The Best Gravity-Fed Smoker in 2024: Superior to Pellet Grills?

best gravity fed grills

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What if you could combine the convenience of a pellet grill with the real wood flavor that you love about a traditional stick-burner? A gravity-fed charcoal grill just might be the answer you’re looking for…

That’s right – all the charcoal flavor that you love with none of the work. It almost sounds too good to be true, but I’ve been using gravity-fed grills for over a year now and I can confirm that they live up to their promise.

Today I’m going to be breaking down the basics of gravity-fed grills, as well as comparing two of the options on the market today: the Masterbuilt Gravity 1050 and the Char-Griller Gravity Fed 980.

What is a gravity-fed charcoal grill?

As the name implies, a gravity-fed grill utilizes gravity to keep your charcoal burning for hours on end. Similar to a pellet grill, the gravity-fed design has a hopper that can be filled with lump charcoal, charcoal briquettes, and/or wood chunks.

I usually use lump charcoal because that is what I prefer in all of my grills, but I’ve used briquettes as well. I find that the briquettes burn a little slower than lump because you can fit more of them in the hopper due to size.

You simply light the charcoal at the bottom of the hopper, set the grill to your desired temperature, and let the grill do its thing.

The grill has an integrated, electronic temperature system and fan to keep your charcoal burning at the same temperature for hours on end. The hopper can hold 10 pounds of lump charcoal or 16 pounds of charcoal briquettes which will allow you to keep your charcoal burning for upwards of 8 hours straight without the need to add more fuel.

Gravity-fed grills allow the flexibility of smoking, grilling, and searing all at the simple touch of a button. They are easy to use and will allow you to pack in that amazing, smoky, charcoal flavor that you love without any of the hassle of a traditional charcoal grill.

What I love about gravity-fed grills:

  • Hassle-free cooking for hours on end.
  • Integrated temperature control and fan will maintain a steady temperature throughout the entire cooking process.
  • Ability to raise or lower temperature in a matter of minutes.
  • All the charcoal smoke flavor you love with no hassle.

What I don’t like about gravity-fed grills:

  • Inability to set up multi-zone cooking; the entire grill surface can only be set to one temperature.
  • Electrical components and fan increase chances of product defects (though I have not experienced any issues in over a year of grilling regularly).

What gravity-fed models are available on the market?

Masterbuilt was the first company to launch a gravity-fed charcoal grill back in 2019. They essentially took all of the convenience that people love about pellet grills and applied that concept to this charcoal grill.

Masterbuilt patented the design, which is why we haven’t seen a lot of other grill companies create a similar style grill of their own. The one exception is Char-Griller which released the Char-Griller 980 Gravity Fed charcoal grill in 2021. Both Masterbuilt and Char-Griller are owned by the same parent company, so I think that is how they were able to get around the 15-year patent on the technology.

The current models available are as follows:

SpecificationsMasterbuilt
Gravity 560
Masterbuilt
Gravity 800
Masterbuilt
Gravity 1050
Char-Griller
Gravity Fed 980
Cooking Space560 sq. in.800 sq. in.1080 sq. in.980 sq. in.
Hopper Capacity16lbs of briquettes /
10lbs of lump charcoal
16lbs of briquettes /
10lbs of lump charcoal
16lbs of briquettes /
10lbs of lump charcoal
16lbs of briquettes /
7lbs of lump charcoal
Dimensions54W x 51H x 24D55W x 50H x 30.5D61W x 52H x 33D65W x 51H x 34D
Capacity8 chickens /
4 racks of ribs /
21 burgers
12 chickens /
6 racks of ribs /
36 burgers
17 chickens /
7 racks of ribs /
45 burgers
8 chickens /
8 racks of ribs /
36 burgers
PriceCheck Latest PriceCheck Latest PriceCheck Latest PriceCheck Latest Price

We did a review of the smallest 560 model when it was first released.

The Masterbuilt Gravity 1050

I got my Masterbuilt Gravity 1050 in December of 2021, so I have been cooking with it for over a year now. It is by far one of my favorite grills in my collection. I’ve done everything from smoking meat low and slow to searing steaks at a high temperature of 700°F+ and the Masterbuilt is a powerhouse for any cooking application.

Masterbuilt Gravity 1050 charcoal grill

Masterbuilt Gravity 1050 overview & specifications

The Masterbuilt GravityFed™ series comes in 3 different sizes, but for the purposes of this review, I’m going to be focusing on the Masterbuilt GravityFed™ 1050 which is the largest of the 3 offerings.

