Editor-in-Chief Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.
As you can see from the image of a Traeger Pellet Grill above, pellets move from a hopper (left) via an auger to a burn pot (far right). The rate at which the pellets are fed into the hopper is dictated by your Pellet grill’s thermostat. Extra fuel in the form of oxygen is blown over the burn pot to increase the burn rate and help regulate a nice, steady, and efficient burn. The lower your temp, the more smoke is created.
When you are looking for a smoker, one of the features that you want is to be able to control the temperature. This means that you will be able to use both a high and low temperature for smoking everything from poultry to fish to beef to vegetables to cheese. This is exactly what you get with the Camp Chef. It has an LED digital temp control system that comes with a food probe made from stainless material.
After about 10-15 hours of cooking, you should remove the burn cup and dump the ash. If the ash builds up it can prevent ignition. Ash also accumulates in the bottom of the unit, but doesn't impact cooking. A vacuum cleaner with a hose makes short work of it. Only a few manufacturers, such as Blaz'n Grill Works and Camp Chef have a slide out combustion cup that makes cleanup much easier, but you still have to get underneath the deflector occasionally and suck out fly ash that has scattered around the lower part of the grill body.
Pellet smokers can be used as a charcoal grill by adding the lit charcoal into the charcoal tray. Some of the best pellet smokers allow users to attach a propane tank to the stove to convert them into a gas grill or a kitchen oven. With a flat-top accessory, it can even be used as a griddle. A pellet smoker is an all-in-one solution for the hardened grill masters.
Despite being a little complicated when compared to the other types of grilling equipment (because of the automatic pellet auger and fan), they are pretty easy to repair if you have the right parts. You can find these parts right at a home depot or online. It doesn’t matter if you need to replace the auger or the fan, the ignitor rod or the hopper, for the top brands, you’ll find the replacement parts just as easily. Let’s look at the replaceable parts of a pellet smoker:
Hey Shannon – they all have their merits. Budget dictates a lot. If you’re in the $1000 or under range, Green Mountain and Rec Tec are great choices. Both have developed near cult followings, with GMG a little ahead of the curve on that front having been around a bit longer. I love the Yoders as far as moving up on the price range is concerned. Will last you forever and they offer a solid product with great support. MAK grills are just beautifully made. There’s no other way to put it. The “General” models are superbly crafted. Love that MAK offers built in cold smoking as a capability. Am I helping here or just making things worse? Hahaha.
love your article and got lots of good info from it….i do have a question tho that i didnt see an answer to…..do pellet grills have to use just pellets?….i have 3 acres full of oak branches that could be shredded. my question is can a pellet grill use home shredded wood chips to burn and cook with or is it mandatory that the fuel be in the pellet state?….would be great if i could find a good use for all these fallen branches….
I bought my Traeger Pro Grill a year ago and have thoroughly enjoyed using it. The problems began when it suddenly stopped working. The warranty is a self-service warranty which means you have to service it yourself or load it up and haul it to a distributor for repair should your efforts fail. For this reason I HIGHLY RECOMMEND YOU AVOID BUYING A TRAEGER GRILL. Anytime you pay 1500 for anything a warranty should mean just that, it’s a replacement warranty. I am terribly disappointed with the response from Traeger. Please feel free to contact me should you need further clarification.
I purchased a Traeger Select Elite from Costco for both my personal residence as well as for my vacation home. I am now on the third grill at my residence. Traeger will tell you that they expect to offer Awesome customer service. I have replaced the auger assembly, the controller and now the fan. I can't get the grill up to temperature. Awesome customer service says it should be no problem. Just replace the _______ (fill in the blank). I don't think these people have ever seen a grill let alone use one. Costco (love their return policy) is about to get another one back. Am I too harsh to expect the product to perform as they say it will? I would think when you pay as much as Traeger thinks their grills are worth, that they should work out of the box. Well, quality control under the new management has gone to hell. Then they expect you to "try" all the fixes that might work on your own. This is self service, not customer service.
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!)
An attractive option for many people are stainless steel pellet grills, which are rust-resistant, more durable, and easier to maintain. While pellet grills made from commercial-grade 304 stainless steel are the most desirable, they come at a higher. However, there are also some pellet grills made from 430 stainless steel, which is more affordable and still incredibly durable.
What are your thoughts about the Kalamazoo hybrid grills? From what I’ve found online, you have the choice of gas, charcoal and wood for cooking or combinations of all. I have no first hand experience with Kalamazoo but it seems very versatile? At the moment after a month of researching, I’m leaning towards a Mac/Yoder or a Webber spirit & egg or a Memphis….so in other words, I’m no closer to a decision than when I started. I currently have a 9 yr old treager that won’t break, seriously, I’ve only repainted once with rustolium….dang thing won’t break so I can get a new toy. I sear in a skillet in the kitchen. My treager has the smoke/med/high switch and I want more control, I’ve maxed what I can do and it’s a challenge in cold weather and wind but it was a great start when they were made to last, more than got my money’s worth. I cook at all levels from smoking to grilling. I do love pellets and don’t want an egg but enjoy the food as much as the process of preparing it. Ok probably to much info but money aside, will you list your recommendations of what you think is best for me?
