Weber’s SmokeFire Is a Do-Everything Grill and Smoker — With Some Risks

Weber’s SmokeFire Is a Do-Everything Grill and Smoker — With Some Risks
Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo

You’ve probably already perused other reviews of Weber’s SmokeFire pellet grill, which hit stores early this year. And you probably left those reviews thinking the SmokeFire sorta sucks. Fair enough. It’s got a temperature range that no other fancy grill and smoker on the market possesses, but a variety of problems with the SmokeFire’s components and companion app at launch made it hard to justify dropping $US1,000 ($1,365) or more on what was starting to look like a flop. But after a flurry of customer complaints and expert warnings, Weber got its flaming shit together and rolled out a series of fixes. With those fixes now in place, is the SmokeFire worthy of its Weber pedigree?

It’s a gamble — an expensive gamble. While my time with the SmokeFire EX4 (the smaller of the two SmokeFire models) has been excellent, there are too many tales of hardware and software problems still popping up on forums and product review sections for me to recommend the SmokeFire based on my experience alone. But if you’re willing to risk potential headaches — including the migraine of sending your grill back to Weber for a full refund, if you happen to get a lemon — the smokey, meaty goodness you get out of it may make it a solid bet.

Weber SmokeFire EX4

WHAT IS IT?

Weber's first-ever pellet grill, and first wifi-connected grill.

PRICE?

$US999 ($1,363) for the smaller EX4, or $US1,199 ($1,636) for the larger EX6

LIKE

Does it all, from low-and-slow smoking to hot-and-fast grilling. Produces excellent, smokey meats. Ability to control from anywhere through Weber Connect app.

NO LIKE

Too many units on the market still have serious hardware problems that require customers to install replacement parts themselves. Harder to clean than some pellet grills. Not enough prep space.

Part of the reason I wanted to review the SmokeFire specifically — as opposed to a Traeger, Memphis Grills, or one of the other wifi-connected pellet grills now on the market — is because I have years of positive experience using Weber grills, and I wanted to see whether the SmokeFire is what Weber positions it to be: a do-everything machine. You can smoke a brisket for 15 hours low and slow, or crank the heat up to a scorching 600 degrees Fahrenheit — at least 100 degrees hotter than many other competing pellet grills — to give that ribeye the crust it deserves. If true, this would basically make the SmokeFire my dream grill.

While I still have the traditional Weber kettle grill and love it, my everyday grill for the past couple of years has been the four-burner Weber Spirit II, which won our Battlemodo challenge for the best gas grill under $US500 ($682) back in 2018. Gas grills are particularly great if you’re busy and don’t want to heat up your kitchen during the summer, but they’re more akin to an outside oven with a grill-mark feature than a charcoal grill, which takes more patience but cooks objectively better for most standard grilling fare. The SmokeFire is, at least in some ways, the best of both worlds — and then some. It heats up fast enough for a quick dinner — about 10 minutes, give or take, depending on your desired temperature — but is a far superior way to cook a good steak than its propane-burning brethren. Most importantly, however, is its ability to smoke meat with the tap of a button.

Yes, you can smoke just fine on a kettle grill (and poorly on a gas grill, in my experience), but a pellet grill like the SmokeFire makes it easy. And the results are just… damn. I just drooled on my keyboard even thinking about it. If it weren’t wildly unhealthy to eat smoked meat for every meal, I would. In fact, I might anyway. That’s how much I like the food the SmokeFire produces. It’s really, really damn good.

Part of what makes the SmokeFire (and other pellet grills like it) so user-friendly is that it’s connected to wifi and can be controlled by an app, Weber Connect. When it first launched, Weber Connect lacked a number of key features that have since been added, including the ability to remotely change the SmokeFire’s temperature and shut down the grill entirely. Those features are now standard. Weber Connect also taps into the SmokeFire’s four temperature probe connections, allowing you to monitor the progress of your food while, say, sipping a glass of whiskey in a hammock. If you take advantage of the app’s preset “cook programs,” which cover a dizzying array of different meats and cuts (but not everything), you’ll get an estimated time until whatever you’re smoking or grilling is done. (You can also just set a probe to whatever temperature you like and skip the presets.) The app also lets you activate Smoke Boost mode, which pumps more smoke out at low temperatures, in case you really want to max-out the smoke flavour. All of this is extremely handy and takes a lot of the guesswork out of low-and-slow smoking, which takes a good deal of skill and can otherwise leave you piddling around nearby for hours in case you need to tend to the fire.

