When Masterbuilt released its first gravity-fed smoker back in 2019, it was the first of its kind intended for the backyard cook. Most gravity-fed smokers up to that point fell at a much higher price point and were seen more in the competition circuit than on the backyard patio. Available in 3 sizes: 560, 800, and 1050, Masterbuilt virtually owned the market when it came to backyard gravity smokers.

Fast forward another year or so, and Char-Griller joined the scene with their own rendition: the Char-Griller Gravity 980.

side by side of the Char-Griller 980 vs Masterbuilt gravity series 800

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What is a gravity-fed smoker?

A gravity-fed smoker is a digital charcoal grill that functions much like a pellet grill. Instead of a pellet hopper, there’s a charcoal chute or hopper that gets filled with either lump charcoal or briquettes. The fire is started below the charcoal and is managed and regulated by a digitally controlled fan. As the charcoal burns, ash falls through to an ash bin below and gravity pulls down the next layer of charcoal to burn, providing constant fuel to the fire.

But won’t that waste a lot of charcoal?

When the cook is finished and the grill is ready to shut down, the damper is closed cutting off oxygen and extinguishing the fire. Ash will continue to fall through to the ash bin, but all of the leftover charcoal in the hopper remains unburned and ready and waiting for the next cook.

Wood chunks can be added in with the charcoal to add a smoke flavor to the food being cooked, or if you prefer you can simply cook with just charcoal.

Gravity-Fed Smoker Quick Comparison

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 digital charcoal grill

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

  • Assembled Dimensions: W54 x H52 x D24.6
  • Assembled Weight: 147lbs.
  • Hopper Capacity: 10lbs lump/16lbs briquettes
  • Main Cooking Area: 320 sq. in
  • Warming Rack Area: 240 sq. in (2 shelves)
  • Cooking Grates: Cast Iron, reversible (smoke and sear)
  • Folding Front Shelf: no
  • Temperature Range: 225° – 700° F
  • Meat Probe(s): 1 included, space for 4
  • Digital Control: yes
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • App: Apple or Google Play
  • Warranty: 1-year limited
  • Price: Walmart or Amazon $497

Read our full review of the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 here.

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 digital charcoal grill

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800

  • Assembled Dimensions: W55.1″ x H50.9″ x L30.5″
  • Assembled Weight: 204 lbs.
  • Hopper Capacity: 10lbs lump/16lbs briquettes
  • Main Cooking Area: 450 sq. in
  • Warming Rack Area: 350 sq. in (2 shelves)
  • Cooking Grates: Cast Iron, reversible (smoke and sear)
  • Folding Front Shelf: yes
  • Temperature Range: 225° – 700° F
  • Meat Probe(s): 1 included, space for 4
  • Digital Control: yes
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • App: Apple or Google Play
  • Warranty: 1-year limited
  • Price: Walmart or Amazon $697

Read our full review of the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 here.

Char-Griller Gravity 980 digital charcoal grill

Char-Griller Gravity 980

  • Assembled Dimensions: W65″ x H51″ x L34″
  • Assembled Weight: 213 lbs.
  • Hopper Capacity: 10lbs lump/16lbs briquettes
  • Main Cooking Area: 680 sq. in.
  • Warming Rack Area: 300 sq. in
  • Cooking Grates: Porcelain-Coated Cast Iron
  • Folding Front Shelf: yes
  • Temperature Range: 200° – 700° F
  • Meat Probe(s): 1 included, space for 2
  • Digital Control: yes, LCD display
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • App: Apple or Google Play
  • Warranty: 1-year limited
  • Price: Check at Lowe’s $749

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050

  • Assembled Dimensions: W61″ x H52″ x L33″
  • Assembled Weight: 203 lbs.
  • Hopper Capacity: 10lbs lump/16lbs briquettes
  • Main Cooking Area: 534 sq. in
  • Warming Rack Area: 516 sq. in (2 shelves)
  • Cooking Grates: Cast Iron, reversible (smoke and sear)
  • Folding Front Shelf: yes
  • Temperature Range: 225° – 700° F
  • Meat Probe(s): 1 included, space for 4
  • Digital Control: yes
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
  • App: Apple or Google Play
  • Warranty: 1-year limited
  • Price: Walmart or Amazon $799

Read our full review of the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050 here.

Char-Griller Gravity 980 vs. Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800

Char-Griller Gravity 980 digital charcoal grill and the Masterbuilt Gravity series 800

Visually these two charcoal grills look quite different, but just how do they compare in function?

While we’re still comparing apples to apples, we will start by pointing out the obvious discrepancy that we do realize our two apples are of different sizes. We’ve had the Masterbuilt Gravity 800 for about a year and a half now and since it was already in our possession it made the most sense to run our tests using that grill rather than also picking up the 1050 which would have been a closer match when it comes to size and price.

Assembly

When I think back on the assembly of these grills, there are a couple of things that I want to point out.

Both of these units came shipped directly from the manufacturer, and both came with a dent in the charcoal hopper. In both cases, it’s a superficial dent, but they both had one, which was kind of interesting.

