Kitchen & Cooking

This pellet grill promises to both smoke and sear—but does it work?

We put the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill to the test

Weber SmokeFire EX4 Credit: Reviewed / Lindsay D. Mattison

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Pellet grills have a certain appeal. These electric-powered grills are usually more expensive than gas or charcoal grills, but they’re efficient and easy to use. The wood pellets used for fuel offer the same flavor benefits of charcoal grills but without the fuss. Users can select the desired temperature from the control panel and walk away, making wood pellet grills accessible to grillers of all skill levels.

But until now, pellet grills have had one major disadvantage when compared to other types of grills. They’re perfect for low-and-slow smoking temperatures, but they’re not known for direct-heat grilling, like searing steaks or cooking flame-kissed burgers. Most models contain a heat deflector plate that keeps the food from being exposed to the flames. That creates an indirect heat environment inside the grill, and a fan inside the unit circulates hot air and smoke around the cooking food.

Weber’s SmokeFire pellet grill promises to resolve this issue with a unique design that allows it to smoke at low temperatures and sear at high temps. After spending a full week cooking on the SmokeFire, we can say with certainty that it’s capable of producing incredible tasting food. We also love many of the bells and whistles on this WiFi-capable grill, but we’re wary of a few quirks we encountered along the way.

What is a wood pellet grill—and how is it different from other types of grills?

Wood pellet grills have been around since the mid-‘80s when a wood-pellet stove manufacturer thought to use the technology to fuel grills. The biggest name in pellet grills is Traeger, the original manufacturer, and they were the only game in town for decades. When Traeger’s patent expired in 2006, the competition emerged, but it took several more years for Weber to introduce a pellet grill to their line.

Pellet grills are distinctive because they’re fueled by wood pellets but powered by electricity. When used at low-and-slow cooking temperatures, the pellets smoke and smolder, creating flavors similar to grilling over wood or charcoal. They can also be used at higher temperatures, and most manufacturers cap out at maximum temperatures between 400°F and 500°F. That’s not far off from gas grills (which often cap at 550°F), but the use of heat deflector plates prevent direct searing and grill marks.

The real benefit of a wood pellet grill is its set-it-and-forget-it functionality. There’s no need to fiddle around with dials or vents to reach the desired temperature like with other smoker grills. Simply ensure the hopper is full of pellets, select the temperature from the control panel, and let the grill do all the work.

How does a pellet grill work?

Control panel
Credit: Reviewed / Lindsay D. Mattison

A pellet grill's control panel allows you to set the temperature. The SmokeFire's has additional functionality, like four built-in thermometer ports.

Pellet grills are powered by wood pellets. They’re similar to the pellets used to fuel indoor pellet stoves—made by compressing wood that’s ground into sawdust—but they're either made with 100% hardwood or contain food-grade oils to add flavor.

To use the grill, the pellets are loaded into a hopper to the side of the grill. An electric-powered auger transfers the pellets to the firepot inside the grill. The ignited wood pellets produce flames until the box reaches the set temperature, and the auger slows to drop fewer pellets into the pot to maintain the heat. When the grill has a heat deflector plate, it acts as a physical barrier to keep the food from being exposed to the flames. The food is heated via the grill’s internal fans that disperse the heat and smoke around the grill, similar to a convection oven.

Why are wood pellet grills so expensive?

Pellet grills tend to cost over $500, with some in the $1,000 to $1,500 range. They have more moving parts than other types of grills, and controlling the temperature is a bit more complicated than a grill that uses dials or vents. The thermostat and an onboard computer control the grill’s auger, fan, and ignition system. If it doesn’t come together correctly, the automated pellet delivery system will fail to deliver pellets to the firepot, and the grill won’t reach appropriate heat levels. Worse yet, the grill could turn off mid-session.

Many modern pellet grills are also smart-capable. Their built-in probe thermometers connect to smartphones via Bluetooth or WiFi, allowing users to remotely monitor long-cooking items like brisket or pulled pork. That’s convenient, but it comes at a price.

What is the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill—and what makes it different from other pellet grills?

Cooking wings
Credit: Reviewed / Lindsay D. Mattison

Unlike other pellet grills, the SmokeFire doesn't have a large heat deflector plate, allowing you to sear as well as smoke.

The SmokeFire is like other pellet grills with one notable exception: It has an open grill design. The heat deflector plate we talked about earlier is very small and only covers an 8-inch area directly over the firepot. The rest of the space is occupied by four flavorizer bars (similar to the ones found on Weber gas grills) designed to funnel any dripping grease down toward the designated collection area. This design allows users to use the grill as low as 200°F temperature for smoking ribs, or they can choose higher temperatures up to 600°F for searing steaks and burgers. It’s a grill and a smoker, all in one.

