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Char-Griller 980 After Six Months

RME

Newbie
19
14
Joined Jul 28, 2022
Summary

I bought the Char-Griller 980 at Lowe's in February to replace a cheap offset Char-Griller smoker that I found aggravating. I began using the 980 in the middle of an upstate NY winter - not as bad as e.g., Winnipeg, but not balmy. To date I have cooked a variety of things, including two briskets (USDA prime packer, inject, Dalmatian rub, 225F smoke to 160F, coat with melted beef tallow, wrap in tin foil, back into smoker until about 195F). Generally the response to my brisket is underwhelming "So that's brisket, huh? Have any more beer?" The point is too fatty and the flat is dry. This time it was "Wow when are you making this again?" Point and flat both cooked nicely. Although of two briskets I did one was quite good but the other was slightly pot-roasty but otherwise nicely cooked. Next time will try butcher paper instead of tin foil.

The change between the last two briskets I made on the 980 and previous ones is the temperature being controlled on the 980.

Overall the 980 works well, holds temperature at 225F for about 12 hours, heats evenly, and reliably maintains even temperatures from 200 to 700F. It also changes temperatures fairly rapidly. The temperature probes are accurate.

The best way to think of the 980 is a smoker that is also an outdoor oven with a wide range of controlled temperatures.

But there are two issues. Both are the kinds of obvious defects that you wish you had the option to pay a little more for a 980 without the defects.

1 - It lacks real Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi is used as a Bluetooth range extender - sort of a dawn of the Bluetooth age history lesson. This is combined with an extraordinarily buggy app such that it keeps dropping when I am a few feet from the 980. Since it lacks a Mac address and doesn't really connect to the internet also means that the firmware cant be upgraded. It is 2022 and we live in the age of the internet of things. If something says Wi-Fi about everyone would expect actual internet connectivity and a functioning app so that, e.g., one could go out for a few beers and watch a Rangers game during the cook. Or light it off at midnight, go to bed, and have the thing ping on you if the temperature fluctuated overmuch or the food reached some temperature. Not happening with this (unless you sleep next to it) and only solution would be for Char-Griller to offer a replacement controller unit.

2 - The upper rack is somewhat useless. This is so obvious. There is room for a second upper rack adjacent to and at the same level as the existing upper rack. It could have easily been a Char-Griller 1280. All Char-Griller needed to do was double the length of the rack's support brackets and supply a second upper rack. Possible solutions:
a - buy a mod at https://www.lss-mods.com/product_details.phtml/980_add-on_cooking_rack ;
b - fabricate extended brackets out of sufficiently rigid material such that a second rack can be cantilevered using the longer bracket and existing bracket bolt holes (would need sheet metal shop tools and some skills);
c - buy a second rack from Char-Griller and fabricate something like the LSS rack by adding legs.

Char-Griller should offer a true Wi-Fi controller and the 2 - b solution for the upper grate. I would happily pay them USD 100 for the package.

A third issue with my 980 is that the rear damper hangs up and a bit of force is needed to open it. It frees when the grill heats, suggesting a tolerance issue that probably is not present on all 980s. Char-Griller sent me a new damper, but to replace it would require damaging the interior thermal lining and am not sure replacing the damper would solve problem. As I can't inspect existing damper and slide without damaging thermal liner. The 980 has very few moving parts so one would think they would test the damper operation - one of the few moving parts - of each grill as part of QA process.

Last minor point - there are two temperature probe connections but only one probe is supplied. Char-Griller cost is likely under USD 1 per probe. Maybe just include a second probe rather than sell them for over USD 20 each online plus shipping? Would ratchet up their customers' experience.

Details

I had found the cheap offset Char-Griller too annoying to use. It was always difficult to maintain temperature even after I added tuning plates, water reservoir, and charcoal basket. I was doing my smoking on a Weber Performer with a Slow N Sear insert. That worked well but sometimes was not enough space. Traumatized by my cheap offset experience, I also wanted easy temperature management. A guy I was talking to at a hotel bar about went ballistic when I told him I wanted a temperature controller. Raised his voice and declared it wouldn't be true BBQ and he had terminated a friendship because his friend got a pellet grill. If anyone reading this has that reaction I apologize in advance.

Research suggested people were often unhappy with how well a pellet grill works as a smoker so decided against pellet grill. I also considered adding a controller to the cheap offset, but that was almost as expensive as buying a gravity grill and the gravity grills are built much better than the cheap offset. So it was down to the two value priced gravity grills. I picked the Char-Griller over Masterbuilt as the Char-Griller design is an offset smoker with tuning plates that assorted reviewers found better engineered and performing than the Masterbuilt. In particular, the main cooking space of the Char-Giller is larger than the Masterbuilt, the Masterbuilt main cooking area minimum temperature is too hot for 225F cooks, and grease management for Masterbuilt is problematic. I have never used a Masterbuilt so this is all based on other reviews.

Also, the 980 looks cooler than the Masterbuilt.

I tend to read instructions twice. The first time hardly at all. The second in great detail in conjunction with internet research to determine if I can fix what I broke. Yet I had no trouble assembling the 980. Its easier if you have a second person to help. Once assembled it helps to season it. .

