basic screen and that’s all this grill needs as you have the app for more details. The blue LCD screen will show you the current temp, set temp and timer and will either be set on any one of those or cycle through. The jog wheel helps you find the temps you want to set the grill to quickly, then the 5-button panel comprises of simply a power button, connection, temps and probes. Next to these you will find 4 input holes where you can connect your temperature probes. These are an electrical probe you can insert into your food to monitor the internal temps. Having the 4 holes means you can use 4 probes at a time to monitor whatever you are cooking and these temps can be seen on the LCD or via the app. The 800 grill is supplied with 1 probe and you can purchase additional as accessory upgrades.
Appy life. If you haven’t really looked into any modern grills recently then this might come as a shock. There are an increasing number of BBQ’s now that have the ability to be controlled from a mobile device via an app. You can connect locally within the range of the grill signal range via a Bluetooth connection, or via Wi-Fi connection for a stronger signal. And even better, than means you can control them from wherever you are and can get Wi-Fi signal, as long as the grill is also connected to a nearby Wi-Fi too. So, the immediate scenario most people think of is being out at the pub with friends and ‘ping’, your mobile alerts you that your pulled pork is ready, so you turn the grill temperature right down to allow you time for another drink before you head home to enjoy your meal. The Masterbuilt app covers all the basic functions you would need, setting timers, checking and adjusting the grill’s temperature, and checking the probe temperature of the food you are cooking. The app is also pre-loaded with some recipes to help you on your way and give you ideas around what to cook on your new grill. It’s a basic app but it doesn’t need anymore at present and as with any apps developments will always come further down the line.
Ultimately, we all want to know how a grill cooks, and I have to say, like my older 560 unit, this grill really does do a good job across the board. First up, I went big with 2x 6kg briskets for a full overnight cook to see how this sized model runs. I ran briquettes and whiskey oak wood chunks in the hopper, and a few small handfuls of wood chips in the ash pan too. Although the grill blurb says a full hopper will get you 10hrs of burn time, I would say with the briquettes and a set temp ranging from 225-275f during the cook I got nearer to 13, then turning down the grill to warm hold the briskets at 150f for a further 3+ hrs. That’s pretty good efficiency. Obviously, this burn time will change a lot when running at higher heats or using lumpwood fuel, so just be mindful of that. The cook was a breeze, I did rotate the briskets during the cook to ensure they got even heat, then wrapped in butcher paper part way through once the bark was set. The result? Some beautifully tender brisket, great smoke ring, lovely deep bark from the seasoning and oak smoke and more importantly, no fuss. I am pretty sure at a squeeze you could fit 4 or more briskets in. Masterbuilt claim the 800 has a cooking capacity of 12 chickens, 6 racks of ribs, 57 sausages or 36 burgers which will be more that enough for most households.
For next cook I went the other way heat wise and loaded up the 800 with BigBlock charcoal for a high heat steak cook. Two lovely ribeye steaks, some seasoned sweet potato wedges and some grilled and stuffed peppers. The grill really does get up to the higher temps with ease, baking the sweet potatoes and peppers on the top shelves and then adding the steaks to the lower cooking grate later in the cook. The included probe was connected to the control panel and inserted into one of the steaks, it was set up to monitor this cook to get the perfect pink middle on the app. Whilst there are no direct flames underneath the cooking grates, at the higher heats those vaporising drops of fat from the steaks hit the manifold, and it’s easy to get some nice but controlled flare ups to get that sear action going.
Now for the cook I was looking forward to most, the flat top cook. This was the main feature my old 560 model didn’t have, so I was super keen to give it a run out and it felt like there was only one way to go with it, a full English breakfast. We did the lot, bacon, sausages, beans, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, fried eggs and a round of toast. As you would expect the flat top does have a few hot spots, but the cast iron does a great job at pretty even heat distribution in the main. This means you can move things to the main heat along the central strip, then over to the left edge if you need slightly less heat. The scrape hole goes straight down into the drip pan to make things easy to clean up. And once done you simply carefully pour on some water while the grill is still hot, this will lift all the residue that you then scrape off. Dry with some paper towels then apply a new thin fresh layer of oil to keep the non-stick properties ready for the next cook. I have also run some obligatory smashburger cooks on the flat top too. Nothing fancy, just toast the buns, smash down the pattys for a good sear and crust, then some cheese on top and spray water under a cloche to steam and melt the cheese. So simple yet so satisfying.
I’ve also run a cook using the rotisserie kit that you can buy as an accessory for the 800 grill. There is a screw out slot to the left of the grill to insert the rotisserie rod through, and the motor clamps onto the side of the cabinet. Inside the grill you need to screw in a small bracket that the rod sits into. Then another plug socket is needed to run the motor and you are set to spin. We ran a humble smoked/roast chicken stuffed with garlic butter and some lemon, a few chunks of cherry wood in with the coals and just let it roll. With a large chicken there was not quite enough clearance underneath to keep the grates in place so these were removed through the cook. The results were as expected, nice juicy meat and the skin crisped up nicely, as I ran the temperature a little hotter towards the end of the cook.
The outdoor cover for this model comes at an additional cost but I cannot recommend one enough. Grills like these have electrical fans and switches that won’t mix well with the British weather with good periods of rain. There are a number of places on the grill that water could settle and potentially corrode the grill, so a good cover is a really good idea. The Masterbuilt covers are heavy duty, also made to measure, so fit perfectly, they have tightening chords on each side to make sure they stay in place. And also look good with the big logo on the front too. A wise investment to protect your new grill from the weather changes.
This is obviously an early stage review of the 800 model so time will tell on how the grill continues to perform over time. If this latest model is anything like the 560 model I had last year, then I am pretty sure it will take anything I throw at it, but I would like to continue to look at this model in isolation with the latest updates and additional features. I think this is an exciting move towards getting more people involved with charcoal BBQ’s, and showing how easy it can be to get some seriously good tasting fire fuelled food out. Has gas had its day? That remains to be seen but given the chance, I am sure this Masterbuilt gravity range of grills could sway more than just a few gas fans. As ever, if you are thinking about buying this grill please do your homework and look around for general opinion. Also feel free to drop us a comment or question below, or equally contact me on any of my social media platforms also listed below. Always happy to answer any questions.
Website – https://uk.masterbuilt.com/
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/masterbuilteu/?hl=en
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/masterbuilt
Twitter : @ArtustBBQ
Advert. Paid promotion. Full disclosure. This review was paid for by Masterbuilt to cover the cost of ingredients, content creation and my own time. But I am still entitled and have given my full and honest opinion on the grill above