If you’re looking for a versatile, simple to use cooker then you should seriously consider a pellet smoker.
While you won’t win any points with old fashioned pit masters, the ability to effortlessly produce excellent barbecue makes buying a pellet smokers very tempting.
Even an entry-level pellet smoker will set you back more than charcoal or gas. But for a little bit extra up front, you’ll enjoy the simplicity and versatility that is causing pellet smokers to take over patios around the country.
In this guide we’ll break down the best pellet smokers available in 2019. We’ll also run through some of the pros and cons of cooking with pellets to help you make up your own mind.
Oh and don’t be confused if you see the “pellet grill” and “pellet smoker” used interchangeably. They refer to the same thing.
Click to jump straight to each topic:
- The Best Pellet Smokers for 2019
- The 9 Best Pellet Grills Reviewed
- 1. The best all around pellet smoker – Camp Chef SmokePro PG24 Deluxe Pellet Grill
- 2. Runner Up – Traeger Pro 780 Wood Pellet Grill
- 3. The best budget pellet grill – Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker
- 4. The best portable pellet smoker – Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett WIFI Grill
- 5. Best large pellet smoker – Camp Chef SmokePro LUX Pellet Grill
- 6. Most innovative design – Grilla Wood Pellet Grill
- Other pellet grills worth considering
- 7. Camp Chef Woodwind 24 Pellet Grill – A solid mid sized option
- 8. Pit Boss 700FB Pellet Grill – Large budget alternative
- 9. Traeger TFB42LZBC Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker – A small budget option
- Who pellet smokers are best suited for
- How pellet smokers work
- Durability and Construction Material
- Size of the Hopper
- Plan how much cooking real estate you need
- Common features and capabilities
- Length of Warranty
- Pellet Consumption
- Beware of gimmicks
- Customer Service
- The pros and cons of buying a pellet smoker
- Wrapping it up
The Best Pellet Smokers for 2019
| OUR TOP PICK: Camp Chef PG24 Deluxe Pellet Grill
| RUNNER UP: Traeger Pro 780 Wood Pellet Grill
| BEST BUDGET: Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E 2019 Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker
| BEST PORTABLE: Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Pellet Grill
| BEST LARGE: Camp Chef SmokePro LUX Pellet Grill
The 9 Best Pellet Grills Reviewed
1. The best all around pellet smoker – Camp Chef SmokePro PG24 Deluxe Pellet Grill
The Camp Chef deluxe is an excellent mid sized smoker that strikes a perfect balance between quality and value for your dollar. The temperature control is super simple and gives you plenty of options to dial in depending on what you are cooking.
With 429 square inches of cooking area you can easily fit several racks of ribs at once. Unlike with a charcoal smoker, you’ll be up and running in 10 minutes.
The Camp Chef ticks all the boxes you would expect from a pellet grill at this mid price point. You’ll enjoy the set it and forget it style cooking, clean flavor and minimal ash to clean up. All of the main parts are built with heavy gauge stainless steel and feel sturdy.
Like other pellet smokers you dial in different pre-set temperature settings on the thermostatic controller. You can choose between 175 – 400, as well as several other pre-sets like “High”, “LO Smoke” and “Hi Smoke”. You can easily hold at an ideal smoking temp of 225-250° consistently for many hours.
We wanted to focus on a few of the areas that make this smoker stand out from the competition.
What we liked:
- Smoke stack position– Camp Chef smartly positioned the smoke stack at the back of the unit, which gives you more space to work with on the right hand side.
- Easy cleanup– If you haven’t used a lot of smokers before you might not realize how much clean up effort is involved. This unit comes up with trap door for easy burn pot clean out.
- Efficient pellet consumption– We are always surprised at how few pellets this unit eats up. Although your results may vary depending on how cold / windy the weather is.
What we didn’t like:
- Occasional quality control issues with temperature sensor– While it doesn’t seem to effect everyone, some people experience an issue with the temperature sensor failing after only a few uses. Camp Chef have good support though so if any issues do crop up they should be easy to resolve.
