Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill review
Why should city dwellers miss out on the fun of freshly grilled food? People like that — who want one of the best grills but don’t have the space for a full-size model — are the target audience for the Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill. Small in size (it’s not much larger than a toaster oven) and price (it starts at $369.90), it’s primed for tabletop use in cramped spaces, and even boasts an array of cooking modes that could let it replace other appliances in your kitchen. If you’re an urbanite who loves grilled burgers, the Woodfire will send you straight to heaven.
Everyone else might be in for a detour or two. In many ways, the Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill struggles to live up to the convenience it promises, and the chances aren’t good that you’ll get anything exactly right the first time — or maybe even the second or third. It’s undoubtedly a compelling solution to a problem, but it would be better if it didn’t cause a few new ones. Read our full Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill review to find out more.
Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill review: Pricing and accessories
The Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill comes in two packages: the standard package ($369.90), which includes the grill and the basic accessories outlined in the next section; the Pro version ($459.60) has a slightly different design, support for a thermometer, and includes a Combo Crisper Basket and a two-pound bag of Ninja’s All-Purpose pellet blend.
The black-and-gray color scheme should help the Woodfire fit in with any deck décor, but a version of the non-Pro grill with a red lid is a Web exclusive available for the same price.
As of this writing, both models also ship with a selection of free gifts. With either, you will get a Veggie Tray and Roasting Lifters (for safely removing large pieces of meat); in addition to the thermometer and the additional pellets, the Pro also ships with a Grill Cover. (Our review unit did not include these free gifts, so we cannot discuss them here.)
Other accessories available for separate purchase include a Flat Top Griddle Plate ($35), for more easily making things like pancakes and bacon, and a wheeled Collapsible Grill Stand ($179), should you not have any other surface for setting up the grill.
Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill review: Setup, design and features
The Woodfire Outdoor Grill measures 23.6 x 18.6 x 13.3 inches (WHD) and weighs 30.6 pounds; this makes it easy for pretty much anyone to carry alone.
Setup could not be easier. It comes tightly but sensibly packed, with most of its included accessories nested inside. After you pull everything out, your biggest task is to attach the side handles using the included Allen wrench. (Orienting the grill so it overhangs a table, and thus allows you more space to screw in the handles from underneath, will simplify this process.)
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Insert the sliding drip tray into the bottom of the unit; place the nonstick, ridged grill grate over the heating element above it; add the Woodfire Smoke Box to the receptacle on the right side of the lid and, if desired, fill it with wood pellets using the perfectly sized scoop (two sampler bags of pellet blends, “All Purpose” and “Robust,” come with the grill). Plug in the grill to a power outlet; and you’re done in about 10 minutes. Note: Pellets are only required for the smoking functions, everything else this grill can perform on electricity alone.
The Woodfire looks like exactly what it is: a full-size grill in miniature, with the biggest difference being the convection fan on the inside top of the lid. The control panel is placed front and center on the base, with a dial that turns on the power and lets you select one of seven cooking functions (Grill, Smoker, Air Crisp, Bake, Roast, Broil, Dehydrate); a Woodfire Flavor Technology button for injecting additional smoke into your food; Temperature and Time buttons; and a Start/Stop button.
Though at 48 inches, the Woodfire’s power cable isn’t objectively short, it feels so in practice; part of it is hidden under the grill while in use, and if the grill is on a table, that length vanishes quickly. If that’s not enough for you, you can connect it to an outdoor extension cable, but for safety purposes, check Ninja’s website first to make sure your cable meets the company’s recommended safety requirements.
Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill: Performance
In terms of its controls, the Woodfire could not be simpler to operate. Turn the dial to your desired cooking function, push the Woodfire button to add extra smoke flavor if desired, adjust the time and temperature, and hit the Start button. Should you need more specific instructions, the illustrated Owner’s Guide is thorough and clear, and the 58-page, full-color Quick Start Guide and Recipe Book provides additional insights along with full recipes and a collection of charts listing basic preparation techniques and cooking times. The design and the documentation will make you feel like an expert your first time out.
The cooking results, however, may not. Our first test was grilled hamburgers, which came out spectacularly: juicy and with just the right amount of char. We preferred them with the added kiss of smoke from the Robust pellets (which add hickory to the All Purpose pellets’ maple, cherry, and oak), though that’s hardly required. And the Air Crisp function made a teeming batch of terrific French fries. (One note if you make recipes like this back-to-back: The fries had light but obvious smoky notes to them, even though we cooked them when the smoke box was empty. You may want to plan your cooking to avoid flavors from crossing over if your dishes won’t benefit from them.)
