The 11 Best Pellet Grills & Smokers for 2021

Best Pellet Smokers

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If you’re looking for a versatile, easy-to-use grill and smoker then you need to seriously consider a pellet smoker.

While you won’t win any points with old-fashioned pitmasters, the ability to effortlessly produce excellent barbecue makes buying a pellet smoker very tempting.

In this guide, we’ll break down the best pellet smokers available at a range of price points. We’ll also run through everything you need to know to find the right pellet grill for your needs.

In a rush? We think the Camp Chef Woodwind WiFi 24 hits the sweet spot of value to performance and is the best pellet smoker for most people.

ImageProduct
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  • Cooking surface: 811 sq in
  • Controller: Gen 2 PID
  • Pellet capacity: 22 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Cooking surface: 570 sq in
  • Controller: Ortech digital
  • Pellet capacity: 18 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
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  • Cooking surface: 575 sq in
  • Controller: D2 PID
  • Pellet capacity: 18 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Cooking surface: 575 sq in
  • Controller: D2 PID
  • Pellet capacity: 18 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
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  • Cooking surface: 700 sq in
  • Controller: PID
  • Pellet capacity: 20 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Cooking surface: 700 sq in
  • Controller: PID
  • Pellet capacity: 20 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
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sbs-table__image
  • Cooking surface: 700 sq in
  • Controller: PID
  • Pellet capacity: 22 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years+
  • Cooking surface: 700 sq in
  • Controller: PID
  • Pellet capacity: 22 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years+
CHECK LATEST PRICE
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  • Cooking surface: 300 sq in
  • Controller: Digital Arc Controller
  • Pellet capacity: 8 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years
  • Cooking surface: 300 sq in
  • Controller: PID
  • Pellet capacity: 8 lbs
  • Warranty: 2 years
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  • Cooking surface: 1070 sq in
  • Controller: Adaptive Control System
  • Pellet capacity: 20 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years+
  • Cooking surface: 1070 sq in
  • Controller: Adaptive Control System
  • Pellet capacity: 20 lbs
  • Warranty: 3 years+
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The 10 Best Pellet Grills you can buy in 2021 Reviewed

These are the best wood pellet grills you can buy. They have all been put through rigorous tests by our team of expert reviewers to see how well they perform at both smoking and grilling.

We’ve looked at size, features, and budget to help shortlist the best grill for people with different needs. These are all full-sized pellet grills (with one exception), so be sure to check out our guide to the best portable pellet grills if you need that feature.

1. The Best Overall Pellet Smoker – Camp Chef Woodwind WiFi 24 Pellet Grill

Read our full Camp Chef Woodwind review.

Camp Chef Woodwind pellet grill review

The Camp Chef Woodwind is an excellent mid-sized smoker that strikes a perfect balance between quality and value for your dollar.

You get plenty of new tech in the Woodwind, powered by a Gen 2 digital PID controller which gives you the option to dial in your desired level of smoke.

You can control the grill via a large color touch screen or through the companion App.

The Woodwind is available in two sizes. Most people will go for the mid-sized 24″ model which gives you 811 total square inches of cooking space (429 sq in lower rack + 382 sq in the upper rack.

If you need to cook for a crowd you can opt for the otherwise identical 36″ model which gives you 1236 square inches of grill real estate to use.

The Woodwind 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 with the four meat probes included helping you keep an eye on your temperatures.

Many pellet grills struggle to sear, but Camp Chef has come up with two solutions to this problem.

  • The slide and grill feature allows you to pull a handle and switch to direct flame grilling
  • You can add the optional SideKick and Grill Box attachments to give yourself a dedicated searing station.

Here’s a video showing how we use the Sidekick to sear some Picanha before finishing on the grill.

Camp Chef Woodwind Impressions + Picanha Cook (Pellet Grill + Side Kick)

You can buy the Woodwind with the SideKick as a package or pick it up in the future. Be sure to check out our full review where we tested out these attachments to see if they were worth the cost.

