Hands-on review: Char-Broil Smart-E electric barbecue
Image credit: Char Broil
Dreaming of long, hot summer days and firing up the barbecue, but put off by messing around with bags of charcoal and the prospect of clearing up afterwards? The Smart-E offers an all-electric alternative – and even cleans itself when you’ve finished.
You’ll love or loathe the idea of an electric barbecue. You get the push-button convenience and precise temperature control of an electric oven. But you literally lose the fire of BBQ cooking.
If you have a weatherproof socket on the patio anyway, then the Smart-E will be an easy addition to your outdoor entertaining… and you need never buy fuel for it, just pay the electricity bill. It’s better for air quality then. And if you use a renewable electricity supplier, your barbecuing is carbon neutral too.
The Char-Broil Smart-E arrived on a pallet in a huge box. It was a heavy, two-person lift. Unboxing is a big job too. The fact that everything arrived in perfect condition was impressive and a testament to the vast amount of packaging.
I followed the printed assembly instructions. The app suggested on the box didn’t have instructions for the Smart-E yet, though it might by the time this is published. The instructions are visual and pretty easy to follow (I only went wrong once) but assembly does take a long time.
All the fixings, and even a screwdriver, are neatly set out and labelled in a blister pack. You get the right screws every time. However, I did use three screwdrivers of my own to aid assembly. Of these, my small ‘stubby’ screwdriver was essential as there’s a point where you tighten a screw without enough space for a regular one.
Assembly takes a long time and is sometimes awkward. There’s lots of leaning into awkward gaps to reach parts. It feels harder than it should be. But then there’s a real sense of achievement when you’re done. It took me 90 minutes. It would be more fun as a two-person, 45-minute build… followed by a test barbecue.
Assembled, it’s solidly built and the design is clever. Metal panels protect the cables from the heat. And there’s lots of storage space underneath because you don’t need to stow a gas cylinder or bag of charcoal. There are also handy shelves on both sides: the Char-Broil website says that they fold down, but they don’t.
My one problem with the design is that the mains plug is a two-pin one that fits inside a bulky UK adaptor… and the adaptor is bulky. This meant that it wouldn’t work with my weatherproof outdoor socket. I had to use a mains extension, which wasn’t ideal.
My other niggle is that this is a pricey barbecue, yet it lacks the mod cons of large gas or charcoal model. So, there’s no side burner, no hooks for tools and temperature control is just a single zone. It has holes designed to work with Char-Broil’s MADE2MATCH range of accessories, including extra shelves and hooks, but shouldn’t these things come as standard with a premium grill?
On the front is a large temperature display for the built-in digital thermometer. It’s bright and easy to read, even in bright sun. The control is a single dial and a couple of touch-sensitive buttons. Turn it on and use the dial to select a temperature. Then it starts heating and the display alternates between the current and target temperatures. A coloured light around the knob indicates progress. You can watch as it warms up and progress is fast.
It's great to know when the temperature’s right. And it’s reassuring to see it heating up, even when you lift the lid to move food. The temperature range is from a slow 90°C to a searing 370°C. Apparently, 90-170°C is best for smoking, 170-260°C for grilling and 260-370°C for searing.
On to cooking and the Smart-E heated up fast. Soon after I put food on it, I realised that my concerns about cooking on an electric grill were ill-founded. When fat drips down from your food and hits the hot metal grills, it smokes, so food does get a smoky flavour as it cooks. It’s just not a wood-smoke flavour.
I cooked at 300°C and found that it seared well, cooking fast and leaving the middle of the food moist. The cooking area is a roomy 57cmx39cm and there’s a small shelf at the back above it for keeping cooked food warm.
Another advantage is that you won’t lose food to the fire gods. The grill has peaks and troughs, so you do get charred lines on the food, but there are no actual gaps. The stainless steel emitter plate below radiates infrared heat. And the lack of flames means it feels safer to handle food on the grill.
It was quick, reliable and easy to use, even in bad weather. But the sight of the wires during the build reminded me that this is an appliance and appliances can go wrong. An old charcoal barbecue might gradually rust but you can still light a fire in it for many years; it doesn’t suddenly stop working one day.
But the electric tech brings advantages, including an ‘auto clean’ cycle, which uses pyrolysis to burn dirt off the grill at high temperatures, turning it to dust. Barbecuing no longer means scrubbing grills the next day. Unlike a self-cleaning oven, the cycle doesn’t lock the lid shut. But the results are similar, turning grime to grey dust that you can just brush off with the stiff cleaning brush, the only accessory supplied.
So, there are pros and cons of going electric. But if you want the convenience of outdoor eating most days in the summer, it’s outstanding. It’s a luxe big grill. You can cook fast with ease, plus there’s no cleaning burden.
If you can’t decide between gas and charcoal, this gives you both options. Best of all, you can combine them – use the gas for 15 minutes to light the charcoal perfectly. The easy-to-use hybrid grill has a thermometer built into the lid.
From £429.99 charbroil.co.uk
Ooni Volt 12
As outdoor eating goes electric, it’s not just barbecues that are changing. This is Ooni’s first all-electric indoor and outdoor pizza oven. Compact and insulated, it reaches 450°C in 20 minutes and then turns out fresh stone-baked pizzas in just 90 seconds.
Weber Pulse 2000 with cart
This electric grill is even pricier than the Char-Broil Smart-E and has a smaller cooking area (49cmx39cm) but it’s impressive. There are two separately controlled cooking zones and probes to check the temperature of four different pieces of meat, connected to the Weber iGrill app.
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