While the Camp Chef can get up to 500°F (hot enough to produce crispy skin on a chicken), it’s never going to compete with a dedicated grill for searing.
This is something that all pellet smokers struggle with though.
Luckily you can add on a Sear Box which attaches on to the side of your smoker and allows you to grill at temperatures up to 900°. If you find yourself grilling often, this makes an excellent addition, and turns this into a total do it all cooker.
We struggled to find anything else to fault this grill on. It’s a super versatile unit, especially with the add on sear box.
If you’re worried about buying a charcoal smoker and only firing it up 3 or 4 times a year then you can’t go wrong with this unit.
You’ll be looking for any excuse to fire it up and experiment with smoking just about anything.
2. Runner Up – Traeger Pro 780 Wood Pellet Grill
If you want the biggest brand with all the latest features, and your budget can stretch, the Traeger Pro is a great option.
While a lot of people recommend the Traeger Texas Elite 34 at this price point, Traeger have made a bunch of improvements to the Pro model for 2019.
The Pro now comes with WiFi for remote control and monitoring of your grill.
The new Pro also addresses a few common issues with older Traegers. Namely poor heating speed and difficulty maintaining temperatures.
The new D2 direct drive uses a brushless DC motor to achieve higher torque at lower RPM. What does this actually mean? Basically the motor can turn the pellet auger faster, which lets you get more fuel into the firepot for faster and hotter cooking.
These features used to only come with the top of the range Timberline series, and they make the Pro a great buy in our opinion.
You can choose the Pro with either 575 or 780 square inches of cooking space. The extra space will cost you an additional $200 so think about how many people you need to cook for and this could be an area where you can save some money.
You get one temperature probe which lets you monitor your food temperature from the grill interface or via the Traeger app.
What we like:
- Highly accurate D2 PID controller– The Traeger Pro controller uses a variable speed fan that can speed up or slow down to reach and hold a more exact temperature. You can set the temperature within 5°F increments.
- WiFi connectivity – The so called WiFIRE technology is quite clever, allowing you to control temperatures and monitor your food from anywhere via your smartphone. You can even choose from hundreds of pre-programmed recipes which will control the entire cooking cycle, changing the temperature and air circulation for you.
What we don’t like:
- Crucial accessories cost extra– You’ll have to fork out an extra $149.98 for the grill cover & folding shelf ($119.98 on the 575 model).
Other than having to fork out extra for the shelf and cover, the Pro series represents the sweet spot of value to performance in the Traeger lineup.
A quick word of warning. Traeger slightly tweaked their naming convention with the 2019 models. The older models are called Pro 34, where the 34 represents the size of the main grilling rack.
The new models use the entire cooking surface area in the name.
If you don’t think you’ll take advantage of the WiFi features, you can save some money with the Texas Elite 34, but in our opinion the upgraded drivetrain, motor and fan plus WiFi make the Pro series our runner up pick for best pellet grill.
3. The best budget pellet grill – Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker
It’s always tough recommending a budget pellet grill. Because there’s so much technology involved, there’s a lot more that can break (or never work correctly to begin with).
So when we heard Z Grills were manufacturing grills of Traeger quality at significantly lower prices we were intrigued.
The company seems to have popped up overnight, but it looks like they have actually been manufacturing grills out of China for other US companies like Traeger for a number of years.
It appears they’ve decided to skip the middleman and launched their own brand selling direct to the public in 2017.
With 700 square inches of cooking surface (split between 500” primary and 200” elevated grate) and a 20lb hopper the Z-Grill 7002 closest competition would be the Traeger Texas Elite 34.
But with the Z-Grill you get a bit more space and slightly larger hopper at a significantly lower price.