The SmokeFire is also a smart grill, so it uses WiFi or Bluetooth technology to connect to the Weber Connect smartphone app (compatible with iPhones on iOS 12.1 or later and most smartphones on Android 7.0 or later). The app has the same functionality as the stand-alone Weber Connect probe thermometer, but it includes additional features like remotely monitoring the temperature of the four probe thermometers, changing the grill’s temperature, activating the SmokeBoost function, or shutting down the grill.

Finally, the center location of the SmokeFire’s auger (and its shorter design) makes this pellet grill quick to heat and less likely to jam. Inexpensive pellet grills are notorious for failing to deliver pellets to the firepot, stopping the grilling session short. We started the SmokeFire dozens of times, running it for hours at both low and high temperatures, and we didn’t experience any pellet issues. Their 10- to 15-minute shutdown sequence is an additional safety feature that runs the auger through a reverse cycle, pulling the pellets far away from the firepot to prevent burn back issues.

How we tested

We tested the Weber SmokeFire EX4, the smaller of the two SmokeFire models, using a iPhone XR on iOS 13.6.1 to connect to the WeberConnect app. We did not test the wider Weber SmokeFire EX6, which also has a larger grilling surface area, because we were impressed by the amount of food we could fit on the EX4’s 672 square inches of dual grilling space.

The SmokeFire has four thermometer probe ports, so we used an ambient grill probe to check the grill’s internal temperature against the set temperature. We also used a meat probe to measure the cooking meat’s temperature (double-checking the latter’s accuracy with a ThermoWorks ChefAlarm, our top pick when we tested probe thermometers).

After we cycled the grill on and off dozens of times to test ignition times and see if there were any issues with the pellet auger system, we were ready to cook.

Our first set of tests revolved around the SmokeFire’s ability to work at low smoking temperatures. We wanted to see how the SmokeFire could handle tough cuts of meat with lots of intramuscular fat and connective tissues. If these cuts are cooked too quickly, they turn out chewy and tough instead of juicy and tender.

We set the SmokeFire to 250°F and added a whole packer brisket, trimmed to have a 1/4-inch fat cap. When the brisket reached an internal temperature of 165°F on the Weber probe (about 5-and-a-half hours later), we compared the temperature with the ChefAlarm, wrapped the brisket tightly in aluminum foil and changed the temperature to 225°F. We returned the brisket to the grill until it reached 202°F, an additional 4-and-a-half hours.

We were able to assess several crucial elements of a good smoker during this test: Did the pellet grill maintain its target temperature during the entire smoke time, or did we have to fiddle with the settings to keep it where we wanted? Did the grill quickly adjust to temperature changes? Did we have to refill the pellets during a long cooking session, and were there any issues with pellet jams? Most importantly, did the brisket turn out juicy and moist, and did it have a smoke ring or a deeply smoky flavor?

After the brisket was finished, we smoked several racks of ribs and a pork shoulder to see how much food could fit on the dual grill grates at once. We also took a moment to assess the SmokeFire’s aesthetics and build quality, looking to see if it wheeled around easily without rattling and whether it was built to last. The ease of cleaning the grease and ash pan, grill grate design, and the location of side tables were also factored in.

Before we wrapped up our tests, we wanted to know how the SmokeFire could handle hot, direct heat temperatures. We cranked the dial up to 600°F and added slices of white bread over the entire grill grate surface. This allowed us to map the heat patterns, determining if the grill had any cold or hot spots.

Then, we reduced the heat to 450°F and cooked a dozen chicken wings, hoping they would crisp up as well as they do in an indoor oven. As a bonus test, we cooked a few steaks and burgers for good measure.

What we like about the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill

Brisket smoke ring
Credit: Reviewed / Lindsay D. Mattison

The SmokeFire produced high-quality smoke, creating a delicious brisket with a beautiful smoke ring.

It’s capable of searing and smoking

We were pleasantly surprised that the SmokeFire was able to sear, just like a gas or charcoal grills. The stainless-steel grill grates got hot enough to create clear grill marks on chicken and steak, and our chicken wings turned out wonderfully crispy.

When it came to smoked food, the SmokeFire nailed it. The brisket was juicy and had a smoke-forward flavor, and our pork shoulder was tender and shreddable. We’ve cooked on a lot of smokers over the years, and we thought this pellet grill created some of the most flavorful food we’ve had.

The WeberConnect control panel and app

Early reviews of the Weber SmokeFire complained about the functionality of the smart grill panel. It was so problematic that Weber’s CEO issued a statement months after the grill’s release promising to make updates. It seems the team has worked to resolve many of these issues because we didn’t experience any problems here.

