If you're more enthusiastic about the social side of having a BBQ and less concerned about the aesthetics and tradition of coal or gas, the electric Char-Broil SMART-E BBQ may be the answer to your prayers. Promising a new electric BBQ experience, the SMART-E guarantees maximum heat, precise temperature, and even self-cleaning so you can enjoy your BBQ grill without any of the faff.
With a traditional charcoal BBQ, you have to light the coal, likely guess the temperature and you will definitely have to get grubby cleaning off the remnants of your last BBQ party. And while a gas grill offers more precision, you still need to buy and lug around a gas bottle at extra cost. Finding its gap in the market, this electric grill from renowned BBQ brand Char-Broil is all about making the art of barbecuing easy yet effective with its technological innovations.
But how does it perform under test? Our writer Stuart put the Char-Broil SMART-E through its paces.
Char-Broil SMART-E BBQ overview
- High quality
- So many cooking options and functions
- Seamless cooking experience
- Easy to clean
- Fiddly assembly
- Not for beginners
Yes, this is an electric BBQ so before I get into the full review let's cover off the first question that came into your head. Can an electric BBQ still make food taste like it's been BBQed? Short answer - yes! Slightly longer answer – most of the flavour in BBQed food comes from the fats burning and creating smoke and not from the coals, wood or gas. The SMART-E generates plenty of smoke and sometimes even a few flames... in my opinion plenty of flavour. I have been testing the SMART-E for three months and I think the flavour and smokiness of the food are improving as the grill gets increasingly seasoned.
Testing the Char-Broil Smart-E BBQ
The SMART-E arrived on a wooden palette, well packaged in a large single box. We chose to build the BBQ indoors as the British weather wasn’t so great. I had my son helping me and the build took around an hour with a few mistakes along the way. I’d probably add around 30 minutes onto the build time if you’re building alone but I'd recommend having someone to help you as it will be a whole lot easier.
The trickiest parts of the build were getting the side panels aligned onto the base and plumbing the electrics into the right place which took a couple of attempts. There is online help on the Char-Broil site if you are struggling with the manual.
Once built the SMART-E looks impressive in shiny black with red logos and that oh-so-cool LED display. The whole BBQ is solid and robust in design but good-looking too.
The plug on the power lead is a US design so you have to use a supplied adaptor that certainly seems fit for the purpose but might not actually fit your wall socket or extension lead – I was going to use an outdoor extension but unfortunately due to the adaptor being too big, it’s doesn’t fit. I’m currently rolling out an extension lead while I come up with a new plan.
The SMART-E also comes equipped with a large internal cupboard and two fold-out shelves. Lockable wheels make relocation easy, and I recommend the SMART-E cover to protect the BBQ from outdoor elements.
The Char-Broil SMART-E BBQ offers straightforward temperature controls. You can easily adjust the heat from 90°C up to 370°C, making it versatile for both slow and fast cooking. To turn on the grill, press the silver button and the grill heats up to a pre-set 260°C and you can simply adjust up or down from there with a turn of the dial. When the desired temperature is reached the SMART-E signals it's ready with a series of beeps. There’s no guesswork with this electric BBQ.
One of the BBQ’s standout features is the auto-clean mode. Instead of the tedious cleanup many BBQ users are used to, with the SMART-E, you just push a button. The BBQ then goes into maximum heat mode and burns off any leftover food, literally turning everything left on the grill to smoke and dust. Once cooled you simply open the BBQ and brush anything that is left over away.
The BBQ comes with a sizeable storage cupboard under the grill, this is where the cable is stored when not in use, I also store my BBQ tools and the cleaning brush in there. The foldable shelves are plenty big enough for placing any ingredients on, helping to keep things organised and reducing any back and forth to the kitchen.
I would certainly suggest getting the custom SMART-E cover to keep your BBQ protected from the elements - the cover fits snugly and is secured with Velcro straps. This is after all an electric BBQ so you don’t want any moisture getting into the controls or inner workings. With that in mind, cooking in the rain is a no-no as far as I’m concerned for the SMART-E but assuming your cable is well-protected, cooking under an awning would be fine. We did that on one occasion as the British weather did it’s best to ruin the mood.