What we like:
- Value for money– Getting a pellet grill with this size hopper and this much cooking space for the price is already a good deal. Throw in solid stainless steel construction, a newly updated in 2019 digital temperature and pellet control system and the Z-grill starts to look like a steal.
- Generous 3 year warranty – Longer warranty is important since it’s a new product so we haven’t seen how well it lasts. 3 Years is on par with more expensive brands
What we don’t like:
- Cleaning unused pellets – If you want to change type of pellet it can be difficult to remove any unused pellets from the hopper. You might need to invest in a small vac to do this.
- No insulation blanket – With the Traeger you have the option of purchasing an insulation blanket which is useful if you cook in outdoor temperatures below 40°F.
We also heard of some people that had problems with unreliable temperature control unit. This seems like it was a problem when it was first released, as the unit has been updated in 2019.
If you don’t mind the fact you’re buying from a new company that’s most likely based out of China, the Z-grill 7002 is definitely the best budget pellet grill on the market today.
And if it makes you feel better, most US based grill companies are doing all their manufacturing in China anyway. From our research it sounds like customer service is also very responsive.
4. The best portable pellet smoker – Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett WIFI Grill
When you think of pellet grills, being portable isn’t the first thing you think of. For one, you need to have a source of electricity to plug the grill in to. You can’t just grab a bag of charcoal and fire it up anywhere.
Having said that, the Green Mountain Davy Crockett also include adapters so you can get power from an outlet in your house, your car cigarette lighter or from your car battery. You could also use a generator.
Nothing else comes close in terms of features and portability at this price point. The WiFi control via tablet or smart phone is an awesome feature that lets you control the temperature of your grill remotely (handy if you’re lying by the pool).
While you might not have heard of Green Mountain before (they only started selling in 2008), the company is producing grills that match and often exceed what Traeger is making.
What we liked:
- This grill made our selection for best portable pellet smoker due to a couple of key features. The legs fold into a convenient carry handle, and it comes packaged with the accessories you’ll need to power the smoker from a range of sources.
- The Davy Crockett gives you far more temperature control than many other pellet smokers. Using the manual control panel you can make 5 degree adjustments. And if you want to really dial it in you can use the app to make one degree adjustments.
- Speaking of the app, not only does it give you the ability to adjust the temperature remotelly, you can also program in unique instructions. For example, you can set it to cook at 225° for 5 hours and then automatically change to 250° for another 4 hours.
- It’s also nice when the app tells you that the hopper isn’t feeding in wood pellets and the temperature is dropping. This sure beats running outside to check the grill.
What we don’t like:
- Due to the weight of the smoker and the awkward way the legs come off, we would still recommend having two people to maneuver the smoker.
- The WiFi connection can be unreliable at times. This is really dependent on your individual setup, but we’ve found the grill can loose connectivity at time.
Other than that the build quality is excellent. The materials are heavy and feel like they are made to last. Unlike most smokers that you setup once and then leave forever, this unit can easily fold up and be moved.
You’re not going to be able to cook as hot as some other pellet grills out there, but this unit should easily reach 420 degrees. For a relatively small package you can still cook a good amount of food. A 10lb brisket or a few slabs of ribs shouldn’t be a problem which should keep the campers happy!
5. Best large pellet smoker – Camp Chef SmokePro LUX Pellet Grill
This is for you if the you liked the sound of our best overall pick, the Camp Chef PG24DLX, but the 429 square inches of cooking space left you wanting more.
Packing a whopping 875 square inches of cooking rack surface area, and weighing 180lbs the Camp Chef SmokePro LUX is a big boy pellet grill.
While the size of the hopper is only 18”, a single load can go for 12-14 hours in mild weather. If it’s warmer outside it can go even longer.
What we like:
- Huge size– The main advantage the LUX has over the other models is the impressive amount of space. You can easily smoke a 30lb pork butt along with two 20lb briskets at the same time.
- Option to add sear box – With a max temp of around 400°F, this grill isn’t great for searing. You can get around this with the add-on sear box which gives you a 16,000 BTU propane burner capable of reaching 900°F for perfect searing.
