Many of you know the story: I’m a third generation pitmaster and spent my early years in and around my grandfather’s barbecue restaurant. My grandfather cooked barbecue in a cinder block pit and stick burned mostly oak for his coals. He added those coals one shovel full at time until whatever he was cooking reached perfection. To me, that is “real” barbecue. I know this probably offends some folks already, but I need you to know where I am coming from with this review. Barbecue for me is something that takes a long time, takes a lot of work and is done with wood. That is my preferred route to achieve what I consider barbecue nirvana. This method is archaic, punishing, difficult and the reason many pitmasters don’t last very long.
A couple of years ago I was forced to have a heart to heart with myself. It’s the same conversation many pitmasters have had with themselves over the years. The questions when I boiled it down was “is it more important to put in 100% effort, go without sleep and come away with a product that is a 10, or is it more important to put in 50% effort, sleep, have a life and come away with a product that is a 9?” What I came up with is an answer which allows me to have a life stay married and see my kids. When cooking for pure enjoyment, as backwards as it may sound, I still take the purest pursuit of that 10 and do it the hard way. It is how I share kinship with my grandfather who passed several years ago. When cooking to sell, for dinner around the house or just to practice, I take the easier path.
This easier path has led me in search of new ways to cook as well as a new mission. Obviously the cookers I needed for easier cooking included ones with constant fuel sources and some sort of automated temperature management. We now have a few of these type of cookers in our arsenal and you know what, I’m glad. I’m a much happier person overall when I’m not literally killing myself for my craft each time I cook. These pits have given me a way to extend what is my livelihood and time in this game.
My new mission? Well, that changed from just being able to turn out 9s and 10s to being able to turn out that quality on any type of pit, fired by any fuel in just about any configuration, under nearly any circumstance. I got this idea from talking to Danielle Dimovski at Memphis in May this past year. The idea that she can fly in somewhere, borrow gear and do well competing was a revelation of what it means to be a pitmaster today. I realized that as much as I love the way my grandfather did things, the game has evolved. I realized that I had to lead Draper’s BBQ head long into this new world if we had any chance at longevity.
Of all the pits we own, we did not have a pellet fired contraption, up until a few weeks ago. Why? Well, to be honest I didn’t like them, didn’t want one and never gave one a chance. I often make the comparison of pellet pits to glam/hair metal back in the 80s/90s and how much the “true” metal heads hated and discounted the genre. Those of us “real pitmasters” wouldn’t dare to cook on one. It’s kind of like a true metal fan being caught listening a band like Poison, even though you often found your self singing along in your head to their songs. Pellet cookers were a lot like that to me. Yes, I know this is unfair, it’s wrong, it’s unfounded, it’s close minded…it’s..it’s just the way I felt. I grudgingly admitted that they had their place and couldn’t discount that many friends had won grand champions on them and love them. I just wasn’t quite ready to give in.
Recently, I stumbled across a new cooker called the Grilla when I noticed their postings in Twitter and read up on them. Thankfully, not too long after that my good friend Jay Prince did a great review of the pit. Based on Jay’s write up I contacted Fahrenheit Technologies to get more information because the pit was different and it intrigued me. I was really more interested in the product from a competition perspective, but thought it might serve as a practice pit as well. After several emails and phone conversations with Mark Graham I conceded that maybe it was time to try a pellet cooker myself and agreed to review the Grilla.
I don’t want to completely retread what Jay has already done with his excellent write up from a back yard perspective, so my thoughts will mostly pertain to the competition capabilities of the Grilla. Go check out his review!
Since the Grilla is so new to the market there are currently few retail outlets, so you will likely have to order the Grilla direct from Fahrenheit Technologies.The Grilla is shipped via freight. Shipping arrangements were easy and it shipped very quickly. I had my unit in two days. The Grilla came fully assembled, strapped to a pallet. This evidently is a rare thing among most of their competitors. The weight of the unit and pallet was right around 165lbs. Very, very reasonable weight considering the unit is made of a nice thick steel.
I wish I had pictures of this but unfortunately the SD card I had many of my pictures for this review on failed. Thankfully Jay Prince allowed me the use of some of his pictures so you get an idea what the the Grilla looks like new. I owe Jay a beer the next time I see him.
