The Z Grills Has Few Frills, But is a Solid Budget Option
The Z Grills 700 series just may be the best choice for a mid-sized sub $500 grill. It doesn’t have extra bells and whistles, but it seems to be well-built, it cooks evenly, and it’s readily available for easy shipping.
In fact, the 700 series is routinely near the top of the list on Amazon rankings of sales, so it has evidently found a successful spot in the wide lineup of pellet smokers available.
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The sub-$500 pellet grill exists. You can get a real pellet grill for that amount. But what kind of grill are you getting for that budget? Certainly, you can get a small or portable grill for less than $500. But can you own a grill suitable for a family of 4 or 5 at that price point? Will it work okay? Will it break?
The 700 Series has several iterations, but all are basically the same fundamental parts, with slight differences in minor structural amenities.
The notable versions in the 700 Series models are:
- The 7002B is the most basic, all-black version.
- The 7002E adds a stainless-steel lid
- The 700 E is the 7002E plus lower cabinet door storage and 4 wheels
- The 700 D is the 700E but in bronze instead of stainless and black
What’s notable about the 700 Series is how familiar it looks. It’s basically a Traeger with a Z Grills badge on the lid and a printed logo on the controller. Even the shroud under the cook chamber supports this: “Wood Pellet Grill” is debossed in the metal, in a very generic way.
You might also look at the Grilla Grills Silverbac and think it’s the same grill. You wouldn’t be far off. They use the same “bones” as the Traeger and Grilla, though their internal components like grates, drip pans, heat deflectors and their controller differ.
The factory that used to turn out Traegers, it seems, decided to begin building their own more inexpensive versions and sell direct. They crowd funded the company back in 2016 on IndieGogo as an affordable version of the pellet grill.
Z Grills 700 Basic Features
How we determine space: We give a max amount, based on packing items edge to edge on the grate. A pellet grill, however, has hot spots at the front and rear edges of the grate that aren’t over the drip pan.
We don’t use the max amount of food that will fit on the grate. Instead we use the max amount of food you can put on the grate without burning the food. This effective capacity is the number of items that fit without having to rotate.
In other words, it’s the capacity without being affected by the hotter edge zones of the grilling chamber.
12 Burgers, 3 Rib Racks, 2-3 Pork Butts
As you can see, the Z Grills capacity is 12 standard sized burgers. We use 4.5” as the standard size for burgers. The dimensions of the usable area of the grill grate—the area directly above the drip pan—is 24”wide by 15.5” deep. This brings the actual cooking area of the smoker from the measured grill grate area of 507 sq in, down to 372 sq in.
All 700 models use a conventional controller, rather than the more advanced PID controller technology. Essentially, this means that it controls the temperature by changing the speed at which pellets are fed into the firepot, combined with two fans controlling airflow into the combustion process.
Temperature inside the cooking chamber is monitored and the grill’s controller automatically changes the feed rate and the on-off state of the fans in order to maintain this target temperature. More info on controllers can be found here.
The Z Grills controller has an analog dial temperature and mode selector, and a digital readout for actual smoker temperatures.
The controller has a Smoke mode, a High setting, and claims a temperature range from 180 to 450 F. There is a built-in food temperature probe input for the included food probe. The display of the grill temperature and the food probe temperature are toggled with a “Probe Temp” button on the controller.
Notable Features and Conveniences
- Smoke mode for more smoke at low temp
- Several available configurations: stainless lid, lower shelf/cabinet doors, 4 wheels
- Smaller upper grate(s) for additional smoking/cooking capacity
- Upper Rack Area: 190 sq. in.
- Lower Rack Area: 504 sq. in.
- Total Rack Surface Area: 694 sq. in.
- Chamber Capacity: 4,850 cubic in.
- Hopper Capacity: 20 lbs. of pellets
- Overall Height: 45 in.
- Overall Weight: 112 lbs.
- Warranty: 3 years
Z Grills 700 Hands-On Review
We tested a fully assembled grill in our offices, using our standard testing protocols. Our final summary ratings appear at the end of this review.
We ordered our grill from Amazon and it arrived via regular UPS in a large box. The assembly process was fairly straightforward and took us perhaps 1-hour total. Again, we recommend self-assembly of your pellet grill, even if assembly service is offered, so that you can be assured that it is assembled correctly and also as a way to better understand your new grill.
There were a few small dents in the barrel that appeared to be from the inside, as if the grill grates shifted during loading and caused dings in the metal. These were purely cosmetic. There was also a manufacturing defect in the plastic logo badge on the lid. Lastly, we noticed one paint flaw in the black paint on the lid.
Once assembled, we found the Z Grill 700 to be very stable, with no noticeable wobble. Aside from the smoker box flexing if you lift from that side, it seems to be of decent quality, given the price point.
