This gravity-fed charcoal grill cooks with tons of barbecue flavor

31 Oct, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


The Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 cooks with regular charcoal but runs like a pellet grill.


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As barbecue grills go, the $500 Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 is an outlier. It cooks with the big flavor of charcoal, yet offers the set-and-forget electronic temperature control of a pellet smoker. To get that combination you’d typically have to upgrade an ordinary charcoal grill or kamado with an aftermarket product. Examples are the Smartfire and popular DigiQ gadgets.

Like

  • Burns lump or briquette charcoal
  • Automatic temperature control
  • Meat probe included (4 supported)
  • Smokes and sears food with plenty of flavor

Don’t Like

  • Could be more efficient
  • Not water resistant

Another upside to the Gravity Series is that it can burn either standard briquettes or lump charcoal. Both types of fuel are much easier to find at your local supermarket than proprietary wood pellets. This grill is versatile too, letting you smoke low and slow or sear at high heat.

That said, the Gravity Series 560 isn’t flawless. It’s not as fuel efficient as Traeger pellet smokers I’ve used. It also tends to consume more briquettes than my trusty Weber Classic kettle. You also can’t use the 560 in the rain since it isn’t weather resistant. Still, this charcoal cooker is relatively affordable, capable and convenient. That makes the Gravity Series 560 perfect if you want classic charcoal barbecue flavor with less stress and hands-on time tending your fire.

The Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 definitely has the look of a pellet smoker.


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Looks like a smoker

On the outside, the Gravity Series 560 looks a lot like many backyard pellet smokers. Its black metal body is taller than it is long. The cart-style grill also stands on four legs equipped with casters on the front and wheels on the back. A large rectangular charcoal hopper sits to the right of the cooking chamber. 

The shelf on the 560’s left side houses the grills controls and temperature display, along with four ports for meat probes. Masterbuilt includes one probe in the 560’s box. You can buy additional probes directly through Masterbuilt ($20 each). 

Opening the grill’s lid reveals two cast-iron cooking grates plus a pair of porcelain-coated warming racks. Altogether, Masterbuilt says they provide a total cooking space of 560 square inches. According to the company that’s enough for four racks of ribs or eight chickens. 

For comparison, the Traeger Timberline 850 is roughly the same size. Even so, it provides a bigger 850 square inches of cooking space. Traeger says that will accommodate eight racks of ribs or four chickens. Regardless of the accuracy of either company’s chicken-to-rib ratio for estimating grill capacity, the Traeger pellet grill lets you grill more food at once.

The Masterbuilt app lets you control the grill, watch meat probe status, and read recipes.


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Grill with the app

Like many higher-end grills today, including the Traeger Timberline 850, the Gravity Series 560 connects to Wi-Fi. You can also control it via a mobile app. This Masterbuilt app isn’t as advanced as Traeger’s. Traeger’s software lets you send actual temperature settings and cook times to its grill. The Timberline will then run the instructions as an executable program. It’s nice to have since it means less fiddling with grill controls.

By contrast, the Masterbuilt app provides temperature control, meat probe monitoring and a library of text recipes. While the app’s list of recipes isn’t as extensive or as flashy as Traeger’s and its many colorful photos, the instructions are easy to follow. What’s more important here is being able to track the progress and status of your food remotely, which Masterbuilt’s app provides. 

A different kind of smoker

The Gravity Series 560 doesn’t operate like a traditional charcoal or kamado grill. It doesn’t cook food in the same chamber as burning charcoal. Instead, an electric fan and vent channel heat and smoke from lit charcoal inside the hopper into the cooking cavity.

To start the grill, you first light coals from the bottom end of the hopper. A charcoal grate supports the weight of charcoal in the hopper above it. The grate also has a slot to add your preferred fire starter. 

masterbuilt-gravity-series-560-starting

Start the grill by placing a fire starter at the bottom of the charcoal hopper and lighting it.


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Flames here will ignite the bottom layer of charcoal. As they burn, their ashes fall through the grate into a removable ash tray below. Additionally, heavier unlit charcoal at the top of the hopper forces spent fuel into the tray.

The whole setup reminds me of an offset smoker, though one assisted by a fanned temperature-control system. It’s similar to how pellet grills run too, save that they mechanically feed pellets from their hoppers into a separate fire box inside their cooking chambers.