- Easy to clean – Unlike some other pellet grills, they make it easy to clean out residual waste from burnt pellets. You can also easily remove unused pellets from the hopper and auger.
What we don’t like:
- Bad quality meat probe -The probe that is included kinks and breaks rather easily. We would usually recommend running a good third party digital thermometer anyway, but if you’re relying on the factory probe treat it with extreme caution.
- Calibration issues – The temp controller is simple to use, but you can run into issues with the actual temp being off by 20-50°F. You can easily get around this by using your own thermometer.
Otherwise the only other fault is that the installation instructions could be a bit more clear. That said it shouldn’t take more than an hour and it’s much easier if you watch an installation video.
6. Most innovative design – Grilla Wood Pellet Grill
With it’s eye catching design and clever technology the Grilla wood pellet grill is fast becoming one of the hottest options under $1,000.
These grills have actually been around for a few years, but in 2016 Grilla (This pellet grill shares the company name) dropped the price to a much more competitive level.
With a combined 488 square inches of cooking space (346″ on the main and 142″ on the upper cooking area), there are plenty of pellet grills that offer more cooking space for the price.
But this is more than made up for when it comes to features and build quality. The 20lb hopper is also large for a smoker this size, which makes this perfect for long cooks (like brisket).
The smaller footprint also makes this an excellent option if you’re limited on space.
This video is from the manufacturer but it does a nice job showing the Grilla grill in action.
While this grill has the look, the design is actually all about producing a consistent heat and smoke level in the cooking chamber.
The curved shape means there’s no corners where you normally get hot and cold spots. There’s also the rather ingenious swinging lid that allows you to check on your food without loosing as much heat.
You’ve also got all the set and forget features you would expect with a pellet grill including digital control system, automatic lighting and auto ignition.
What we like:
- Outstanding build quality backed up with 4 year warranty– With it’s heavy-steel construction Grilla have managed to blow the competition out of the water. The exterior is powder coated, while the grates are made from 1/4 inch stainless steel. The 5″ rubber wheels are excellent and allow this grill to be easily moved.
- Heat technology offers flexibility– Pellet grills are all about convenience and versatility. The digital control system allows you to set the temperature anywhere from 180°F to 500°F in 5-degree increments. The control panel let’s you see the cooking and meat temperature at the same time.
- Little touchescreate premium feel – Lots of great design choices make this grill a delight to use. From the clever lid that effortlessly slides open, to the easy cord storage. The gorilla shaped fire viewing port is also a clever touch and adds some nice ambient light when you’re entertaining outdoors.
What we don’t like:
- Limited space when cooking large items– The upper 142″ upper grate pops out when you are cooking larger items like whole chickens, turkeys etc. This limits you to the main 346″ cooking are.
If you’re looking for a larger option, Grilla also produce the Silverbac wood pellet grill. This gives you 692″ square inches of cooking space in a more conventional pellet grill design.
The Grilla is currently sold online only, but you can get free shipping when you order (US only).
Get the latest price from the Grilla website.
Other pellet grills worth considering
These are the pellet grills that narrowly missed out on our main selections.
They are definitely still worth checking out, and depending on your specific requirements they might be the best option for you.
7. Camp Chef Woodwind 24 Pellet Grill – A solid mid sized option
We’ve already included two smokers from the Camp Chef “Smoke Pro” line, but we just couldn’t leave the Woodwind off our list.
This grill offers a generous 570 square inches of cooking surface plus a removable upper warming rack.
This is the newest model, and while it shares a lot of similarities with the Smoke Pro lineup, there are a few subtle differences.
- The Woodwind have a larger and improved cover on the pellet hopper
- Heaver legs
- Lower storage shelf
- Stainless steel lid and firepot
- Blue LED screen read out that’s easier to see in direct sunlight
The price is a step up from the DLX PG24. Both are good options and the improvements on the Woodwind aren’t revolutionary, so which one to get depends on your budget and if you can get either while it’s on special.
