Smoke Hollow 205 Review
Cons: Burner easily disengaged, imprecise burner control
Manufacturer: Outdoor Leisure Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
Good performance at a good price is a hallmark of our Best Buy winners, across all categories. The Smoke Hollow handily fits that description. For the cost, this is a highly functional product. Even as compared to some of the more expensive products we assessed, the Smoke Hollow performs very well. The only issues you will face, in routine grilling, are minor usability and construction shortcomings. It rattles in transit, the control knob can be sticky, and you have limited control with the one burner. There are many single burner grills on the market that don't do much better than the Smoke Hollow yet cost a hundred dollars more. You have to upgrade to the Editors' Choice or the other, slightly more expensive, Best Buy to get real and appreciable performance gains over the Smoke Hollow.
While 10,000 BTUs is half the BTUs of the hottest tested grill (but close to that of the Editors' Choice), we still felt this grill had plenty of output power. We got it up to temperature in less than five minutes and had no problem keeping the grill hot, even when cooking burgers and dogs for a bunch of people. Searing a steak on the Smoke Hollow isn't as white-hot fast as on the infrared type grills we've begun testing, but it does the job in all but the coldest and windiest of conditions.
Early in our testing we had one small issue with the output of the Smoke Hollow. User beware. When we first used the grill the burner was ajar and putting out very little heat. We thought it was defective. But after a bit of tinkering, we pushed the burner closer to the edge, and it started working just fine. Keep this in mind: the burner may move, and you will have to adjust it (better to do this when the grill is cold).
We gave the Smoke Hollow 205 just below average scores for control. We were able to keep the temperature in the range we needed, but it took some effort and time. This is where the other top scoring stoves outperform the Smoke Hollow. The others give much more precise control and have burlier dials. The dial on the Smoke Hollow feels flimsy and delicate. It's not that precise.
Further, on the second Smoke Hollow grill we tested (that's right: we've purchased and tested, over years now, two versions of this grill. Our testing is thorough, to put it mildly. This isn't a ubiquitous strategy, but it isn't uncommon either), the control knob became literally frozen in place a couple of times. Propane discharge cools the tank which in turns cools the regulator. The knob of the Smoke Hollow froze in place during one test session and one grilling meal. Both of these events were during temperatures in the 30s, Fahrenheit. In milder temperatures, we did not have this problem. In similar temperatures with other grills, we have not had this problem.
When using the green 16-oz canisters, we had some issues attaching them and knowing the dial was turned entirely off. These issues went away with more practice. As with most portable grills, we eventually switched to just using a refillable, small propane tank and associated hose. In that configuration we created less waste and had better results in virtually every grill's reliability and usability. We don't expect very high end control from a budget grill like this. The biggest advantage of a more expensive product like the Editors' Choice is in control. The dual tubular burners of the Napoleon, for instance, offer much greater control than that of the Smoke Hollow.
At 17 pounds, this is one of the lighter grills we tested. Only a few are lighter. For those extra pounds, you get 30% more cooking area than on the smallest Top Pick, a tradeoff that most people will gladly take. Of course, a smaller grill packs down smaller. Further, the more expensive and portable grills we tested have cleaner outside profiles during transit. When packed up, only the legs of the Smoke Hollow fold in, and they only fold such that it is just a little bit smaller. On top of that, the Smoke Hollow has both an electric igniter and a propane valve that each stick out a few inches. This means you need to give the Smoke Hollow around 30-50% more space when packing than the smallest grills in our review and you have to be careful not to damage the Smoke Hollow propane connector.
While this grill is among the lightest, it's not nearly as portable as the smallest grills in our test. Unlike these smaller options, it has some delicate parts that stick out the side, so you need to give it extra room to account for this. The legs fold away, but oddly don't provide much more room. Don't get us wrong; it is still a small and light grill, it's just not as easy to move around as a grill on wheels or the much more compact options.
With 205 sq inches of cooking area, the Smoke Hollow is just around average in this metric. However, when you compare the weight per cooking area, the Smoke Hollow comes out near the top. Others can be almost double the weight and have equal or less cooking area. Also, the 205-sq inches of cooking area does not include the 105 sq inch warming rack, which every other higher-scoring grill in our review lacks. The warming rack alone could tip the balance in favor of the Smoke Hollow. It is a nice feature that works well. The only drawback is that it takes up some space under the lid during cooking and during transit.
We gave this above average scores. It's relatively enclosed, but breezes do get in there. At 10,000 BTUs, the wind can take a bit of the power out of this grill and you'll notice it.
For comparison, the hottest grills (up to 20,000 BTUs) has a lot of extra power left over for windy conditions. In actual usage, the Smoke Hollow 205 was fully functional. It cooked all we wanted to cook in the conditions we encountered in both testing and in regular use.
You choose this grill for its value. The function and price ratio is optimized. Other grills will perform better, but they are much more expensive.
We've seen this grill sold for much lower than its retail price. At that discounted price and for its quality and features, it's easily our Best Buy Award winner. There are quirks, and other grills offer more sophisticated cooking function, but the Smoke Hollow is a rare Best Buy winner that does most things as well as the top of the line products. Some construction issues and a little additional bulk are easy to overlook, given the low purchase price.
— Chris McNamara and Jediah Porter