Three days until spring. As the kids say, boo-yah!
And just to keep you all on your toes, I’m going to start the “Spring Countdown Triple-Header Equipment Review Fest” with something that has nothing at all to do with barbeque. Well, mostly, anyway – there is a barbeque option here, but It’s not what the suits would call the “core competency” of this unit. No, this old-school chunk of iron is all about the grill. Hot coals, direct heat, bring out the steaks and burgers, and don’t forget the beer.
It’s stripped down, low-tech, simple, inexpensive, and a little chunk of grillhead paradise. It’s the Char-Griller Super Pro, and it’s ideal if all you need is a big-ass grill that’s bulletproof, simple to use, and gives that real charcoal-grilled taste.
I know that a lot of grillheads out there have grown up with the dreaded gas grills. Natural gas, propane, doesn’t matter – there is a whole generation of burger and steak flippers who have spent their whole lives eating second-rate food. Grilling on gas just doesn’t cut it – you need the charcoal. And whether you are picking up your first ever grill or you just want to find out what you have been missing out on with your gas-burning stainless-steel suburban patio monster, the Super Pro is an ideal spring purchase.
At A Glance: Char-Griller Super Pro
Quality – VERY GOOD
Ease Of Use – EXCELLENT
Flexibility – POOR to FAIR*
Value – EXCELLENT
*Fair with the addition of the optional firebox and a lot of smoking experience
The Nuts And Bolts
Char-Griller is a company that proves “inexpensive” does not have to equal “cheap”. Everything from the packaging to the assembly instructions to the little extras lets you know that the company believes in taking the time and effort to do things right.
The first thing you notice is that the Super Pro comes packed in a suspiciously small box. If you are at ye olde big box hardware store and you see the grill assembled and on display and then look at the box next to it, you are going to step back and say “no way does that thing fit in there”. But not only does this larger-than-average grill fit in the box, it is packed in a logical and efficient order so that the parts come out of the box as you need them when you put the thing together. It’s one part engineering, one part origami, and one part “dad managing to get everything in the trunk for vacation no matter how much crap mom wanted to bring along”.
It also makes the assembly simple and fun. Despite some heavy parts (there is a lot of cast metal here) and some large components, one person can put this together in an hour or two with no awkward moments. The instructions are easy to understand and follow, the parts are well-labelled and packed in the order you need them, and you only need a couple of tools. They also include a couple extra of pretty much every small item – bolts, nuts, washers – so you don’t have to worry about lost parts or scrounging up replacements later. If your retailer offers to assemble and deliver this for a fee, keep your money in your pocket and do it yourself. Even the most mechanically inept will have no problems here.
The assembled grill is extremely solid. You will have to re-tighten the bolts once after a couple of months, and that is that.
Ease Of Use
Char-Griller designs a very simple grill. There is a single rotary damper on the right hand side, a charcoal tray you can manually raise and lower, and … well, that’s it. Done and done – this big grill is definitely easy to use. The combination of the damper and the tray height will let you manage your temperature as accurately as you will ever need. The hood of the grill comes with a generally accurate thermometer built-in. Even a newbie should have no problems the first time out.
The charcoal tray has an integrated grate and ash pan, and the whole thing lifts out with two big grab handles for cleaning. Those same handles are how you lower and raise the tray – they have four sets of hooks and you just grab them and hook them at the height you need. They are independent, so you can have one end up high and one end down low for some temperature flexibility during a single grill. You will definitely want to invest in a pair of welding gloves (I like these ones) for grabbing the tray handles, managing the charcoal, and dealing with other stupidly hot surfaces. They will set you back about twenty bucks at the Home-Lowes-Menards-Rona-Depot-Whatever, and are a great investment for outdoor charcoal- and wood-fired cooking.
And while it is not actually a part of the “ease of use” of any specific grill, the “lighting the charcoal” question always seems to come up. In a nutshell, any charcoal grill is simple to light. Use a charcoal chimney, real hardwood lump charcoal, and your coals are ready for grilling in about 10 minutes. No lighter fluid, and no briquettes. Ever. Period. And since the Super Pro is a big grill, you might actually want to have two chimneys. Most of your grilling will use only half of the available cookspace and one chimney of charcoal. However, if you want to use the whole machine and grill 20 big steaks at once you will want to fill the entire charcoal tray with a maximum load of coals. That is going to take two full chimneys worth. It’s something to keep in mind.
The Super Pro is a grill. And while it is a great grill, that is pretty much all the average person can do with it. Char-Griller does sell a side-mounted offset firebox that will turn any of their grills into an “Oklahoma Joe” type of smoker. You can buy it separately or packaged together as the “Smokin’ Pro” model -both variants give you the same final product. I have one, and it is nice to have from a flexibility standpoint, but if you are new to the smoking game I would give it a pass. It is not something that a rookie is going to have much luck with. If you do plan to try the side box, remember that you need to use wood logs and not charcoal to fire it.
When push comes to shove, you are buying one of these to use as a grill, pure and simple.
The Super Pro is a good-quality charcoal grill with a tonne of cooking space and its simple design means you will get great results from the first cook for as long as you own it. It packs well-considered design, solid materials, and simple assembly into a economy-priced package.
The metal of the body is thicker than you would expect for a product in this price range. All of the parts fit together perfectly, no forcing or bending. The lid of both the main grill and the side firebox are flanged, so they make a nice seal when you are smoking or cooking with convection. And all of the grates (four in the main barrel, and two in the optional firebox) are high-quality cast iron. No cheap coated steel here – these babies will last a lifetime.
The company also tosses in a few little extras (utensil hooks and cast iron grill lifters) so that you really feel like they worked hard to earn your cash. Even after you buy a charcoal chimney and a pair of gloves, the value here is unbeatable.
When All Is Said And Done
If you need a charcoal grill for everyday direct heat cooking – steaks, burgers, chicken wings, dogs and sausage, veggies, corn, that sort of thing – the Char-Griller Super Pro is hard to beat. Whether you are buying your first and only grill, or adding a charcoal grill to complement an existing gas grill or traditional barbeque pit, this is a very safe buy. They sell for anywhere from 130 to 150 bucks and you can find them at pretty much every big-box home improvement store and at a lot of barbeque specialty and hardware stores. If you are feeling adventurous you can add the side firebox for about 40 dollars more.
Thoughtfully designed, bulletproof construction, and a price that is very easy on the pocket. Definitely recommended.