8. Pit Boss 700FB Pellet Grill – Large budget alternative
Pit boss sell a range of pellet grills, and are marketed as a cheap alternative to Traeger.
You can generally get the same size grill for a few hundred less than the equivalent equivalent.
With the release of the 2019 Traegers, the tech in the Pit Boss is definitely lagging behind, but if you don’t care about having the latest bells and whistles then the Pit Boss could still be a good buy.
The Pit Boss uses a sliding plate system to allow for more direct searing which gives it a little bit more versatility.
With heavy gauge steel construction this grill is surprisingly sturdy considering the size and price.
You can also pay a bit extra for the SC model which comes with upgraded cart with storage cabinet and caster wheels.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
9. Traeger TFB42LZBC Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker – A small budget option
With the Traeger Wood Pellet Grill and smoker, you’ll never have to use charcoal or gas again. And we all know how much better food tastes when you’re cooking with wood. Having a rating of 4.6/5, this pellet smoker is a best seller on Amazon!
The pellet smoker has a versatile list of options including grill, smoke, braise, roast, and barbecue. The digital elite controller which makes maintaining the grill temperature super easy. The automatic temperature control also lets you relax while the grill does all the work. It prevents you from having to stand over the grill to constantly monitor your food.
It is also perfect for cooking in your home and has a spacious capacity of 418 square inches. The grills of the pellet smoker can carry up to 5 racks of ribs, 4 chickens and 16 burgers. It weighs not more than 18 lbs allowing you to move it around easily.
The Traeger wood pellet grill and smoker is a customer favorite on Amazon. A 5-star rating has been given by a whopping 80% of its users. However, there were some complaints about the replacement supplies being too pricey.
- Easy to clean and maintain
- Suitable for home cooking
- Pricey replacement supplies
The Traeger wood pellet grill and smoker is sure to live up to your expectations. It’s spacious, durable, easy to maintain and suitable for all kinds of cooking. We suggest you make this investment and you won’t be disappointed.
Who pellet smokers are best suited for
It doesn’t seem that long ago that only two companies were making pellet grills. Back in 2008 if you wanted to buy a pellet smoker you could choose between Traeger and MAK.
It’s a testament to the popularity of this type of smoker that there are now so many new brands available to choose from.
Prices for decent pellet grills start at around $400 and can run well over $1000. When you can get an excellent charcoal smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain for under $300 you may be asking yourself why would you want to buy a pellet grill?
It only takes two words to sum up the benefits of cooking with a pellet smoker. “Convenience” and “versatility”.
If the price isn’t a deal breaker for you though, the convenience is really amazing. Get used to throwing a brisket on, setting the temperature and then just get about your day (or sleep through the night) without a worry.
Because pellet smokers run off electricity they can also be a great choice if you live in a condo or are unlucky enough to have restrictions on burning charcoal or wood.
How pellet smokers work
While sharing the ‘set it and forget it’ style of it’s gas and electric cousins, pellet smokers use a very different system to generate heat.
As the name implies, these smokers run by burning cylindrical wooden pellets. A typical set up will include a hopper on the side where you add the pellets.
When you plug in grill in and set the heat on a digital controller, the pellets start getting pushed through and turned into heat and smoke.
Meathead explains in more detail how this process works over at amazingribs.com.
Meathead Goldwyn, Pellet Smokers Buying Guide
Central to all pellet cookers is a digital controller similar to the controllers on modern indoor ovens. You select a temp you want, and there is an LED display that tells you the actual temp.
Pellet cookers usually have an auger or another feed mechanism that pushes the pellets into a burn pot typically about the size of a beer can ripped in half. An igniter rod sits in the bottom of the pot and when you turn on the grill it glows like the element on an electric stove.
