When the Weber SmokeFire pellet grill range was launched in early 2020 I like many other people were excited to see how the biggest name in BBQ would stack up with their pellet grills against established pellet grill brands such as Traeger, Pit Boss and Camp Chef etc. As I discuss in my article on the Weber SmokeFire pellet grills, for their mid-range price point of $1,000 to $1,200 there are many things to like. However, its also fair to say that the Gen 1 SmokeFire pellet grills had their fair share of issues. So have the Gen 2 SmokeFire pellet grills corrected the issues of its predecessor? (Yes and No)
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Weber SmokeFire Gen 1 vs Gen 2 Introduction
Going from one generation to the next of a product there are typically some pretty significant changes. For instance, I’ve previously written about the Traeger Pro Series Gen 1 vs Gen 2 and the significant differences with the inclusion of D2 Direct Drive and Traeger WiFire. Likewise, with my article on the Pit Boss Pro Series Gen 1 vs Gen 2, where the controls were upgraded with PID temperature algorithms and WiFi/Bluetooth connectivity. So what about the Weber SmokeFire Gen 1 to Gen 2, is there a significant difference between the first and second generation?
In short, no, there is not a significant difference between SmokeFire Gen 1 and Gen 2. Now, that’s not to say there have not been improvements, there have as we’ll discuss below. However, the differences are subtle and are really just corrections to the original design of the Gen 1 SmokeFire pellet grills to address some of the issues. So really, instead of Gen 2, its more like these versions are SmokeFire Gen 1.5.
Weber SmokeFire Gen 1 Issues
So to be able to appreciate the differences/improvements to the Gen 2 SmokeFire pellet grills you need to be aware of some of the issues that Gen 1 Weber SmokeFire pellet grills were prone to suffer. I’ve written about this in more detail in my original SmokeFire article, below I’ll just quickly summarise the problems.
- Firmware and Software Issues with WiFi/Weber Connect
- Bridging/hulling within the pellet hopper stopping the flow of pellet to the auger
- Pellet auger jams due to a loose grommet separator
- Grease/ash build-up leading to flare-ups/grease fires
Weber SmokeFire Gen 2 Revisions
The revisions for the second generation Weber SmokeFire pellet grills are really the same modifications/improvements that Weber has been providing to Gen 1 customers. In terms of addressing the issues with firmware/software, these have been resolved for the most part by using a new platform. Weber is a big company, therefore if you have issues with new technology, its often easier to buy an existing company that does it well and use their technology. That’s exactly what Weber did by acquiring a company called June who produce a smart oven. The JuneOS software was then modified for the Weber SmokeFire pellet grills.
To correct the issue with the pellet hopper having bridging/hulling issues with the pellets not flowing consistently into the auger Weber now include an insert into the hopper to create a steeper 33-degree slope. Just like with the firmware/software upgrade above, Weber has been providing this insert to Gen 1 SmokeFire customers. As a result, while the original Gen 1 SmokeFire pellet grills had a 22lb hopper, the Gen 2 SmokeFire pellet grills have slightly less than a 20lb pellet hopper due to the hopper insert. Not a significant loss of capacity and trading 2lbs of capacity for fewer issues with hopper bridging/hulling is the better option. A 20lb hopper is still larger than the 18lb hopper found on the Traeger Pro Series for example.
On the Gen 2 Weber SmokeFire pellet grills, the auger design has been improved and is now a single welded piece to reduce the chances of auger blockages. Again these improvements are good to see, but what about the grease/ash build up in the base of the Weber SmokeFire pellet grills potentially leading to issues? Well, Weber on the Gen 2 SmokeFire pellet grills has made no adjustments to the grease/ash collection system, so let’s discuss the implications and workaround solution to the problem.
Addressing The Grease Problem
So as discussed above, the Gen 1 Weber SmokeFire pellet grills had some niggling issues with the firmware/software, pellet hopper and the auger. However, for me, these weren’t the main issue with the SmokeFire pellet grills. My main concern and the concern of several others is the grease/ash management on the SmokeFire pellet grills. Unlike every other pellet grill on the market today, the Weber SmokeFire pellet grills have no dedicated means to keep the grease away from the pellet fire.
How The Weber SmokeFire Is Different
On other pellet grills, you either have a solid grease tray (like a Traeger), or a grease tray that can be opened or closed (like a Pit Boss, Camp Chef), when open flames from the pellet fire below can reach the cooking grate. The design of the Weber SmokeFire is not like either of these designs, and I get that Weber wanted to come to the market with ‘something new’. However, there are reasons that other pellet grill manufacturers follow those grease tray designs, they want to reduce the chance of a grease fire.