What we like:

  • Super simple to operate – From the digital controls that allow you to dial in the exact temp you want to the ash cleanout system, the Woodwind is one of the easiest to operate pellet grills we’ve tested.
  • Searing capability – Crank up the heat at any time via the slider rod for searing steak or burgers.
  • SideKick attachment – Add a powerful propane burner that can be configured as a griddle, grill or pizza oven to give you ultimate versatility.
  • Smoke adjustment controls – You can set the smoke level between 1-10 depending on if want a subtle of heavy smokey flavor

What we don’t like:

  • No cabinet door – You get a small storage shelf but it would be more useful if their was a door so you could keep a bag of pellets or some tools dry.
  • App connectivity – The Camp Chef has WiFi and Bluetooth to connect to your phone, and the App allows you to change temps and smoke level, monitor your four probes and shut down the grill but we found it would randomly lose connection which was a little aggravating.

Camp Chef is regularly updating the app so we hope the connection issues can be resolved.

It’s simple to operate and cook delicious food with minimal effort. It’s also one of the most easy cleaning pellet grills we’ve tested.

The Woodwind is well built and designed and packed with features. The ability to add on functionality like dedicated searing and a pizza oven with the SideKick is enough to push the Woodwind to the top of our list of best wood pellet grills.

2. Runner Up – Traeger Pro 575 Wood Pellet Grill

traeger pro 575 pellet grill

The Traeger Pro is easily the top-selling wood pellet grill in the world.

After going through a few years of internal turmoil where construction quality seemed to suffer, the company has righted the ship. New Traegers are well designed and reliable and operate at precise temperatures.

You can choose the Pro with either 575 or 780 square inches of cooking space, and both sizes come in either black or bronze.

The extra space will cost you an additional $100 so think about how many people you need to cook for and this could be an area where you can save some money.

Keep in mind that the larger grill will chew through more pellets to maintain the same temperature as the 575.

The Pro is usually cheaper than the Camp Chef Woodwind, although you do give up some size and the versatility that the Camp Chef offers with the various SideKick attachments.

traeger pro 575 with 3 racks of ribs
My Pro 575 easily fits three racks of baby back ribs with room to spare

The Pro comes with WiFi for remote control and monitoring of your grill. The Traeger app is one of the best in the business, with an excellent range, control options and a variety of recipes to try.

The latest Pro fixed 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. Or in plain English, 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 get one temperature probe that lets you monitor your food temperature from the grill interface or via the Traeger app.

While you need to splash out on a top-of-the-line Timberline to get a pellet sensor included, you can now purchase this as a hardware add-on for all Pro and Ironwood models.

This is a super handy addition as running out of pellets mid-cook is incredibly annoying.

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 extra for the grill cover & folding shelf. Not unsual, although some companies will throw these in for free.

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.

The upgraded drivetrain, motor, and fan plus WiFi make the Pro series our runner up pick for best pellet grill.

3. Best Budget Pellet Grill – Z GRILLS 700D4E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker

Read our full Z Grills 700D4E review.

Z Grills 700D4E Pellet Grill

If the Woodwind and Traeger Pro are outside your budget, the 700D4E from Z Grills is our pick for best budget pellet grill.

It’s always tough recommending a budget pellet grill. Because there is so much technology involved, there’s a lot more that can break (or never work correctly).

When we first got our hands on a Z Grill they were a fairly new brand on the scene. Now they’ve been around for a while and we’ve seen their models go through a number of upgrades and continue to get better.

You now get a PID temperature controller which keeps your temperature a lot more stable. There’s also a larger screen and an easy pellet clean-out feature.

Unlike the grills mentioned above, you don’t get any WiFi or app connectivity.

That’s a fair tradeoff for the lower cost in our opinion, plus you get more cooking space than the Traeger, and a storage cabinet.

There’s also a handy trap door for removing unused wood pellets.

With 697 square inches of cooking surface (split between 504” main rack and 193” elevated grate) and a 20lb pellet hopper capacity, you get a capable pellet grill without a load of fancy features.

If you want to save a few bucks you could consider a smaller model like the 450B (reviewed here), which also comes with the improved PID controller.

What we like:

  • Value for money – Getting a pellet grill with this much cooking space for the price is already a good deal. Throw in solid stainless steel construction, a newly updated PID digital temperature and pellet control system and the Z-grill starts to look like a steal.
  • Stable temperatures – In our tests the 700D4E barely swings by more than 5°F, far lower than many more expensive grills we have tested
  • Pellet clean out system – If you want to change pellet flavors or just remove unused pellets after cooking there is a handy door at the back of the hopper that makes clean out a breeze.