As the pellets ignite, a fan blows to feed them oxygen, and the igniter shuts off.
The controller is one of the most important parts of a pellet smoker. It’s the computer that regulates the temperature in your pellet cooker throughout the cook.
There are a few different types of grill controllers out there:
- 3 position controllers:These controllers are generally found on cheaper pellet cookers, and have 3 settings – low (225°F) medium (325°F) and high (425°F). They are also known as LMH controllers. They feed the pellets into the burner in fixed cycles so you don’t have a great amount of control over the temperature.
- Multi-position controllers:These controllers allow you to adjust the temperature in smaller increments. Pellets are fed in fixed cycles meaning these controllers still don’t offer amazing accuracy. A multi-position controller is typically accurate +/-20°F, in ideal conditions. A nice feature of these controllers is the addition of an LCD screen.
- One touch non-PID controller:This type of controller gives you the ability to adjust the temperature in 5-10°F increments. However, they still feed pellets in fixed cycles meaning that they can only offer accuracy of +/- 15-20°F. They also feature LCD screens, one touch buttons and many have inputs for meat probes.
- PID controllers: PID controllers are considered by many to be the gold standard of grill controllers. Using complex algorithms, temperatures are accurate to within a few degrees. The pellet feed is constantly adjusted to maintain the correct temperature, and this type of controller can even accommodate programmable meat probes that work in tandem with the controller to lower the temperature when the meat is done. They also feature LCD and one touch buttons.
Durability and Construction Material
Don’t be fooled by an attractive pellet grill exterior. Even if there is plenty of stainless steel on the outside, the manufacturer may have cut corners and used cheap materials that will rust on the inside.
The components of your pellet grill that matter the most are the fire pot, flame deflector, drip pan and grates. If these components are made of marine grade stainless steel, you have a cooker that will last you a lifetime.
If you’re looking at a grill made with powder coated steel, make sure that it is a very high quality coating. As soon as the paint blisters and chips, your cooker will start to rust and these components will deteriorate.
It is also worth noting that a pellet smoker made of high quality materials will perform better. High quality materials will retain heat, ensure more efficient pellet consumption, and maintain temperature better in the cold weather.
Size of the Hopper
The hopper of your pellet cooker is the container which stores the pellets ready for the auger to take them to the fire-pot. Therefore, the size of your hopper essentially dictates how long your cooks can be. So, settling for a hopper that is too small will prove to be annoying to say the least, as your cooks will fail to go the distance.
As a guide, a pellet grill with a 40 pound hopper will give you around 40 hours of cooking time at standard smoking temperatures. Considering some cooks take around 20 hours, an 18 pound hopper, for example, is going to be problematic.
And remember, if you live in a colder climate, your cooker will use even more fuel to bring the smoker up to, and maintain temperature.
You can purchase hopper extensions for your pellet grill. Make sure the hopper extender you buy is compatible with the pellet smoker you purchased, and that the manufacturer is reliable
Plan how much cooking real estate you need
Before deciding how big your cooker needs to be, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. How many people will I be cooking for? Do I plan on cooking large cuts or even a whole pig?
Remember that bigger doesn’t always mean better. Purchasing a huge pellet cooker can really just mean wasted pellets.
A standout feature of pellet smokers is that the temperature is even across the cooking area. As a result, there should be no temperature difference between the top rack and the bottom rack while cooking.
Bearing this in mind, let’s discuss the difference between the primary cooking area and total cooking area. Primary cooking area refers to the area on the main cooking plate. Total cooking area takes into consideration secondary racks.
Therefore, a large cooker with a primary cooking area of 500 square inches, might actually be of less use to you than a smaller cooker with a total cooking area that includes a 450 square inch primary rack and a 125 square inch secondary rack. If you couldn’t be bothered doing the math, that’s 575 square inches of total cooking space.
The bottom line is this – take stock of what you need, and don’t be fooled into thinking that bigger is better.