Weber Connect links up with the SmokeFire via Bluetooth and/or wifi, and you’ll want to get this set up as soon as your SmokeFire is built. (It’s big and heavy, so make sure to have a friend around to help you build it if it’s not pre-assembled.) That’s because your grill will likely need a firmware update, which can take about 10 to 20 minutes. Once that’s done, load up some pellets — Weber recommends using its own brand, which is available in a number of different woods, but there are other brands out there that work just as well. Next, plug in your grill and crank up the temp to 600 degrees using the SmokeFire’s control panel on the unit itself. (You can’t start the grill from an app because nobody wants to butt burn-down-their-house.) Let it blaze for a good 30 minutes to cook off any residue left from the manufacturing process — this is called the burn in and is important to do with any new pellet grill. Once your burn in is done, you can start smoking.

Overall, the Weber Connect app is basic but fine. I’m sure I’d have stronger feelings about it if I were writing this review in February when it still lacked key features like temperature control and had connectivity issues, but as it is now, it works. The app never crashed on me, never disconnected during a cook, and it reliably alerted me when the SmokeFire hit its target temperature or when something I was smoking was ready to come off the grill. The main thing it’s really missing is a time estimate when you set a target temperature for a probe without using one of the in-app presets, and I hope to see this in future updates. Of course, you can also control the SmokeFire using its on-board control panel, but besides changing the temperature, I found it less intuitive than the app and really only useful for firing up the grill.

So, the pressing issues with Weber Connect have been more or less addressed. What about the grill itself? The main problems people encountered with the first SmokeFires off the assembly line were the auger (the thing that moves the pellets to the heating unit, called a Glow Plug), the pellet hopper, as well as some dangerous grease fire issues.

The SmokeFire’s first auger, which was so busted that Weber sent early customers replacements that they had to install themselves, was found to cause pellet jams, spray ash over the bottom trapping in grease that could cause flare-ups, and overall sucked. The new auger, which is now included out of the box, appears to solve these problems, at least from my tests. You still need to clean the SmokeFire more than you would a gas grill (which you’re probably not cleaning frequently enough) due to the ash pellet grills create and the amount of drippings produced during a slow cook. And cleaning is a bit of a chore since you have to remove the grates and the “Flavour Bars”. But for me at least, this isn’t a huge deal. Other SmokeFire owners are more annoyed by it, based on the forum comments I’ve read, and other pellet grills are less complicated to clean.

The second major complaint is caused by the pellet hopper, the slope of which can result in so-called pellet hollowing — basically, when the pellets fail to slide into the auger, which can, in turn, cause temperature fluctuations and even cause the flame to go out entirely. Weber addressed this by offering customers a free hopper insert that has a steeper slope, which helps with pellet flow. Mine came pre-installed, but other customers have had to request one from Weber and install it.

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Smoking up a whole chicken as my first test of the SmokeFire. It was delicious.

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Testing the high-temperature grilling capabilities. Everything (zucchini, salmon, New York strip)

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The centre hotspot meant the steak got a little burnt, but I didn't mind.

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Bacon before.

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Bacon after about two hours on the SmokeFire.

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Is that a pork shoulder?

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Damn right it is.

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

Photo: Andrew Couts/Gizmodo, In-House Art

The SmokeFire's onboard control panel is clean and simple but not as intuitive as the app, aside from the dial for changing the grill's internal temperature.

Other problems include the Glow Plug burning out, flare-ups, and inconsistent heat across the grates, particularly at higher temperatures. So far, my Glow Plug is still glowing — granted, I’ve only been using the SmokeFire for a little over a month, so we’ll have to wait and see there. And the flare-up problem seems, based on customer comments on various forums, to more severely affect the larger, $US1,200 ($1,638) EX6 model. Plus, you can help mitigate this issue by regularly cleaning the grill and using drip pans on top of the Flavour Bars, especially during long, slow smokes. Also, I’ve basically been home the entire time I’ve been using the SmokeFire due to this little pandemic we’re having, so making sure the hopper is full of pellets and that the pellets are making their way into the auger hasn’t been a big issue. If you’re trying to run errands during a long cook, however, I can see how problems might pop up. They just haven’t happened to me.