When I first unpacked the Grilla and stood back to take it all in, the first thought I had was “this thing is a pellet powered Big Green Egg.” That may sound odd at first given that one is steel and one is made of ceramics, but when you stop to consider cooking ability, size and pricing of both cookers you can see where I’m coming from. I think that both initially strike the average consumer as mildly unattractive. It’s not until you take a deeper look that you really begin to see the true beauty of each. This thought hung with me so much that I have decided to do a point by point comparison of the two units that will be released shortly after this article. This should be of interest to those of you who may be trying to decide between the two.
Some Key Features
The Grilla website has a fairly extensive list of the cooker’s features. I have included most of this list below with my two cents thrown in.
- Keep Heat Swing Lid – Makes checking of food faster because you don’t have to remove it completely, when swung all the the way open it allows access to all parts of the Grilla, can be left partially open without propping it. Nothing to lift is great!
- Even Temp Chamber – The shape of the chamber itself eliminates hot / cold corners. I found no hot or cold spots on the cooking area which the average cook will appreciate.
- Never Flare Flavor Disc – prevents grease flare ups, keeps the flame away from food. This is a nice feature and is included on many pellet cookers and even the Big Green Egg has it as an option. On the Big Green Egg’s this device is called a “plate setter” and is removable if you want the option of flame grilling.
- Lower and Upper Grill Grates – This is something a lot of the Grilla competitors have as an option, but usually not as a standard feature. Obviously having it is a good thing. The Upper grate is ideal for large parties or for when you want more smoke and less heat on the bottom of your meat. It also pops out easily to make room for whole chickens, turkeys, shoulders, etc.
- Versatile Temp Range – With a range of 180°-550° Fahrenheit (F) and 16 smoke settings the Grilla truly is a pit and a grill.
- EZ Fuel Change Out – This feature is huge. Swapping out one flavor of pellets for another takes less than a minute and is super easy. You just flip open the door, empty the hopper and refill with new pellets. I never would have thought of wanting or needing this but I am glad it is there. Very nice feature that every pellet cooker should include.
- 20 lb Hopper Capacity – This keeps the Grilla cooking for hours and hours. The 20lb capacity isn’t unheard of. I think it is just about right for pellet cookers.
Size and Cooking Area
The physical stats of the Grilla are as follows: Height – 44in, Width – 31.5in, Depth – 29.5in, Weight – 145lbs. What these numbers do not accurately portray is just how small a foot print that is. This unit takes up about the same space as a Weber Kettle, Weber Smokey Mountain or Big Green Egg XL. Of course, this small foot print does affect cook area, but you aren’t looking at this cooker if your intention is to cook a case of boston butts or half a dozen briskets at one time. This is not to say the cooking area is undersized. There is, in fact, more cooking area in the Grilla (488 sq in) than a Big Green Egg XL (452 sq in). You could fit a pork shoulder and brisket on the lower rack of the Grilla and still have room for a rack of ribs on the top shelf.
From a competition perspective I found the cooking area and overall stature of the Grilla to be very good. I could easily see taking 2 or 3 Grilla’s, loading them on a small trailer and doing some serious damage out on the circuit. This cooker is easily moved so load outs and off loads would be simple even with a single person or small team.
Draper’s has several much larger cookers, some of which will hold several cases of boston butts at a time. While I love these cookers, it is a bit refreshing to have a smaller cooker on which to just flip a switch and cook some chicken, burgers, steaks or a single shoulder. This is an especially nice cooker to have around just for practice and recipe invention. I found myself trying new things just because it was so easy to get a fire started and ready cooking.
Build Quality and Design
This is one of the few things still made in the USA that makes me proud to be American. When I say this thing is over built by a mile I mean it. Seriously they could have cut 10 corners and no one would have ever known, but they didn’t. Every weld, every seam and every surface is done impeccably.
A couple of the of the areas that deserve to be mentioned specifically are:
- Grates – Wow! These things are nearly pencil thick stainless steel. I don’t know how much they would cost to replace but it seriously can’t be cheap. These grates are so well built, I’m convinced they will survive a nuclear apocalypse.
- Swing Lid – Okay, so the fact that the lid swings instead of flips open or detaches completely, like on some units, is cool. The fact that they thought enough about the lid to include bearings in the mechanism is AWESOME. Such a smooth glide to the lid is a very classy touch.
