With the Sportsman range, Pit Boss has a new addition to their lineup of pellet grills.
The Sportsman 820 aims to hit the sweet spot of value and performance in the increasingly crowded mid-range pellet grill market.
In this review, we put the Pit Boss Sportsman 820 wood pellet grill to the test to see how well it performs based on its claims.
Pit Boss sent me this grill for free in return for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Pit Boss Sportsman 820 Overview & First Impressions
Being a bit of a BBQ purist, I was skeptical about using a pellet grill. To me, it was cheating the experience.
The reality is pellet grills are here to stay and gaining in popularity, so it’s time to put aside my biases and see what the hype is about.
The Sportsman line of grills is designed for the outdoor enthusiast, so naturally, I expected a rugged, robust grill that would handle being outside throughout all seasons.
The Pit Boss Sportsman 820 was definitely robust. The body and heat diverter plate were made of thick steel, and it is definitely heavy.
What really intrigued me though was the opportunity to set a thermostat and go about my day. If this grill could be oven-like accurate, then consider me a pellet grill convert.
After completing several cooks on this grill, I’m ready to share my experience.
But first, here are the main specs for the Sportsman 820.
Pit Boss Sportsman 820 specifications
|Cooking surface||849 sq in|
|Pellet hopper capacity||21lbs|
|Cooking temperature range||180-500°F|
|Shelves & storage||Steel folding front shelf and steel side shelf with removable tray|
|Probes||One meat probe included|
|Grate material||Porcelain-coated cast iron|
|Sear capability||Flame broiler design allows searing over an open fire|
|Price||Check latest price at Pit Boss|
With 849 square inches of cooking space and the versatility to cook from 180°F to 500°F, the Pit Boss Sportsman 820 wood pellet grill is sure to please a large customer base.
The Sportsman 820 model comes with plenty of features like a slide plate flame broiler with an easy-access handle (more on this function later), a 2-in-1 stainless steel side shelf with removable tray, and a built-in spice rack attached to the 21lb. capacity pellet hopper.
There’s even a bottle opener on the hopper for those especially hot summer days that call for a few cold ones.
The LCD readout lets you clearly see your temperatures and cooking range, while the large controls make it easy to operate and adjust on the fly.
The grill uses plenty of heavy-gauge steel, and appears to offer long-term durability that should last for years.
What I like:
- Cooking area – with 829 square inches of grill space, this grill can feed a crowd. Great for smoking big meats like multiple briskets or pork butts.
- Porcelain coated cast iron grill grates – Not only do these grates retain and transfer heat in the way only cast iron can, but they’re also super easy to clean thanks to the porcelain coating.
- Easy pellet clean-up – The hopper includes a clean-out plate that allows you to empty from the bottom rather than dig out from the top.
- Built in accessories and shelving – The removable side shelf and attached spice rack are nice additions. You don’t realize you need until you need them, plus it has a bottle opener built in. That was always going to win me over.
What I don’t like:
- Small searing zone – The sliding plate on the heat diverter can deliver grate temperatures at or above 500°F, but the actual surface area for searing is directly above the adjustable slits. This means you can only sear right above the adjustable grate portion and not the whole cooking surface. Examples of the searing zone size are one large ribeye at a time, two New York strips, or two quarter pound burgers.
- Hard to move around – The Sportsman 820 is heavy which is good for heat retention and durability but make it a pain to move around though
- Rounded diverter plate – The adjustable heat diverter plate is rounded, which doesn’t really go well if you want to place a drip pan under your food. All the food drippings fall right onto the plate, burning up and causing acrid smoke.
- Temperature swings – Pellet grills, in general, are prone to temperature swings upwards of 30°F – 40°F and the Pit Boss Sportsman 820 is no different. Keep an eye on your temperature and your “P” setting to dial in how long the auger feeds pellets into the heating chamber. This will help mitigate big swings in either direction. Know your cooker!
The bottom line
So, was the Sportsman 820 enough to make me a pellet grill convert?
I have to admit that the ability to dial in the temperature and walk away was a nice change.
Personally, I still find I can get a deeper smoke flavor on my charcoal smoker. The temperature swings were a little more than I would like, although this is normal on a pellet smoker and doesn’t seem to have a huge effect on the food you cook.
The Sportsman is a well-built, consumer-grade pellet grill that would be perfect for the casual backyard barbecuer who isn’t concerned about having WiFi connectivity.
Unboxing and assembling the Sportsman
Pit Boss packaging is no joke. The Sportsman 820 arrived via commercial freight strapped to a pallet and wrapped in shipping plastic wrap. This thing wasn’t going anywhere!
The box itself was thoughtfully arranged with molded foam pieces encasing the steel parts of the grill.
This was all tightly taped to keep pieces from shifting while in transit. There was no visible damage to the exterior box nor the parts inside.
The paperwork was easily accessible as you opened the box, and walked you through unpacking and assembly.
With the barrel of the grill shipping as one piece, assembly was mostly putting the wheels on the legs and mounting the legs to the main chamber.
All in all, it took about an hour to unpack and construct the Sportsman 820 by myself.
Build quality and design
I expected thin-walled steel and sheet metal parts, but I was pleasantly surprised when I pulled the parts out.