Cooking Space1080 sq. in.
Hopper Capacity16lbs briquettes / 10lbs lump charcoal
Single-hopper Cooking TimeUp to 10 hours
Cooking GratesCast-iron grates that are reversible for both smoke + sear functions
Temperature Range225°F to 700°F
FanDigitalFan™ technology for precise temperature control
Control PanelBluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity to monitor your cook from your phone
Warranty1 year

Lighting the Masterbuilt GravityFed™ 1050

When I first got this grill a little over a year ago, I joked with my husband about how I could fire up a charcoal grill without even getting my hands dirty. But, all jokes aside, that is honestly one of my favorite features of this grill.

You simply fill the hopper with your charcoal of choice, then slide a couple of fire starters into the bottom of the hopper and light them. There are dampers located on the side of the hopper that you need to remove prior to lighting the grill, but they slide out easily with one hand.

After you light the fire starters, you want to let them burn for a couple of minutes to really get going, then you can shut the hopper and head over to the control panel to set your desired temperature.

Masterbuilt GravityFed control panel

The temperature ranges from 225°F to 700°F and heats up very quickly. It only takes about 10 minutes to get the grill up to 225° for low and slow smoking, and another 5 to 7 to kick it up to 700°F when you want to perform a high-heat sear.

Cooking on the Masterbuilt GravityFed™ 1050

As I said before, I’ve been cooking on this grill for over a year now and have done just about every type of cooking you can imagine on it.

It allows you to set the temperature down to 225°F for low and slow smoking and I would venture to say that it rivals an offset smoker when it comes to the flavor you are able to achieve.

various meats smoking on the Masterbuilt GravityFed™ 1050 grill

The grill holds a consistent temperature for hours on end and will allow you to add a prominent, charcoal smoke flavor into whatever you are cooking. Some of the best ribs I’ve ever made have come off my Masterbuilt and I’ve also gotten the grill up to over 650°F to reverse sear steaks beautifully.

The Char-Griller Gravity 980

While I don’t have nearly as much experience cooking on the Char-Griller 980 as I have with the Masterbuilt, I’ve been able to get a few cooks in on the Char-Griller and found it to perform just as great as the Masterbuilt model.

The Char-Griller has a round design and looks more like a traditional smoker or pellet grill, plus it comes in two colors (red and blue) for those that want to add a touch of color to their cooking space.

Char-Griller Gravity 980

Char-Griller Gravity 980 overview & specifications

Total Cooking Space:980 sq. in.
Primary Cooking Space:680 sq. in.
Hopper Capacity:16lbs briquettes / 7lbs lump charcoal
Single-Hopper Cooking Time:Up to 8 hours
Cooking Grates:Porcelain-coated cast iron
Temperature Range:200°F to 700°F
Fan:Precision control fan for temperature control
Control Panel:Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity to monitor your cook from your phone
Warranty:1 year

Lighting the Char-Griller Gravity 980

Lighting the Char-Griller is almost identical process to the process I outlined above for the Masterbuilt model. You simply fill the hopper with your charcoal of choice, add a firestarter into the slot in the bottom, allow it to light for a few minutes, then shut the hopper and adjust the temperature of the grill using the control panel.

charcoal burning in the hopper of the Char-Griller Gravity 980

You can use the grill to smoke meat at a range of temperatures from 200°F to 250°F, or you can kick up the temperature and grill/sear food at temperatures from 450°F to 700°F as well.

Cooking on the Char-Griller Gravity 980

Similar to the Masterbuilt, cooking on the Char-Griller Gravity 980 was a great experience. I love the design of the grill and how easy it is to adjust temperature based on what you are cooking.

I smoked a couple of pork butts and they came out amazing. The smoke flavor was very prevalent and they cooked very similarly to the way I would expect a charcoal grill to cook. I also made a couple of racks of ribs and they came out amazing as well.

two pork butts smoking on the Char-Griller Gravity 980 grill

The hopper lived up to the promise of an 8 hour cook time. If you run out of charcoal during the cook, you can always add more on top easily without having to turn off or adjust the grill in anyway.

Why aren’t gravity-fed grills more popular?

I honestly think the issue is that people don’t know they exist. Pellet grills have really been the shining star of the backyard barbecue industry in recent years, so many people gravitate towards the brands they know like Traeger, Pit Boss, and Camp Chef.

I can confidently say that performance is not the issue when it comes to gravity-fed grills. The issues are marketing and publicity.

The ability to cook over charcoal and wood without any of the hassle of managing a fire is a huge game-changer in the grilling industry. The number one complaint that I hear from people about pellet grills is the lack of smoke flavor, but a gravity-fed grill is going to give you all the smoke flavor that you love with the convenience and ease of cooking on a pellet grill.