The inconsistent heat across the grates is one annoyance I’ve experienced, with a clear hotspot in the middle of the grates while the edges are a bit cooler. Most grills I’ve used or tested have this issue to one degree or another, and while it did cause me to burn some grilled vegetables the first couple of times, I was able to mentally map out the different heat spots easily enough to where I can use them to my advantage, placing more delicate foods in the cooler locations. As far as temperature fluctuations during low-and-slow cooks go, I experience one drop from 225 degrees to around 180 degrees during a five-hour smoke of a whole chicken, but that appears to have been related to me activating Smoke Boost mode, which only works below 200 degrees.

During a 12-hour cook of a pork shoulder, the temperature briefly jumped to 285 degrees after I changed the temperature remotely from 200 to 225. Otherwise, it was steady, and I never experienced anything that messed up my meal. The onboard internal probe read exactly the same temperature as my Thermoworks Smoke probes. And while the Thermowork probes showed more detailed temperature fluctuations than the Weber, which only shows temps in five-degree increments, it was never more than a few degrees up or down.

As for build quality, it’s a heavy, solid-feeling grill. The lid, which closes tightly to keep the precious smoke inside, could be a bit heavier, and I’m curious to see how it holds up over time. The chrome handles and bands on the lid are a nice touch against the glossy black finish (it only comes in black). And the grates and Flavour Bars are good — what you would expect from a Weber product. While some users reported disliking the back-loading hopper, I didn’t find this problematic since I have enough room on my deck to reach it, but I could see how it could be annoying to load in a tighter space. My main complaint is the lack of shelf space, which doesn’t leave much room for all the food and tools you inevitably need to lug out from indoors. Weber offers an extra shelf that hooks to the front, but it’ll cost you an extra $US70 ($96), and I really wish it came standard.

Faulty hardware, a crappy app, flameouts, and flare-ups — these are all problems Weber should have figured out before seemingly rushing the SmokeFire to market. Now, as we head into the end of prime grilling season for a lot of us, the company has largely fixed most of them — at least in the unit I received. There still may be some SmokeFires at stores around the U.S. that have the shitty auger and less-functional pellet hopper, which is a problem you can’t fix with a firmware update. So if you’re looking to buy a SmokeFire, ask your salesperson to confirm you have a model produced later in the year, and reach out to Weber to get that free hopper insert if yours doesn’t come with it pre-installed or at least included.

Pippi standing guard. (Photo: Andrew Couts) Pippi standing guard. (Photo: Andrew Couts)

These problems ultimately detract from the main reason any of us care about any of this: the food. And on that front, the SmokeFire is excellent. I made many of my meals over the past month on the SmokeFire — steak, burgers, whole chickens, salmon, bok choy, asparagus, potatoes, pork butt, tri-tip, bacon, and much more — and all of it came out way better than this amateur smoker deserves. And I think I used my gas grill just once since the SmokeFire arrived. Yet there’s something spiritually incongruous with relying on an app and a computer-controlled fire to smoke meat — an ancient practice. And I still haven’t shaken the weird feeling of plugging in my grill. But maybe that’s just me being old-fashioned. There’s also the fact that you don’t need to drop $US1,000 ($1,365)-plus to smoke meat — a regular kettle grill or a less high-tech smoker, something to catch on fire, and chunks of good wood to make smoke will do the trick. Throw in a good thermometer or two (I use the Thermoworks Smoke probes, as mentioned, and the Thermapen instant-read), and you can achieve the same results or better, at least with a bit of practice, for easily half the cost.

There’s no ignoring the fact, then, that the SmokeFire is a luxury tool for backyard cooks with money to burn. And while you can find other quality pellet grills for under $US1,000 ($1,365), chances are those of you looking to drop a grand or more on a grill won’t mind spending a few hundred extra bucks to get a grill that’s tried and true from brands like Traeger, Green Mountain Grills, or Rec Tec. As far as I can tell, however, those options don’t offer the extra-high temperature range that the SmokeFire delivers while still allowing you to create superb low-and-slow meaty goodness. For someone who really wants one grill to do it all, that might make an otherwise risky decision downright simple.

README

  • You’re really going to want to buy a cover for your SmokeFire. Mine withstood hurricane rains and a handful of other thunderstorms without busting, but leaving an electronic device out in the elements was stressful, to say the least. So add on that cost.
  • You may need to get an extension cord as well, depending on where your outlets are.
  • I find it annoying that Weber only includes one probe in the box when there are four probe slots available.
  • Pellets for smoking meat aren’t as widely available as charcoal or full propane tanks, so you’ll need to plan ahead more than you would with other grills.
  • Make homemade bacon however you can (even in your oven!). It will make you happy.