The grill does require a firmware update right out of the box to ensure it’s running the latest software version. From there, the app connected quickly to the grill via Bluetooth, and it was easy to extend its range by hooking it up to our WiFi network.

We loved the ability to view any of the connected probe thermometers from inside the house, and we could also adjust the grill’s temperature and turn off the unit remotely. The app delivered notifications to our phone (and any connected devices, like my Garmin watch, alerting us when any of the probes reached their target temperatures. We also got an alert when the pellet hopper was low on fuel.

While we wish the WeberConnect app was a bit more robust—providing more built-in cooking programs and providing historical data and graphs—we were happy with the functionality it has today. Weber informed us they plan to update the app quarterly, and we can’t wait to see what they have in store.

The optional SmokeBoost mode

SmokeBoost is a flavor mode that smolders pellets at lower-than-normal heat, causing a boost of smoke. Weber recommends using it for the first hour or two of cooking to enhance smoky flavors, so we tried it out on some of the chicken wings. The first set of wings was cooked on SmokeBoost for an hour, while the second set was cooked at the grill’s lowest smoking temperature, 200°F. After the hour, we cooked them at 450°F until they reached the proper internal temperature. The wings cooked on SmokeBoost were significantly smokier than the other wings, so we would call this setting a success.

It had ample grilling space

The SmokeFire EX4’s main grill grate measures 18- by 24-inches, providing 432 square inches of grilling space. On its own, that’s a lot of space—enough to fit about 20 burgers, six vertically-roasted chickens, and a gigantic turkey (or two smaller turkeys).

The sliding top rack is easily removable and can be positioned in the front or back of the grill, adding an additional 240 square inches.

The large-capacity hopper

The hopper—the container that holds the pellets before they’re fed into the grill—was large enough to hold an entire 20-pound bag of pellets. We also like that the hopper has an access panel that makes it easy to drain the pellets, a nice feature that kept us from hand-scooping pellets when we wanted to change pellet flavors.

It was quick to react to temperature changes

The preheating times on the SmokeFire were impressively fast. We ran it through its start-up mode several times, timing how quickly it reached the target temperature and averaging the results. It reached 250°F in about 10 minutes, and 600°F in 17 minutes.

Changing from low to high temperatures was equally reactive (although we had to open the grill lid to let out excess heat when going from high to low temperatures).

Fuel efficiency

We were also impressed by the SmokeFire’s fuel efficiency. After 10 hours of smoking at 250°F, we had only gone through half of the pellets in the hopper (about 1 pound of pellets per hour). Of course, higher temperatures used more pellets, but it was good to see that one bag can get you through several grilling sessions.

What we don’t like about the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill

Burnt bread
Credit: Reviewed / Lindsay D. Mattison

The heat on the SmokeFire was inconsistent across the grill grates, burning in some areas while barely heating in others.

It can start a grease fire

We encountered a big problem with the SmokeFire’s grease collection method. The open grill design makes it possible to sear at high temperatures, and it also gives the food increased access to smoky flavors at low temperatures.

Unfortunately, it also creates grease issues. You see, there’s no deflector plate to keep grease away from the firepot. Since the SmokeFire’s grease bucket is located below the grill, the grease has to slide down the grill’s interior (and close to the flames) to get there.

When we cooked fatty items like brisket, ribs, or pork shoulder, the dripping grease mixed with the pellet ashes and caked onto the bottom of the grill, blocking the drain holes. We didn’t notice it before we fired up the grill for our next session—we just assumed the grease had drained. When the firepot ignited the pellets, sparks flew around the grill’s base and caused a grease fire.

Luckily, as a professional chef, I’m no stranger to grease fires, so I calmly turned off the grill and stood by with a box of baking soda, just in case. The fire went out shortly after the fan kicked off, and we were able to clean out the grill and use it again like normal.

When we reached out to Weber technical support, they recommended two things to prevent these grease fires from occurring. First, placing a drip pan below the cook grates (on top of the flavorizer bars) will catch the excess drippings and make cleanup easier. More importantly, they recommend cleaning the bars and the bottom of the cook box, pushing grease and ash into the collection system using a provided long-handled plastic scraping tool.

This isn’t a deal breaker, as grease fires can happen with any grill. But it can be scary, especially for new cooks. If you decide to move forward with the SmokeFire, we recommend cleaning the grill after every session to avoid this issue.

There were a lot of ashes and glowing embers

The SmokeFire’s start-up procedure produces a large flame in the firepot, and it’s more visible than other pellet grills because of the open design. The flame is fueled by a powerful fan that’s capable of getting the grill to searing temperatures. That’s not necessarily a great thing because the fan also whisks ashes and embers around the cooking area.

