Let’s face it: smart grills are expensive. For most pellet grill brands, you’re going to pay $1,000 or more. Weber’s WiFi-equipped gas grills are about the same. That’s why it’s important to consider what type of cooking you plan to do and how often you want to do it when you’re shopping. If you’re a casual griller who cooks burgers on holiday weekends or the occasional steak, a smart grill might be overkill. If you cook outside all the time and want to expand your skill set to low-and-slow barbecue, you’re probably in the right place.
The real benefit of a smart grill is being able to keep tabs on your food without having to stand next to it the whole time. Most models allow you to monitor temperatures and offer some degree of cooking guidance. There’s convenience for beginners and experienced cooks alike, especially for things that take several hours to complete. However, if you’re happy with a Weber Kettle or Big Green Egg, there are ways to get smart grill features without making a pricey purchase.
Smart grill alternatives
You can get the basic function of a smart grill for $100 or less. All you really need to keep tabs on temperatures from a short distance away is an RF thermometer that has meat probes. For its accuracy and ease of use, I prefer the ThermoWorks Smoke line. The most affordable option is $99 and it comes with one food probe and one ambient temperature probe. For $169, you can upgrade to the longer-range two-probe Smoke X2 and the four-probe Smoke X4 is $199. All of these allow you to monitor things from inside and they offer the ability to set both high and low temperature alarms for audible alerts. ThermoWorks also sells an additional accessory that can add WiFi to the base-level Smoke model, allowing you to send stats to your phone.
Of course, those devices only monitor temperature. They don’t do anything to help you adjust heat levels. For that, ThermoWorks built Billows. It’s a temperature control fan that eliminates the need for you to manually open/close vents on a smoker or grill that’s burning charcoal or wood. You’ll need a ThermoWorks controller to use it, like the $239 four-probe Signals unit. Signals is more expensive than the Smoke models, but it has WiFi built in, so it works with your phone right out of the box.
If both WiFi and step-by-step guidance are your thing, the Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub is a great option. This adds nearly every smart function to any grill. Weber’s app not only offers tips for how to prep food, but it also walks you through the entire process – from flipping to wrapping and resting. Timers let you know when the next step is coming and the hardware/software combo can even estimate when the cook will be complete. That last bit comes in handy when smoking things like brisket that can take 8-12 hours. The Hub can accommodate up to four probes, so you can keep tabs on multiple foods and grill temp via the simple on-board interface.
When it comes to smart grills, the backyard cookers that burn wood pellets are some of the most popular models. Basically, a heating element in the bottom of the grill ignites compressed wood that’s fed to the fire pot via an auger. A fan that’s run by a controller on the grill regulates the size of the flame and overall temperature. Of course, all of this is done automatically once you set the temperature. What’s more, WiFi-enabled pellet grills allow you to monitor and adjust temperatures from your phone, so you can stay inside and entertain your guests.
A key advantage of pellet grills is their versatility. Most of them can handle low-and-slow cooking at as little as 180 degrees Fahrenheit as well as searing high-heat temps of 600 degrees or higher. This gives you the ability to cook everything from brisket, ribs and pork butts to burgers, pizza and steaks. Some even have a slider that allows you to sear over the flame of the fire box.
There are more affordable smart pellet grills on the market, but for the mix of hardware and software performance, Traeger and Weber are solid picks. Traeger offers more options as it has a variety of models, all of which are WiFi-equipped, starting at $900. The company’s completely redesigned Timberline series is basically an outdoor kitchen. It can accommodate a variety of accessories to expand its abilities and there’s a built-in induction burner on the side for making sauces, cooking sides, and searing. With the Traeger app, you get access to a massive library of recipes, all of which can be sent to the grill so you don’t have to dial in the settings. You also get step-by-step instructions, timers, food probe temps and the ability to activate special modes. All of that is in addition to remote grill temperature monitoring and control.
With Weber’s SmokeFire grill, you get the connectivity and convenience a lot of pellet grills can offer. There’s only one model, but it comes in two sizes to suit your needs. Weber Connect is a handy culinary companion that not only powers the grill, but it also provides guided details for every step in the process. This software’s key advantage is estimated completion times, which help you to know when your food will be ready. It’s very handy when you have a hungry crowd asking how the pulled pork sandwiches are coming. During my tests, I was also impressed by how much smoke flavor the SmokeFire gave the food. Weber’s pellet grill doesn’t have a solid plate covering the fire pot like some Traeger models, so smoke moves around the cook chamber differently.
Smart options aren’t limited to pellet grills, though. If you don’t have a need for the lower-temperature cooking, a propane or natural gas model might be a better option. In 2021, Weber brought its Connect smart grilling platform to its gas grills, offering three- and four-burner configurations, some of which also have a side burner for extra cooking space. Just like on the SmokeFire, Weber Connect not only allows you to monitor both food and grill temperatures from a comfy chair, it can guide you through the process and give you time updates. You still have to manually adjust the burners, but Weber’s app can alert you when you’re running low on fuel (propane models).
Other types of smart grills
Both pellet and gas grills have their merits, but some folks prefer the tried-and-true flavor of charcoal when cooking outdoors. While the purchase of one of the previously mentioned accessories will probably achieve what you're after for a kettle or kamado-style grill you already have, there are some charcoal smart grills that offer a degree of connectivity for your cooks.
The Masterbuilt Gravity Series makes some really tasty food and its gravity-fed hopper keeps fuel management minimal. It works well as both a smoker and a high-heat searing machine, and it gives you the ability to watch things from your phone. The only catch is it can be difficult to light when you're starting with used briquettes at the bottom. I found it best to dump the hopper and start with fresh charcoal every time, positioning any previously burned fuel that’s still usable further up the stack.
Another charcoal solution with remote monitoring is a Spark Grill. The minimally designed units rely on one large piece of charcoal, dubbed Briqs, that the grills heat to between 250 and 900 degrees. This temperature range gives Spark Grills more versatility than your kettle. You set the temperature via a simple dial and that’s it, the grills are ready to cook on in about 10 minutes. And so long as you stay in Bluetooth range, you can keep tabs on grill temps from your phone.