Welcome to T3’s review of the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560, an indirect set-and-forget charcoal grill and smoker that uses the natural force of gravity and a computer controller to maintain constant preset temperatures, just like an indoor oven. In a nutshell, this new barbecue to the British market provides the flavour of charcoal with the convenience of a pellet or gas grill.
I’ll be the first to admit that when it comes to barbecuing for a crowd, I want as easy a time as possible. I don't want to be chained to the barbecue while everyone else is having a good time and I don’t want to worry about whether the food is burning because I’ve spent too much time chatting to friends. That’s why I’m a huge fan of pellet grills, which, incidentally, you can read about in our all-flavours guide to the best barbecues.
Unlike the average charcoal grill which is notoriously difficult to control while taking ages to reach cooking temperature, a pellet grill does it all for you because it has a computer on board, and computers don’t make mistakes. You simply set the temperature you want, throw on some meat and veg, close the lid and enjoy yourself knowing that the barbecue’s internal temperature will remain at a constant level and everything will be cooked to succulent excellence, and with a smoky flavour, too. There are no air vents to fiddle with because the wood pellets are automatically fed by an auger from the hopper to the fire pot at a rate that ensures the pre-set temperature is maintained to within three or four degrees. You can easily see how everything’s going from the comfort of an outdoor sofa, simply by launching the grill’s accompanying phone app and checking the real-time temperature.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you no longer need an expensive pellet BBQ to smoke your next brisket or grill your next tranche of buffalo wings because the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 does exactly the same kind of thing as a pellet grill only with charcoal and an electric fan instead of pellets and an auger. And what’s more, it’s cheaper to buy, too.
Let’s dive in to my Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: price & availability
Masterbuilt has clearly ramped up its marketing approach in the UK because the Gravity Series 560 I'm reviewing is available from a wide variety of stores, including some mainstream chains. Its price – between £599 and £649 – can be considered reasonable given the amount of on-board tech, its excellent build quality and overall performance. In fact, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 is about the same price as a Pit Boss Navigator 500 pellet grill, a lot less than a Traeger pellet grill and way cheaper than any Big Green Egg charcoal BBQ. UK stockists include B&Q, ProSmoke, Amazon, Marks Electrical, Grill Store and BBQ Land.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: design & features
The hybrid Masterbuilt Gravity Series is available in three sizes: the medium-sized 800; the monster-sized 1050; and the entry-level, smaller-capacity Series 560 I'm reviewing here. The Masterbuilt 560 is quite unlike any other charcoal grill on the market and you can be sure it will invite inquisitive glances from your guests who will wonder what the hell it is. To which you will answer "just watch and learn, and after today’s barbecue, you too will go out and buy one".
Comprising a very tall charcoal hopper on the right and the main grilling section on the left, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 uses indirect heat to grill meats and veg, sear steaks and smoke ribs low and slow for hours at a time. And the best thing is that you can easily add charcoal to the top of the hopper as and when it’s needed.
In all essence, the Gravity Series behaves like a Weber chimney starter – those circular steel devices one uses to kickstart a charcoal fire. With this system you simply fill the hopper from the top with about five kilos of charcoal and light it using firelighters that have been stuffed into a slot directly beneath the charcoal tower. Once the fire has taken hold, close the hopper lid and the ash cupboard door and head over to the controller on the far left. Turn it on, select a temperature for the style of grilling – around 105˚C for smoking, 200˚C for grilling and around 370˚C for rapid searing – close the lid and retreat.
Like a chimney starter, the charcoal burns from the bottom with all ashes falling into a large steel bucket below. Unlike a simple chimney starter that relies upon natural ventilation from the air around its base, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 is equipped with a powerful variable-speed fan that feeds the flames while pushing the heat from the exceedingly hot fire bed along a stainless steel manifold tunnel that’s positioned directly beneath the main cast-iron grill grate. The upshot is that it takes just 10 minutes for the BBQ to reach grilling temperature. Really, once that fan is in full swing you can see the temperature rising on the controller’s display at a rate of around one degree every two or three seconds. As a safety measure, the fan will always cut off if the hopper lid or the ash cupboard are opened while the grill is in operation.
As the model number suggests, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560’s two-sided cast-iron grates and twin wire racks amount to 560 square inches of cooking space – more than enough meal estate for six and a lot more if grilling smaller ingredients like burgers, wings, drumsticks or sausages. This grate is triangular on one side – good for smoking – and flat on the other for grilling and searing. The square-shaped double walled lid is not only great at retaining heat while being easy to lift, but its flat top is perfect for pre-heating serving dishes, too.