To date have made two briskets, pork buts, assorted roasts and sausages, whole and filleted Alaska red and king salmon, clams, St Louis ribs, porchetta (https://www.7x7.com/secret-recipe-porchetta-from-roliroti-1781508918.html - bought from a butcher and persuaded butcher to assemble the roast for me - Fred the Butcher is great if you are in eastern upstate NY), reverse sear thick steaks and chops (with searing done on gas grill - see below), macaroni and cheese, twice baked potatoes, assorted vegetable gratins and other sides on it. Am very happy with results, which I attribute to temperature control. I am looking forward to doing a fresh home cured ham on it.

I used a surface reading and remote Bluetooth thermometers to verify temperatures on the 980.

There are two safety switches - one on hopper hatch and one on ash chamber hatch. A can of compressed air and contact cleaner are useful for cleaning them if they deliver false open errors. Again, this is a place Char-Griller could have used better parts.

The hopper can easily be refilled mid cook. Suggest turning off grill while refilling and not relying on the safety switches to shut down fan.

It also easily shuts down and restarts. Just remember to insert the blade between the combustion and cook chambers and secure all the hatches when shutting down. Otherwise fuel will smolder and when you light it off again the fuel will have turned to mostly ash. Before the next cook it helps to shake any ash out of the hopper - grill starts more easily and cooks better. Hopper could have used a folding recessed handle but that is a minor complaint.

It lights easily and gets to temperature in about 15 to 20 minutes, will fluctuate +/- 20F or so for next half hour or so, then become steady.

The damper should be all open for higher temperatures and about 1/4 open for low temperatures.

Some people add additional gaskets to all the hatches. I have not observed that it leaks much smoke and it has been working well without.

Other people have issues with the fan flap burning. There is a mod for that but I haven't had the issue. https://www.lss-mods.com/product_details.phtml/980_duct_extension . It seems to be a problem if adding wood chunks to the ash tray. I mix wood chunks with regular charcoal briquets in the hopper, which to date has worked well for me.

It does not have a rotisserie option, although this guy made one. . I am not doing that as first I am not good at fabrication, second I have a rotisserie attachment for the Weber Performer which works very well with the Slow N Sear, and third I am not sure it would work that well on the 980.

For point three I recall from some long ago class heat is transferred three ways - conductive and most efficient (griddle), radiant and less efficient but still direct (rotisserie over a flame), and convection and least efficient, indirect (offset smoker). The first two are good for browning/crisping/Maillard reaction. The third less so. So without the radiant heat (open flame) am not sure one would get the desired crispy chicken or turkey finish without overcooking the poultry. Also, a rotisserie works by rotating the meat in and out of the radiant heat. Since the 980 has not radiant heat in cooking chamber, am not sure the rotisserie would add anything. Its all indirect convection heat with or without rotisserie. For same reason a griddle plate or cast iron pan doesn't work as wall on this as on a gas grill or over direct heat on the kettle grill. It takes much longer to heat the griddle/pan. And once you brown one side of something the griddle plate takes a long time to reheat.

I would also note as I use the Weber kettle rotisserie for chicken and turkey so have not tired either on the 980. Hence previous paragraph about poultry on 980 is speculation.

The supplied 980 grates are very thin and do not hold heat well, so also are not good for searing.

Probably everyone on this forum has a gas grill as well as smoker. I have a mid 2000s Weber Genesis and a heavy cast iron porcelain coated griddle plate. If something needs to be seared I think its faster and better results to use the gas grill and griddle plate than the 980.

So while it does get to 700F, I do not find the 980 good for high heat searing. But if you run it a 700F for a half hour or so you will burn off any residue on the diffuser.

Also, it helps to clean the thing inside and out occasionally. I had not cleaned my Weber Performer since I bought it ten years ago. Was a little surprised at just how much gunk was in it and how much oven cleaner I went through getting it clean. For young people who may not be familiar, oven cleaner comes in a yellow spray can and should be used with rubber gloves and eye protection as its basically spray lye. Its how people cleaned ovens before they were all self cleaning.

Unlike the cheap offset, my 980 has not rusted anywhere, despite being kept outside in harsh winter and summer weather. But it would probably help to have some rust inhibitor and matte black BBQ paint, as I am pretty sure it will rust eventually.

Well that is it and hope people find this helpful.
 

JWFokker

Smoking Fanatic
466
165
Joined Mar 5, 2019
If you run it as a smoker it probably won't rust. High heat will kill the finish and let rust in. Nice objective review.
 

RME

Newbie
Thread starter
19
14
Joined Jul 28, 2022
If you run it as a smoker it probably won't rust. High heat will kill the finish and let rust in. Nice objective review.
Thanks and it was perhaps a bit verbose. But trying to contribute as a new member.

Will add the connectivity to your own wifi network improves with a mesh wifi unit in some near part of house or a wifi extender. Later halves the bandwidth but since you aren't trying to stream GOT over your smoker don't think it's an issue.
 

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