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Unfortunately, we had more trouble with everything else we tried. Perhaps our biggest disappointment came from using the Roast option to cook (an expensive) beef tenderloin. Pulling it out after the recipe’s recommended minimum of 55 minutes, most of the meat was solidly well done, with just a few shreds of pink in the middle, suggesting some lingering medium well. (We were aiming for medium rare.) Something similar happened when we smoked a hunk of salmon: The recipe called for two to three hours of smoking, but it was far past finished, and the exterior careening toward tough, at 70 minutes.
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The good news is that in both cases, the results were still edible, even delicious. But they weren’t what we wanted or expected. Similarly, there seemed to be no way to grill a quesadilla without it coming out dark brown well before the timer finished counting down. (The Grill function only lets you choose High, Medium, or Low heat, so there’s more guesswork than with the other modes.) Baked chocolate chip cookies came out just a hair the right side of burnt — about as far as you could take them before they became too black and unpleasant to eat.
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Broil delivered mixed results: Because it blasts heat from the upper fan rather than an intense, heating element, even the highest temperature setting took upwards of 5 minutes to toast bread and hamburger buns medium light, and it blew them all around the inside of the grill. The Ninja recipe book claimed that banana slices would dehydrate in six to eight hours, but after 13, they were still noticeably soft in the middle. But, apple slices were thoroughly dry and with a beautiful bite after just over six hours of dehydrating (the bottom end of Ninja’s recommended time).
In other words, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’ll get when you fire up the Woodfire. Experimentation is all but required, and we suggest investing in one of the best meat thermometers with a remote probe that lets you monitor your food’s internal temperature. You’ll also want to be careful while using it, because the exterior of the lid can get quite hot (we measured just over 200 degrees Fahrenheit), but because the grill emanates nearly no heat from below, you can safely station it on a wood surface.
It should be said that one of the Woodfire’s biggest selling points can also be a significant drawback: Its size makes it all but impossible to cook a full meal in one go. We had trouble cramming burgers and buns for three people into the grill at once, and baking or even using the Crisper Basket means you won’t have space for anything else. (The Pro’s Combo Crisper Basket reportedly lets you cook multiple kinds of items at once.) The Woodfire isn’t intended to be, say, a Traeger Timberline XL, so this is all forgivable. Just know that you’ll be turning out food for one or two people at most — and if you want buns and French fries to go with your burgers, you’ll be waiting a while unless you engage your toaster oven and/or air fryer to speed things up.
At least cleanup wasn’t too bad. During our testing period, absolutely nothing stuck to the grill grate, so getting it spotless was just a matter of a few minutes scrubbing with soap and water. (A pronged spatula, like the kind that came with the old George Foreman Grill, wouldn’t be a terrible addition to aid with cleanup, but we didn’t need it.) The pull-out grease tray was barely more work to get back to pristine condition. The light coating of grease that accumulated on the inside of the lid and around the heating element required more effort, but was not a huge challenge.
Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill: Verdict
There’s something primally satisfying about grilled food, even if an open flame isn’t directly involved. Being able to have outdoor access to that, even if you don’t have the space for a so-called “real” grill (or propane or charcoal pose untenable safety hazards), is a delightful possibility, and one that a grill pan for your stove just can’t compete with. But the Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill puts it within everyone’s reach, at a price every bit as reasonable as its size.
Having to babysit it to prevent your meat from overcooking, though, isn’t a whole lot of fun. Nor is having to juggle ingredients and courses in such a way to get everything on the table and hot at the same time. There are ways around all this, of course, and with practice you’ll undoubtedly get it figured out (though you probably won’t want to dump your other countertop appliances). But the Woodfire Outdoor Grill is not, to quote another famous cooking gadget from years past, a “set-it-and-forget-it” affair, and that alone may be a deal-breaker for some.
For everyone else — provided they have the time, the patience, and the tolerance for well-done meat (at least on your first couple of cooking sessions) — the Nina Woodfire Outdoor Grill may be a fine addition to their cooking arsenal. And if you like terrific hamburgers, the Woodfire may end up paying for itself quicker than you can bust out a meal.