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Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared review: Char-Broil’s SmartChef grill has tech that's no real help

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The Good Char-Broil’s grill makes food that's consistently tasty and juicy. It comes with temperature probes and works with a mobile app to tell you when food is ready.

The Bad It makes a lot of smoke when it cooks. It's harder to clean than other outdoor grills. Its mobile app loses track of temperature reading when closed.

The Bottom Line The Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared cooks food well and has connected tech included, but it's expensive and its smarts aren't that useful.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7.5
  • Usability 6.8
  • Performance 7.8

Many pitmasters swear cooking with charcoal is the only way to create true barbecue flavor, but Char-Broil's propane-powered $800 SmartChef Tru-Infrared claims it can mimic that radiant heat deliciousness. Char-Broil is also one of the first mainstream propane grill vendors to sell a product with connected cooking features built right in. 

While the propane-powered SmartChef Tru-Infrared does serve up delicious food and high-tech grilling, it's still relatively expensive. Char-Broil sells an almost identical grill without smarts for $400. You can also duplicate most of this grill's connected features with a simple timer or stopwatch. Unless you have tons of cash to burn, your money's better spent on a similar grill without all the technology.

Gas that cooks like charcoal

On the surface the Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared looks like a typical propane grill. A peek under its hood, though, reveals that it's far from ordinary. The barbecue offers three main burners, all of them 25,000 BTU, which is low powered considering the burners on most grills start at 30,000. Weber's ultra high-end Summit line (starts at $2,149) sports burners rated at a blazing 48,800 BTU. 

The SmartChef's burners are tucked underneath each of its porcelain-enameled cast iron grates. You adjust them via a standard set of dials on the front of the grill. No surprises here.

You get three main burners on the SmartChef.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Under the grates, you'll find a main component in Char-Broil's "Tru-Infrared" grilling system. This thin metallic plate covers the entire grill surface and is designed to diffuse heat evenly across it. The plate is crinkled with ridges too, to catch any grease or drippings from the food and grates above. Most gas grills ship with cast iron grates, though you can buy similar add-on products for about $45 from companies like GrillGrates depending on the size of your grill. 

Below the plate are wedge-shaped metal bars that sit above each of the grill's three burners, Char-Broil calls them "heat tents". They're meant to focus and channel heat from the burners as well as protect them from falling debris.

Char-Broil says the entire setup mimics the intense and uniform radiant heat supplied by a bed of burning charcoal. These high temperatures stay close to the grates too, so theoretically meat stays juicy and doesn't dry out from the hot air that swirls under the hood and wicks away moisture in a standard design. Of course one distinct characteristic of charcoal you can't replicate with metal parts is the smokey flavor it imparts to food above it. 

Under the SmartChef's grates are its infrared emitters, steel plates absorb heat and radiate it to food above. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

To the right of the main cooktop is an auxiliary side burner (13,000 BTU) that lives within the grill's right side table (there's another non-heated work table on the left). The small burner is meant to tackle secondary cooking tasks like melting butter and simmering sauce.  

The Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared grill looks rather stylish.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Be advised, you'll need to plug the SmartChef into an AC outlet. The electrical hookup mainly powers the grill's smart components such as its Wi-Fi radio and internal sensors. Additionally it provides juice to ignite the grill's propane burners. The arrangement beats having to swap in fresh AA batteries periodically, a chore necessary for most propane barbecues. The tradeoff is you'll have to place the grill near an outdoor AC outlet or run an extension cord to the appliance -- a potential eyesore.

Lots of assembly required

You might want to think twice If you're planning to assemble the Char-Broil SmartChef yourself. With lots of small parts and a manual that's confusing and often extremely vague, putting the grill together was a frustration-filled headache. It was certainly more of a challenge to put this appliance together than the Weber Genesis II. That cooker consists of fewer parts that fit together in a logical and orderly manner by comparison. I suggest getting lots of help and budgeting plenty of time to tackle this project. Either that or call in a pro from your local retail shop.   

Tech to grill better

In addition to the radiant heating design, what makes this grill stand out are its built-in smarts. The grill links to home Wi-Fi networks for remote monitoring through Char-Broil's SmartChef mobile app (iOS and Android). 

On the left side table is a big circular button surrounded by a bright LED light. The light shifts colors and flashes to communicate the SmartChef's status. Likewise there's a "tank indicator" whose image glows when propane levels run low. Owners of the Behmor Connected Coffee Brewer might find the interface familiar. Dado Labs, the outfit that designed the Behmor product's smarts also built the SmartChef's connected home technology.

The software even knows which burners are on or off, and whether any have gone out unexpectedly. If that's the case, the app instructs users to shut down everything (burners, gas) post haste. The app will alert you when the grill has cooled down enough to cover too, something I always forget to do.

charbroil-smartchef-app-combo

The SmartChef app tracks probe temperatures and burner status.

Brian Bennett/CNET

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