Cooking with the Gravity Series

My experience cooking with the Gravity Series 560 was a pleasant one. When I fire up my old-school Weber kettle, I usually light the charcoal in a chimney starter and let them burn for 15 minutes before I put them in the Weber. When I’m planning to cook low and slow for barbecue, I employ the snake method. This calls for stacking briquettes in systematic layers in a semicircle around the kettle’s inner edge. It’s effective, but also takes some time to get it going. 

These extra steps aren’t necessary with the 560. The grill’s charcoal hopper serves as its own chimney starter. With the hopper full (12 pounds of briquettes), a fire starter ignited a sufficient amount of coals in about 5 minutes. Then I buttoned up the hopper, removed two vent intake slides, and turned the grill on.

Sensors on the lid and hopper doors tell the fan to spin up when everything is closed. Next I punched in my target grill temperature, and it’s off to the races. Providing I had a proper ignition, the Masterbuilt 560 quickly ramped its internal heat levels to where I wanted them. 

For example, it hit 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107.2 C) in 6 to 7 minutes. From there it only took a few minutes more to jump to 350 degrees (176.7 C). The same is true to reach the grill’s maximum temperature of 700 degrees (371.1 C).

Thermocouple readings matched the grill’s internal thermometer.


Brian Bennett/CNET

To get a feel for the Gravity Series 560’s chops, I cooked a few racks of baby back ribs. I set the grill at 225 degrees and monitored temperatures with both thermocouple and the Meater wireless meat thermometer. Generally, they both matched the grill’s internal temperature sensor.

Ribs smoked in the Masterbuilt Gravity Series came out well.


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While I observed a few short spikes, things generally stayed between 225 and 235 degrees for the 5 hours, 36 minute cook time. I admit that my grumpy family forced me to crank up the heat in the last few minutes to make dinnertime.

Ah, baby back ribs. A lovely sight.


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Next, I fired off two ribeye steaks. For the first one, I used Masterbuilt’s reverse seared steak recipe supplied by the app. First I flipped the reversible cast-iron cooking grates over to their searing position. Then with the grill’s wired probe, I cooked this steak (at 225 degrees) until its internal temp hit 110 degrees and set it aside. 

Then I dialed the grill up to 700 degrees. I then seared this steak and another uncooked ribeye at high heat until both had internal temperatures of 140 degrees. As expected, both steaks had a nice amount of sear but the second was unevenly cooked. 

Steak I cooked in the Gravity Series was nicely seared.


Brian Bennett/CNET

The first slab of meat (reverse-seared method) however, was sheer perfection. Beyond tender, it had a caramelized exterior yet was much more juicy.

Roasted barbecue chicken on the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560.


Brian Bennett/CNET

Finally, I roasted a spatchcocked chicken at 350 degrees. I gave it the barbecue treatment, a sweet and smoky rub. I threw a chunk of pecan smoke wood into the grill’s ash tray, too, for extra oomph. After 1 hour and 19 minutes, I was treated to one fantastic bird. Its skin was crisp while its flesh was juicy, with a pleasing smoke flavor. 

I do have a few problems though with the 560. The biggest one is that it’s not weather resistant. Essentially you can’t run it in the rain. For an ordinary grill I wouldn’t mind, but for a smoker that often needs to complete long cooks spanning several hours, it’s an issue. Other electric grills such as Traeger pellet smokers are effectively sealed and insulated from the elements.

The Gravity Series was also less efficient than my trusty Weber kettle. While the formulation of briquettes has changed over the years, one charcoal snake typically lasts me 7 to 8 hours. That’s approximately 80 briquettes, or a full chimney starter’s worth, to cook baby back ribs for between 5 and 6 hours. The same task on the Gravity Series consumed about three quarters of an 8 pound bag, or about 112 briquettes. There are worse sins in barbecuing, certainly, but if you’re an active griller especially, you’re going to want to make sure you have more charcoal on hand than you normally might.

The verdict

I truly enjoyed my experience with the $500 Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560. It grills with high heat, smokes low and slow, and everything in between. The 560 also conveniently controls its own pit temperature like a pellet grill, yet burns regular lump or briquette charcoal. Almost everything I cooked in the Gravity Series 560 came out tasting fabulously good.

This grill doesn’t make sense for everyone. It’s many times the price of regular charcoal cookers that can deliver food that’s just as delicious with a little practice. Still, for those who seek an automated smoker that runs almost like a Traeger, the Gravity Series is a compelling and more affordable alternative. Just try not to get it wet. 



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