Common features and capabilities
Unlike your traditional charcoal or offset smokers, pellet grills can come with a whole bunch of bells and whistles. Some features you should think about include:
- WiFi capability: Companies have started to take advantage of the fact that pellet smokers have a computer in them by design. By integrating WiFi connectivity, you can monitor and control the temperature of your grill from just about anywhere, as long as you have an Internet connection. Companies like Green Mountain Grillsare now providing free apps that you can download and make use of for ultimate convenience.
- Meat probes: Some pellet cookers have outputs in their controller that allow for meat probes to be plugged in directly. Readings taken from your meat can then be displayed conveniently on the screen of your cooker.
- Grilling options: In the past, a drawback of pellet cookers was their lack of grilling capability. Some manufacturers have made grilling possible, either by removing part of the diffuser plate, or by providing a dedicated grilling area within the cooker.
- Add-ons: Manufacturers often offer a variety of add-ons. Check what features come standard, and what are add-ons at extra cost. Some add-ons are offered by companies independent of the manufacturer. If a feature is important to you, but is not a standard feature of your particular cooker, make sure it is available as an add-on before you buy the cooker.
Length of Warranty
There are some fairly high tech components in pellet smokers. There are also moving parts, such as the auger. This means that there are parts of your cooker that may break, and that you may not be able to fix yourself.
Make sure you are clear about exactly how long your warranty is, what it will cover, what would void it, and where you would need to take your smoker for any repairs under warranty.
Warranties vary between manufacturers, so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
Nobody likes a pellet hog, that is, a pellet burner that chews through excessive pellets.
If your pellet cooker is too thin, heat will be lost through the body of the cooker. It will use a lot of pellets just to maintain the temperature.
If the metal is too thick, you will also use a lot of pellets. The walls of a thick-bodied smoker act as a “heat sink”. Heat is taken away from the cooking area and stored in the walls of the cooker. So, it will take a lot of pellets to get the cooking area up to the desired temperature. While thick walls are desirable for some types of cookers, they are not required in pellet smokers.
Do some research and find out how many pounds of pellets per hour the smoker burns. Anything up to a pound per hour, at smoking temperatures, is OK. For example, Bruce Bjorkman of MAK claims that his barbecues only use about ½ a pound per hour on the smoke setting.
Beware of gimmicks
In the world of pellet smokers, there is a fine line between useful technology and tacky gimmicks. With increasing competition among manufacturers, companies are keen to stand out above the rest.
That is not to say that all features are simply gimmicks and should be dismissed as such. Ultimately, you have to think about whether the features on the pellet smoker are of actual use to you.
If the feature is something you would consider helpful, is it included at the expense of other, more important things, such as pellet usage or durability?
For example, consider the inclusion of WiFi, or other remote control features.
The manufacturers of the Rec Tec Grill firmly stand behind their decision to not include a remote control in their smoker. They argue, “This is a grill. You gotta go outside and put the meat on the grill. Is it too much to ask to press a button? And to lift the lid and see if you got pellets?”
However, if you live in a cold climate and it is freezing outside, the ability to control your cook from inside your warm home may well be an appealing feature. If that’s the case then the Davy Crockett by Green Mountain Grills might be right up your ally.
As usual there’s some good advice over at Amazing Ribs about the importance of customer service, especially for pellet grills.
Meathead Goldwyn, Pellet Smokers Buying Guide
In 2008 there were only two consumer pellet grill manufacturers. Today there are more than a dozen. The market for these relatively expensive devices is small but growing fast. Not all of these small manufacturers will survive.
Forget the warranty and ask “When it breaks will the manufacturer still be in business?” They do not have repair shops near you. When it breaks will they be able to diagnose the problem over the phone?
They may be able to figure it out, but then you have to buy the replacement parts and do the repair work yourself. Are you up to the task?
Buying from a larger, established company means there is likely to be a dedicated customer service team. It also means the company is likely to still be around a few years down the track when you may need their assistance.