Plus, Masterbuilt filed for a patent on the technology when they launched the gravity-fed back in 2019 and that patent got approved for a 15-year term. Essentially, the only companies that are going to be able to be players in the gravity-fed game are going to be models that are owned by the same parent company as Masterbuilt, Char-Griller, and Kamado Joe.

Which gravity-fed model is right for you?

I’ll be honest, the Masterbuilt 1050 and the Char-Griller 980 are extremely similar. I personally don’t think that you will be disappointed with either model. My father also owns the Masterbuilt 800 model and it’s just as great as its larger counterpart.

The technology is virtually identical and they perform on a level playing field in my experience, but there are a few differences that are worth considering:

Hopper capacity

Masterbuilt offers a larger charcoal hopper. You can fit up to 10lbs of lump charcoal in all three of the Masterbuilt models, while the Char-Griller only has a 7lb capacity.

Masterbuilt gravity-fed charcoal hopper

Apart from when you are doing an overnight cook and plan to get some sleep while the grill is doing its thing, I don’t see the hopper capacity as a major issue. With both models you add charcoal to the hopper from the top and you can easily open the hopper mid-cook and add more fuel at any time, so it’s not like when you start to run out of charcoal your cook is over.

Cooking space

The Masterbuilt Gravity 1050 has about 100 square inches more cooking space than the Char-Griller 980. The other two Masterbuilt models (560 and 800) are smaller than the Char-Griller model.

pork ribs on Char-Griller 980

When you’re deciding which model is right for you, I think you just need to look at how much food you plan on cooking at one time. For many people, the Masterbuilt 560 offers plenty of space in a nice, compact design. Even on the smallest model they offer, you can easily fit 8 chickens or 4 racks of ribs with room to spare.

Price point

The Masterbuilt 1050 is about $100 more than the Char-Griller model, but the added cooking space really justifies a slightly higher price. The Char-Griller is priced at the same point at the mid-sized Masterbuilt 800 with a comparable cooking space.

Accessories

I think the place that Masterbuilt really shines is in the accessories category. Masterbuilt has been on the market longer and they do offer more accessories for their gravity-fed grills than Char-Griller does.

  • Rotisserie Kit – the Masterbuilt Gravity Rotisserie Kit is compatible with all three models of the Masterbuilt Gravity Fed grills. It has a powerful electric motor and can hold up to 10 lbs of food to cook rotisserie-style. It also has 2 interchangeable spit rods to allow your food to cook slowly and evenly over the charcoal grates.
  • Pizza Oven – the Masterbuilt Pizza Oven slides right into your GravityFed™ smoker and converts it into a pizza oven with a 14” capacity. It’s made from stainless-steel with a porcelain-coated exterior and offers a 360° airflow to cook your food evenly and quickly.
  • Smoker Griddle – Masterbuilt offers a smoker griddle insert for both the 800 model and the 1050 model that will allow you to convert your GravityFed™ smoker into a full-sized griddle.

So, if you are the type of person that likes to have a lot of versatility with their grill and wants options to do multiple styles of cooking, it’s important to keep these Masterbuilt accessories in mind as you are deciding while gravity-fed grill is the right one for you.

Final thoughts

As I mentioned before, I think the GravityFed™ design is an absolute game changer when it comes to grilling over charcoal. If you are in the market for a pellet grill, I highly recommend considering a gravity-fed charcoal grill.

These grills combine the convenience and versatility of a pellet grill, but allow you to use real wood and charcoal as your fuel source. If you’re a fan of a deep, smoky flavor in your food then I would venture to say that you are going to prefer the flavor you can get from a gravity-fed grill as opposed to a pellet smoker.

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23 Comments

  1. Just wondering what the cost would be to replace the fan if it ever goes out in the Masterbuilt Gravity Pit?

    1. Breanna Stark says:

      Masterbuilt offers a replacement fan kit on their website for $13.99

  2. Palladini says:

    I bought a Masterbuilt 560 about 2 years ago now, I love it. It can Smoke, Grill, Bake, Sear, Crisp, Warm, BBQ, Roast and Braise, doing it all while Charcoal smoke to the food

  3. What about adding wood or wood chips is this possible? Do they go on the grill or in the hopper?

    1. Breanna Stark says:

      Yes, you can add wood chunks to the hopper along with charcoal. I usually aim for an 80/20 mix of wood and lump charcoal.

