Bigger. Hotter. Heavier is Pit Boss’s claim to fame. And, on the surface, their popular Navigator series does appear to be just that. Good sizes, heavy-duty steel and the promise of being able to smoke or grill over direct flames has a lot of appeal. Follow that up with it’s surprisingly low price and you’ve got a strong contender for one of the best value pellet smokers out there.
But, how does it really perform? Is the slide-plate flame broiler actually a good grilling option? How heavy duty is it’s supposedly strong body? And, does going dual purpose mean it’s not actually as good as a dedicated pellet smoker?
Before you buy, we dig into these important questions plus more in our Pit Boss Navigator review. Here, we cover everything from what it’s like to put together, to temperature differentials, user experience, and, all-importantly, the results we’ve managed to get. All of this is designed to help you decide if Pit Boss is the right barbecue for you.
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Want the Skinny on the Pit Boss Navigator?
If you’re looking for a quick answer about what we think of the popular Pit Boss Navigator pellet smoker series, to keep it simple, it’s an affordable, yet very well-built smoker that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles, but, performs well at all the basics.
It’s one of the smokiest pellet smokers we’ve used, creates great smoke rings, and, is therefore, big on flavor. With a regular, not PID, temperature controller, the temperature does fluctuate decently. But, that’s what helps boost it’s smokiness and, in our opinion, doesn’t at all affect the consistency of results.
The slide-plate feature for direct flame grilling works really well for truly wood-fired meats. And, it doesn’t chop through the pellets like you would trying to grill over indirect heat.
The built quality is exceptionally good for a pellet smoker in this price bracket. It’s thick enough to withstand the heat without warping and the cart is as strong as anything we’ve used. The front and side tables give good extra work space as well.
With two meat probes and a cover included, the Pit Boss Navigator series is great value for a very sturdy smoker that performs well at both low and slow AND actual direct-flame, high-heat grilling.
Overview of the Pit Boss Navigator
The Pit Boss Navigator is a mid-priced pellet smoker that boasts of it’s high build quality, large capacity and hotter temperatures due to it’s Slide-Plate Flame Broiler.
Available in 3 different sizes. There’s the smallest Navigator 550G, most popular 850G, and, largest 1150G. The numbers roughly refer to how many square inches of cooking space each of them have. All of the Navigator series have the same features regardless of their size.
So, while we’ve used the Navigator 850G for the purpose of this review, our findings can be applied to any of the smokers in this series.
Features of the Pit Boss Navigator Pellet Smokers
- Heavy-duty steel powder-coated body
- Large pellet hopper capacity
- Reinforced leg design creates really sturdy base
- Available in 3 sizes to suit your needs
Ease of use:
- Wide temperature range gives you 8 in 1 cooking options
- Convertible front to bottom folding shelf
- Side shelf with tool hooks
- Easy to clean porcelain-coated cast iron cooking grates
- Open flame grilling up to 1000°F
- 1 or 2 meat temperature probes included depending on size
- Waterproof cover
What We Like About the Pit Boss Navigator
- Solid build – The Navigator’s are so well built, especially for the price. They’re strong, sturdy and don’t feel at all flimsy.
- Lots of work space – The folding front table makes it easy to transfer meat in and out, wrap meat right there, and, can be stored away so it doesn’t take up extra space.
- Size options – A lot of pellet smoker models don’t give you choice of size. But, it’s great to be able to choose the one that fits your needs and budget.
- Prime function – Speeds up the auger so you can heat it up faster or add extra pellets before and after opening the lid.
- Clear pellet hopper window – You can easily see when the pellets are getting low without opening the hopper lid.
What We Don't Like About the Pit Boss Navigator
- No chimney – We live somewhere that gets windy and rainy and find that the weather gets into the back vent, causing bigger temperature fluctuations.
- Uneven temperature distribution – There’s quite a bit of difference between the temperature from one side of the grill to the other (on the mid-sized 850G model)
- No WiFi – For us, it’s not a major. But, it’s worth mentioning that the Navigator’s don’t have WiFi.
Specs for the Pit Boss Navigator 550G/850G/1150G
Barbecue material: Powder-coated steel
Grate material: Porcelain-coated cast iron
Cooking capacity: 542 / 879 / 1158 square inches
Pellet hopper capacity: 16 / 27 / 32 lbs
Temperature range: 180°F – 500°F + direct flame mode
Fuel type: Wood pellets and electricity
Price guide: $$ / $$$ / $$$
Model: PB550G / PB850G / PB1150G
Dimensions: 48/58/64″ W x 47/47/47″ H x 31/37/37″ D
Weight: 123 / 185 / 185 lbs
Warranty: 5 years
Unboxing and Setting Up the Navigator 850G
The 850G Navigator came in one huge box. It was pretty straightforward to put together and took about 2 hours with 1 person. You’ll need a screwdriver as it’s not included.