- Wheels – The wheels for me are much like the lid. You expect it to have wheels, but you don’t necessarily expect them to be nice 5 inch rubber wheels that roll like they are greased with duck fat. Maybe roll isn’t the right word, perhaps I should say glide. One quick, easy motion and the Grilla tips back and glides effortlessly wherever you want it.
- Side Tables – It’s a really a nice touch to make these stainless steel. We have stainless on our Tucker Cooker and have never regretted opting for it. Sun baked, 10 day old barbecue sauce cleans up easily and it really looks better long term. The hooks to hold your utensils are also a nice touch.
- Cord Storage – This is a such a little thing but I wanted to highlight it because it is yet another example of a place where the engineers could have cut corners and slacked but they didn’t. The electrical cord wraps perfectly around the holder and even has a perfect little notch where the end clips in to for secure storage.
- Auger, Motor and Fire Pot – Auger, Motor and Fire Pot – I think is the area where some lesser pellet grills are suspect, so I was worried about this with the Grilla. After doing some research I found out that Fahrenheit Technologies is a home furnace company. Guess where the auger, motor and fire pot were developed? In their home units. This heating system and pellet delivery mechanism has been proven over the past few years. This to me is a huge relief. Fahrenheit Technologies has also backed the Grilla with a 3 year warranty, further showing their confidence in this product.
- EZ Fuel Change Out – I have to admit that at first I thought, “big deal.” Then I needed to switch pellets and the hopper was full and you know what? It was a big deal. This is a necessity that every pellet cooker should include and deserves to be highlighted. You just turn the latch, the door opens to a 90 degree angle and has side walls to help funnel the pellets into your bag. You can swap out a complete 20lb load of pellets in just a couple of minutes.
- Finish – This thing has a great powder coat finish that should have no problem holding up a long, long time. It feels good to the touch, cleans easily, and is on nearly every surface inside and out.
Quick Cooking Thoughts
To test the cooking abilities of the Grill I performed a total of 7 different cooking tests. These tests were designed to replicate the different cooking styles and methods a competition cook and backyard cook would use.
To be a true barbecue pit, a cooker must first and foremost be able to cook low and slow. To be a great grill it has to be able to sear meat and cook at higher heat. A newer competition cooking trend is hot and fast, so I also ran a test to represent that method as well.
1 – 14lb turkey at 250 degrees followed immediately by 150 MOINK balls.
2 – 8 thick all beef hamburgers cooked at 300 degrees.
3 – 18lb pork shoulder cooked at 225 degrees for 11hrs (low and slow).
4 – Medium sized beef brisket cooked at 350 degrees for 3hrs (hot and fast)
5 – 3lb beef tri tip cooked at 250 degrees
6 – 18 chicken thighs cooked at 275 degrees then at 375 degrees to set the sauce and finish.
7 – 1 rack of beef ribs cooked at 250 degrees for an hour and a half.
The Grilla did very well in all tests. I admit for the first cook I had to get used to cooking on pellets. I was pleasantly surprised how fast it recovered temperature, held even cooking temperature and how much smoke it put out. Never was I disappointed by the results. It is a very solid cooking platform that in the right hands is capable of pulling off 180 scores in competition. This pit has been my “go to” pit for at home cooking the past several weeks and I have come to realize the more I leave it alone while cooking, the better it does. Yes, I know this is a basic idiom of barbecue, but sometimes we all need to be reminded we aren’t always as smart as we think we are. This is especially true for me.
What I Liked
- Build Quality / Design – I did a whole section highlighting this. Nothing short of exceptional and being American Made is just the cherry on top for me.
- Size – It really does take up very little space for the cooking punch it packs. Fantastic form factor that is led by functionality and tempered with smart design.
- Mobility – This pit still surprises me at how easily it moves. It’s such a small but very essential part of making the Grilla even easier to live with. The Big Green Egg could learn a thing or 10 from the Grilla.
- EZ Fuel Change Out – Yet another “feature” that should be a “standard” on all other pellet cookers. Don’t underestimate how nice this is to have and other pellet pit makers should take note.
- Cooking Versatility – I cant think of a thing the Grilla couldn’t do…..ok it can’t do a whole hog, but neither can most pits. Other than that though the temperature range and how quickly the Grilla can go from 225 degrees to 400 degrees make this one impressive cooker.
