I had never used a Z Grill before and wasn’t terribly familiar with the brand prior to receiving the Gen 2 10502B Smoke Beast. When I received it the packaging was superb and undamaged, and the installation process really blew me away for a grill under $600. While the 10502B really has some fantastic features for a budget pellet grill, once I actually started to use the grill I experienced a number of issues. Due to the severity of some of those issues I cannot recommend the Z Grills 10502B (Gen 2) Smoke Beast. Read on for the good, the bad, and the ugly on this “beast”.
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Why Trust Me?
I have been grilling for the better part of 20 years. My extensive experience on gas, charcoal, and pellet grills as well as flat top griddles includes brands like Weber, Recteq, Green Mountain Grills, Z Grills, Masterbuilt, and Blackstone cookers. I have cooked BBQ for large events, but as a dad my primary experience comes from cooking for my family. Also, I have 2 advanced engineering degrees which helps me understand the underlying technology used in products like pellet grills and allows me the ability to troubleshoot most of the issues I encounter. I produce content for The Grilling Dad to demystify outdoor cooking and make it simple, convenient, and delicious.
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- World-class assembly process
- Instructions are succinct and clear
- All hardware is well labeled
- All necessary tools and work gloves included
- Two rows of shelves in addition to the grill grates
- Pellet hopper window
- Power cord storage solution
- Pellet cleanout
- PID controller
- Relatively inexpensive
- No WiFi
- Our unit powered off mid-cook on (2) separate occasions
- Lid gasket partially destroyed by burn-in process
The Z Grills 10502B (Gen 2) Smoke Beast has a promising set of features for its price point. Unfortunately, it falls short in reliable performance. Maybe we got a lemon, but the unit we received has serious issues.
When I received the Smoke Beast it was well packaged and undamaged. It is surprisingly heavier than I anticipated (105 pounds) so I’d recommend enlisting some help moving the box. The box is very efficiently packed (which as an engineer I LOVED) and the installation instructions and a pair of assembly gloves were right on top in the packaging. The inclusion of assembly gloves is a very thoughtful touch and even as a large man (I’m 6’2”) they fit me just fine and were very protective while also thin enough to make working with screws, nuts, bolts, and the like easy enough. These gloves help protect against any sharp metal edges and I particularly appreciated them when installing the fiberglass gaskets between the cooking chamber and the chimney and pellet hopper. The hardware was all separated out and clearly marked. The assembly steps were clear and well illustrated. All necessary assembly tools were included. In short, Z Grills really knocked packaging and assembly out of the park – well done!
Now up to this point I had been positively giddy with delight at the quality and the features of the Smoke Beast. I filled the hopper with pellets and primed the grill to get some pellets through the auger and into the fire pot. All of that went smoothly. Things started to change during the burn-in process. I put the heat deflector, drip tray, grill grates, and shelves back in the grill, turned the grill to 450°F and left the lid open until the thick smoke cleared and turned to the thinner gray/blue smoke that indicates a real fire is burning in the fire pot. At that point I closed the lid and let the grill run for about 45 minutes (the instructions indicate that only 30 minutes are required). During the burn-in I noticed a strong oily, metallic smell from the grill which indicates that the oils left over from manufacturing are burning off – that’s a great sign! The issue is that this smell persisted through the 45 minute burn-in and required an additional roughly 45 minutes to completely burn off. It was bad enough that my six year old son who has been around grills his entire life walked up and said “Dad, why does this grill smell funny?”. Not off to a great start with the 10502B Smoke Beast. After the initial 45 minute burn-in I opened the grill lid to find that the bottom edge of the gasket was destroyed – completely burned up during the 45 minute burn-in cycle. I emailed Z Grills about this issue (as well as other issues we’ll discuss later in this article) and they indicated that they know this is an issue. I hope they fix this issue rather than just removing the gasket; having a lid gasket on a pellet grill is a great feature and many other manufacturers have figured out how to do it.
I tested the performance of the Z Grills 10502B (Gen 2) over a range of four different cooks each on separate days and (thanks to unpredictable Minnesota winters) in a variety of weather conditions. I cooked a pork butt, soft pretzels, chocolate chip cookies, and pig shots to help break in and test the Smoke Beast.
Low and Slow
Pork butt is a great longer cook. It is very simple and forgiving and a great way to gauge the overall “smokiness” of a grill. For this cook I placed the pork butt directly over the hottest part of the drip tray. Pork fat (lard) has a relatively low smoke point of 374°F and during some tests the drip tray got red hot (literally; well over 800°F when the grill was set at 425°F) so I wanted to see if this posed a fire hazard. During the cook the pork fat did burn, but it never started on fire. I guess that’s a win?
