Weber's reputation for building durable, practical outdoor grills goes back decades. Now the company wants you to think smart, too, when you think Weber. To that end, the $850 Weber Genesis II E-310 has lots of what you expect from a Weber BBQ, plus a side of app connectivity.
To enable the smarts on this already expensive propane cooker you'll need to shell out an extra $100 for Weber's iGrill 3 accessory. It's actually a fairly useful add-on, but it's not included in the core product. Due to three powerful burners and sensitive heat controls, mastering your grilling technique on this hot-rod cooker also takes practice.
All this makes the Genesis II suited to more experienced grill enthusiasts with the patience to master this high-end unit. If smarts in a more forgiving high-end grill is what you want, the $800 Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared is slightly cheaper and easier to use.
Built like a Weber
I appreciate how sturdy and solid the Genesis II feels. Its lid and pair of side tables are built from heavy steel. Both the grill's cast iron grates and lid are enameled in porcelain too. My only complaint, a minor one, is Weber's choice to use some plastic in the E-310's construction. The ends of the grill's side tables are wrapped in gray plastic bumpers that cheapens its appearance. The same goes for the plastic trim on the lid. Still, the lid does have a large built-in thermometer, a Weber standard feature the Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared lacks.
This gas burner's a real hot rod
The Genesis II relies on what Weber calls the "GS4 High Performance Grilling System," which involves three propane burners each rated at a robust 37,500 BTU. That's plenty of heating power to have at your disposal. The Char-Broil SmartChef, by comparison, has three gas burners as well, but they provide less oomph at just 25,000 BTU apiece. You do get a small side burner with Char-Broil's SmartChef grill, a feature Weber includes on various grills across its product lines, but not on this one.
Both grills differ in the way they cook your food. The Genesis II uses wedge-shaped bars to cover and protect its burners from grease and drippings. The bars also act as deflectors to spread heat evenly across the grilling surface above as well. All three burners are lit by the same ignition module and its corresponding igniter button. You have to supply it with AA disposable batteries, as you do with most other propane grills. Each of the burners have their own weather-resistant electrodes, however, to improve reliability. Weber refers to the design as "Infinity Ignition."
The SmartChef protects its burners with similar protective bars, though it calls them "heat tents." Char-Broil also introduces a second part in the mix, a thin steel plate just below its grates and above the burners. A component in Char-Broil's "Tru-Infrared" grilling system, the plate is designed to absorb the heat from the burners, and use it to mimic the radiant heat you get from charcoal. The different cooking methods likely explain the results of my cooking tests, too. I'll get to that soon.
One huge advantage of Weber's Genesis II grill design is it's a snap to clean. It has large parts, and only a few of them. They're also spaced out well so pulling the machine apart for maintenance is easy. Weber also built an elegant grease management system at the heart of the cooker. Any juices and drippings that make it past the burners are funneled towards a waiting disposable drip tray for collection.
Smarts that target cooking
The Weber Genesis II E-310 is among just a few backyard grills that support smart technology. Weber didn't create this tech on its own -- it acquired the iGrill brand from iDevices, a line of Bluetooth, app-connected thermometers, including the $50 iGrill Mini.
The latest product to join the iGrill line postacquisition is the $100 iGrill 3, and it works as an add-on to Weber's Genesis II and Genesis II LX grills that fits into a physical socket on the front of those units. Weber pushes the iGrill 3 as an upgrade meant for its Genesis II grills alone but aside from the tailored receptacle, it will work fine with any brand of grill, it just won't have a dedicated slot to mount it securely.
All of the various iGrill models link to the Weber mobile app, which lets you monitor the Genesis II wirelessly from a distance of 30 feet. The scope of the app is narrow compared to Char-Broil's SmartChef application. SmartChef tackles lots of things besides food. It tracks propane levels, burner status and even tells you if the grill is cool enough to cover. Weber's app just sticks to measuring temperatures of meat, fish and poultry as you cook.
Regardless I prefer Weber's targeted approach and the iGrill software overall. The app is intuitive, cleanly organized and uncluttered. Barbecue enthusiasts will enjoy the handy graph that extrapolates when your meal will be done based on current conditions. My favorite feature is how the software pings you when you're 10 degrees out from your probe's target temp. It then pings you each time the thermometer rises by 1 degree until your food is done.
The application's connection to its probes was continuous and always ready to display temperatures in real time. By contrast the Char-Broil SmartChef app usually lost temperature probe data if I closed it or simply opened another application on my phone (a Google Pixel XL). Another advantage the iGrill app has over SmartChef is a simple wizard to setup probes to actively monitor your food while it cooks. For example, you can select the food type (chicken, burgers, steak and so on) and iGrill knows what target temperature you need to hit. You can also choose the level of doneness you'd like and the app adapts accordingly.
This is a big catch though. To add smarts to the Genesis II you'll need to purchase the iGrill 3 accessory separately, a $100 upgrade. All of the Char-Broil SmartChef grill's technology comes built-in. Still, especially if you're a new to grilling or you simply like to cook with precision, the iGrill 3 is a worthwhile addition to this or any other grill, since it makes cooking tricky items such as poultry and big cuts of steak safer and easier.