On the flip side, a smaller company may be able to offer more personal and reliable service, and the people you contact are likely to be very well acquainted with your model of pellet grill.
You won’t find out how the manufacturer stacks up when it comes to customer service unless you ask questions, and get straight answers.
Pellet grills vary greatly in price. Some will set you back a few hundred dollars, others cost thousands. One word of caution – don’t confuse a cheap cooker with a cooker that is good value.
A cheap cooker may save you up front, but if it starts to rust, components break down within a few short years, you don’t have a good warranty and the customer service is not up to par, you will be spending more money in the long run.
On the other hand, if you purchase a cooker that has all the bells and whistles, but you never use them, you will have wasted your hard earned cash when a more basic cooker, that cost less, would likely have done the trick.
Before forking out cash, be sure to review all of the points above. Check out what’s available in your area, and ask lots of questions. Then, all that is left to do is enjoy your new cooker!
Given the huge variation in price, it is important to know what you are looking for when purchasing a pellet smoker. Running through a bit of a checklist is certainly a great way to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
The pros and cons of buying a pellet smoker
As we’ve mentioned above, most people end up choosing a pellet style smoker because of the convenience and versatility. Like an electric smoker, you get:
- Set it and forget it smoking– Just make sure the hopper is full of pellets and set your desired temperature and there isn’t much else you need to worry about.
- Simple temperature control– Most pellet smokers let you dial in the temperature to within five degrees, and the unit does a good job of maintaining a stable temperature.
There are also a few advantages unique to cooking with a pellet smoker:
- Super fuel efficient – Pellet smokers are similar to your home oven, with a super efficient convection fan, so you spend a lot less in pellets than charcoal.
- Less effort cleaning up – Charcoal smokers can make a bit of a mess every time you cook. With a pellet grill you might have to clear out the firepot every now and again but it’s rare (think once every 60 usages).
Steven Raichlen has an excellent breakdown of the various pros and cons of pellet grills that you may want to check out.
Steven Raichlen, New Kid on the Block: Pellet Grills
Pellet grills are versatile. You can barbecue, smoke, roast, grill (sort of–more on that below), and even bake or braise in a pellet grill. At BBQ University, we have used them to cook everything from crisp chicken wings to braised short ribs to smoked pork chile verde and crème brulee.
Like gas grills, pellet grills preheat fast (10 to 15 minutes). The design discourages flare-ups.
Some pellet grills allow you to regulate temperatures in 5-degree increments, giving you pinpoint heat control. A thermostat in the cooking chamber sends precise signals to the controller and regulates pellet delivery.
Pellet smokers aren’t without their issues though. Some potential problems include:
- Costs more to get a reliable unit compared to other types of smoker –You can pick up excellent charcoal, gas or electric smokers between $200-$500 while a good pellet will run you between $400-$1000+
- You can’t cook as hot or generate as much smoke – You won’t get quite as good a sear as you could with a charcoal grill. And you won’t get that dominate smokey flavor you would get with an offset stick burning smoker.
- You will need to plug the grill into electricity –This can limit where you set it up, and stop you from taking it away camping (unless you also have a generator).
- Need to keep an emergency pellet stockpile – If you’re grilling with propane or charcoal and run out half way through a 12 hour cook you can easily nip down to the store. But getting your favorite brand of pellets may require an Amazon order, or a trip to a more specialised store.
Pellet smokers aren’t for everyone, but if none of those sound like deal breakers then you may well be calling yourself a ‘pellethead’ any day now.
Wrapping it up
Pellet smokers are fast proving to be more than just a fad. While some old timers claim they’re little more than an ‘expensive oven’ for more amateur to enthusiast smokers the convenience of use and quality of the food they produce can’t be past up on.
Hopefully this guide has helped you understand a little bit more about the pros and cons of cooking with a pellet grill, and helped you pick out the right model for your budget and needs. Happy smoking!