What we don’t like:

  • Lid handle placement – You have to be careful when closing the lid that you don’t touch the hot surface. Might not be a problem for you but at 5ft 10″ I had to be careful not to burn my hand.

Considering you also get a grill cover included, Z Grills represent great value if you are willing to give up on WiFI connectivity, and whatever brand value you get from owning a Traeger or more familiar brand.

4. Best for Smoking & Grilling – Weber SmokeFire Gen 2

Read full Weber SmokeFire review.

weber smokefire gen 2 review

While Weber stumbled out of the block with the release of the SmokeFire, they seem to have fixed almost all the issues we had with the release of the second generation SmokeFire.

For our review, we bought the larger EX6 model which comes with 1008 square inches of grilling space. You can also opt for the smaller EX4 which includes 672 square inches.

Most pellet grills struggle to hit high enough temperatures for proper searing. Companies like Camp Chef get around this with the slide and sear system, which only adds a small hot zone or the SideKick which works well but gets pricey.

Weber came up with a unique design to get around this, using their trademark Flavorizer bars to help hit 600°F which makes this grill perfect for grilling steaks, and with enough cooking capacity to grill 30 burgers at once.

You also get competitive tech, with an app that gives you tracking, grill controls, and pellet sensor alarm.

What we liked:

  • Excellent at searing – Most pellet grills make good smokers, and average to bad grills. The design of the Weber SmokeFire allows you to get a pretty good sear when cooking at max temp.
  • Food has a great flavor – While we have been harsh on this grill in our review, all food we’ve cooked has still turned out great, and that is really the most important thing at the end of the day.
  • Fixed issues with initial launch – Seems Weber have been able to re-engineer the issues with pellet bridging, and the app has continued to get better.

What we don’t like:

  • Lack of side trays or front cabinet – You’ll probably want to buy the collapsable front shelf or side table to add some prep area to your grill.
  • Grease drain system – Flawed design gets clogged with grease and ash, but easily resolved by adding a few cheap aluminum pans below your grill grates.

While the second generation hasn’t resolved every single issue, the SmokeFire is now a perfectly capable wood pellet grill.

Weber has nailed the grilling and smoking experience, so if you want a versatile pellet grill the SmokeFire is now worth considering.

5. Best Portable Pellet Grill – Traeger Tailgater

Read our full Traeger Tailgater review.

traeger tailgater folded

When it comes to portable pellet smokers you need to decide if you want a pellet grill that has some portability but can still be used like a regular grill or a truly portable grill where you sacrifice a lot of space and performance.

The Tailgater belongs in the former category. You get 300 square inches of grill space which is still enough to cook a few racks of ribs at once.

smoking pork ribs on traeger tailgater
Three racks of ribs (cut in half) smoking on the Tailgater

At 62 lbs it’s not exactly a nimble grill, but the legs do fold down so you can easily stow it in the back of your truck.

What set it apart from the other portable grills we tested was how well it performed at both grilling and smoking.

Other options couldn’t hit high temperatures and struggled to sear properly.

smoke coming from traeger tailgater

The LED controls are not as user-friendly as the other Traeger models we’ve tested, but once you figure out how everything works the grill was easy enough to operate.

What I like:

  • Consistent temperature: In our tests the Tailgater held fairly standard temperatures over a low and slow cook.
  • Portability: The unit is compact once folded and can easily be transported. When the legs are up you could easily leave this grill on your patio and it wouldn’t look out of place.
  • Easy to Clean: Interior parts are easily removable and it does not produce much ash.

What I don’t like:

  • Folding legs: While stable once completed, the folding legs were a bit awkward to deploy and break down with just one person.
  • Pellet hopper size: The 8lb pellet hopper is one of smallest in it’s class. 

If Traeger tweaked the folding legs and upgraded the controls and added WiFi to match the Pro 575 it would be almost perfect.

Despite those flaws, this is still our pick for the best portable grill thanks to the great smoke flavor, ease of transportation, and cleaning.

6. Best High End Pellet Smoker – Yoder Smokers YS640S Pellet Grill

Once you get up to this price point you are spoiled for choice with a wealth of great options from the likes of REC TEC, Memphis Grills, and the Traeger Timberline series.

