1st & 2nd July 2017. Bristol Harbourside.

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50 Cooks in Ten Weeks – Weber Summit Charcoal Review

For years I’ve been asking Helen at Weber when they’re going to launch a ceramic kamado style BBQ. Come on Helen…. I love my Weber kettles, I love my Smokey Mountain but neither gets my sauce bubbling like the sheer versatility of a kamado. Brands like the Big Green Egg, kamado Joe and Primo Grill are growing in popularity and it is easy to see why.

Well now Weber have finally taken the plunge and done it. Except actually they haven’t. We all expected a Weber to launch a ceramic kamado but they didn’t. Instead they have undoubtedly spent years developing what I see as an entirely new kind of BBQ altogether. And it is superb.

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By doing it the Weber way, rather than building the Summit Charcoal from heavy 1” thick ceramic they came up with the idea of a double walled, enamel coated stainless steel design. There’s a gap of around 1” between the outer and inner skins in both the body and the hood. This makes the entire unit air-insulated which not only sounds awesome, but it works
like a dream.

I’ve been cooking on this bad boy for ten weeks now and have clocked up FIFTY cooks. That’s meant firing up the coals at home five times a week every week. (My job rules!). I’ve cooked everything on it. Low and slow briskets and pork shoulders overnight right through to baking pizzas at screaming hot temperatures and everything you can imagine in between. I’ve put it through its paces from searing a single steak through to catering for a party of 40. I’ve seared, grilled, baked, roasted and smoked on it. What this all means is that the Summit and I now have a relationship somewhat akin to a dog and its owner. I know those special places where it likes to be tickled and in return, it’s become my loyal, trusted companion waiting patiently for me to get home from work each day. If I could take it to the park and play fetch then I would.

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Part of the Summit Charcoal ’Experience’ is a lovely man called *Dan from Weber (Hi Dan!) brings your shiny new BBQ to your house, unpacks it all, builds it and then spends as long as you like showing you how to use it. How to set it up for different style cooks, how to empty the ash, close it down etc. Even better – he takes all the packaging away with him afterwards too. *Your man may not be called Dan

Weber have an existing range of premium gas grills that go under their Summit brand. If you have £2.5 – £3k to spank on a gas BBQ then that’s what you buy. The charcoal Summit sits within that same bracket of top-of-the-range units. At £1500 it’s quite a ‘bargain’ when youcompare to its gas counterparts. Okay, bargain may be stretching it a bit however once you start checking out the build quality you start to see where the cash has been spent. Details like the beautifully crafted daisy wheel airflow adjuster at the top, or the way the lid is perfectly balanced when you open it, or the way the gasket makes a perfect seal between the lid and body – all things adding to the feeling you’ve got a tasty bit of kit in your hands. Price wise it sits competitively against other similar sized and specced kamados.

Aesthetically the Summit Charcoal reminds me of the old school original Weber kettle BBQs from back in the 60’s. It’s wider and considerably deeper that the regular Kettle most of us have in the back garden. It’s quite a beast. The cooking surface is a 61cm across which is only slightly wider than the standard 57cm kettles but, like most things, those extra 4cm really matter. In this case they are adding almost 500sqcm of cooking space to the grill. That’s a lot.

L1040180The bottom airflow control is similar to that you find on the regular Weber kettles – a sideways swiping lever both empties the ash as well as controlling the airflow vent. Rather than just the option of open or closed, the vent has been redesigned into a clever shape that means the Summit adds a third ‘smoke’ option. Dial ’S’ for smoke. This means you can really clamp it down for the long slow smokes. Just set the level to the way you want to cook and you are away. Actually I found the smoke setting still let a bit too much airflow for my liking so for overnight cooks I had the vents virtually closed – just a few mm gap showing. To highlight the air-tightness of the unit the coals can be extinguished fairly quickly by closing both air vents meaning you can re-light and re-use the same fuel the next time you cook. I love the ease of the ash disposal too. I’m used to completely dismantling my kamado, removing the heavy coal next and reaching down to push all the spent ash through the air vent. Not easy, and not something you can do mid cook. Here though it is a wiggle of a lever and all the ash is deposited into the metal removable ash pan.