One of the standout features of the Char-Broil SMART-E BBQ is its even cooking across its entire surface. There aren’t the hot and cold spots you might find with traditional charcoal grills. This consistent heat means food cooks uniformly helping you get all the food to the table at once and at the right temperature.
The temperature control is precise, but it took a few BBQ sessions for me to work out the temperature that was right for how I like to cook - 230°C in my case. When you’re cooking it’s best to keep the lid shut to keep the heat in just opening it to turn the food or season, and if you find that you need more or less heat you just need to give the dial a quick turn to adjust the cooking temperature.
I have found that the SMART-E cooks quicker than I expected, but there haven’t yet been any complaints from my family with regard to the quality of the food being served. Burgers, sausages, and chicken have all been perfectly seared and juicy and full of flavour. I actually think the flavour is improving the more often we use the BBQ.
The BBQ excels in consistent and controlled cooking but if you’re after any additional smoky or woody flavour you can place wood chips directly on the grill. This introduces a smoky aroma to the food, but it's an added step and there’s plenty of flavour created by the smoke generated from the fat dripping off the cooking food. I certainly don’t think it would be possible to tell the difference between a SMART-E cooked burger and a gas-grilled one.
Priced between £679 and £789 depending on where you shop the SMART-E is certainly an investment in outdoor cooking and falls into the higher end of the spectrum for full-sized grills. It's clear that a lot of this cost can be attributed to the innovative electric functionality, temperature control capabilities, and convenience features such as the auto clean mode. You should also factor in the extra cost of the optional (I say essential) SMART-E cover, priced at £67.99 given the BBQ's likelihood of staying outdoors.
Overall verdict: Is the Char-Broil Smart-E BBQ worth it?
The Char-Broil SMART-E BBQ is an impressive testament to electric grilling technology. Striking a balance between convenience and performance, this BBQ showcases its capabilities with even cooking, reliable temperature control, and the invaluable auto clean-up feature.
Its key strength lies in its consistent performance. Whether slow cooking or searing, the results are uniformly excellent. While it may lack the traditional smoky flavour imparted by charcoal, the option to introduce wood chips directly onto the grills offers a viable workaround for those craving more BBQ taste.
Price is probably going to be a sticking point for many when they are considering the SMART-E - it's not for the budget-conscious. However, when you factor in the longevity, reduced hassle, and the quality of the meals it produces, it becomes evident that this BBQ is targeted at people who grill frequently and desire a dependable, high-quality experience.
I do have a couple of gripes; the initial assembly can be a bit fiddly, and the size of the plug adaptor has meant that I need to roll out an extension lead every time I cook (I will fix that one day with a new outdoor socket). Yet, these are small gripes in the grand scheme, and they don't overshadow the SMART-E's overall excellent performance.
In conclusion, the Char-Broil SMART-E BBQ earns a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars. It's a top-tier choice for those willing to invest in a seamless, high-performing outdoor grilling experience while accepting minor trade-offs for the sake of modern convenience.
Verdict score: 4.5/5
How the product was tested
The Char-Broil Smart-E BBQ was tested in my garden during the summer of 2023. I cooked a wide variety of meats including; beef, chicken, pork and venison in many cuts such as burgers, steaks and kebabs. I also cooked vegan burgers - but they weren't so vegan once they sat next to the other burgers on the grill.
Other items to consider:
Best for protection
As mentioned, I'd consider buying the cover an essential additional purchase to help keep your BBQ
- Easy and quick to attach
- Reliable protection
- No customer reviews online as it's still new
Best for a small-scale alternative
If you love the idea of the Char-Broil SMART-E but don't have the space, try the Ninja Woodfire
- Seven cooking functions
- Portable enough for camping
- Too small for large gatherings
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Stuart Adam is a contributor to Modern Gardens, specialising in BBQs and product reviews.