By yourself, it’s doable to put together. The only tricky thing is trying to balance the round cooking chamber on top of the legs while you screw it on (they do recommend having a second person help and it is a good idea).
Because of all the polystyrene in the box, we did give it a good vacuum out while putting it together. It just helps to make sure you’re not burning small bits of polystyrene during the initial burn-in.
Once the 850G was all set up, we followed the instructions for the initial burn-in.
The process was simple and typical of any pellet smoker. The only thing that got us was the time. In the manual, it says to burn-in for 30-40 minutes. But, with the start-up cycle, time to get to temperature plus automatic cool-down cycle at the end, it took a lot longer than that.
Build Quality of the Pit Boss Navigator
One of the things that’s impressed us the most about the Pit Boss Navigator is that it’s so well-built.
Pretty much every smoker manufacturer says that theirs is heavy-gauge steel. But, the Navigator does use good, thick steel that gives us confidence in how long the whole unit’s going to last. The lid is reasonably heavy to lift.
Putting it together, all the parts fit well to give a really solid feel. It’s much better than we expected for a pellet smoker in this price range. Some smoke does leak from around the cooking chamber door. It’s not excessive, but, could be fixed with some self-sticking gasket tape if you wanted a really tight seal.
One thing to note though, although the steel does have a good thickness to it, there’s no insulation so it does struggle to keep a steady temperature in bad weather conditions. There is an insulation blanket available for the Navigator in different sizes. Definitely grab one of those if you want to smoke somewhere cold. It’ll save you a lot of pellets!
Note: We took these images after quite a lot of use! It doesn’t arrive looking like it’s had this much love.
Rear Venting on the Pit Boss Navigator
You might have noticed that unlike most pellet smokers, the Pit Boss Navigator doesn’t have a chimney. Instead, it vents hot air and smoke through a series of holes at the top back of the cooking chamber.
The verdict is still out on what works better. And, it’s really a matter of personal preference.
The theory is that, unlike an offset smoker that needs the draft, a pellet smoker, where the fire pot is positioned directly underneath what you’re cooking, doesn’t need the smoke to be pulled past the meat. Because of this, rear venting can give a much more even distribution of heat and smoke.
Our two cents on it are that although there is a small cover to stop wind and rain from ripping through there, rear vents do let quite a bit of wind and some rain in if you’re cooking somewhere exposed. So, if you live in Florida, maybe not an issue. But, it’s worth noting.
It does look nice and neat and makes sense from a design point of view.
Cooking on the Pit Boss Navigator
To give you the best idea of how the Pit Boss Navigator performs, we used the smoker regularly for a few months before writing this review. On it we’ve cooked ribs, whole brisket, pork butts, whole chickens, burger patties and sausages.
Because most people considering the Navigator will be looking at it for smoking, we spent most of the time focusing on this. But, we did a few trial-runs of grilling and searing to see what we thought of the slide-plate flame broiler as well.
Operating the Navigator 850G
The dial-in digital control panel is simple and all you really need. There’s the on/off switch, a prime button, temperature dial with smoke mode and LED display that shows your set, actual and temperatures of 2 probes.
To start it up, plug it in, fill the hopper, move the temperature dial to ‘smoke’ and turn the unit on. You need to leave the lid open as the smoker goes through it’s start-up cycle, feeding pellets into the fire pot until the heavy, white smoke has disappeared. After that, you can shut the lid and turn the temperature dial to your target temperature.
The dial lets you set the temperature in 25°F increments.
There’s also a ‘P’ setting that’s worth mentioning. Essentially, it’s a manual setting that controls the auger cycle so you can change the smoke and temperature level when using the smoker in smoke mode. There’s 7 different presets and a factory default. It gives you more control over how smoky you like your meat if you want to run it very low and slow for the first hour or so of your cook.
Note: You will need to bump the temperature up to a regular setting for the remainder of you cook so that your food reaches a safe eating temperature.
Time to Reach Target Temperature
Because of the weather conditions, type of pellets being used, and, target temperature, how long it takes to reach the heat you’re after will vary.
But, to give you an idea, the 850G took us about 5-7 minutes from start-up to reach a low and slow smoking temperature of 225°F.
For grilling at high-heat, we were looking at about 35-38 minutes to hit the maximum 500°F. By using the ‘prime’ function to speed up the rate that the pellets are dropped into the fire pot, you can speed it up though.