But if you talk to any competition guy the one brand that always comes up is Yoder.

You’re going to spend more than double the cost of our top pick the Woodwind, so what does that extra money get you?

For starters, this is the only pellet smoker on our list that is American-made (in Kansas).

There’s also the 10-gauge steel construction for unparalleled insulation and temperature stability across 1070 square inches of cooking space.

You can also switch between indirect heat and direct, over the flame grilling to hit temperatures up to 700°F.

There is Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, plus two integrated food probes for keeping an eye on your food while it smokes.

What we like?

  • American made – Everyone says they want American made, so here’s your chance to put your money where your mouth is. Built like a tank with 10-gauge steel.
  • Extra headroom – The door design allows 12 inches of headroom which is enough for extra tall items like beer can chicken, or turkey.
  • Customization options – Just like buying a car, you can option out your Yoder with a range of extras including diferent types of cooking grates, griddle, temperature gauge and shelves.

What we don’t like?

  • Price – You’re going to have to pay a lot for local construction and high-end build quality.

If you have the money to spare, the YS640S is an excellent investment. It’s far from the most expensive pellet grill, but anything above this you start to get diminishing returns.

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. REC TEC Grills RT-700 WiFi Enabled Wood Pellet Grill – A great high-end option

Read full review.

We could definitely include this REC TEC grill with our top choices above.

With the RT-700, REC TEC has combined the precision craftsmanship and build quality they are known for, with some modern upgrades including WiFi connectivity, dual meat probes to monitor internal temperature of your meat, and an improved PID controller.

The controller lets you adjust the temperature in 5°F increments which is a level of control you don’t see on some of the cheaper pellet grills out there.

The product name gives away the primary grilling area of 702 square inches, with an optional warming shelf you can get over 1000.

It’s definitely not a budget grill, although it does compare well with the more expensive Ironwood and Timberline series by Traeger.

The majority of the grill is made of stainless steel. You also get a huge 40lb pellet hopper capacity for up to 40 hours of continuous cooking and rollerblade style wheels to easily move the grill around.

You can see the grill in action in the video below.

Finally, you get those signature REC TEC bull horn handles which on their own make this grill worth considering in our opinion!

Get the latest price on Amazon.

8. Pit Boss Sportsman 820 Pellet Grill – Large budget alternative

Check out our full Pit Boss Sportsman review.

Pit Boss Sportsman 820

Pit Boss is well known for selling affordable pellet grills that hit the right balance between features and value for money.

The 820 gives you a decent grill size, great quality grill grates, built-in shelving, spice rack and bottle opener, and easy pellet clean-up.

Some of those features are often missing from significantly more expensive grills.

You don’t get any WiFi or app connectivity, so forget about controlling your grill from your phone.

You do get a good searing solution with Pit Boss‘s slide plate flame broiler.

9. Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett WIFI Grill – Another solid portable option

Read full review.

When you think of pellet grills, being portable isn’t the first feature that comes to mind.

For one, you need to have a source of electricity to plug the grill in. You can’t just grab a bag of charcoal and fire it up anywhere.

Having said that, the Green Mountain Davy Crockett has been designed to take with you.

The legs have been designed to fold into a convenient carry handle.

You also get a few adapters included 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 smartphone 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:

  • Portable features – Grill comes packaged with the accessories you’ll need to power the smoker from a range of sources & the foldable legs make moving easy.
  • Precice temperature control – The Davy Crockett gives you far more temperature control than many other pellet grills. 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.
  • WiFi & App – The app doesn’t just give you the ability to adjust the temperature remotely, 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.
  • Smart alerts – 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:

  • Awkward for one person to move – 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 lose connectivity from time to 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 set up 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°F.

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!

10. Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill – A solid mid-sized option

camp chef dlx pg 24

We’ve already included the Woodwind from the Camp Chef lineup, but we just couldn’t leave the DLX 24 off our list.

This grill offers a generous 570 square inches of cooking surface plus a removable upper warming rack.

You also get the new Gen 2 PID controller for better temperature performance and stability.

This grill shares a lot of the same DNA as the slightly more expensive Woodwind

Both are good options, personally, I would spend a little extra and get the Woodwind but especially if WiFi isn’t a big deal for you, then you can pick up the DLX 24 and save some cash.

