When it comes to connected grills, pellet models are all the rage. While they produce some excellent tasting food, wood pellets aren’t as readily available as charcoal, despite the rising popularity. Sure, you can find them at hardware stores and online, but most likely you can’t add a bag to your regular grocery order. Or, maybe you just prefer charcoal in general. Masterbuilt, a brand under the same umbrella as Kamado Joe, has designed a charcoal grill that offers the connectivity of modern pellet grills for a more familiar fuel source: the Gravity Series 560 ($500). Plus, it’s about half the cost of a mid-range Traeger.
For the most part, the 560 looks like a gas grill. It has a pretty typical cooking box and lid. Of course, the 560 doesn’t run on gas. Instead, there’s a tall gravity-fed charcoal hopper on the right side. It functions a lot like an offset smoker that a lot of barbecue joints use. The fuel and heat source are on the side of the cooking area, so the heat and smoke travel into the main chamber. In the case of the 560, you pour charcoal in the top of this chamber and a side door on the bottom gives you access to clean out ash and light the charcoal from the bottom.
Like pellet grills, a fan helps maintain the desired cooking temperature. On the 560, it blows air upward, into the bottom of the charcoal hopper to keep the heat going and circulate it into the main cooking area. If you have the temperature set high enough for searing, you’ll see flames too. There are switches on both the hopper lid and the side door, both of which stop the fan while you’re loading or performing maintenance. It’s a safety feature, but it also means that you won’t get blasted with smoke, embers or ash when you’re trying to keep the grill going. There’s one on the main grill lid too, and while that one doesn’t stop the fan entirely, it does alert the controller that you have the 560 open. There have been some reports of issues with these switches failing, which means the grill always thinks one of the three doors is open and the fan doesn’t operate normally, making it unusable. In over a dozen cooks, I haven’t experienced this, and the problem doesn’t appear to be widespread based on user reviews. Still, it’s worth noting as you consider buying a 560.
On the left side of the 560, there’s a shelf with the grill controls. Masterbuilt has simplified the things here, giving you much less to scroll through than a Traeger or Weber pellet grill. Instead of having to navigate through a menu with a rotating knob, each item has a dedicated button. There’s a separate one for grill temperature, probe temperature, timer and phone pairing. With the exception of connecting to your phone, you select each option and then set the temp or time by rotating and pushing the dial. A bright blue display is your guide on the grill, or you can do all of this inside the Masterbuilt app. Lastly, the 560 accommodates up to four food probes at once. It only ships with one, but you can add more if you need them for $20 each.
Inside Masterbuilt made some design choices to really help with cleanup. With a pellet model, you have to vacuum out dust and ash every few cooks to keep all of that debris off your food. And, of course, to keep the grill working efficiently and safely. With the 560, there is almost no ash or dust to fall to the bottom. The only thing you’ll have to clean is the grease collection pan. It’s a smaller bin that’s easy to remove, and it sits in a larger angled tray that also slides out for cleaning. Both of these are easily accessible from the back of the 560. As far as the charcoal goes, all of that falls into a metal bin at the bottom of the hopper. And from the side door, that container can be quickly removed, dumped and returned in a matter of seconds — even during a cook.
The 560 is capable of temperatures from 150 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. That range gives you the versatility to tailor your cooks to your preferences. Prefer to smoke ribs at 185 for the first three hours? No problem. Need to keep something warm around 165? It can do that too. Masterbuilt says the 560 can reach 225 degrees in seven minutes and 700 degrees in 13. I found those figures to be mostly true, however, they don’t factor in the time it takes for the charcoal to fully ignite. And that can vary based on ambient conditions, the state of your charcoal and how quickly your fire starter ignites the hopper.
During a few cooks, I double checked temperatures with the Smoke X2 and found the 560 was within three to five degrees of what I had set most of the time. The range was higher right after the initial preheat cycle, but it leveled out after a few minutes. During reviews of Traeger and Weber pellet grills, I typically experienced a variance of around five to seven degrees between the built-in thermostat and an external thermometer.
Getting the charcoal lit takes some practice. If you’re using fresh charcoal, this won’t be a problem. But if what you have at the bottom of the hopper is leftover from a previous cook, it will take an extra few minutes to get things going. I found that Masterbuilt’s recommendation of a food-safe fire starter keeps frustration to a minimum. A paper towel works, but not nearly as well since it burns so quickly. It also helps to slide the grate at the bottom of the hopper back and forth to knock off any excess ash from those lowest briquettes. In the event the grill doesn’t fully light, it will beep and flash an error message on the display. You can simply reset the temperature and try again. Unfortunately, you don’t get the error in the app, so you’ll want to stay close to the grill until you’re sure the fire is going. Most of the time ignition took under five minutes.
