A fabulous, large BBQ, the Char-Broil Smart-E uses electricity to provide perfectly even cooking and simple temperature control. With a range of heats from 90°C to 370°C, this BBQ can do everything from slow cook to a quick sear. It cooks beautifully, retaining a succulent taste to everything put on it, and its auto clean-up mode makes life easy at the end of a cook. There’s not the same smoky taste as you get with a charcoal BBQ, and this model is quite expensive; however, if you want to BBQ more regularly and don’t want the hassle of setup and cleaning, this is a brilliant choice.
- Cooks evenly
- Easy to control
- Self cleans
- Fiddly to assemble
- Electric powerUses an electric heating element, which spreads heat evenly and maintains heat from start to finish.
- Temperature controlCan be set between 90°C and 370°C to give a huge variety of cooking methods.
Cleaner and more efficient than gas, easier to control than coals, electric BBQs make a lot of sense, but until recently there haven’t been many of them.
The Char-Broil Smart-E is the first that I’ve reviewed to give that full large BBQ experience. Easy to cook on and with a clever auto-cleaning feature, this is the easiest way to BBQ.
Design and features
- Clever design with storage
- Quite fiddly to put together
- Easy to control
Externally, it’s hard to tell the Char-Broil Smart-E apart from one of the company’s large gas BBQs. It comes in a chunky box, and needs assembly to get the main body, wheels, and BBQ unit all attached. Building can take a good hour, and it’s a little fiddly getting everything together.
There was one point where the provided screwdriver was too tall to fit in, so I swapped for a stubby one instead. It’s also fiddly attaching the power supply unit to the side of the wall, particularly as the BBQ has an EU plug on it that’s screwed into a UK adapter. That’s fine in terms of safety, but it means that the plug doesn’t fit through the cut-out in the holder, and the adapter is so large that it wouldn’t plug into my outdoor socket, and I had to use an extension cable.
Still, the Char-Broil Smart-E must only be built once, and when completed, the overall finish is pleasing. Measuring 1140 x 1210 x 545mm, this is a big BBQ designed for cooking lots of food. Size is an advantage even when cooking less, as there’s a large cupboard underneath that’s great for stashing dishes and utensils.
Two fold-out shelves mean that there’s room to keep things on while cooking, too. No more hunting around trying to work out where to put that plate of sausages for me.
With four wheels, the Char-Broil Smart-E is easy to push around when it needs to be moved out of the way for storage. Given that this model is likely to live outside, the optional Smart-E cover (£67.99) is a worthwhile investment.
Internally, there’s a heating element that runs the whole width of the internal 570 x 390mm cooking area. On top of this sit the three emitter plates, on top of which sit the three grill plates. These are similar to the ones used in the company’s portable gas grills. Made of stainless steel they’re non-stick, easy to clean and don’t have gaps for food to fall down.
An optional griddle is available, replacing one of the grills inside, and the system is compatible with the pizza stone kit, too. The Made2Match accessories, such as the smoker box, are not compatible with the BBQ, although the cast iron smoker box can be used, and wood chips can be placed directly on the grills.
Using the Char-Broil Smart-E is stupidly easy. Plug it in, press the power button, tap the dial, select your temperature (up to a massive 370°C) and then tap the dial again. The grill then heats up and plays a not-too-annoying melody when it’s ready to cook. At this point, the grill is used like any other BBQ, with plenty of space to cook.
It’s good to see the warming rack, which is handy for keeping food warm or for sticking buns on before food is served up.
- Cooks beautifully
- Fine temperature control
- Easy to clean
The beauty of the Char-Broil Smart-E is in how simple it is to get started with. There’s no messing about with gas bottles or BBQ starters, it’s just ready when you are and keeps the same heat for the entire duration of cooking.
Cooking is exceptionally even across the entire cooking surface, without the hot and cold spots that I typically get with a charcoal model.
The main thing to get used to is the temperature control, and working out how hot the BBQ needs to be. I found that I needed to up the temperature a little more than if cooking in an oven. Cooking chicken kebabs, for example, I’d cook at 180°C in an oven, but here a temperature of 220°C worked better, helping to sear the meat and crisp up the vegetables.
For finishing meat or getting a faster cook, such as for roasted pineapple, I went to 320°C; the highest temperature of 370°C is great for when the maximum temperature is required, such as when using the pizza stone.
There’s a low temperature of 90°C here, so longer cooks over a much lower heat are possible, too.
Once I was used to the grill, I found it very easy to use. My chicken kebabs came out perfectly cooked, sealing the moisture in, so the result was flavoursome and tender. With a charcoal BBQ, I’d expect to end up with some bits slightly more charred, but here the results were even from end-to-end.
My sausages were also perfectly cooked, too: brown on the outside but without charring to the marinade, which can happen on BBQs with less control over the heat output.
Part of the taste of a BBQ comes from fat and juices turning into smoke, which happens here. Food tastes different (better, even) than cooking in an oven’s grill or with a convection oven. The one thing that is missing is that smoky flavour that a charcoal grill can give.
Getting this kind of flavour can be done with smoking wood chips. The Char-Broil Smart-E doesn’t make it as easy as the Ninja Woodfire Electric BBQ Grill & Smoker OG701UK, which auto ignites its pellets. There are options, but the simplest way is to put wood chips onto the grill and have them start smoking to get the flavour you need.
I did this when cooking sausages, pineapple (for a salsa) and some hasselback potatoes. Heating the grill to 280°C got the chips to start smoking, at which point I could clearly smell them. I then cooked my potatoes, getting more of that BBQ flavour that is otherwise missing.
Normally, cleaning a BBQ is the biggest pain, but the Char-Broil Smart-E is easy to look after. Just hit the Auto Clean button and the grill runs on maximum temperature, burning all leftover food to a crisp, which can be brushed off. It works brilliantly, much like the pyrolytic cleaning mode on some ovens.
There’s also a small grease catcher underneath, which should be removed and washed after each clean.
Should you buy it?
You want excellent cooking with the minimum hassle:
Plug it in, turn it on and start cooking: this BBQ cooks beautifully and is very easy to clean up.
You’re a traditionalist and want a charcoal flavour:
There’s nothing quite like cooking over charcoal; if you want that experience, a traditional BBQ is for you.
If you wished you could BBQ more, but the hassle of setting up and cleaning up is putting you off, the Char-Broil Smart-E could well be for you. This large BBQ heats up evenly and stays hot as long as you need it, burning any remaining food off at the end with its auto clean cycle.
It’s quite big, quite expensive and a bit fiddly to put together, but the even cooking and excellent results make it a great choice for those that want quality food with minimum of hassle.
How we test
We test every BBQ we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
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Used as our main BBQ for the review period.
Cooked with a variety of food to see how well the BBQ copes with different ingredients.
Tested to see how evenly the BBQ heats.
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It goes between 90°C and 370°C.
Wood chips can be used with a cast iron smoker or added to the grill plate directly.