Overall the pork had a mild smoky flavor comparable to other pellet grills I have used and ultimately was delicious. When I cooked the pork butt it was 20°F outside. This led to higher than typical pellet consumption as the Smoke Beast had to work harder to maintain temps in the cooking chamber. I estimate that I consumed 4-6 pounds of pellets over the course of a 4 hour cook at 275°F. (I finish all my pork butts in the crock pot; try it for yourself and thank me later.) This level of pellet consumption would be problematic for an overnight cook during the winter unless you wanted to get up in the middle of the night to add pellets. The cold weather also likely contributed to a slightly less smoky flavor on the pork than if I had cooked it on an 80°F day. When the ambient temperature is low, the pellet grill has to burn more pellets to keep the cooking chamber at a set temperature. This almost certainly means that the combustion will be hotter and thus more complete which by default produces less smoke.
We also baked soft pretzels and chocolate chip cookies and they turned out great. Both bakes went flawlessly. If I gave you either of those in a blind taste test I doubt you would describe them as smoky, BUT I do think they tasted different (and in my opinion better) than when cooked in an oven. There was something toasty about their flavor. I cook a lot of pizzas on my GMG-4023 pellet grill pizza oven and I liken it to the taste that produces. A clean wood-fired flavor. Tough to describe, but it’s there. If you know, you know.
The last food we cooked in the Z Grills 10502B Gen 2 (what a mouthful, phewfta!) were pig shots. This was my second time making them and they were ridiculously delicious. Seriously, make them from your friends and family and people will instantly think your some award-winning pitmaster. While these did ultimately turn out fantastic this cook did have a pretty significant issue. While I was waiting for the grill to come up to temperature my daughter and I were standing on the patio by the grill and chatting and it just turned off. No shutdown cycle or anything like that. It just straight up shut down. And this had happened once before when I was running some other tests on the grill. Erratic, unexplainable issues like this do not instill confidence. If I was new to pellet grills this would be down right infuriating. Possibly related to this issue I also had two instances where the grill just wouldn’t turn on. I pressed the power button repeatedly and tested my power source. Then pressed the button some more times and eventually it turned on. Weird and frustrating.
Besides the random shut down issue, there have been a handful of other problems and odd things that I have noticed about the Smoke Beast during my several months of testing:
- During startup the display on the controller shows the model number for a different Z Grills grill. This does NOT impact the function of the controller, but I’ve never seen this on any other grill. Again it doesn’t instill confidence in the product.
- There is a fiberglass gasket between the cooking chamber and the chimney that sheds a lot of fiberglass. A part of me is concerned about some of those fibers making their way into the cooking chamber and ultimately into my food. Again, not a huge deal, but not sure why a gasket is even required.
- The grill is uncomfortable to move. It only has two wheels so you have to pick up one end to move the grill around. The handle is solid metal and pretty thin (roughly ⅜” diameter) and the grill weighs over 100 pounds. The combination of thin handle and heavy grill makes this the most uncomfortable grill I’ve moved. I store my grills in the garage and therefore move them twice every time I cook with them, so this is a big deal to me. If you don’t move your grill much then this won’t be an issue.
- On windy days grease has blown onto my driveway. Additionally, the cooking chamber has also started leaking from the side of the grill where the grease bucket is located. This is pretty annoying.
The Z Grills 10502B (Gen 2) Smoke Beast does have some fantastic features for a grill in this price range. I really only have a couple of minor gripes about the features of this grill and even those are mostly personal preference
- No WiFi
- Not many manufacturers offer WiFi on their entry-level pellet grills. I get it. BUT I still think that’s stupid. There are many different types of outdoor grills. In my experience, people buy pellet grills because they want to dip their toes into cooking delicious smoked meats AND because pellet grills are more convenient and less intimidating than offset smokers or charcoal grills. That “and” is important.
- If all you care about is delicious smoked meats, buy a cheap charcoal kettle grill (you can regularly find Weber kettles on Facebook Marketplace for under $50) and get good at fire management. Within a few cooks you will be able to produce BBQ that is far better and much smokier than what you’ll ever produce on a pellet grill.
- So you buy a pellet grill for the convenience. It doesn’t get much more convenient than being able to monitor and control your grill from your phone anywhere you have an internet connection. Because of that convenience, WiFi also provides a ton of piece of mind. So even though it costs more I think paying up for a grill with WiFi is well worth it, especially for a beginner.