11. Traeger Timberline 850 – A competitive high-end option

traeger timberline 850

The Traeger Timberline ticks all the boxes for us because it’s well built and packed with tech that’s actually useful.

Traeger has the best app out of any pellet grill manufacturer, plus you get access to 1600+ recipes in the Traeger app.

The Timberline is a big step-up in quality and features (and price) from the Pro. Besides you the larger size you get better insulated construction, more prep areas, a pellet sensor, the dual position sear grate, and super smoke mode.

One thing to note is that the Timberline includes a folding front shelf, while this is an optional extra ($59.99) on the Pro.

You can choose between the 850 and 1300 which come with 869 and 1343 square inches of cooking space respectively. There are no significant differences besides the amount of grill space and a small price hike.

For comparison, the larger model can fit 15 racks of ribs compared to 8 racks on the 850. If you plan on cooking for a large crowd get the 1300, otherwise, go for the 850. The 1300 is more pellet hungry because it needs to heat up a larger space.

You also get a three-year warranty and one of the best customer service teams in the industry in case you have any problems.

What we like:

  • Packed with tech – Market leading app makes it easy to control your grill via your phone. Pellet sensor gives you alerts when pellets are running low so you don’t run the risk of running out mid cook.
  • Clever design – The Timberline is packed with quality of life features including ample prep areas, a hopper cleanout trapdoor that makes it easy to empty unused pellets after a cook, and an adjustable bottom grate allows you to get a good sear on your food.

What we don’t like:

  • Larger model is pellet hungry – Make sure you will actually use the space if you go for the 1300 as it can chew through pellets.
  • Front tray could be extended – While large enough to hold a butcher block, you need to be careful with large items. Would be great if they could have extended the tray by a few inches.

The Traeger Timberline is definitely an investment, but if you are looking for a high-end pellet grill with tonnes of tech, clever design, and useful quality of life features you can’t go wrong.

Who pellet smokers are best suited for

Even an entry-level pellet smoker will set you back more than a charcoal grill or gas grill. But for a little bit extra upfront, you’ll enjoy the simplicity and versatility that is causing pellet smokers to take over patios around the country.

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.

Don’t be confused if you see the “pellet grill” and “pellet smoker” used interchangeably. They refer to the same thing.

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

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.

The D2 controller you get with a Traeger Pro is a PID controller.

Traeger D2 PID controller

The level of technology inside a typical pellet smoker makes a gas or charcoal grill look primitive.

What to think about before buying a pellet grill

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 relatively even across the cooking area. As a result, there should be no temperature difference between the top rack and the bottom rack while cooking.

Keeping this in mind, let’s discuss the difference between the primary cooking area and the total cooking area.

The primary cooking area refers to the area on the main cooking plate. The total cooking area takes into consideration secondary racks.

Therefore, a large pellet grill 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.

Which features and capabilities are important

Unlike your traditional charcoal or offset smokers, wood 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 Grills are 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 a meat probe 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.
  • Pellet removal – Most brands recommend removing pellets between cooks. Some models make this easy with a chute to remove unused pellets. Others you’ll need to vacuum out.
  • 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.

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.

Ease of clean up

Pellet grills require regular cleanup as the ash from burnt pellets builds up around the burn pot and under the heat deflector.

Most models are fairly easy to clean with a shop vac. You’ll need to take off the grill grates and remove the deflector plate.

Some models like the Camp Chef Woodwind have an easy way to clean out the ash from the burn pot without taking apart the whole grill.

You can simply pull a sliding rod that relaces a catch pot for quick disposal. You’ll still need to take the grill apart to get rid of the ash from the sides but you don’t have to do that nearly as often.

If you don’t clean out the burn pot every cook you run the risk of ash buildup causing problems with ignition in the future.

Size of the hopper

The hopper on your pellet cooker is a container that stores wood 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

Pellet Consumption

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.

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.

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.

Customer Service

As usual there’s some good advice over at Amazing Ribs about the importance of customer service, especially for pellet grills.

Meathead-Goldwyn


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.

Price

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

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 is hard to beat.

The pellet grill market is incredibly competitive, so there isn’t a lot of room between. our top picks.

That said, the Camp Chef Woodwind has consistently impressed us with its temperature control, searing options and level of smoke flavor.

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!

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