EletiofeWeber’s New Smoker Makes Some Mighty Tasty Meats

Weber’s New Smoker Makes Some Mighty Tasty Meats


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I won’t lie. The first time I turned it on, I almost shoved the Weber SmokeFire down the hill and into the woods behind my house. The assembly isn’t too bad, but it does take a while. When I was done, I was ready to cook. I was ready to dive into elemental things like fire and fat, the building blocks of human life and the keys to a meaningful existence on earth. But the SmokeFire? It wanted to do a firmware update.

This is the world we have created, everyone—but never mind. The firmware update didn’t take too long, and I was able to do the initial burn-off and start cooking within the hour. Even better, the first thing I cooked on this pellet “smoker” wasn’t smoked, or even slow-cooked. I seared some steaks for the family and smoked them for just a minute, to give them a little extra mesquite flavor.

The Best of Both Worlds

One of the great things about wood or charcoal cookers is that they’re versatile. It’s easy to use the same cooker as a grill—that is, for searing and other high-heat cooking—and then turn around and set it up to cook over indirect heat, for smoking or other slow cooking.

It’s much harder to do the same with a propane grill. Technically, you can smoke on a propane grill, and it’s not too bad if you have a dual-burner grill. But in my experience, the results aren’t that great. Likewise, most pellet cookers are good at smoking but not much good at searing.

That’s what Weber was hoping to change when it launched the SmokeFire last year. Unfortunately, the initial release had some problems, which prompted Weber to push out an update this year. The result is a great smoker, not terribly different in that regard from the Traeger Ironwood 650 (8/10, WIRED Recommends). It’s a pretty good searing grill as well.

The basic principle of a pellet grill is that a small heating element ignites compressed sawdust pellets and then blows on them with a fan. Picture yourself blowing on a small pile of twigs to get a campfire started, and you have the basic idea. A small auger feeds more pellets from the storage hopper as they burn. You regulate the temperature by controlling how fast the pellets feed in and how much the fan blows, all via a phone app. The result is precision-controlled cooking, with very little effort on your part.

Photograph: Weber

Yesterday was a work day, and I made ribs. It took me less than 30 minutes to cook them. Most of that time was making the rub and getting them on the grill. After that, all I had to do was set up the temperature probes—one to monitor the ambient temp around the ribs, another in the rack to monitor the temp of the meat—and set the temperature of the grill. The rest of the day, I went about my work. Come 6 o’clock, the ribs were ready. I’d never attempt weeknight ribs over charcoal; at least not until my Dogecoin hits the moon and I retire. In the meantime, there’s pellet smokers to simplify life.

But what about when you don’t want to smoke ribs? Say you just want to grill some burgers. The SmokeFire does quite well there too. It shares much of its grilling internals with Weber’s gas grills. It uses the same inverted V-shaped flame spreaders, which Weber calls “flavorizer bars.” These spread the flames and help get more direct flame across the cooking surface, providing a better sear. Where it gets really interesting is that you can sear your burgers, cook them about halfway, then dial back the temp, turn on the Smoke Boost feature, and get a bit of smoky flavor into your burgers—the best of both worlds.

That’s not to say the SmokeFire is grilling perfection. I have two gripes. The first is that a lot of ash floated in the air whenever I used it at high temperatures. The fan seemed overly aggressive sometimes. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something to be aware of, and a good reason to keep the lid closed.

My other issue is that the temperature varied considerably across the cooking surface in my testing. Of course, this can be used to advantage. The center is the best place to get a good sear, and you can do that while putting other things off to the sides so they cook slower and don’t dry out. For example, you can do a surf-and-turf by searing steaks in the center and keeping the shrimp on the side. But you are limited on the number of things you can sear at once.

Those are relatively minor gripes, though. My biggest problem with pellet smokers is the requirement to use the brand’s pellets. In this regard, the SmokeFire is no different than any other pellet cooker. For best results, you’ll need to stick with Weber pellets.

Problems Mostly Solved

If you read customer reviews of the Weber SmokeFire, you may run across some angry people who had bad experiences with the original model, including a significant number of grease fires. I have not used that model, but I was very careful to test this new model to see if the problems had been solved. In my experience, the answer is both yes and no.

One of the big complaints about the original SmokeFire was that Weber’s app didn’t allow for much control. The app got off to rough start, which I have covered elsewhere. The current version is still not quite as slick as Traeger’s app, but it does now allow you to control every aspect of the SmokeFire. It also has some extra built-in recipe templates to make ribs, brisket, chicken, and more. I think Weber solved the software problems that plagued the original SmokeFire.

To address the hardware issues, Weber added a panel to the pellet hopper to make it steeper, so the pellets slide down the auger easier. There’s also a new auger. I had no problem with either, which addresses all the issues except possibly one: grease build-up.

In my testing, I did not have an issue with grease build-up, nor did I experience any significant flaring or fires. But it’s easy to see how you could have problems, especially if you’re cooking a lot of brisket or other fatty cuts. The SmokeFire’s design just makes it easier for grease and ash to clog up the drain holes, and more grease means more potential flare-ups. The updated version doesn’t eliminate that. 

For many people, this will be a deal breaker. However, I still think this is a great cooker. Just realize you’re going to have to clean it more frequently than you would with others on the market, including the Traeger. If you get a pellet smoker, get a shop vac as well. Trust me. 

Also, the SmokeFire EX6 is a massive grill. The 1,008 square inches of cooking space can hold six racks of ribs with no problem, more if you use the upper shelf too (an extra 360 square inches of indirect cooking space). For people who aren’t regularly grilling for a crowd, the slightly smaller EX4, with 672 square inches of cooking space, might be better choice. The EX4 is also a bit cheaper at $1,000, versus the EX6’s $1,200.

In the end, I really enjoyed the SmokeFire. The food that came off it was absolutely fantastic. Against the Traeger Ironwood, it’s really hard to pick a winner. They both produce great results. The Traeger doesn’t suffer from the potential grease clogging issue, but the Weber seems to go on sale more often. So long as you’re willing to clean it, the SmokeFire makes a great all-in-one backyard cooker.

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