- Cooking Ease – There are few pits that I would say can take a very average person and make them a great cook. This one is one of them. One good barbecue book such as “BBQ Makes Everything Better” and the Grilla and the average Joe could turn out the best barbecue his buddies has ever had the pleasure of eating. Same pit plus a good pit master and the Grilla has a really solid chance at turning out world class results.
What Could Be Improved
For those of you who know me or have read any of my reviews know that I do not review or give my comments about any product without also offering suggestions for improvement. Here is my short list for the Grilla.
- Grease Catch Can – As it is configured now you can use an soup can or soda can to catch grease. This is good, but not great and to me it’s not in keeping with the quality of the rest of the unit. My suggestion would be to include a bucket, that could hold around 48oz of liquid. (One with the awesome Grilla logo on it would be fantastic!) I found the need for this larger capacity while cooking the MOINK balls. Evidently when cooking the equivalent of 5 packs of bacon wrapped around meat balls it makes a whole heck of a lot of grease. When the can overflows while you aren’t paying attention to the back side of the grill it makes a large mess that doesn’t make the wife happy. The average user may never experience this, but if there is even a possibility that they could, an effort should be made to address the issue.
- Side Tables – I have no issue with the build quality or material of the side tables. In fact I think those parts are great. It is a minor nit pick but I would like at least one of the side table to be be able to hold a large aluminum pan. I found myself sitting larger square pans on top of the hopper vice on the side tables. Understandably, making a larger side table would negatively affect the overall footprint of the unit, which could be considered a larger negative.
- Digital Up/Down Controls – Some folks will want a more precise control panel other than the one that is currently offered on the Grilla. They will say they need control in 5 degree increments vice 15 degree. I understand their reasoning, but I have to say I don’t necessarily agree. I think this “precision panel” could be offered as an option for those that feel that strongly about it, but isn’t an absolute requirement.
- A Cover – All high end cookers are an investment. To protect that investment the Grilla should either ship with a weather proof heavy duty cover or one should be offered as an option. It is my understanding that one is in development. I will be buyer number 1 when it is officially released.
- Price – After having the Grilla for a few weeks and comparing it with other pits I have to say I like it. I really, really like it. The only thing I found myself the least bit unsure about was the price. The Grilla s a premium product, made in the USA and has no corners cut. That means it also has premium pricing. Is $1495 shipped expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? With all factors weighed and lived with I can’t imagine not having the Grilla. Therefore I would have to say “yes, it is worth it” and it gets a complete recommendation from me.
How To Get One
The availability of the Grilla is limited as of this writing. I know Fahrenheit Technologies is working hard to bring dealers online and get units out to stores. For now though to get one you can order directly from their web store or contact Fahrenheit by phone at 616.392.7410 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Pricing as of this writing it is $1495 shipped to your door.
My time with the Grilla has changed my thoughts on cooking. I still don’t think I am ready to give up any of my other cookers because they each serve a purpose. I will say that I am now a fan of pellet cooking. It has made some serious improvements since I first looked at it. Most of which is just in general quality. The pellets you can get now are a much higher quality and the pits you can get range from very cost conscious, mass produced units now being carried at Costco to very limited run, almost hand made units that you will have to get on a waiting list for. The Grilla is certainly the latter of the two. I am glad that my first real long term experience with a pellet pit was with one of such quality because I would pick a unit of less quality apart no matter how well it cooked. I place a big premium on quality, always have, always will. It is just who and what I am.
If I had to put my thoughts about pellet cooking in general into one statement it would be this: “Did I cook the best barbecue I’ve ever eaten on a pellet pit? No, not yet. Did I cook the best barbecue I’ve ever had for the least amount of effort? YES, yes I most certainly did.” I have had better barbecue. That is the truth. What is also true is that I’ve never had barbecue anywhere this good for the this small amount of effort. For 98% of the people in this world the Grilla will make the best barbecue you’ve ever eaten.
The Grilla is a mainstay at my house now. When it comes to everyday cooking or cooking for smaller groups, it’s just too easy not to have around and use. I have to take my hat off to Jay Prince and Mark Graham for doing the impossible: changing my mind about pellet cooking!