Over to the left is where all the clever stuff occurs. I haven’t a clue what’s inside the controller but all I know is I’m amazed at how well it controls the grill’s internal temperature. Given that the 560 uses simply gravity and no moving mechanical parts aside from a spinning fan, I’ve been super impressed by how accurately it has maintained temperatures. On average, I’d say it is within two or three degrees of the preset temperature and that's a simply phenomenal level of control for a charcoal barbie. The fan is very quiet and nothing like the jet-engine roar of a pellet grill. In fact, you can hardly hear it at all. Also, it draws very little electricity so you could easily use this BBQ with a power station like the BioLite BaseCharge 1500.
The control panel is a bit cheap looking it has to be said – it uses horrible bubble-like buttons – so I would hope that future models adopt something along the lines of the Char-Broil Smart E electric grill’s slick control interface and massive digital display. That said, the slightly naff aesthetics of the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560’s controller in no way impedes its function.
To set a temperature, you simply tap the temperature icon, turn the dial and tap the same icon again. The same goes for the timer which can be used as a stopwatch or a timer, with all info being ported in real-time to the accompanying Masterbuilt app. You can use this grill with up to four wired meat probes – it ships with one – that slip through a hole in the side of the grill chassis. Each probe can be preset with its own destination temperature at which point an alarm will sound on the unit and on the app.
Given this barbecue’s cluster of on-board electrical components, I most definitely advise buying a cover for it at the same time. The custom cover Masterbuilt sent with the grill is as robust as Broil King’s high-end covers so it will almost certainly last for many winters. It also fits like a glove.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: Assembly
I’ve heard that a lot of people found the Gravity Series 560 a pain to assemble and some have said it’s not the best built barbecue in terms of materials used. I beg to differ and I’ve assembled more barbecues than I’ve had hot dinners, though I will agree that one specific step in the assembly did make my head explode.
Firstly, this BBQ comes in a huge box on a pallet, but the good news is that the top half of the box lifts off to expose the items – and there are many of them. Thankfully, the main carcass of the grill – i.e. the grilling tub and the hopper – arrives fully assembled though you will definitely require two sets of hands to lift it because it is heavy with a capital H.
I’d say there are about the same amount of assembly steps with this model as there are with any large gas barbecue with a side burner. However, the vast of majority of the steps, including the electrical parts, are easy to carry out, except for one – fitting a single fascia panel on the lower part of the hopper. Be patient with this particular step because it involves some twisting and bending – and a lot of swearing.
I’ve got to say that when I first pulled out the thin, factory-bent metal legs I was immediately disappointed and expected the whole thing to be as wobbly as a cheap £95 barbecue. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. When fully assembled, the Masterbuilt 560 is as strong and sturdy as my locomotive-like Broil King Regal 500 pellet grill. And because it comes with two big front wheels and a pair of good-quality rear castors, it’s super easy to move around, too. I was equally impressed by the strength of the side shelf which is robust enough to lift the whole barbecue with. Top marks all round.
Incidentally, the first thing you need to do with this grill – indeed any grill – is season it with some cooking oil and complete a burn-in cycle at around 205˚C for 60 minutes or so. This burn-in period is also a good time to get acquainted with how the 560 works, how to use the controller and how to link it to your phone.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: grilling & searing
The first thing you’ll notice using this barbecue is how incredibly stable the temperature is. This is groundbreaking stuff because charcoal is an extremely volatile fuel that's very difficult to regulate. In my first test I set a temperature of 180˚C and it only fluctuated by a few degrees. Even some pellet grills aren't that accurate. I raised the temperature to 220˚C, the fan kicked in at full speed and the temperature hit the mark in a phenomenal two minutes.
For my first test, I threw on some wings coated in The Rib Man’s Buffalo Hot Wing sauce, closed the lid and left them on for about 10 minutes before returning to turn them. The result was amazing, and that was without adding any wood smoke into the mix, which I shall address next. The app displayed a steady temperature throughout the process.
