Manufacturers advertise this piece of equipment as both a smoker and a grill, but it's best to think of it as a superb indirect-heat convection smoker, not a grill. Most models just don't do as good a job of searing a steak as a charcoal grill or even a gas grill with a sear burner can. You'll sear steaks better on a $20 hibachi than on most pellet smokers.
Regarding your question about a decrease in smoke flavor when using the pellet grill / smoker, I do believe you will experience a little bit of a drop off. This said, many people find the flavor from pellet grills / movers to be adequate. If you require a stronger smoke profile, you can always use one of the tube smokers that sits inside of the cooking chamber.
My traeger has had some good moments but it very unreliable. I really do not enjoy cooking with it. I have no confidence in the temp readings and the smoke control. Every time I open the lid the temp drops like 200 degrees. I'll smoke at the "smoke" setting but as soon as I turn it to 225 it spikes to like 300-500 degrees. Wtf? I thought this POS was supposed to be a set it and forget it type smoker. Very unreliable. Temp fluctuates so much and if there is even a slight breeze the temps just go up and down up and down. The pellet feeder is garbage. It will all the sudden just start smoking like crazy because the pellets have jammed into the burner. Completely ridiculous smoker. I use it still but only when I can sit and watch the feeder. The guys comment below is true about the feeder always just using the middle pellets. I always have to check it and push the pellets to the center. Some simple engineering would change this. Never again will I purchase a traeger. There are much better options out there and better price.
The best pellet grill smoker has the benefit of being easy to light and easy to use. With a pellet smoker, you put the pellets in the hopper, light the heating unit, and you don’t have to worry about it. Conversely, with a charcoal smoker, you have the struggle to light the charcoal, and then throughout the entire cooking time, you need to check the backup on the unit to make sure that it’s functioning properly.
The initial design by Mr. Traeger consisted of a “classic” drum barrel shaped grill design with a chimney on top. Instead of the firebox, the grill contained a pellet hopper. It used a fan to distribute the heat evenly over the pellets. Unlike the modern pellet grills, the original design didn’t include any auto-ignition features and the pellets had to be lit manually.
If you’re in the market to buy a grill, yet you’ve only grilled with propane or charcoal in the past, wood pellet grills may have piqued your curiosity. These grills use a very different cooking method than the direct flame of propane, resulting in more even heating and more precise temperature control. A wood pellet grill is more like a smoker than an open flame grill, as it’s difficult to sear meat with a wood pellet grill. Purchasing and using a wood pellet grill is going to be more expensive than propane and charcoal grills.
Pellet grills have electronic temperature controls that (should) keep the heat consistent. Top quality pellet grills can maintain temperatures within 5 degrees or less for hours at a time, with the auger releasing pellets as needed into the fire box to do so. A consistent temperature means less guess work and fantastic food! (If you read words like “heat zones” or “baffle”, that means that you’ll need to be playing with the heat to keep it consistent… so steer clear of those!)
Set it and forget it. It does not require you to stay while the food is being cooked as you can set a timer and temperature so you can do other things, like prepare the side dishes or drink beer with friends while the grill is doing its job. Most pellet grills use electronic controls to regulate the grilling according to your preferences. You have a choice to choose the level of smoke aside from choosing your desired temperature.
I don’t know why these cookers are referred to as grills. By definition they are not grills. Grilling involves cooking with direct heat and none of the pellet cookers I’ve seen use direct heat; they all use indirect heat. They are more accurately described as smokers/convection ovens. For me what this means is they’re useless for cooking chicken since I like my chicken cooked with crispy/burned skin. I’ve done some experimenting to get the skin to crisp up but always end up with leather skin. They have their place in outdoor cooking but grilling ain’t it. I just bought a Green Mountain and I’m still debating if I’m going to hang on to it. Shame on me for not doing more thorough research first.
Good info, but it’s missing something… the cost to use. I’ve been looking for a long time to get into smoking. I have only ever used a propane setup for grilling. My main quesion is the cost to use propane vs charcoal vs pellets. I’m very interested in pellet smoking AND grilling. A couple times a week my wife and I will grill some chicken breasts or steaks. Can you breakout an approximate cost comparison to run the different methods? Appreciate it!
As time passed, a thermostat was added to the equation, and the production BBQ smokers fueled by pellets working in “set it and forget it” fashion was in full force. From this point, several manufacturers of pellet grills began to pop up, with a few key names like Yoder Smokers, Mak Grills, Green Mountain Grills, and Fast Eddy’s Cookshack grills being among the most notable.