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Technology Weber's pellet grill sears and smokes low and slow

15:55  24 april  2021
15:55  24 april  2021 Source:   cnet.com

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If barbecue is your hobby, then you can appreciate the appeal of wood-fired pellet grills. They create the deliciously smoky flavor barbecue fans crave, yet require much less babysitting than traditional charcoal grills. Among them, the $1,200 Weber SmokeFire EX6 is particularly compelling because it doesn't just cook low and slow: This grill can belt out serious heat too, enough to sear your food hot and fast on command. Not all pellet grills can say the same.

The SmokeFire EX6 also offers lots of cooking space, so it won't disappoint if you often prepare meals in large batches. Additionally, you can connect the SmokeFire to your home's Wi-Fi or your phone via Bluetooth. Doing so lets you monitor and control the grill remotely. Weber includes two temperature probes with the SmokeFire EX6, and it supports up to four.

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All that, along with its relatively competitive price, helps the SmokeFire EX6 stack up well against other high-end pellet smokers. For example, it costs hundreds less than the $1,800 Traeger Timberline 850, which offers less cooking area and includes just one meat probe. The Timberline can't sear as hot as the SmokeFire, either.

The SmokeFire EX6 isn't perfect. Its pellet hopper has a long, narrow mouth that makes adding fuel harder than it should be. And like other pellet grills, the Weber's mechanical fuel system can run into problems from time to time. As of right now, Weber's number of online recipes is limited, especially compared with the vast library you get with Traeger. Even so, the SmokeFire EX6's strengths outweigh its shortcomings -- enough to make it a must for anyone shopping for a capable yet affordable pellet-powered cooker.

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a bench in a park: The Weber SmokeFire EX6 has premium looks on the outside. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The Weber SmokeFire EX6 has premium looks on the outside. Brian Bennett/CNET

Weber's take on a pellet grill

Barrel shaped and clad in shiny black steel, the Weber SmokeFire EX6 definitely has a fancy exterior. Adding to its premium looks are stainless steel accents on the grill's lid along with stainless steel handles. A steel shelf sits on the grill's right-hand side.

As the longest of Weber's two current pellet grill models, the SmokeFire EX6 offers lots of room for your food. The inside of the grill is 1,008 square inches of cooking area spread out across two grates. By comparison, the Traeger Timberline 850 provides a little less elbow room (850 square inches).

If you've used other Weber grills, the inside of the SmokeFire may look familiar. Six "flavorizer bars" -- long, metal heat deflectors -- run front to back under the grill grates, similar to the deflectors inside Weber gas grills. In those products, they're mainly designed to keep grease drippings from falling onto their propane burners.

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the inside of a building: Flavorizer bars sit inside the Weber SmokeFire EX6 right under the grates. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET Flavorizer bars sit inside the Weber SmokeFire EX6 right under the grates. Brian Bennett/CNET

The bars have the added benefit of vaporizing grease falling from the grates above. Weber says this process adds extra flavor to the food cooking overhead. Since the SmokeFire lacks gas burners, enhancing taste and reducing grease buildup are the bars' primary function. An ash and disposable grease pan sit on a pullout tray below the grill's fire box.

The pellet hopper in on the back of the SmokeFire. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The pellet hopper in on the back of the SmokeFire. Brian Bennett/CNET

You'll find the SmokeFire's pellet hopper on its back edge. Unlike the square box hoppers Traeger grills have, the SmokeFire's hopper is long and rectangular. Flipping open its lid reveals a comparably narrow opening, too.

The pellet hopper opening is long and narrow. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The pellet hopper opening is long and narrow. Brian Bennett/CNET

I found it tricky to pour pellets into the hopper directly from a bag without spilling. I don't have the same problems on the Traeger grill. I ended up transferring pellets to another container (box, bucket etc.) and using a scoop to fill the hopper.