Weber says these embers have a low thermal energy (similar to ashes and embers that fall into a charcoal grill’s catch pan). But we already found out the hard way that these embers can ignite grease inside the cook box, so we know they could potentially cause issues if they flew outside the grill. It’s best to follow Weber’s recommendations and keep the grill lid closed start-up.

The pellets don’t slide down the hopper ramp

We loved the pellet hopper’s large capacity, but there were a few things we didn’t appreciate about its operation. About halfway through smoking the brisket, we received a low-fuel alert. At first, we thought the grill wasn’t very fuel-efficient (running through 20 pounds of pellets in only five hours).

When we went outside to refill the hopper, we found it half-full. The pellets had funneled straight down into the auger, but the pellets further up in the box didn’t slide down the ramp. We pushed the pellets down towards the auger and waited to see if fewer pellets in the hopper would resolve the problem. A few hours later, the same issue occurred.

Weber does provide a hopper insert that should fix the issue, but we’re disappointed this detail missed the design team. In the meantime, we know the fix is to manually push the pellets down towards the hopper every few hours.

It experienced temperature swings

All grills (and indoor ovens, for that matter) have temperature variability. Setting an indoor oven to 350°F doesn’t guarantee it’ll stay there the entire cook time; it just means the oven will hover around that temperature.

With that in mind, we were expecting the ambient temperature probe to hover about 25 degrees around the set temperature. At lower temperature settings, the SmokeFire’s internal temperature was often 50 degrees above the set temperature (or as high as 80 degrees at higher temperatures). We were able to use the SmokeBoost function at times to get the temperature a little lower, but we didn’t expect to have to set the grill to 200°F to stay below 250°F.

Inconsistent heat patterns

While we were thrilled at the grill’s ability to sear, we didn’t find it all that useful because the heat was wildly inconsistent. When we mapped the heat pattern by spreading slices of bread across the grill grates, we found that the bottom left quadrant burned, the top right quadrant was blonde, and areas in the top and middle had a perfect toasted color.

When we cooked steaks and burgers on the grill, we kept them centered around the middle with pretty good results. But to use the entire surface area, you’ll have to use good grill management and move each item around frequently to ensure they cook evenly.

It rattled when we moved it

The cook box itself felt nice and sturdy, but the ash collection area uses a lighter gauge metal that rattles around loudly when we wheeled the grill around. That rattling also caused the ash drawer to slide out, and if ashes from the grill fell behind the container, it was hard to slide back in.

Overall, how does the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill perform?

Weber SmokeFire
Credit: Reviewed / Lindsay D. Mattison

Wood pellet grills are electric-powered but fueled by wood pellets, offering the same flavor benefits as charcoal grills.

There are certainly pros and cons to the SmokeFire’s design. We loved that there wasn’t an unsightly grease bucket hanging off the side of the grill, but we didn’t love the way the open grill design caused grease to drip into the grill’s interior.

The sensor that alerted us when the pellets ran low was a great anxiety reducer, but the pellet slide design negates that benefit since we had to manually slide the pellets towards the auger. And the open grill design created some incredible smoke-forward food, but the inconsistent heat patterns make us wary of using the searing function on the regular.

We’re pretty torn when it comes to our opinion on this grill. We’ve already seen Weber come out with some amazing software and firmware updates for the app and control panel, so we can only hope that they’ll also listen to feedback about some of the grill’s other drawbacks.

For now, we might recommend waiting in the hopes that Weber releases a SmokeFire 2.0. Our biggest concern is the grease fire, so this grill is only a good fit for grillers who don’t mind spending extra time cleaning out grease and ashes.

Warranty

The SmokeFire is covered by a five-year warranty, and the electrical components, cooking grates, pellet slide, burn pot, heat baffle, pellet grate, and controller bezel are covered for three years. The warranty covers material defects, but it doesn’t apply to normal wear and tear (cosmetic damages, discoloration not related to material defects, scratches and dents, surface rust, etc.). Like most warranties, it isn’t transferable, so it applies to the original owner only.

Is the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill worth it?

It’s not unusual to spend over $500 on a pellet grill, but $1,000 is certainly a lot of money. If we’re comparing the Weber SmokeFire to Traeger, the SmokeFire EX4’s $999 price tag is certainly attractive.

The SmokeFire is comparable with the Traeger Ironwood 650, which retails for $1,200. Considering that it made some of the best-flavored smoked meat we’ve ever made, and the grill is capable of smoking and searing, that’s not a bad deal.

Of course, we had some issues with the grill, so we’d love to see those ironed out before we can solidly recommend spending this much money. But, if you only have the storage space or money for one grill, you want it to be able to smoke and sear on a single grill, and you don’t mind working with a few idiosyncrasies, the SmokeFire certainly fits that niche.

Get the Weber SmokeFire EX4 at BBQ Guys for $999

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