The Sportsman 820 is sturdy. The grill body, heat diverter plate and legs are all constructed with heavy gauge steel.
The grill arrived free from any cosmetic manufacturing or shipping flaws.
When put together, the parts fit seamlessly. The grill doesn’t rock or rattle when being moved.
Solid construction and good quality for the price point.
As for the design, it seems Pit Boss is listening to user feedback and implementing some great “quality of life” features.
The door has a stopper so when you open it all the way, it stays up and won’t come crashing down. Being made of 1.5mm thick steel, if it were to fall on you it wouldn’t feel good.
The hopper has a window to allow you to keep an eye on your pellet levels which is a nice touch.
When you open the hopper there is a safety grate to prevent people from shoving their hand down into the auger, but it also makes it difficult to push pellets down further if need be.
This safety grate is removable (unlike on some pellet grills), which does make cleaning out the hopper easier to get all the pellets out.
There is a side table with a removable tray that allows you to carry things quite easily and have mise en place as you go to and from the kitchen cabinets or fridge for supplies.
The hopper itself shines with an attached bottle opener and spice rack. This is an outdoor cooking station, not just a grill.
Cooking on the Pit Boss Sportsman 820
To test out the Pit Boss Sportsman 820 I cooked a range of food from smoking to searing, but I was most interested to see how it performed for traditional BBQ meals.
Pellet grill manufacturers always hype up the versatility factor, but I really consider these to be smokers with some grill and oven capability.
The Pit Boss operated as a sort of wood fired oven with a thermostat. However, as with many other pellet grills, the temperature swings around the target mark.
This is due to how the internal probe reacts and triggers the auger. When the temperature is climbing, the probe triggers the auger to feed pellets into the firebox, but by the time the target temperature has been reached, the thermal momentum is already on the upswing and will continue to rise.
Same happens on the opposite end. As the temperature levels and begins to drop, the momentum carries it below target temperature before the probe has a chance to activate the auger.
I didn’t find this too detrimental to my cooks. The swings weren’t too drastic, and they averaged out to around whatever target temperature I was trying to hit. 250°F swung anywhere from 220°F upwards to 295°F at times.
I think a large part of this is due to how much air and smoke leaks out around the seals and door. There are aftermarket gaskets that would help regulate the temperature and keep hot air inside the cooking chamber.
That being said, the food I cooked on the Sportsman 820 all turned out good. The low and slow meals, however, did not have as deep and hearty a smoke flavor compared to foods cooked over wood and charcoal.
The smoke ring looked beautiful, though I found the smoke flavor to be more subtle than cooking with wood chunks or full logs. That’s not a slight to pellet grills, just personal preference.
I used a combination of hickory pellets and cherry wood pellets, both 100% all natural. The smoke would come in bursts as the auger fed new pellets into the firebox, and never stayed at a steady volume.
When turned to the smoke setting, I couldn’t get the temperature hot enough to stay at my desired 250°F. The highest temperature I could manage was 205°F.
The “P-setting” comes into play when you set the temperature to smoke. Adjusting the P-setting will feed more or less pellets into the hopper.
The default setting is four, but ranges from zero to seven. The higher the P-setting, the lower the temperature, but you risk the flame burning out.
The temperatures on the smoke setting are too low for things like brisket and pork butt, but they would be perfect for smoking sausages or cured meats.
Setting and forgetting at 250°F was truly convenient as I knew I wouldn’t have to reload logs or wood chunks and the food would still get smoke flavor, albeit subtle.
The slide plate flame broiler was pretty interesting. I didn’t think I’d use it at first, but to test the sear, I wanted to see how it would perform.
Opening the slide plate allows for direct heat above the firebox. This is the same general design uses by Camp Chef on their SmokePro SG grill.
I found it did get hot enough to give a good sear and grill marks to a steak, but it would only work right above those open grates.
If you wanted to sear a lot of steaks at once, you couldn’t do that here. You have minimal surface area that gets hot enough to sear and that is right above the open slits of the flame broiler plate. Maybe enough true sear space for two strip steaks.
The sear capability is a plus to have available as you can switch from low and slow to high heat without having to fire up another piece of equipment. Recipes that call for reverse searing would benefit from this capability.
Should you buy the Pit Boss Sportsman 820
If you’re looking to get into the pellet grill scene, or are just looking for a convenient cooking station, then you should consider the Pit Boss Sportsman 820.
If you’re looking for competition level, higher-quality BBQ, you probably want to look elsewhere.
It performs as well as its competitors in similar price points while offering some added features that make things even easier for you.
Set-it-and-forget-it attributes are very enticing for weekend warriors as you don’t have to wait and tend a fire the whole weekend – so long as you mind the temperature swings. You’re free to get it going in the morning and have dinner ready after the kid’s soccer game.
Set it to grill and the porcelain coated cast iron grates hold and transfer heat evenly to your food ensuring good grill marks and easy clean up.
If you’re looking for even more efficiency, you could add gaskets around the seams to keep smoke and hot air in. This will help regulate the internal temperature probe and save on fuel.
If you’re in the market for a pellet grill, this should be on your list.
You can buy it directly from Pit Boss.