The Spirit II is similar to the $850 Weber Genesis II E-310. The Genesis II has a slightly larger cooking area, four wheels (compared to the Spirit II's two) and 37,500 total BTUs (compared to the Spirit II's 30,000 BTUs), but they are comparable in terms of performance, design, features and overall ease of use.
Gratefully, it was easy to install. At 114 pounds, it's one of the lightest grills we tested. Even so, it was easier to put together with help from someone else. It took my colleague, Molly Price, and I just over an hour to finish building the Spirit II.
Now let's get to the good stuff. In terms of grill testing, I cooked ribs on low heat, whole chickens on medium indirect heat, and a bunch of burgers on high. We chose ribs, chickens and burgers specifically to see how each grill handled different temperatures.
For the ribs, I put a dry rub on a rack of pork ribs and let them cook on the warming rack on low heat. I used a probe to check the temperature after 3 hours and they were hovering close to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA suggests pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees to be safe to eat.
After giving the ribs 10 minutes to rest, we gave 'em a try. They were tender and pretty juicy, but not falling off the bone. Next time I'd try cooking them on indirect low heat on the main rack to see if they'd be even more tender.
I also grilled three whole chickens (in three consecutive tests) on medium indirect heat using the same rub from the ribs test. For these tests, I turned on burners 1 and 3 and left burner 2 in the middle of the grill off, per the user manual's suggestion. I placed each chicken on a small piece of foil in the center of the grill, directly over burner two (which, again, was turned off).
With help from two temperature probes connected to a datalogger, I was able to track the time it took for each chicken to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Like pork, the USDA has recommendations on food-safe cooking temps for chicken.
Across the three chicken tests, they averaged 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach 165 degrees. That isn't a very long wait, but it's significantly longer than the Char-Broil Performance XL, which only took 1 hour and 11 minutes. My chicken was tender and somewhat juicy with somewhat crispy skin -- I even took some home for leftovers. But the speedy Performance XL blew it away with deliciously tender whole grilled chickens.
I cooked 36 5.3-ounce burgers in the name of grill testing -- six consecutive tests of six burgers each on high heat. Each time, I stuck a temperature probe in the middle of each burger and used a datalogger to see how long it took them all to reach 145 degrees. (Read more about the USDA's recommendations for cooking beef.)
The first three tests were a bust. Our testing process involves flipping the burgers six minutes into grilling, and that's hard with a temperature probe stuck inside each one. Grease from the burgers dripped inside the grill, causing sometimes-large flare-ups that caught me off guard. One of those times I dropped a burger, rendering the test invalid. The other two times, one of the burger probes fell out midflip amid flare-ups. Again, I'm pretty sure the Flavorizer Bars didn't provide much of an assist here. And if they did, I don't want to think about its flare-ups without them.
Tests 4, 5 and 6 went much better. My burgers were consistent across those tests and took between 15 and 17 minutes for every burger to reach 145 degrees. Since we measured each burger's temp, I could also see how long it took each burger to finish to determine if there were any obvious hot or cold spots in the grill. Fortunately, there weren't; each burger took between 12 and 14 minutes (on average) to get to temperature.
Since we had to wait until every burger got to 145 degrees, many of them were more on the well-done side by the time each test ended. Even so, they had a nice char on the outside and were pretty tasty. That was generally the case across all of our grills, except for the Char-Broil Commercial Double Header. It didn't have as much of a char on the outside, but those burgers were closer to the medium doneness we were trying to achieve.
Should you buy it?
I like the $599 Weber Spirit II. The thing is, most people will find more value in the $299 Char-Broil Performance XL. The Performance XL has more burners (including a side burner), it cooked more delicious food faster, and it costs a lot less.
Some of the niche features, like the Spirit II's propane scale and its optional integration with the iGrill 3 smart temperature probe are really nice extras. Ultimately, though, they aren't worth spending three hundred dollars more ($400 more if you also buy the $100 iGrill 3). For most people, at least.
Still, it's a pretty grill that stands out from all of the regular stainless steel cookers. But I wouldn't get one unless you're especially keen on its propane scale and optional temperature probe -- and nice range of color finishes to choose from.