Since this barbecue uses indirect heat as opposed to a normal kettle grill that has the coals directly beneath the grill grate, I wasn’t sure how well it would reverse sear a steak. Starting at around 120˚C, I slapped on a farm shop sirloin and left it on for around 30 minutes then let it rest while I raised the Masterbuilt’s temperature to 350˚C – it didn't take long. As soon as the meat hit the grate, it sizzled like a sizzling thing. Fat juices then started dripping on to the scorchingly hot manifold below which in turn produced a flame, and it’s this combination of high heat with an occasional flame that makes searing such a cinch on this grill. Needless to say, the surface of the steak sported great sear marks and superb caramelisation while the centre remained a succulent medium rare.
For some reason, only the middle-sized Series 800 model ships with a heavy-duty flat griddle plate but luckily ProSmoke produces its own heavy-duty griddle and modified manifold that have been designed specifically for the 560 (£140.99). If you love smash burgers or grilled breakfasts – bacon, eggs and all – this is the upgrade for you.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: smoking
Masterbuilt is a US company that’s justly famous for its range of smokers. In fact its website doesn’t list any bona-fide grills at all even though the 560 is brilliant at both grilling and searing. Rather, they list this model as a ‘hybrid grill and smoker’.
To create the required smoky flavour and pink smoke rings on your meat, you have a choice of two methods. For a lightly smoked flavour, lob a hickory wood chunk into the ash bucket and when the hot ash from the charcoal drops on it, it’ll start smoldering, emitting a light woody flavour in the process. For a more robust smokey flavour, add wood chunks into the hopper when you fill it with charcoal. Simply pour in a small amount of charcoal, add a wood chunk and then more charcoal and then another wood chunk, etc.
With this in mind, I went back to the farm shop and bought a rack of ribs which I seasoned using a smear of French’s mustard and some Traeger rub. I went through a five-hour low-and-slow process of smoking the ribs at around 105˚C and the result was fall-off-the-bone Texan authenticity with a mind-blowing ‘bark’ and scrumptious smokiness. And the best thing about it was that the whole cooking process was effortless. I simply set the main temperature, the timer and the probe temp and left the 560 to do its thing.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: Masterbuilt app
While the Masterbuilt app (iOS and Android) isn’t anything like as fully featured as Traeger’s pellet grill version, it’s still well worth downloading so you can monitor and change temperatures on the 560 without standing by the grill, switch easily between Celsius and Fahrenheit and try out a few new recipes. Just be sure to site the grill within range of your home’s Wi-Fi signal.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: performance
From its initial pre-seasoning burn-in to several experiments with different ingredients and cooking methods, the Gravity Series 560 has single-handedly converted this writer from pellet grills back to charcoal. I found it reassuringly easy to use and extremely convenient, despite the need for an outdoor electricity output.
I had no hiccups during any of my cooking processes and I was extremely impressed by how well it maintained a fixed temperature, which made the act of grilling an absolute pleasure and with very little effort on my part. Another great bonus is the way you can add more charcoal when the need arises without tainting the charcoal that’s already doing the cooking. It means you can grill or smoke on this model for as long as you have charcoal to hand. I also love the way you can choke off the charcoal hopper when finished so you can pick up from where you left off by using the unburnt charcoal still in the hopper.
Overall build quality is excellent, from the strength of the seemingly spindly legs and light but sufficient rectangular lid to the rubberised latches on the hopper and oven-style heat gaskets. The two-sided cast-iron grate, meanwhile, was perfect for both smoking and searing and I had no food sticking issues at all.
Perhaps the only tricky part of the whole process is the act of hauling charcoal into the hopper because it’s 1.35m tall and most charcoal bags weigh about 12 kilos. If you’re not especially tall you may need to stand on a chair so you can more easily aim the contents into the hopper’s small 8x6-inch portal.
In terms of hotspots on the main grate, the left side is quite a bit hotter than the right but I consider this a good thing because it means I can shuffle the food around accordingly. By contrast, the top two wire grates showed uniform temperatures across the entire width of the unit – perfect for even smoking.
Finally, a shout out for the front-mounted thermometer which conveniently highlights the four main temperature ranges for smoking, general barbecuing, hot grilling and high-heat searing.
Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 review: verdict
I have nothing but praise for this mould-breaking charcoal barbie-cum-smoker. Despite one assembly issue and the tall reach required to fill the hopper, this grill performed superbly well in all disciplines, from searing to smoking. It’s just such a pleasure to use and so easy to control without having to be chained to it.
If you’ve always been a charcoal fan but have struggled to maintain even cooking temperatures from one grilling session to the next, do yourself a big favour and pay considerable attention to this sterling game changer. It will transform your al fresco cooking experiences and probably turn you into a better barbecue chef in the process.