The internal design of the combustion chamber/heat deflectors on the Weber SmokeFire is very much like their gas/propane grills. They fit their ‘flavorizer bars’ above the source of heat/fire to do two jobs. First to deflect the flames below to create more even heat across the cooking grate. Second, the flavorizer bars vapourize fat and juices that help to provide a better flavour to the food. The excess grease then falls into the base of the cooking chamber and is collected via channels into a grease tray/draw underneath the cooking chamber. It’s a good design for a gas/propane grill and for many casual/infrequent users of the SmokeFire pellet grills it should also be fine with sufficient cleaning. However, owners who frequently slow cook fatty meats, this is where the problems come in.
On the propane Weber grills no ash is created during combustion, however when pellets burn you do get ash, typically 0.5 to 1% of the weight of pellets will end up as ash. On the SmokeFire it has gaps in the base of the burn pot where much of the ash will fall into the draw below where its supposed to go. However, pellet grills feature fans, the fan is vital to the combustion process and to help provide more even heat/smoke circulation around the cooking chamber. Well, the fan is going to blow some of that ash out of the burn pot and into the base of the pellet grill. Now, on the Weber SmokeFire, the base of the pellet grill is where the grease is collected, I’m sure you can see where this is going…
So what can happen is the grease can end up mixing with the ash. Eventually, without sufficient cleaning, the grease drain holes in the base of the SmokeFire can become blocked. Hence, grease cannot drain out of the grill, builds up in the base of the grill and can potentially lead to a grease fire. Now, a grease fire on a pellet grill is different to a grease fire on a gas grill. On a gas grill, you turn off the supply of gas and the gas flame will stop and the grease fire should die down pretty quickly. Well on a pellet grill you cannot stop the fire as quickly as that. Even once the auger has stopped there will still be a volume of pellets in the burn pot that will keep burning, for potentially 10-20 minutes. Hence, on a pellet grill, you want to avoid the chance of a grease fire as much as possible.
The Solution To Avoiding A Grease Fire
As the grease/ash collection system on the Weber SmokeFire Gen 2 is exactly the same as the Gen 1 what’s the solution? Now, I know some have said in response to the issue, ‘people should just clean their grill properly?!’. Trust me, I’m all about proper pellet grill cleaning as I’ve discussed in my article on when to clean a pellet grill, however…
Its true more frequent cleaning of the grease/ash out of the bottom of the Weber SmokeFire would resolve the problem, for the most part. Though you have to remember, that other pellet grills don’t suffer from this issue to the same degree as they have the means to keep the grease away from the flames of the pellet fire (a grease tray). Hence, people have been picking up a Weber SmokeFire after owning a Traeger, Pit Boss etc, cleaning at the same frequency and experiencing grease fires which they never had previously.
So you may be thinking, Weber surely is aware of the problem? So why have they not changed the design of the Gen 2 Weber SmokeFire pellet grills to address the problem?! Well, there are benefits to the current design for high temp grilling, so I can see why Weber is reluctant to change the design. However, they are definitely aware of the problem as they originally discussed in their ‘Tips & Tricks’ for low and slow on the Gen 1 Weber SmokeFire.
Now when Weber released the video above shortly after the launch of the Weber SmokeFire, many people into pellet grills/smokers such as my self who had been monitoring the development of the SmokeFire raised an eyebrow. Weber in their promotional material stated the SmokeFire was not like other pellet grills, there was no need for ‘messy grease trays’. So for Weber to then state the solution to the grease build-up problem within the SmokeFire was…. grease trays?! Well, Weber is sticking to this solution, and they now promote the ‘Wet Smoke Kit’ for the SmokeFire pellet grills.
Now I’m all for using water pan’s to stop meat drying out as I discuss in my article on do pellet grills dry out meat? However, the ‘Wet Smoke Kit’ as promoted by Weber is simply a galvanized steel support to hold a grease tray as apposed to placing the grease tray horizontally across the flavorizer bars as shown in the video above. Hence, its the same recommend solution as before, just don’t call it a grease tray.
Conclusions On The Weber SmokeFire Gen 2
Ok, so I know my comments above may sound like I’m bashing Weber a bit about this grease tray situation, so let me just summarize my thoughts about the SmokeFire Gen 2 overall. I’m happy to see that Weber has addressed the firmware/software issues along with the problems with the auger/hopper for the most part. I also think as a pellet grill, for the money the Weber SmokeFire models are excellent in terms of their quality of components/features and performance.
It’s just as a pellet smoker I think Weber needs to be more upfront about the fact that either grease trays (Wet Smoke Kit) should be used or the internals of the SmokeFire need to be cleaned more frequently, and I mean more frequently than pellet grills with you know, a grease tray fitted. Hence, I also don’t think Weber should be supplying the Wet Smoke Kit as an optional extra. In my opinion, it should be included with every SmokeFire unit with the instructions making its explicitly clear when and why it should be used.
That’s it! I hope you found my summary above of the differences/improvements between the Weber SmokeFire Gen 1 and Gen 2 interesting/useful. I have a Weber FAQ page if you would like to know more and also check out my Wood Pellet Grill Smoker Guide to review all your options. 🙂