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The Weber's controls are on its right-hand side. They consist of a dial that also functions as a select button, plus an LCD screen. Below the controls are four ports for meat probes; Weber provides two in the box. It's a similar setup to what the Traeger Timberline 850 has, though that grill comes with only one probe.

graphical user interface: The Weber Connect app offers guided recipes and cooking programs. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The Weber Connect app offers guided recipes and cooking programs. Brian Bennett/CNET

App and smart controls

These days, many high-end grills come with smarts as well as app controls. The Weber SmokeFire EX6 is no different. The grill has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radio, so the grill can link to your phone directly via Bluetooth or to your home's wireless network. I found the setup process quick and painless on my Pixel 3XL Android handset.

graphical user interface, application: Monitor and control the grill with the Weber app. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET Monitor and control the grill with the Weber app. Brian Bennett/CNET

Either way, you'll be able to use the Weber Connect app to monitor and adjust the grill's internal temperature. The app also allows you to set target temperatures for your probes and browse recipes. Additionally, you can instruct the grill to run cook programs for various proteins. They guide you through the cooking process and estimate total cook time.

Right now each of the five categories (red meat, pork, poultry, lamb and fish) have about five to seven programs. The exception is red meat, which boasts 17 program selections. It's a good start, but nowhere near the depth of Traeger's app library, which boasts thousands of recipes and programs.

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Cooking and performance

Firing up the SmokeFire is a simple operation. With the pellet hopper full, and the grill plugged in and switched on, just spin the dial to your desired temperature. Once you push the dial in to confirm your selection, the grill begins a steady flow of pellets into its fire box. During my tests, the SmokeFire's heat levels rose quickly, fully preheating in about 20 minutes. That was the case no matter if I selected a low and slow 225 degrees Fahrenheit, 400 F or 600 F.

a metal pan on a stove top oven sitting next to a grill: The SmokeFire did a good job smoking baby back ribs. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The SmokeFire did a good job smoking baby back ribs. Brian Bennett/CNET

I'll admit I had doubts about the SmokeFire's temperature control since the Weber has less insulation than the Timberline 850. Even so, once the grill got going, temperatures generally stayed within 5 to 10 F of their target throughout cooking. There were a few exceptions, though.

a close up of food on a grill: The whole chicken I roasted on the SmokeFire was true delight. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The whole chicken I roasted on the SmokeFire was true delight. Brian Bennett/CNET

When I cranked the SmokeFire up to its maximum temperature of 600 F, things got really hot. Thermocouple readings inside the cooking chamber confirmed sustained temperatures of 643 F. That's well beyond the SmokeFire's rated performance -- and it's hotter than the Timberline 850's maximum temperature setting (500 F).

On one occasion cooking chicken at 350 F, the pellet flow into the fire box was interrupted; the app pushed out a low-temperature warning midcook. I investigated and found that pellets were stuck on either side of the hopper. However, the area directly above the auger intake was empty. Pushing pellets from the sides of the hopper to its center fixed the problem.

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two hot dogs on a grill: The SmokeFire gets nice and hot for searing meat. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET The SmokeFire gets nice and hot for searing meat. Brian Bennett/CNET

Everything I cooked on the SmokeFire was excellent. For example, I used the app recipe for New York strip steak and was treated to a nicely seared exterior. Inside, the meat was a juicy medium/medium rare.

a piece of chocolate cake on a plate: With the Weber app recipe I was able to cook this NY strip the way I like it. Brian Bennett/CNET © Provided by CNET With the Weber app recipe I was able to cook this NY strip the way I like it. Brian Bennett/CNET

The same was true of whole butterflied chicken. At the app's recommended 400 F, an hour and 13 minutes later I had one scrumptious chicken: Its skin was crispy, and both the white and dark meat inside was succulent. Large cuts of meat I smoked yielded similar results. Both pork butt and a rack of baby back ribs came out moist, tender, smoky and delicious.

The verdict

All in all, my experience with the $1,200 Weber SmokeFire EX6 was a positive one. It offers the low-and-slow temperature control you need for proper barbecue. It also generates the wood-fired smoke required for that genuine barbecue flavor. The grill can sear at temperatures higher than other pellet grills, too. And when you factor in its large cooking area and lower price compared with Traeger's flagship grill, the $1,800 Timberline 850, it's plain to see why the SmokeFire is a solid choice.

My main concerns are that the pellet hopper is harder to fill than it should be -- and that one instance when the flow of pellets to the fire box failed. A failure like that wouldn't be much of an issue during a short cook, but it could potentially ruin a long smoking session if you're not around (or awake) to correct the problem. If you're willing to roll those dice and save some money, then the SmokeFire is for you. If not, I suggest splurging on a Traeger.

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