Dent in the bottom corner of the Char-Griller hopper
Dent in the front corner of the Masterbuilt hopper

Just let me say that we get a lot of grilling units shipped our way here at The Barbecue Lab, and they do occasionally come dented, so before you sign off on that delivery, make sure you’re taking a good look at the box and even opening the box and having a look around before you sign.

As far as the actual assembly process is concerned, the Char-Griller was more difficult than the Masterbuilt. The hardest part by far was connecting the external fan box to the charcoal hopper and trying to get all of the cables in a skinny metal casing with 90-degree bends. Luckily Melissa was able to come out and give me a hand to make quick work of it.

Similarities between the Char-Griller Gravity 980 and Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 Smokers

The Fuel capacity is the same for both of these grills holding 10 pounds of lump charcoal or 16 pounds of briquettes

Both grills have 2 locking casters and 2 larger wheels, making portability about equal for both grills.

Both grills have a bottom shelf, however the bottom shelf of the Masterbuilt smoker is already spoken for. Because of the griddle capabilities of this grill, it comes with two different manifolds and the heat diffuser not currently in use will rest on the bottom shelf.

Both of the grills vent out the back of the unit rather than utilizing a smokestack.

Both grills include 1 meat probe thermometer and a digital control panel with a similar temperature range.

Both grills come with a front folding shelf, though the Char-Griller shelf is much larger than the one on the Masterbuilt.

Differences between the Char-Griller Gravity 980 and Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 Smokers

The Size is the first and most obvious difference between these two units. It’s right there in their names. The Char-Griller has a larger total cooking space at 980 square inches compared to the Masterbuilt with only 800 square inches.

The Masterbuilt comes with an additional griddle, which we’ve utilized quite a bit and have really enjoyed, whereas the Char-Griller is limited to smoking and grilling.

While both grills include slides (or dampers) to cut off the air supply to the charcoal hopper and kill the fire, the Masterbuilt has 2 and Char-Griller only has 1.

Though they both only include 1 meat probe thermometer, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series can accommodate up to 4 probes while the Char-Griller can accept 2.

The design of the cooking chamber is different between the two units. Char-Griller has more of a traditional barrel design, while the Masterbuilt Gravity Series is more boxy.

The Char-Griller uses porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grates, while the Masterbuilt Gravity Series features reversible cast iron grates that function differently for smoke and sear.

Digital Control Panel

Masterbuilt digital control panel
Char-Griller digital control panel

Temperature Accuracy

The age-old question that grill owners always want to know is if their grill is really running the temperature it says it is. We partnered with Thermoworks to show you exactly how each grill heats between the desired cooking temperature set on the controller and the actual temperature on the center of the grate.

Before breaking out the Thermoworks Signals for assistance we were noticing that the Char-Griller tended to take longer on cooks than the Masterbuilt, but couldn’t quite figure out why. However, once we hooked the Thermoworks grate probes up to each grill we discovered that the Char-Griller was actually running 25-50° less than what the digital controller was reporting.

Thermoworks Signals showing the actual temperature when the Masterbuilt Gravity was set to 250°
Thermoworks Signals showing the actual temperature when the Char-Griller was set to 250°

The Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 gave us more temperature fluctuation than the Char-Griller, but it generally danced above and below the desired cooking temperature pretty well and the temperature on the grill controller matched what we were seeing from the Thermoworks Signals.

Incidentally, the more testing we’ve done, the more that we’ve concluded that temperature fluctuation in pellet grills and gravity-fed smokers is not a bad thing. Within reason, of course, these fluctuations in temperature help to generate more smoke flavor and bark in the meat being smoked.

Low and Slow Smoking

To test the smoking capabilities of each cooker, we put a pork butt and a rack of baby back ribs to the test.

Cooking ended up being rather similar on both cookers, but the temperature difference rears its head again here so the Masterbuilt cooked faster than the Char-Griller on each one.

On the rib cook, we could tell the difference in temperature again as the Masterbuilt ribs shrank down in size due to the higher heat and had more pull back from the bones.

Our Verdict

Both grills excelled in different categories and came up short in others. Each individual user has to decide for themselves which categories are deal-breakers and which ones are less important to them. We all might have the exact same experience with two different grills but personally prefer them differently based on which features carry more weight in our own minds.

For us personally, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 won this showdown, but probably the griddle feature was what tipped the scale in its favor. Had we been comparing either the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 or 1050 to the Char-Griller 980 we might have felt differently since neither of those units includes the griddle. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good griddle and the fact that the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 included one made this griddle, digital charcoal grill and smoker combo the winner in my book.

bacon cooked on the Gravity 800 griddle
Bacon cooking on the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 griddle

Typically combo grills are not for me. They’re jack-of-all-trades and masters of none. They normally just perform “ok” in the multiple functions they perform. However, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 broke that mold for me. It does 3 types of cooking without compromising on cooking space or quality.

So if you like all the flavor of cooking with charcoal but appreciate the ease of using a pellet grill, one of these gravity-fed grills might be just the thing you’re looking for.