Toyota has its Lexus. Weber-Stephens, the company behind the ubiquitous kettle grill, has its Summit Charcoal Grill.
The Summit, unveiled in April, is part grill and part kamado smoker (think Big Green Egg). With a deeper bowl, it looks like a pregnant version of a typical Weber kettle. By giving it air-insulated, double-walled construction for heat retention, a two-position fuel grate for smoking and grilling, and a gas ignition system, Weber no doubt hopes you’ll think it is pregnant with smoking and grilling possibility.
The question is whether it merits a price that starts at $1,500.
I tested the Summit over a few days in May. I smoked a brisket, two pork butts and a mammoth beef short rib, grill-smoked two racks of pork ribs and fast-grilled a rib-eye steak. I also grilled eggplant and romaine lettuce, for good measure.
The Summit held its temperature at a steady 225 degrees for at least 12 hours. Its hinged metal diffuser and hinged cooking grate make adding coals or wood easy, but I added coals only after my fire went out due to a steady, hours-long rain one morning. After going and going (and the rain stopped), the Summit held its temperature for 10 more hours. The heavy-duty vented lid damper makes for extremely responsive cooking; changing temperatures took less than 15 minutes, typically — a boon for hours-long cooking. I have found that it is a lot more challenging to maintain temperature control over periods of time in a standard kettle grill.
There is always a learning curve in using new equipment, and my brisket, although juicy and crusty, wasn’t quite up to my standards. The rib-eye came out a perfect medium-rare, and, owing to a fuel grate that is about an inch closer to the meat than the grate on a regular kettle, took only a total of 8 minutes (instead of 10 to 12 minutes). The vegetables had a nice char. The short rib was a little underdone, but I blame pilot error; I’d leave it on longer next time.
Is the Summit worth the money? A kettle (about $150) and a bullet smoker (about $300) would, together, do more or less the same thing, at roughly a third the cost. But in the same way that it is tough to define just how much better a ride a Lexus delivers than a Camry, it is hard to say why the Summit would merit such a higher price tag.
Maybe it’s the way it holds a temperature. Maybe it is the way it can handle wood chunks and splits. Maybe it is the quality of the sear it creates.
Maybe it is the combination of all of those things and the general intelligence of the grill. Whatever it is, if you are in the market for an upscale smoker/grill, it’s worth a look.
Smoke Signals columnist Shahin will join Wednesday’s Free Range at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.