Fuelled by hardwood pellets, the Weber SmokeFire EX4 barbecue's large hopper automatically feeds through the right amount of pellets you need to smoke, grill and bake your way through dishes like woodfired pizzas or briskets. But using the Weber Connect app to set temperatures or shut it down can take some getting used to. While the cost of pellets can add up, the tasty, flavoursome results are impressive.
Price: $1999 plus $34.95 for a 9kg bag of pellets
Soon after the Weber SmokeFire hardwood pellet barbecue first launched in North America at the start of 2020, there were reports of problems. Some owners complained about unreliable temperature consistency, technical issues with the app, and difficulties with hardwood pellets jamming in the hopper.
After the negative feedback, Weber's US CEO issued a public update announcing upgrades to the barbecue's firmware (built-in software) and app. It also redesigned the hopper and auger which feed the pellets through the barbecue.
It's this new "second generation" version that has launched into the Australian market in time for summer, which we bought ahead of general release for a first look.
How does the Weber SmokeFire work?
Our experts tested the SmokeFire EX4 ($1999), which is slightly smaller than the EX6 ($2499), in our kitchen lab.
If you're used to cooking with gas, it's a bit of a learning curve cooking with the SmokeFire. There's a large hopper at the back of the barbecue, which you load up with SmokeFire hardwood pellets (it has the capacity to fit a 9kg bag).
These pellets are used as fuel and are designed to infuse a woodfired flavour to your cooking. Various flavours are available, such as the GrillMaster Blend, made of maple, hickory and cherry woods.
Various flavours are available, such as the GrillMaster Blend, made of maple, hickory and cherry woods
Once you set a temperature using the control panel (or your app), the barbecue will automatically feed the right amount of pellets through the auger which are then ignited with a glow plug. To do this, the barbecue must be plugged into a power outlet as it's also a "smart" device that connects to your Wi-Fi and has a temperature probe and LCD display.
Designed to work with the hood down to keep flavours in and heat circulating evenly, the barbecue has optional accessories which add to the $1999 cost. These include additional meat probes ($19.95; it comes with one but there is capacity for four), cutting board ($39.95), cast iron griddle ($69.95) and a front shelf ($149.95).
How much does the SmokeFire cost to run?
This depends on the frequency and amount of what you're cooking, as well as the temperature of the food, but it's generally expensive to run. Each 9kg bag of fuel costs $34.95.
Weber tells us:
- If you're cooking at low and slow temperatures, a full bag will last around 15 hours (enough for a 9–10kg brisket). This is around 600g worth of pellets per hour.
- At high temperatures (around 300C, for direct cooking like steak), you'll use 2kg of pellets per hour (but a steak will only take around half an hour when cooking at such a high temperature).
- When roasting (200–220C), it will consume about 1–2kg per hour.
The electricity used to power the barbecue is minimal (only a few dollars over several years). The real cost is in the pellets – you're advised to use Weber's own as they're a specific shape, and the app calculates how much should be fed through depending on the temperature and the time required.
All up it could cost more than $1500 over five years if you're using the barbecue six months of the year, three times a week, for half an hour at a time.
The Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled barbecue is compatible with the Weber Connect app.
What does the Weber Connect app do?
Connecting an app to your barbecue using Bluetooth is, of course, a huge leap from cooking on an open fire. Among other things, the app gives you remote meat probe temperatures, lets you know when cooking is completed, tells you when to flip your food, alerts you when you're low on fuel and gives you extra tips and cooking instructions.
At the time of writing, an update for the Weber Connect app was in the pipeline which provides assisted barbecuing advice, so we weren't able to use its full functionality.
It's always advisable to keep the app and firmware on the barbecue itself (the built-in software) up to date in case of any bugs being ironed out, or additional features.
How well does it cook?
The Weber SmokeFire is the first pellet barbecue our kitchen lab has put through its paces. When cooking performance is compared to other gas, charcoal or electric barbecues we've tested, the results are very good. Our marinated chicken wings were a huge hit in the CHOICE labs, with the smoky flavour really shining through.
We did, however, notice when cooking four steaks, that cooking time varied for the front two and back two, so the heat wasn't as even as we would have liked.
We did notice when cooking four steaks, that cooking time varied for the front two and back two, so the heat wasn't as even as we would have liked
Similarly, when cooking sausages, the ones on the right needed extra cooking time. The instructions mention it's "normal" to have this variability and that the vents at the rear are designed to minimise this.
Apart from our usual barbecue tests, we also included a signature dish if you've got a smoker – smoked brisket (seven hours cooking time, including standing).
Our kitchen lab loved the results. Meat was evenly cooked with a noticeable smoky flavour and a pink smoke ring around the base of the meat, not the fat side. Meat was juicy, and fairly moist and tender.
We also cooked a woodfired pizza using the optional pizza stone ($69.95). The result was an excellent golden brown pizza with an evenly cooked, moist topping.
Weber SmokeFire hardwood pellets being fed into the hopper.
How easy is the SmokeFire to use?
Our kitchen experts liked the automatic ignition and the fact you don't need to think about the cooking time or how much fuel is needed (the specific amount of pellets adjusts when you set the temperature).
The digital display is large, with a dial and press buttons, and the app connectivity gives you extra tips and instructions.
While barbecues are generally a chore to clean, there aren't many complaints about this one. Access to all areas for cleaning is OK, and there's easy access to the ash tray and disposable fat tray from the front of the barbecue. The painted enamel hood is also easy to wipe over.
You need to initiate a shut down process with the barbecue after use, which can take up to 15 minutes. This allows any excess fuel to return to the hopper (the auger reverses the feed and limits any waste of fuel) and any burning fuel to cool.
Has Weber sorted out the problems with its US version?
We can only go by our own experience, which was generally positive, although we haven't used the barbecue for an extended period of time. Member feedback tells us Weber's customer service is good, so if you did run into issues we would hope they would be promptly addressed.
We'll be updating our barbecues review in the coming weeks and will include the full results of the SmokeFire grill.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.