No Stainless Steel
One note: there isn’t an ounce of stainless steel on this grill. It’s all powder-coated and painted steel, and a bit on the thin side, which is to be expected at this price.
Surprisingly, it’s perhaps equal to or slightly better overall quality than the much-pricier Camp Chef Woodwind. The 700E and 7002E models add a stainless-steel lid but are identical everywhere else.
The 700D model replaces the black grill lid, pellet hopper lid, cabinet storage doors, and smokestack cap with bronze painted steel, but are identical everywhere else.
The look of the grill is basic all black. There is no visible chrome. The only non-black surfaces are the brushed metal lid handle, the metal handle on the pellet hopper, and the silver and black plastic logo badge on the lid. Very Vader.
We were honestly quite pleased with the materials quality, given the price of this grill. It is on-par with grills like Camp Chef models which cost twice as much.
The grill feels sturdy, and the one-piece grill grate, though not stainless-steel, is substantial. Likewise, the drip pan and heat deflector are the same thickness as higher priced grills.
While stainless steel is definitely going to offer longer life and better rust and corrosion resistance, at this price point you’re going to be getting powder-coated steel.
The important components are fairly substantial and for the price don’t give us any reason to be concerned. The grill assembled easily and the parts fit together well. Welds are adequate and again, raise no warning flags.
- Lid: 2.6mm steel
- Body/walls: 1.25 mm steel
- Grate: 5mm enameled steel
- Drip pan: 1.25mm steel
- Heat Deflector: 2mm steel
- Firepot: 316 Stainless
- Ignitor Rod: Stainless
The grill badge/Z Grills logo is plastic and shipped with a slight mar on the finish. This is purely cosmetic, but it’s not perfect. The pellet hopper lid is a bit thin, but it should hold up fine as it’s not a heated area.
The pellet hopper assembly flexes up and down when lifted, owing to the flimsier connection hardware, which is often seen at grills in this price range.
Overall, we rate the Z Grills 700 series as average materials and construction quality, which is a feat at the sub-$500 price point.
Grill Operations and Controls
With this low price point, we expected spartan controls, and that’s exactly what you’ll get in the 700 series. The grill has a conventional dial controller, no digital PID here.
Also absent is wi-fi control or even the ability to plug in meat probes. This is truly a no-frills grill. One note: Our grill came with two meat probes (??) and there is a rubber grommet to pass probe wires through to the grill chamber. Bizarre, because we don’t see a model offered by Z Grills that has temperature probes in the controller, even in their larger 1000 series.
The good news, I suppose, is that if you ever replace the controller (like with a Traeger) you’ll have two probes and a port to route the wires through. (This is another hing that this is a generic OEM grill with Z Grills badging applied.)
The control panel is pretty basic. There is a rocker power switch, a red LED readout, and the controller knob. There are 8 marked settings on the controller, selectable via a manual knob.
Temp settings are in 25 degree increments on dial:
- Shut Down Cycle
The red LED readout gives you the actual grill temp via the RTD inside the cooking chamber. One thing lacking: nothing is backlit.
Other than the temperature readout, you won’t see anything in the dark, from the power indicator to which temperature setting is currently selected. Have a flashlight or porchlight. The red LED is very plenty visible in direct sunlight, though photographs don’t often reflect this due to the imperceptible “pulsing” of the LED.
Shut Down Cycle
Can you simply turn off the grill and walk away? According to their own directions, the answer is no.
You must move the grill knob to the “Shut Down Cycle” setting, allow the grill to go through that 10-minute process, and then the grill will automatically power off. Not terrible, but not the greatest thing to have to remember after your food is finished.
Because of the very limited temperature options, lack of backlighting, and lack of temperature probe capability, we rate the Controls as Below Average.
Our temperature tests are important because the two critical components in smoking delicious food are time and temperature.
The ability to accurately control temperature and cook time, combined with wood smoke, is what makes your food taste amazing and also makes the pellet smoker such a revolutionary backyard grill. Accuracy in temperatures, then, is vital for a successful cook and in a quality pellet smoker.
You can read more about our testing procedures, but to summarize, we use industrial laboratory grade temperature probes and data logging on multiple surface points in the smoker to record several categories of data:
- Time to reach a set temperature
- Accuracy of temperature readings (for both probe and grill controller)
- Consistency of temperature readings (swings in temps)
- Actual high and low temperatures of the grill
- Smoke produced (subjective, not measurable)
We tested the temperatures outside, in the shade, on a 75 degree day, with little to no breeze. We always use CookinPellets, for consistency across tests and because we find their BTU content to be very reliable.
|Setting||Time to Reach||Our Measured Temp||Grill Says||Left Grate Temp||Mid Grate Temp||Right Grate Temp|
The time to temperature was fine at each stage. Of note here is the Smoke setting. The grill reached 225 faster than it reached Smoke in our tests. You can see why, as the Smoke setting actual temps were actually right around 225.