We’ve used a few different types of pellets in the 850G and were only able to hit the max temperature with an oak based pellet. It’s not to say that others won’t get it there. But, our mesquite and other mix did struggle with the high heat even though the weather conditions were similar.
Thanks to the slide-plate flame broiler, most of the time, we didn’t wait until the actual grill temperature hit maximum. Instead, we gave it some time to heat up, opened the slide-plate and threw the meat over the flame. Yes, you can totally wait until the whole grill heats up. We’re impatient and still had amazing results.
The 550G and 850G come with 1 stainless steel meat probe while the 1150G comes with 2. But, there are 2 ports in all of the Navigator models so you can add an extra if you go for one of the smaller options.
The probes read well and are easy to setup by passing them through the probe port and plugging them directly into the control panel. Our only complaint is that there’s no rubber handle on them so they get really hot. Not a major if you’ve got your high-heat gloves on. But, you will need them to move the probes or take them out at the end of your cook.
As we already mentioned, we smoked a lot of different types of meat before writing this review. And, from pork ribs, to pork butt, whole brisket and chickens, the Navigator gave us great results from the very first use.
We found it to be one of the more smoky pellet smokers we’ve used. Maybe it’s because it’s not a PID controller so the temperature fluctuates more, or it could be the rear vents letting in more wind. Either way, we got really good smoked flavor with a large smoke ring in everything we cooked.
Like you’d expect from a pellet smoker, the Navigator won’t get you a great bark. But, it leaves the meat nice and moist and very tender.
The upper rack works well for layering meat as well. Just keep in mind that the clearance between the top and bottom racks is about 3.5 inches. It’s not a lot of height if you’re cooking taller cuts of meat so you’ll have to whip the top rack out and lose a bit of cooking space. For anything flat though, like ribs or brisket, the top rack won’t get in your way.
We were really hoping we’d be able to say that the Navigator grills well and IT DOES! Smoky, moist, lots of flavor, and, grill marks to boot! It’s actually comparable to charcoal grilling in our opinion. We couldn’t be happier about it’s performance in this arena.
Most pellet smokers use a lot of pellets to cook at high heat. But, because you don’t have to heat the whole grill, you’re getting bonus high heat from the direct flame access, the Navigator doesn’t chop through the pellets to simply grill a few burgers.
Keep in mind though, you don’t have a lot of space for direct flame grilling. The open slots in the drip plate fit 5-6 medium sized burgers to get the full benefit of the direct heat. You could use the rest of the grill as well and rotate pieces so everything gets a bit of time over the open flame. But, you’re definitely getting the best bang for your buck over that middle fire pot section.
Temperature Accuracy and Fluctuations
To test how even the temperature distribution is, we set up 3 probes across the bottom grate of the Navigator 850G.
The hardwired probe that gives the actual temperature on the control panel sits to the left hand side of the cooking chamber.
Here’s what we found:
Pit Boss Actual Reading
We didn’t measure the heat differential at maximum temperature because if you’re grilling, you’re probably going to be using the slide-plate feature for open flame access. Doing that obviously is going to cause a higher heat discrepancy.
Also, our temperature probes don’t go high enough to test if the claim of 1000°F max when using the open flame is correct so we can’t report on that. It is an open flame though, it’s hot and it works.
We did notice the temperature difference across the smoker though. The meat closest to the pellet hopper was generally ready before the right hand side. Also, meat closer to the front cooked faster as well. The significance of the difference surprised us to be honest.
Work Areas and Storage Space
All of the smokers in the Pit Boss Navigator series come with a fixed side shelf with tool hooks plus a removable front shelf that can also be positioned down low.
We find the front shelf such a plus! Without a full outdoor kitchen setup, it’s just so easy to set the meat down on the front shelf to open the lid, wrap meat and throw a tray on when it’s time to eat.
If you wanted extra storage, you could put the front shelf down below the cooking chamber to sit pellets and anything else you needed. And, with a cover, it’d stay reasonably out of the weather. But for us, front shelf work space wins.
Cleaning the Pit Boss Navigators
Cleaning the Pit Boss Navigator is typical of any other pellet smoker.
The grates, shelves and temperature probes should be cleaned after each use (our favorite is one of these cheap wooden scrapers, but they also wash up well). Then, every 2nd to 3rd session, the firepot should be vacuumed out to get rid of excess debris.
Every 5-6 sessions (so every 2nd time you clean the firepot), also clean out any ash or grease from the bottom of the main cooking chamber and scrape down the flame broiler drip tray. Because there’s no separate heat deflector in the Navigators, you can’t cover the flame broiler with aluminum foil like you can in some pellet smokers. It ups the cleaning a bit but decreases the cost because you don’t need to buy foil. You also shouldn’t wash it with water, so, a scrape down doesn’t take long.
