If you do a lot of grilling, odds are you’ve had more than one meal ruined due to flare-ups that occur when juices and grease drip onto the coals or propane burners. The Char-Broil SmartChef TRU-Infrared 3-Burner Gas Grill ($799.99) is a Wi-Fi-enabled smart barbecue that uses IR technology to prevent flare-ups while delivering moist, evenly cooked meats. A thoughtfully designed mobile app helps you monitor cooking times and temperatures, and lets you know if a burner goes out or if you’re running low on gas. It’ll even tell you when to flip your steak. The Char-Broil SmartChef requires more maintenance than your average grill and it’s more expensive, but it’s time and money well spent if you want perfectly cooked food every time. That makes it an Editors’ Choice.
Design and Features
With its black finish, red LED burner control knobs, and chrome hardware, the SmartChef is a real head-turner. It measures 47 by 51 by 23 inches (HWD), weighs 158 pounds, and has shelves on both sides of the grill that measure 21 by 13 inches. Beneath a protective lid on the right shelf is a single side burner. Under the main chamber lid are three porcelain-coated cast iron grates, three stainless steel emitters, and an upper warming rack.
The grill uses three vertically positioned top-ported burners covered by stainless steel heat tents that protect the burners from dripping liquids. Unlike conventional grills, which use direct flame to cook, the SmartChef grill uses Char-Broil’s TRU-Infrared technology. In a nutshell, the burners heat the stainless steel emitters, which then use radiant heat to cook your food evenly and without flare-ups. According to Char-Broil, TRU-Infrared cooking locks in 50 percent more juices and uses less fuel than traditional direct flame grills, and provides uniform heat throughout the chamber. This three-burner model provides 25,500 BTUs of heat to the main cooking chamber and 13,000 BTUs of heat to the side burner.
The controls are positioned along the front edge of the grill. On the far left is the same Start/Stop button and light ring used on Char-Broil’s Digital Electric Smoker. The ring lights green when the grill is ready, orange during cooking, cleaning, and pre-heat cycles, and red when there’s an error. To the right are a tank indicator that glows red when you’re running low on gas, a DADO Wi-Fi indicator, an On/Off button, and two probe ports that allow you to cook two different kinds of meat using different target temperatures (the grill comes with one probe but you can buy a second for around $8).
In the center of the grill is a small ignition switch and three black-and-chrome main burner control knobs that glow red when they are turned on. Off to the right is a separate side burner control knob that is identical to the main burner knobs. Below the main chamber, behind two side-by-side doors, is a storage cabinet that houses the propane tank, regulator, and electronic circuitry, and there’s a three-prong power cord that juts out from a hole around back. Four heavy duty casters make moving the grill effortless.
The Char-Broil SmartChef app (for Android and iOS) opens to a dashboard screen that tells you if the grill is online or offline (you must manually press the On/Off button on the grill to bring it online). Once online you can press one of the four Add icons to begin a cooking cycle. You can choose Step-by-Step (Guided Cook), Timer, or Probe depending on how you want to cook, and you can have different cycles for each type of food on the grill. For example, I used Guided Cook for a steak, a Timer for some hamburgers, and a Probe for a pork shoulder.
There are three dots on the right side of the screen that represent each burner; when they are red they are turned on and when they are white they are off. Once you’ve started a cooking cycle, the current and target temperatures are displayed at the top of the screen and the status of each cycle is displayed below. You can tap any cycle to change cooking parameters or delete the cycle. While it’s nice to be able to monitor the grill’s temperature on the app, a digital gauge on the outside of the grill would be a welcome addition. In the upper left corner of the main screen is a Settings icon where you can edit the grill’s name and network options, update firmware, and check gas tank levels.
As with the Digital Electric Smoker, the SmartChef Grill offers Guided Cook recipes for beef, chicken, pork, and turkey, but each category only has one or two recipe options. For example, the beef category only has choices for hamburger and steak, and the pork category is limited to loin roast and tenderloin. However, you can choose the thickness (in inches) and doneness (medium rare, medium, well), and the app will walk you through each step, tell you when to flip your food, and alert you when your food is done to your specifications.
You can also use a probe to measure your food’s internal temperature; when it hits your target temperature, the app will tell you that your food is done. The Timer allows you to set a specific cooking time, or you can just wing it and cook manually like you would with a traditional grill. Other alerts include flame-out (when a burner stops firing unexpectedly), grill status (online, offline), and cool down (when the grill is cool enough to cover without damaging the cover).
Installation and Performance
Thanks to detailed instructions and clearly labeled parts, nuts, bolts, and electronics, the SmartChef grill isn’t difficult to assemble. However, it is time-consuming, so plan on spending the better part of a day putting everything together. I spent close to six hours assembling mine, and I’m no rookie when it comes to grills.
Once everything was in place and all the nuts and bolts were tightened, it was time to connect the grill to my home Wi-Fi. I downloaded the app, created an account, plugged in the grill, and followed the app’s instructions, which had me first connect to the grill’s SSID and then to my home Wi-Fi. Once connected, I proceeded to season the grill. I removed the cast iron grates and sprayed Canola oil on both sides of the steel emitters. I replaced the emitters, set each burner to medium, and let the grill burn off the oil for approximately 15 minutes.
The SmartChef grill did an awesome job of cooking and keeping me informed of what was going on via the mobile app. Cooking without an open flame took a little getting used to, but once I did it was a pleasure to grill up chicken wings and thighs without worrying about a three-alarm fire breaking out. I grilled up a couple of 1-inch-thick ribeye steaks using the Guided Cook recipe and followed the instructions to preheat the grill to 525 degrees. The app told me when to add the food, when to flip it, and when it was done. And, it was done to perfection, right down to the restaurant-worthy grill marks. I also cooked up a bunch hamburgers and hotdogs, and they were perfect. The general consensus among the family was that the steak and hamburgers were noticeably juicier when cooked on the SmartChef grill compared with our traditional Weber gas grill, and for once, I didn’t burn the dogs.
It should be noted that after a long weekend of grilling, there was a fair amount of grease buildup in the emitters that required a good cleaning. It’s a good idea to let the grill run for 5-10 minutes after you’ve finished cooking in order to burn off excess grease, then use the included cleaning tool to remove caked-on debris. You may want to invest in a good grill brush (or a Grillbot) to help keep everything clean and ready for your next grilling session.
Truth be told, cooking on the Char-Broil SmartChef TRU-Infrared 3-Burner Gas Grill took some getting used to, mostly because I’ve been using charcoal and traditional gas grills for as long as I can remember, and partly because I couldn’t see an actual flame. That said, I was pleasantly surprised with the results; meats were juicy and cooked perfectly, and I didn’t experience a single flare-up while grilling a boatload of wings. Notifications worked wonderfully, and the app did a fine job of monitoring what was going on inside the chamber and even let me know when the grill was cool enough to cover after I was done cooking. The SmartChef’s $800 price may be off-putting to budget-conscious grillmeisters, and Char-Broil’s recipe database could certainly use an overhaul, but the grill’s cooking performance and overall user experience are top-shelf and earn it our Editors’ Choice award.