Temperatures Fairly Accurate
As you can see, the actual temperatures are fairly close to the selected temperatures on the controller—within 10% except for the right side of the grate at low (225°) temp. But the readout is completely untrustworthy, reporting temperatures 20-35 degrees higher than actual temperatures.
The knob, in other words, is more accurate than the temp reading from the RTD inside. Our best guess is that the RTD readings are being shown “raw,” without adjusting the readout to the actual grate temps.
Again, as evidenced in our biscuit test at 350°, the grill cooks fairly evenly across the grate, with expected hot spots at the corners.
The grill produced ample amounts of clean smoke at lower temperatures, less at high temperatures, as with all pellet grills. It was prone to swings in smoke output, but this is to be expected in a non-PID controller with no variable fan times. Over the course of a long cook at low temperatures, it should smoke meats just fine.
We couldn’t quite hit 450° as a high temperature on the grill, though we gave it over 45 minutes at the “High” setting to get there.
Calling to Resolve the Issue
In summary, the grill has decent uniformity of temperatures. One concern, however, is that the temperature displayed on the controller is higher than the selected temperature.
This can surely cause concern and confusion by an owner. It turns out that the grill is fairly accurate in its temperatures, but you would think it’s overheating going by the readout on the controller. This is a problem if you compensate by turning down the temperature and lower the actual cooking temperature.
We placed a call to customer service to see what the issue might be and if there is a known fix.
Due to the issue with actual grill grate temps being one temp and the grill display showing a much higher temp, we feel like users will unfortunately either think their grill isn’t accurate on its temp settings or will compensate by turning the temp down.
Either way, this will surely not give good cooking results. The fix, if you own one, is to measure temps if possible so you know how your actual grate temps are vs. the setting, and to ignore the grill readout, especially at low temperatures.
Largely due to this flaw, and partially due to the nature of a non-PID controller, we give rate the Z Grills 700 series a below average rating on temperature performance.
Z Grills 700 Ownership Experience
The 700 Series come standard with a 3-year limited warranty. The warranty excludes the paint/finish and corrosion damage. The warranty also excludes transportation charges and labor costs, so if you have to send the entire grill back (a rarity), it’s on your dime. This is an average to above-average warranty for a pellet grill.
Customer service hours are M-F from 8am-5pm California time, according to the manual, but when you call they claim the hours are 9am-6pm California time. Our call within this timeframe (12:30 Eastern time) went unanswered the first two times. We left a message and got a call back at _____. This is not great.
The website offers a very spartan amount of self-help information. They cover the basics of starup and shutdown procedures, cleaning and general troubleshooting.
We get the feeling that the customer service operation is kind of small and hit-or-miss. Know this going in if you purchase a Z Grills. Problems with pellet grills are rare overall. But if you do have one, getting it resolved may take a while with this company.
This is supported by reading customer reviews on Z Grills. The majority of reviews are positive, but those who have experienced issues report a slow and frustrating experience in getting them resolved.
Ease of Ownership
The online presence of the Z Grills community is not huge, but it does exist. ZGrills Owners Group and Zgrills Nation groups on Facebook have 2-3,000 members each. The official Z Grills FB Page has about 20,000 folowers, but is mostly promotional sales and recipes.
Z Grills runs a Twitter account as well, but has less than 1,000 followers and is basically a copy of their Facebook feed.
The Z Grills website doesn’t have a blog or community function, and has a couple dozen recipes. Bottom line, unlike owning a grill from a larger manufacturer, you’re not going to be joining a “family” of online support and camaraderie. Those things don’t have any bearing on actual cooking performance, but can make the ownership experience more enjoyable.
We look to online forums as well as manufacturer Frequently Asked Questions in order to try and find the most common issues with a particular model. For the 700 Series, we found the following:
- Reports of temperature inaccuracies and inability to hold steady temps
- Slow or difficult to deal with customer service
- Slow replacement part delivery
- Many claims of swapping the controller for a Traeger, RecTec, or 3rd party controller
Obviously, we aren’t saying the above are expected, just that they’re the more common issues we found. Most reviews were positive. The Z Grills comes with a 3-year warranty.
Z Grills 700 Overall Rating
For less than $500, there is very little to complain about with the Z Grill 700 Series.
The construction is solid, though not top-notch. The temperature control is reliable, even with the calibration issue. The lack of wi-fi and temp probes are conveniences available on more pricey grills.
For just cooking, it is a solid offering. For the price, you’re giving up rock-solid problem resolution (it might take a while to get a service issue resolved and/or several days to get a replacement part) and some conveniences, but those don’t affect rib flavor and consistency.
You might be replacing this grill in 5 years due to wear (or more likely getting a larger or more feature-rich grill) but you can feel good that it will cook well and you’re getting a lot for your money.