A BBQ you must master
Grilling on the Weber Genesis II takes practice. I learned that while its burners are mighty, they also offer a wide temperature range which can be unforgiving if you're not careful. For example, when I turned the Genesis II's burner dials all the way up, after 10 minutes the temperature under the hood easily cracked 600 degrees (633.7 in fact). That same high setting and preheat time on the Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared yielded an internal temp of 457.4 degrees. Likewise, medium power on the Genesis, especially cooking with indirect heat, was much cooler than I expected. This resulted in unacceptably long cooking times even when all its burner knob markings were parked dead center of its dial.
To measure how grills perform under high heat conditions, I subjected them to our burger test. This exercise shows how much raw power a grill can bring to the table. I ran three such tests of six 5.3-ounce burgers each pressed from the same hamburger press. I flipped all of the burners on high and gave the grill 10 minutes to preheat.
After that I arranged the patties on the grill in a rectangular pattern (two patties high, three across) with 1.5 to 2 inches spacing between them. I inserted one of the iGrill probes into the center, front patty. I closed the hood, and gave the burgers a flip after 6 minutes. With the lid closed again, I recorded how long it took the internal burger temp to hit 145 degrees. The Genesis II took 10 minutes and 10 seconds for its burgers to finish, just 5 seconds faster than the Char-Broil SmartChef Tru-Infrared.
The Genesis II produced patties with a decent crust but considerable char too. Searing for too long or at too high heat levels gives food burnt charcoal flavors I'd rather do without. Unfortunately the insides of these burgers were also on the dry side. By contrast I found the burgers from the Char-Broil grill juicier, and with more flavor.
The Genesis II turned in mixed results on our beer can chicken test, designed to assess how well a grill operates at medium heat. I again used one of the grill's probes to tell me when the internal temperature reached 165 degrees. I also set the left and right burners to the midway mark as indicated by on their dials. Since indirect heat is the goal here, I left the center burner off.
Usually a 5 to 6 pound bird takes anywhere from 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours to finish cooking. Unfortunately the Genesis failed this first attempt, requiring almost 4 hours for its probe to hit the magic number. The temperature inside the grill box hovered at around 250 degrees with the left and right burner dials at the medium setting. It also took a long 55 minutes to reach this temp. After seeing the test through to the end (when the probes hit the temp), the chicken was inedible. Its skin was as leathery as a football and the flesh inside was watery, mushy and thoroughly unappetizing.
For the second test, I bumped up the dials a tiny fraction above their midpoint, and the temperature inside the grill rocketed up to 460 degrees in 30 minutes where it stayed. The bird hit 165 in a quick 1 hour 14 minutes. Its skin was nicely roasted and crisp too. The dark meat was especially tender and moist. White meat from the breast was slightly dry, however, and overcooked.
I used a rack of pork ribs for our low temperature test. For this test I started all three of the grill's burners and left them running full blast for 10 minutes (lid closed). In the meantime, I seasoned one rack of St. Louis-style pork spareribs (3.6 pounds) with ordinary dry rub mix sourced from the local supermarket.
I draped the ribs across the Genesis II's metal warming tray that sits above the grill grates. Finally I dialed all three burner knobs down to their lowest setting and closed the lid. I cooked two racks this way; the first I ran for 3 hours, the second for 3 hours 30 minutes. On both the CharBroil SmartChef and Weber Genesis II, the ribs were too thin to shield their probes from ambient hot air under the lid. As a result I fell back to cooking by time instead of hitting a target thermometer reading. Both grills turned in slightly underdone ribs after a 3-hour cook, so I bumped the time up another 30 minutes for round two.
Similar to how this Weber grill treated burgers, the Genesis II pumped out more heat than was necessary. On both the 3 hour and the 3 hour 30 minute runs, the ribs were good but too crisp and dry for my taste. The solution lies with some different combination of cooking time and temperature, but within the confines of the time allotted for this review, I had to stop there. The takeaway is that you can expect some trial and error before you find the path to delicious ribs from this Weber.
In contrast, the Char-Broil SmartChef over the same time period came out much better. Same prepackaged ribs from Costco, same dry rub seasoning. Especially at the longer cook time, the CharBroil ribs were dripping with moisture and succulent. Yum.
A finicky grill that's not for everyone
Weber is one of the most popular grill brands in the US. That's why I'm surprised by the unpredictable behavior the $850 Weber Genesis II E-310 demonstrated on our tests. This isn't to say this is a bad product, it's simply that you'll likely need to learn its quirks before you achieve the best grilling results.
For that reason, splurging on the Genesis II's $100 iGrill 3 smart accessory could make sense. It will certainly take the guesswork out of learning its temperature settings. Still, $950 all-in is a heck of a lot of cash to spend on a grill, especially for the more casual outdoor cook.