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A design feature that washed over me a little initially but I’ve really come to love is the 2-level coal grate. You can adjust the height of the coals so they either sit 10” down, way deep in the body for roasting or slow smoking or else just 4” underneath the grill surface for hot and fast action like searing steaks or cooking burgers. And with a 2-zone set up on the higher grate you have an incredibly effective direct / indirect option that I’ve found I use for the majority of cooks.

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The daisy wheel control is as functional as it is great looking. It’s well made and highly adjustable meaning the entire unit can be dialled in very precisely.
You know when you get a new phone and get to peel that clingy plastic protective film off it gives you a weird pleasure. It has that on it too. I love peeling that stuff off shiny new things.

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All kamados rely on some sort of heat diffuser that sits above the coals for when you are slow cooking. It helps regulate the temperature over long periods as well as deflecting the heat of the coals away from the underside of the food. It turns the BBQ into an oven essentially. Again, Weber thought about this a little differently and chose to use an air insulated metal diffuser instead of the usual ceramic plate.L1040182
Yes mine looks dirty but so would you be if you’d had that many racks of ribs and briskets drip on you. I know I should cover it in foil but I am lazy.
The point is, clean or dirty, it works flawlessly and whilst it looks like it’s made from lightweight sheet aluminium in all the photos, it’s fabricated from thick gauge stainless steel weighing in at over 3kgs! Along with the grill grate, the diffuser is also hinged which – unlike traditional kamados – makes it a doddle to top up the fuel mid cook.

A feature I initially fobbed off as a bit of a gimmick was the gas ignition system. A little metal box attached to the side of the body contains a small butane canister that connects to a small arm that sits inside the BBQ directly under the coals. This means you can tip in your coals, hit the gas ignition and ten minutes later your coals are hot and ready to cook. This simple addition, for me, has just removed one of the key objections most people have to buying a charcoal BBQ – that they’re hard and time consuming to light. This is now as fast and as easy as a gas BBQ. Fact. Just make sure you switch the little gas burner off once the coals are going or you’ll rinse through the little butane cans. That’s experience talking.

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One area I think Weber let themselves down a little is on the wheels. A £1500 BBQ should come with some sexy polished alloy wheels in my book. What can I say, I’m a wheels guys! The plastic ones on the Summit are no different to the plastic ones that come on the regular kettles much lower down the food chain. Yes they function fine and they roll like a wheel ought to, but the rest of the unit is so beautifully designed it seems a shame to skimp there a little. Maybe a call into the Pimp my Ride crew for the next redesign.

So the big question is, does it hold its heat as well as its ceramic competitors? Yes it does. It equals any ceramic kamado I’ve cooked on and I’ve had several 12 hour cooks without refuelling out of it. But there is one other thing that makes it stand out here. It does something none of the others can do. It’s soooo responsive! Being air insulated and fabricated from sheet steel it reacts to subtle tweaks to airflow in minutes. I’m used to making an adjustment and then coming back 20-30 mins later to see if I hit the spot or not. That’s just not the case here.

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In summary the Weber Summit Charcoal is an entirely unique BBQ. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever cooked on. . It shares many traits with a heavy ceramic kamado but without the niggles of refuelling, emptying the ash, slow reaction times but then it is so agile and nimble too. It’s responsive and ready to cook in no time. It smokes meat perfectly, it sears a great steak, it roasts chickens, it bakes pizzas. It’s as happy grilling up just a couple of burgers as it is being a workhorse for mass catering. It does everything very well. It’s really hard not to sound like a Weber advert but it has dealt with everything I’ve thrown at it effortlessly and I struggle to find flaws.

BBQ is my full time job and my favourite pastime. I’m a BBQ geek. I have eight BBQs at home right now and many more dotted around at various friends’ houses. But if the day came where I had get rid of all of them except one – The Summit Charcoal would be staying.

Jon Finch
July 2016

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