Masterbuilt says you can use lump charcoal or briquettes in the 560. This gives you some variety in brands and types of wood that are available to cook with. In my experience, charcoal alone only produced a modest amount of smoke on the 560, but the company says you can add wood chunks or charcoal to the ash bin at the bottom of the hopper to boost it. As the embers from the burning charcoal fall, they cause any wood pieces or extra briquettes to burn slowly and produce more smoke. Masterbuilt also says you can mix wood chunks in the hopper with your charcoal, so long as you don’t add more than 1.5 pounds of it. During my tests, I got the best results with both: some wood in the hopper and sporadically adding some to the ash container.
Once you’re up and running, the Masterbuilt app keeps you updated on both grill and food temps. You can adjust both from your phone, in addition to setting any timers and alerts you might need. That covers the basics, and all of those are handy for any cooking session, especially longer low-and-slow methods for things like pork shoulder or ribs. And yes, you can keep tabs and adjust things away from home thanks to the 506’s WiFi connectivity. But let’s face it: leaving any grill unattended is a huge risk.
The app does offer recipes, but there’s not the deep integration I’ve seen on pellet grills from Traeger and Weber. There’s no step-by-step guidance or even the ability to send temperature info to the grill. Of course, the 560 is around half the price of those smart grills, so it’s no surprise.
The app also allows you to turn the grill off remotely. However, you still need to manually insert a pair of metal slides to completely cut off the airflow to the hopper. Even then, the 560 takes a while to cool down enough to where you can put the cover on. Unlike Traeger or Weber, the app doesn’t let you know when a shutdown cycle is complete as the controller turns off immediately. It’s not a major issue, but it is something you’ll want to keep in mind.
All of that being said, the 560 is capable of cooking some great tasting food. Because of the charcoal, the flavor is slightly different than what I’m used to on a pellet grill. It’s not bad, I can just tell I used a different fuel source. There was still ample smoke flavor in the food when I did low-and-slow baby back ribs and pork shoulder. The smoke ring wasn’t as defined as what I’ve seen on the Ironwood 650 or SmokeFire EX4, but it’s still there. That pink line is always nice to look at, but it’s not the absolute indicator of great-tasting food. It mostly just gives you more pitmaster cred on Instagram.
Because of its higher temperature range, the 560 does a better job of searing than any of the pellet grills I’ve tested. The Weber SmokeFire outperforms Traeger, but Masterbuilt gave me even better results when searing steaks than either one of those. One of my main gripes about the 560 though is the grates. The main bottom grates are cast iron with wider bars for searing on one side and narrower ones on the other for smoking. Cast iron is great for searing, but they require a lot more maintenance than regular metal grates. And when you’re cooking fatty meats like pork or brisket, or saucy wings and ribs, those require more attention. There are also two smaller porcelain-coated racks for warming and smoking that you can use on one of two levels above the main grates. They’re half the depth of the grill, so you can use them both on the same slot for more surface area, split them up or remove them entirely.
I found the 560 is pretty efficient with charcoal, but not quite as efficient as Masterbuilt claims. The company says you can get through 12-15 hours of use with a 16-pound bag of briquettes or 10 pounds of lump charcoal. My experience was closer to 10 hours, which isn’t a deal breaker, but it is something to be aware of. And if you’re doing a lot of high-heat cooking or searing, you’ll burn through that charcoal a little faster. I used about two-thirds of a bag during my longest cook of seven hours, and got about three more hours out of remainder. I chose Kingsford Original, so there’s a chance you could extend the time with another variety (Kingsford does make a Long Burn charcoal, for example). 10 hours on a bag is still pretty good though, as it was enough for 2-3 cooks at varying temperatures. That’s about the same as what I’d get out of a bag of pellets: around two or three uses, not necessarily 10 hours. That Kingsford Original is $12.99 at my local grocery store — $6 less than a 20-pound bag of Traeger pellets at Amazon or Home Depot, and $4 less than the same size bag from Weber. There are cheaper pellet brands, but those are the two I use most often.
The Gravity Series 560 offers 560 square inches of cooking space, hence the number in the model name. If that’s not enough, Masterbuilt also has the Gravity Series 1050 for $800. The features list is mostly the same, but you get a folding front shelf, cord storage and those warming/smoking grates fold up so you can easily access the main cooking area at the bottom. For the same price, you can get the Pro 575 from Traeger, which gives you all the connectivity and software features you would need. But as the name implies, it only offers 575 square inches of cooking space. Green Mountain Grills has a WiFi-enabled pellet grill for $500, but it has less interior area than the 560. If you’d rather go with pellets over charcoal though, there are several options for under $1,000.
With the Gravity Series 560, Masterbuilt has designed a charcoal grill that gives aspiring pitmasters an alternative to wood pellets. The company offers basic connectivity that covers the essentials, and it all works well. Aside from some issues with ignition and the cast iron grates, I had no issues cooking pulled pork, ribs and steaks on par with what I’ve done on pricier pellet grills. Sure, the experience isn’t exactly the same. But if you’re looking for a smoking and searing machine that runs on a fuel source you can get almost anywhere, the 560 is worth considering. Especially if you’re on a tight budget.