Weber Genesis II E-310 review: The smarts on this powerful Weber grill are worth it

The Char-Broil SmartChef (left) and Weber Genesis II (right) do BBQ battle.

Brian Bennett/CNET

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. 

Burgers the Genesis II cooked were seared well but a little dry.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Burgers

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. 

Chicken

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.

Our first attempt to BBQ chicken with the Weber was a disaster.

Brian Bennett/CNET

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.

Ribs

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.

Ribs the Weber Genesis II cooked (bottom)  were dry compared to results from the Char-Broil (top).

Brian Bennett/CNET

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.