April 21, 2016
Cooking food is not just a necessity for some, but more so a way of life. For those who grill or smoke their foods, hours are spent prepping, cleaning, seasoning, and getting your rig to the perfect temperature. Smoking can be heavily involved or a more simple slow-cooking experience, which is typically dictated based on what you are using to cook and what you're intended outcome is for the meat. For Char-Broil’s new Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef Technology, you get the best of both of these worlds, with a new layer of helpful technology added on top.
SmartChef is a new feature that allows the smoker to be connected to your network by way of WiFi, and then allows you to monitor and customize the cooking experience with the related app. Yes, I know, at first thought you are thinking “why on earth does a smoker need to be connected to WiFi?” – but this isn't a gimmicky add-on. It’s truly a simple addition that allows you to detach yourself from the smoker, go on about your day, and monitor and control the unit from anywhere that you have a connection.
“To find a balance between new and iconic products is a careful combination of understanding what consumers love and require of our brand, while keeping top-of-mind the notion that our innovations are going to improve their experience,” said Char-Broil CEO Chris Robbins. “Our goal is to make our consumers successful from beginning to end of their cooking process. We look to introduce new and exciting products for our consumers to experiment with, and then to use innovative technologies and features as a way to enhance the classics, as opposed to replacing them.”
The team at Char-Broil knows smoking, grilling, and outdoor cooking better than most, and then regularly experiment internally.
“We do like grill-a-thons! We as a team come together for events periodically, to try new products out for ourselves by grilling up some of our favorite dishes – it doesn’t get better than great food enjoyed with great company,” said Robbins.
We also spoke with Char-Broil’s product lead for our Spring Gadget Guide, where we gained further insight into how they decided what technology to add to the smoker. After a bit of trial and human error, we smoked a full rack of ribs, two medium-sized chickens, and pulled pork. Each time, the smoker became more seasoned and the outcomes better than the last.
SmartChef is a suite of features that enhance the electric smoker. From connecting to WiFi, monitoring the temperature through the app, programming the recipe, and a log of everything you’ve cooked. For first-time or novice smokers, the related feature set makes it easier to ensure your cooking sessions result in juicy, well-cooked foods. For more advanced users, this simply allows you to detach from the unit.
The related app for SmartChef allows you to program the recipe you are planning to use, adjust the manual controls, monitor time and temperature, and set the unit to clean or season itself. There are no issues with the app itself – it’s actuallyincredibly easy to use; however, you do need to read all of the instructions that come with the smoker before using it. The app skips over a couple of specified instructions, which is really more there as a reminder. Because smoking is not the easiest cooking process; You MUST read the instructions. Seriously read them. I never do, but after a messed up rack of ribs, I read them, and they came out perfectly.
Although there are only a few selections for each type of meat, the ones that I used work really well. Beyond the available options, which I foresee them adding more of in the future, the manual mode works just the same. You set the temperature and time, or you set the probe temperature if you want to hit the perfect mark within the meat.
There are three base settings for the unit: manual, guided, and preset. For people new to smokers, the guided option is the best way to go. Through the connected mobile app, you simply select the meat type, and then the cut of meat available. From there, pick the weight, and a series of instructions will popup. This thing is prone to user-error, so read the instructions. Typically, you pre-heat the unit for about an hour, and then you put the meat in and place the probe in the center of the meat. There are about 15 recipes in total, but they are also seem to be adding more. For preset, you have simple options with a press of the button. For those who have used a standard smoker, manual allows you to retain the same control, but monitor your temperature from anywhere.
Updates + Day one update
One of the beneficial components to this being WiFi-connected is that as customers provide feedback, Char-broil can update the system. Just like video games, the electric smoker requires a day-one update. This ensures the device is fully up-to-date, and only takes about 10 minutes; however, you do have to be nearby in order to press the DADO button on it twice while updating. If you get impatient it tends to fail and you have to start over again.
In my opinion, the price variation for this is absolutely justified as you are investing in a product that will continually receive attention and upgrades.
This particular electric smoker can fit a ton of meat in it. There are several shelves, which can also be easily removed, so you can probably fit about six medium sized chickens in it, several rib racks, or larger cuts of beef or pork. Because of it’s size, the woodchip box is also larger and can continuously smoke the meat for about six hours or so when full.
As far as aesthetics go, the unit looks great. It has a sleek design, easy to work with, and easy to clean. The only strange design component that I don’t quite get is the light. Unless the door is open, the light doesn’t really do much. You don’t want to open the door and let out all of the heat though, so it’s not very effective.
Pros and Cons
Although the smoker is great, we did find a few issues. Most of them were based on human error or external conditions.
- WiFi-connected, monitor from anywhere with a connection
- Great for beginners
- High capacity
- Connectivity is iffy – Unit needs to be near router
- Not super intuitive, but neither is smoking meat in general, read the instructions!
- Timing is off – Preheating takes a bit longer than listed, don’t fully rely on recipe temperatures
Things to Remember
Program the system through the app, add chips, and start to preheat. You can add in water to the tray now or when you add in the food. Leave the unit alone until you get a notification. Shove the probe in the fattiest part in the center of the meat, not touching any bone. Then, press the button with three dots on it, not the big flame start/stop button. If you do that, you will have to start over again, especially since much of the heat will have escaped. Then the app and system does the rest.
If you lose connection you are supposed to reconnect by resetting your router, and if you try just unplugging the unit, it forgets any progress made. The other issue is that if you select a programmed cooking session with chips, regardless of the current temperature, the preheat time seems to be based on a timer and temperature combo. So any progress from earlier, even though ready to cook, would be entirely lost. Read the instructions and you’ll have some amazing food. Did I mention that you should read the instructions? Read the instructions. Seriously.
Recommended to Buy
The Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef Technology is their first foray into a connected device, but the outcomes are great. When compared to others of similar price points and capacity, this comes out ahead due to the addition of SmartChef. For novice smokers, this will certainly help coach you through the process, but may not be as appealing to those who prefer the good ole fashion way. Either way, as long as you follow the instructions and expect there to be some trial and error, you’ll love this smoker.
We give the smoker a solid 4 out of 5, as it still has some software based kinks to work out.
Overall the Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef is an innovative product that adds a complimentary layer of technology rather than a distraction.
Price: $320 (MSRP of $400)
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