The rites of cooking with fire are deeply ingrained: Preheat the grill, throw on the steaks, open a beer—then hover and poke the meat until it seems like it’s done. Two smart grills are promised to upend this hallowed routine by keeping track of your grilling while you relax.

To find out whether they live up to the claims, Consumer Reports pitted the Char-Broil SmartChef, $800, against the Weber Genesis II LX S-340, $1,400 (including the Bluetooth iGrill3 temperature probe, purchased separately for $100).

Both grills use probes that you program to ping a smartphone app at a predetermined internal temperature—for the SmartChef, the probe is built in; for the Weber, you’ll have to buy the iGrill3 separately and install it in your Genesis II grill. (The iGrill works with any Weber Genesis II grill.) You also get real-time temperature alerts, links to recipes, and readings of your propane level. The SmartChef has the added capability of automatically adjusting the burners to control the heat. 

So did one grill outsmart the other? Read on for the results of our head-to-head tests.

Setup

Char-Broil SmartChef
The SmartChef takes some time to get up and running. For starters, you’ll need to put it in a spot near your wireless router to ensure a strong signal. You also have to plug it into an outlet to make use of all its functionality. It communicates with your smartphone via WiFi. The app is free.

Weber Genesis II With iGrill3
The iGrill3 attachment installs in about 15 minutes on any Weber Genesis II grill, taking the place of either a plastic faceplate or a built-in propane gauge on the front of the grill. Once the attachment is installed, you’ll need to download the app, which communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth at distances of up to 150 feet. No outlet or router is required.

Smart Cooking

Char-Broil SmartChef
Char-Broil’s app is intuitive and filled with cooking instructions you can use to program the grill, so it can do the cooking automatically. After selecting control mode in the app, choose the food you’re grilling and the desired level of doneness, and insert the probe. The grill preheats, regulates its burner temperatures, and alerts you when the food is ready.

CR’s tests found the SmartChef’s built-in probe to be accurate—we tested it alongside a calibrated thermometer and found only a negligible difference—and the results were right in line with what a seasoned griller would expect. Its biggest drawback may be that it relies on Department of Agriculture recommendations for doneness, so entering “medium-rare” for steak causes the grill to cook it through to 145° F—too done for a user expecting to cut into a steak that’s bright pink inside.

You can avoid that and cook to your preferred level of doneness by using the SmartChef’s manual cook mode, but without the ability to have the grill automatically adjust burners and heat flow. At that point it’s not doing too much that you couldn’t do with a regular digital thermometer. (Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart.")

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Weber Genesis II With iGrill3
The Genesis II equipped with iGrill3 is a less automated cooking experience. As with the SmartChef, you use Weber’s app to select food and a level of doneness before inserting one of the two probes, but you preheat and monitor the grill the old-fashioned way—by turning knobs. Unlike the Char-Broil app, Weber has programmed levels of doneness for meats that differ from USDA recommendations.

Opting to cook a steak to medium-rare causes the app to default to a recommended internal temperature of 130° F—a boon for lovers of meat cooked on the rarer side, though potentially off-putting for some users, who’ll be forced to return their steaks to the grill for a few more minutes. The app chimes when meat is 10° shy of its target, so you can get back out there, and again when it’s finished.

You can override the programmed temperature settings in a separate app menu, but as with the SmartChef, once you do, the iGrill3 isn’t doing much for you that a good digital thermometer wouldn’t.

Grilling Performance

Char-Broil SmartChef
The SmartChef is a solid performer that heats evenly at a broad range of cooking temperatures, though it’s a bit uneven immediately after preheating—the time you’re most likely to place food on the grates. It shines during indirect cooking—the kind you’d employ for beer-can chicken or slow-cooked ribs. With a 360-square-inch grilling surface, it has about 25 percent less usable space than the Weber.

Weber Genesis II with iGrill3
The Weber Genesis II LX S-340 ranks near the very top of our midsized grills for a reason. It heats quickly and dishes that heat out very evenly. In real-world cooking, that means similar foods cooked side by side will be evenly browned and done at the same time. It also cooks well at a broad range of temperatures, making it well-suited for everything from searing a steak to slow-roasting a turkey breast.

The Verdict

Both grills deliver on their key promises and inject some nice new features into a category where products have a difficult time differentiating themselves. We think the SmartChef wins for the versatility of the technology itself—a grill that automatically adjusts its own burners is undeniably cool. But the Weber wins by a narrow margin for cooking performance, which is arguably more important.

In the end, both models really raise the question of whether it’s worth paying extra for these technologies. The Nexgrill 720-0830H, $270, cooks as well as either smart grill, and when paired with the Oregon Scientific Wireless Thermometer, $40, it lets you achieve the same results with a bit more effort for hundreds of dollars less.