Other than that, the auger feed system should be cleared out every time you use a full hopper’s worth of pellets.
The whole process really isn’t too time intensive. But, an inexpensive shop vacuum does make it easier.
Included Extras and Accessories
Regardless of where you buy, the Pit Boss Navigators should come with 1 or 2 meat probes (depending on the size). But, some packages also include the grill cover as well. Check it, and if not, grab yourself one. Unless you’re storing the barbecue in your garage, protecting it from the weather is going to increase it’s life, no doubt about it!
All Pit Boss’s come with one of the best warranties out there. 5 years of fairly inclusive cover gives you peace of mind and confidence that one of these smokers is going to last at least that long. And, Pit Boss has a decent reputation for customer service because the last thing you want is a pain in the butt if something does happen.
You don’t need anything extra to smoke or grill on the Pit Boss Navigator. But, as we’ve mentioned, if it doesn’t come with a waterproof cover, buying one is a great idea and, in our opinion, not really an ‘optional’ extra.
Because there’s no insulation on the Navigator, using it in cold conditions without an insulation blanket isn’t optimal. It will chop through the pellets, and, you might have a hard time getting and keeping the temperature you want if it’s really cold. Grabbing an insulating blanket will sort that out and save you money in the long run.
You can also get disposable liners for the drip bucket, an extra meat probe, and, a whole heap of other accessories too.
Pros of the Pit Boss Navigator Pellet Smoker
- Super smoky flavor with a good smoke ring
- Effective high heat grilling thanks to the slide-plate flame broiler
- Choice of capacity to suit
- Very well built for the price
- Front and side tables give lots of work space
- Prime button means you can speed up how long it takes to heat up on start-up or after opening the lid
- Clear pellet hopper window makes it easy to see when pellets are low
- Easy to use
- Good value for money
- Long warranty
Cons of the Pit Boss Navigator Pellet Smoker
- The rear vents do let wind and rain in unlike a traditional chimney
- There’s a reasonable temperature difference across the grates so the rate of cooking might be different depending on position
- Can’t line the flame-broiler drip tray for easy cleaning. But, you just scrape it down every now and then
- No WiFi – not a major for us but always worth mentioning
- No insulation so you will need an insulating blanket if you’re planning to use it in the colder months
- No easy way to empty the pellet hopper. But, because of this, less moisture gets into the hopper making it okay to store unused pellets here for a little while
Our Verdict on the Pit Boss Navigator Review
If you’re looking for true versatility from a pellet smoker, the Pit Boss Navigator delivers.
Well-built, easy to use, and, an actually good solution to grilling on a pellet smoker, the Navigator gives you real wood fired smokiness at a great price. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of some more expensive models, it does more than just the minimum with it’s slide-plate flame broiler, without skimping on it’s smoking performance.
Pit Boss’s claim of bigger, hotter, heavier definitely rings true with a reliable and durable solution for easy, real wood smoking and grilling on the one barbecue.
Giving you the choice of 3 sizes to suit your clan, and a long warranty to boot, the Pit Boss Navigator is a solid choice for a reliable, well-priced pellet grill.
FAQs About the Pit Boss Navigator Pellet Smoker
Q. Does the Pit Boss Navigator have WiFi?
No. Set and forget does mean you don’t need to be out there changing settings frequently. And, you could use a wireless thermometer to monitor your meat’s progress from inside your house if that’s a good half-way solution for you.
Q. What’s grilling like on the Pit Boss Navigator?
Actually legit not bad for a pellet smoker! The slide-plate flame broiler gives you access to more heat and real flames for a better cook and actual sear marks. And, the meat turns out surprisingly smoky. The only downside is the limited capacity because it’s only about 1/3 of the bottom grate that gets access.
Q. What’s the difference between the 550G, 850G and 1150G?
The main difference between the 550G, 850G and 1150G is the size. The number pretty much tells you how many square inches of cooking space you get on each of the models. The largest also comes with 2 meat probes instead of 1.
Q. Is there a hopper clean out door?
No, the Navigator doesn’t have a fast way to empty the pellet hopper. You need to scoop or shop vacuum any unused pellets out. The plus side of that is that the hopper doesn’t let so much moisture in so it’s okay to leave pellets in there for a while.
Q. Do I need to use Pit Boss pellets in the Navigator?
No you don’t. We recommend using any high quality brand of natural wood pellets to keep it running well, hit high heat and create the best smoke.