Skip to content

Pit Boss Navigator Review: Perfect Smoke & Grill Solution?

PIT BOSS NAVIGATOR

Pit Boss Navigator 850G

Good value for money, heavy-duty pellet smoker with legit, open flame grilling.

4.6/5

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.

Burning Brisket is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Read our affiliate policy to learn more.

Table of Contents

Want the Skinny on the Pit Boss Navigator Review?

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.

Pit Boss Navigator 850G Side On

The slide-plate feature for direct flame grilling works really well for truly wood-fired meats (that’s why the Navigator is featured as one of the best pellet smokers for searing). 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.

About Pit Boss

Pit Boss are one of the leading manufacturers of pellet smokers.

What sets them apart from the rest is their bigger, hotter, heavier philosophy which has led them to develop an excellent range of heavy-duty pellet grills with a wide temperature range plus their Flame Broiler™ lever which lets you sear directly over the hardwood pellet fire instead of just trying to grill on a hot, indirect heated plate.

Along with their very wide range of pellet smokers, Pit Boss also sell all the extras you’d expect from a major brand including high-quality hardwood pellets, spices, and even firepits.

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 550, most popular 850, and, largest 1150. 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.

While we’ve used the Navigator 850 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

The Pit Boss Navigator pellet smokers are made from thick steel that won’t warp even under high heat.

These make the base even more strong and sturdy.

For their cooking sizes, the Pit Boss Navigator models all offer very large pellet hoppers for fewer refills.

There’s the 550 square inch, 850 square inch, and 1100 square inch models all with almost identical features.

The Navigator 850 has an updated WiFi controller for remote operation including changing cooking temperature, monitoring pellet level, and seeing how well done your meat is.

Smoke and grill anywhere between 180° – 500°F. And, open up the slide plate flame broiler to sear directly over the pellet fire flame up to 1000°F.

A folding front shelf and side shelf with tool hooks give you plenty of space for utensils, wrapping and serving.

See how many pellets are in your hopper without having to open the lid in the 850 and 1100 models only.

Monitor the doneness of your meat on the control panel or through the app (850 model only) with the included meat probe or probes, depending on which size smoker you get.

Good quality, heavy-duty protection from the elements so that your smoker lasts longer.

How Does the Pit Boss Navigator Work?

Like all pellet smokers, the Pit Boss Navigator needs to be plugged into a regular power outlet to run the control panel, auger and fan.

So, you fill the hopper with pellets, turn it on, set the temperature you’d like to cook at and it will automatically regulate the temperature for you so you can smoke or grill whatever you’d like.

But, most pellet smokers aren’t great at grilling because there’s no open flame. So, Pit Boss aim to solve that common complaint with their Flame Broiler lever.

Simply slide it to the side and you’ll open up slits in the heat deflector plate below the cooking grates giving you access to the open flame so that you can sear at temperatures of up to 1000°F.

Specs for the Pit Boss Navigator 850

BBQ type: Pellet

Material: Powder-coated

Grates: Porcelain-coated

Grilling: Direct heat

Capacity: 879 sq in

Hopper capacity: 27 lbs

Heat range: 180 – 500°F+

Dimensions: 47″D x 47″W x 47″H for 850

WiFi: Yes

Price guide: $$$

Model: PB850G

Warranty: 5 years

Comparison of the Pit Boss Navigator Series of Pellet Grills

Our Experience Using the Pit Boss Navigator 850

Before writing this review we trialled the Pit Boss Navigator 850 over a period of a few months.

During this time we tested it’s performance for both low and slow smoking and high-heat grilling. We used the Navigator in a range of different weather conditions including rain, high wind, and near freezing temperatures. And, we used it to cook a wide range of meats and sides to really gauge how this grill and smoker performs all round.

The conclusions we have drawn here are based on this hands-on experience with the Pit Boss Navigator, but also draw on our knowledge of other pellet smokers on the market as well as different types of smokers too.

Unboxing and Setting Up the Navigator 850

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.

Pit Boss Navigator Review 850G

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.

What Does the Pit Barrel Cooker Classic Come With?

As well as the grill and smoker itself, the Pit Boss Navigator 550 and 850 models comes with 1 meat probe to plug directly in to the control panel while the larger 1150 model comes with 2.

There’s still 2 probe ports on all of the Navigator models, regardless of their size. But, if you want to use both of them with the smaller models, you’ll need to grab an extra probe.

All of the Navigator models come with a fitted waterproof cover and a drip bucket.

Construction and Build Quality

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.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Set-Up

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 and, in our opinion, doesn’t at all affect the results of your cook, this smoker is smoky!

Pit-Boss-Navigator-850G-Cart-Legs

One thing to note though, although the steel does have a good thickness to it, there’s no built-in insulation. We found the Navigator did struggle a little 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!

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.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Vents

Quite a few pellet smoker manufacturers are using this design.

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.

And, the verdict’s still out on what works better. But really, it’s a matter of personal preference.

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, maybe it’s not an issue. But, it’s worth noting.

We did have to carefully choose a spot for this smoker that was well sheltered from the weather.

Capacity

One of the things we love about the Pit Boss Navigator Series is that they give you so much choice when it comes to space.

The Navigator 550 has 524 square inches of cooking space with a 16 pound pellet hopper.

The Navigator 850 gives you 879 square inches of cooking space with a 24 pound hopper.