      1. I toss wood chunks into the ash bucket. The embers that fall into it cause the chunks to smolder & gives more smoke than adding chunks into the hopper.

  4. Thanks, useful to know how they work. Is the firebox actually offset to the fuel box? I assume the briquettes aren’t all sitting on top of the fire. Does it work best with a particular size of charcoal or briquettes? Also fyi, with a patent you can grant someone else a licence to use or copy your patent (usually for a fee) and so masterbuilt is presumably willing to provide a licence to related companies but not external ones to protect their competitive position.

    1. Breanna Stark says:

      The fire is directly below the charcoal hopper, so yes – the charcoal sits above the fire but the fan regulates how much burns at a time to maintain the temperature you choose.

      I usually use lump charcoal because that is what I prefer in all of my grills, but I’ve used briquettes as well. I find that the briquettes burn a little slower than lump because you can fit more of them in the hopper due to size.

      1. Thanks, yes had a look at them and have a sense of how they work – almost a vertical snake and I assume the heat regulation is controlled by the speed of the fan. Can you tell me how the sear works? Looks like some pictures show a flame but I didn’t think there was anything burning under the grill? Also when you are finished cooking / burning, can you stop the fire or do you effectively have to burn all the briquettes / charcoal you have loaded into the hopper?

        1. Chris Belfiore says:

          When you are done cooking you just replace the slides and it basically smothers the fire.
          To sear you just set the temperature controller to 700 degrees and let it get up to temp.

        2. BobInMich says:

          From the video on Amazon, there appears to be a metal tent ^ running from side-to-side under the cooking grates, like the heat shields or “flavorizer” bars covering a gas grill’s burners. The fan blows the heat under this tent, heating it to the set temperature. Heating the shield to 700 degrees should provide radiant searing. I have no idea how well it performs.

  5. This post really has my interest. I’ve been deeply interested in getting a smoker. I have done on a very small charcoal and kept saying I’d like a pellet but would rather have a charcoal version of that. Now my interest is peaked. I’m just worried about money vs reliability.
    I see Lowe’s has a sale on the 980 one for two more weeks…

    1. Glad to hear our post was helpful! Sounds like a gravity smoker is precisely what you need. That Lowe’s price is pretty good for the 980

  6. Mark Harris says:

    Gravity-fed grill sounds interesting. How easy is it to clean? With my pellet grill, it’s a lot of work to clean out all the ash and grease, and I have to do it at least once a month.

    1. Breanna Stark says:

      I would say it is very similar to the cleaning process of a propane grill, but not quite as labor intensive as a pellet grill. It needs to be cleaned regularly (I shoot for about monthly) or you will run the risk of flare-ups.

  7. How about cleaning? Is it difficult to clean?

    How about grease collection?

    1. Breanna Stark says:

      I don’t find it difficult to clean – it’s very similar to the cleaning process on a propane grill. It does collect some grease in the bottom of the grill body if it isn’t cleaned regularly, which can cause flare-ups.

  8. Chris Belfiore says:

    I bought a Masterbuilt back in 2020 and I love it!!! I have done brisket, ribs, pork butt, turkeys and chickens. I love the convenience of just setting a temperature and a time and forgetting about it.
    Just 2 things to add that you forgot to mention. There are 4 plug ins for temperature probes right on the controller so you have a way of keeping track of internal temperature.
    And don’t forget about the app!!! You can easily check the grill temp, time remaining and probe temps right from your phone!!!

  9. You mentioned it was one of your favorite grills in your collection what other grills would you consider your favorites?

  10. I have owned my Gravity980 for a year now next month. The greatest selling point to me was the computerized temperature control (this over my old stick-burner offset). I can’t recommend it enough. Pro tip: assemble it as close to where your final resting will be; I had to get a few neighbors to help me get it on my backyard deck cuz this thing is heavy as hell!

    BTW: Masterbuilt and Char-Griller are owned by the same parent company now (Middleby is the parent company now)

  11. Do both reach the high end of the advertised temps? I’ve seen some reviews that they struggle to reach 300.

    1. Breanna Stark says:

      I haven’t had an issue with any of the ones I’ve cooked on reaching high temperatures. I regularly sear steaks on my Masterbuilt at 700°F+.

  12. Martin Lindell says:

    Hi griller friends!
    Bought 2 Masterbuilt 800 in Sweden. They seem to have a very uneven quality and extremely poor quality control. I have had several replacements due to rust on the lid and shelves. I have also had the control unit exchanged and the lid contacts on one of the grills. It is also tricky to connect to internet, but when it works-it’s fantastic. Just wish they would address the quality issues and time to get replacements!

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