- Simple PID Controller
- This controller provides ONE way for the user to interface with the gril: a combination button/knob. Push the button to turn on the grill, select an item from the menu, or confirm a setting. Speaking of settings there are only TWO settings on this grill. You can change the set temperature and you can change the temperature units. That’s it. For beginners that is probably great. Intermediate and advanced users may want a bit more control.
- Grill grates plus TWO additional, removable shelves
- This is actually a pretty amazing feature. This gives you over 1000 square inches of total gilling area. That being said this probably won’t help you to cook a bunch of pork butts or briskets because there isn’t enough height clearance between each shelf. It won’t be super useful when grilling burgers or anything like that. But for things like pork ribs (spare ribs or nothing – this is a hill I’m willing to die on), fish, baking, or appetizers this is a game changer. I have five kids. Multiple pigs must give up their lives for my family to eat ribs. I bet I could cook seven racks of St. Louis spare ribs on here. In addition to providing extra capacity, the shelves also offer a much less obvious advantage over grills with no shelves. For low and slow cooks (pork butt, brisket, ribs, etc.) pellet grills sometimes produce less than stellar results because the firepot produces too much direct heat. Having extra shelves allows you to put more space between your meat and the firepot. This allows your meat to cook more evenly and produces a better end product. This is especially welcome in the Smoke Beast because the drip tray gets so hot. Awesome feature!
- Pellet Hopper Window
- There is a clear window on the front of the pellet hopper that allows you to see whether or not you are running low on pellets. This is not a make or break feature, but it is surprisingly convenient. The only downside to this feature is that when the pellet level drops below the level of the window it appears as if you have to add more pellets when you really still have 40+% of your hopper full. Green Mountain Grills and Camp Chef addressed this issue by making their pellet hopper windows taller allowing you to view a greater percentage of your hopper.
- Pellet Cleanout Chute
- This is a really nice feature to have on an entry-level grill because it allows you to easily remove the pellets from your hopper. This makes switching wood types a breeze.
- Ash Cleanout Cup
- Many manufacturers now offer some sort of ash cleanout cup or port. On my Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone it’s a vacuum port for the fire pot. On the Camp Chef Woodwind Pro its a removable firepot ash cup. Those two versions make a lot of sense to me. The Ash Cleanout cup on the Smoke Beast is just dumb. Not 100% useless but pretty close. It is just a cup hanging under a hole cut in the bottom of the cooking chamber. It is not around the firepot and not particularly useful for vacuum access. Will it catch some ash – of course. But not in any way that actually matters or saves you any maintenance.
- Power Cord Management
- On the back of the pellet hopper there is a little metal bracket that the power cord winds around for storage. So simple, but really awesome. I had a Recteq RT-590 for a number of years and that grill cost me $1000 and I just had to wrap the power cord around one of the nice chrome handles each time I put it back in my garage. That took an otherwise amazing looking grill and made it look cheap. So when I saw this cord wrap on the Smoke Beast I was floored. It works really well and probably added less than $20 in cost to the grill. Power cord management should be a standard feature on all pellet grills. Can I get an AMEN?!
- Four Temperature Probe Ports
- Given that there is so much cooking space in the Smoke Beast it is really nice to see four temperature probe ports.
- Two Temperature Probes
- Its a little bit of a bummer that they only give you two probes when they give you four probe ports.
- 12 Pound Hopper Capacity
- This isn’t terrible, but I would have really liked to see a 15+ pound capacity. That may not seam like much, but that extra 3 pounds can add hours of cook time which is critical for overnight cooks (if you value your beauty sleep like me). If you live in a colder climate this becomes even more critical.
The Z Grills 10502B (Gen 2) Smoke Beast is $479 at the time of writing. If we hadn’t encountered any major issues with this grill we would say this is a pretty screaming good deal for an entry-level grill.
Outside of the lid gasket getting burned up and the cooking chamber leaking some grease the overall build quality of the Smoke Beast is quite excellent. While not made from the finest materials it is very sturdy and has really held up quite well.
Who Is It For?
Because we had some pretty significant issues with this grill we really can’t recommend it to anyone. If we hadn’t had any issues it would have been a pretty great entry-level pellet grill. Would be better if it had WiFi.
I really had high hopes for the Smoke Beast. It was packaged really well and the assembly process was just fantastic. But it has randomly turned off twice, had intermittent issues turning on, the drip tray gets literally red hot during pretty standard use, the lid gasket burned up, and it leaks grease. Other than that its a great pellet grill for less than $500. Oh, did I mention that I wish it had WiFi?
|160 to 450°F (71 to 232 °C)
|1080 square inches
|Cooking Chamber Height
|45” Wide x 23” Deep x 54” Tall
|Temperature Probe Ports
|Temperature Probes Included