And, the Navigator 1150 has 1,158 square inches of cooking space powered by a huge 32 pound pellet hopper.

All of these models split the cooking racks over two levels.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-850G-2-Racks

You’ll have full use of all the real estate while you’re smoking.

But, just be aware that the sliding Flame Broiler only gives you access to open flame grilling directly over the small firepot.

So, while you’re grilling, your usable area is reduced.

Pit-Boss-Navigator 850G Open

Regardless, there’s a lot of choice when it comes to size.

The Navigator 850 is the most popular option. It’ll give you a heap of space for everyday cooking for the family while leaving enough space for entertaining or throwing a couple of full briskets on there.

In terms of hopper capacity, we feel that all the Navigator models give you a generous amount of space.

The 850 and 1150 models have clear pellet hopper windows so you can see when it’s getting close to refill time.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Pellet-Hopper-Window

But, with an average pellet consumption of about 1 hour per pound of pellets, you’re looking at a minimum of 16 hours of low and slow smoking time on the smallest Navigator without needing to refill.

Operating the Navigator 850G

The dial-in digital control panel is simple and all you really need.

Pit Boss Control Panel

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’ prime 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. But, you will need to manually bump the temperature up to a regular setting for the remainder of you cook so that your food reaches a safe eating temperature.

WiFi

The new Navigator 850’s do have a WiFi control panel so you can fully operate this grill and smoker via the Pit Boss app on your smartphone.

This review was done before the newer control panel came out so we have not yet used the Pit Boss app. However, reviews of it are positive.

Check out the video below for a quick run-down.

At this stage, there’s no WiFi controller availabe on the 550 and 1150 Navigator models.

And, the old non-WiFi version of the Navigator 850 is still sold at some retailers so check if the one you’re buying does have WiFi or not.

Smoking Performance

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.

The Navigator 850 took about 5-7 minutes from start-up to reach a low and slow smoking temperature of 225°F in most weather conditions.

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.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Ribs

The upper rack works well for layering meat as well and we found that the temperature was similar enough between the lower and upper racks.

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.

Grilling Performance

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.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Open-Flame-Grilling

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.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Drip-Tray-Grilling-Position

For grilling at high-heat, we were looking at about 35 – 38 minutes to hit the maximum temperature of 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.

Thanks to the slide-plate flame broiler though, 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.

Temperature Accuracy and Fluctuations

To test how even the temperature distribution is, we set up 3 probes across the bottom grate of the Navigator 850.

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:

Set Temperature Pit Boss Reading Left Probe Middle Probe Right Probe
225°F
226°F
221°F
208°F
203°F
250°F
257°F
243°F
235°F
225°F
300°F
307°F
275°F
268°F
257°F

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

Pit-Boss-Navigator-850G-Side-and-Front-Tables

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 Navigator

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.

Pit-Boss-Navigator-Cleaning

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 other 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.

Warranty

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.

Optional Extras

You don’t need anything extra to smoke or grill on the Pit Boss Navigator. And, it comes with the cover which we really like because using one really does extend the life of your grill whether you’re storing it indoors or outdoors.

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.

What We Liked & Didn't Like About the Pit Boss Navigator

Pros
Cons

Should I Buy the Pit Boss Navigator?

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.

What Other Pellet Smokers Should I Consider?

If the Pit Boss Navigator’s not quite right for you, check out these competitive pellet smokers.

Camp Chef Woodwind with Optional Sear Box or Sidekick
  • Slide n Grill open flame grilling
  • Optional sear box or sidekick for legit grilling
  • Similar price
  • WiFi
  • Stainless steel components
  • Adjustable smoke levels
  • Choice of 2 sizes
Z Grills Multitasker
  • More precise temperature control
  • Two size options
  • WiFi control on both
  • Built-in insulation
  • No open-flame grilling
  • Similar price

FAQs About the Pit Boss Navigator Pellet Smoker

The new, mid-sized Navigator 850 does have a WiFi temperature controller. This lets you operate the grill from your smartphone.

But, the 550 and 1150 models DON’T have WiFi.

And, there’s still some of the older 850 models for sale at various retailers that DON’T have WiFi either. These might be cheaper. If you’re after the WiFi version, buy it direct from the Pit Boss website, or just check that the 850 you’re buying does in fact have the WiFi added to the product name.

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.

The main difference between the 550, 850 and 1150 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.

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.

No you can use any brand of pellets in the Pit Boss Navigator pellet smoker. We recommend any of these high quality brand of natural wood pellets to keep it running well, hit high heat and create the best smoke.

The Pit Boss Navigator’s smoke setting forces the grill to use a lower temperature setting to help pump out as much smoke as possible.

You would use this at the beginning of your cook to create a stronger smoky flavor.

Jared Brown, an avid lover of all things meat has a fearless enthusiasm for experimenting with anything that's grilling, smoking or outdoor cooking. With a wealth of experience across a range different barbecue types, Jared's got a real knack for helping others make a decision they're happy with, ensuring they find the perfect fit regardless of conventional notions of the 'right' choice. This unique approach has made Jared a trusted guide in the world of barbecue.

About Burning Brisket

Burning Brisket is one of the leading, independent authorities on all things barbecue. Family-owned and run, it's our mission uncomplicate the art of smoking to help you enjoy making incredible food at home for your family and friends to create memories over.

Browse BBQ Reviews
Cook Better Barbecue

Get our latest reviews, guides, and recipes to help you move from burnt to simply brilliant!