Wattage – With the right amount of wattage by your side, you will easily reach the temperature required, and it will stay there provided that you are providing enough pellets for it to make use of. Anything north of 1200W will easily be able to cover all your requirements, but as a rule, it’s ideal to be sheltered than sorry, so it can’t hurt to purchase a unit with a bigger Wattage than you might suspect you’ll require.
Bake, braise, grill, smoke, and sear – all of these cooking techniques can be fully experienced by just using one unit of backyard cooker! Yes, you can definitely do different kinds of cooking to your pork, beef, fish, pizza, or pie by just using the Camp Chef Smokepro STX Pellet Grill without burning charcoals and woods to start the cooking process.
Is it customization? I called before I order my YS640 and told them I wanted my grill grates made out of expanded stainless steel, and a few other small things done to ""personalize"" my grill so it was just the way I wanted it. ""No problem. The added materials will cost extra, and shipment will a week so we can fabricate your grates."" Try getting that with a Chinese import!
Just putting a stamp on your info and recommendations. The Pro is definitely a Pro! Consistent, excellent temp control, juicy and great flavor. Smoke ring, some of my ribs are pink all the way through and dripping with juice. Smoke profile, good, not over powering. I have used 45# of hickory so far, 20# of cherry and a few pounds of apple and pecan. Have not tried anything but Lumberjack but that will be the next experiment. I have tried the smoke tube and it is ok. I was worried about getting an ash or bitter taste as the smoke is fairly heavy and a little acrid smelling if you let it burn from bottom to top. So I lay it down and light on my wife’s Weber gas grill side burner and get the whole thing burning good and then blow it out. If it smells acrid your meat will get some of that taste. Starting the tube this way it is still going an hour later.
Second, more people know about them. More manufacturers are realising the advantages of pellet smokers and hopping on board, the market is expanding, and with the advantage of the internet putting all the info at our fingertips, even someone who hasn’t got the first clue about smokers and grills can find out everything they need in just a few minutes.
The entire system was designed in order to make smoking fun and easy. Cleanup is easy, getting everything going is easy, and food turns out great every time. The main cooking area 292 in.², which means you can cook a lot at one time. Since it uses convection technology, the smoky hot air can circulate around the food in order to cook everything evenly.
Typically, most portable grills would give up certain features just to maintain their portability, but this wood pellet grill from Traeger actually had more than what other top grills have to offer. Out of all of our features, it managed to tick 85% off the review. Its digital controls, versatile cooking features, and decent cooking space (perfect for outdoor adventures) all make it our best portable pick.
All the talk about made in China...... well it could have likely been made anywhere and inside the hopper it says "Tested". Well the LED display does not work correctly, i.e. not all the letters have all the LEDs light up to correctly state the temperature. The frame had a crimp in it on the front and when I closed the lid, it cam down crooked. It was not put on square with the grill. The warranty says that defective parts will be replaced, but the defective part has to be returned, pre-paid by me. That is B.S. This adds to my cost of the grill. Unless they pay for the return of parts, then it will just be fully returned to Amazon.
This unit will not let even a single pellet go to waste. No need of worrying whether you’re out of pellets or not. You can carry pellets at a maximum of 20 pounds, with the digital thermostat ensuring the pellets are being used properly. This saves you loads of cash and gives you smoking food simultaneously without wasting time in refilling pellets.
These food grade wood pellets contain only the best and the pure compressed sawdust from hardwood and are sometimes added with natural vegetable oils, perfectly safe and healthy for your food. However, the carbon in the soot and ashes that fly off the firebox can get embedded into the body of the food, which can get inside your body. The good news is problems such as these can be easily avoided if you can keep your smoker clean.
Explicitly designed as a tailgate smoker with maximum portability and accessibility, the Davey Crockett does what it does really well. It’s small, but it’s so easy to move and runs off of damn near any power source, so if you want a wood pellet smoker you can take literally anywhere with maximum portability and style, this is the one. That’s why in my opinion, this is the best pellet smoker out there for the money.
This cooker is still the best value for the dollar for pellet grills I have been looking again for a larger rig, but haven't found one better. If you are looking for an entry level pellet grill this is the one you want. Don't be discouraged by the reviews that talk about leaking smoke or not sealing well because it does leak smoke everywhere. Look at the pic I attached to my review you can see it for yourself it does, but isn't it silly to buy a smoker that doesn't smoke. If you ever go to a BBQ competition you will see most of their smokers leak smoke also.
Aside from durability, a well-built pellet grill has another significant advantage: It will perform better. High-quality materials and good construction allow the grill to retain heat better, making it more efficient and providing better pellet consumption, even in cold weather. Furthermore, it's unlikely that a brand offering a cheaply made grill invested much time designing it to maximize airflow or engineering a control board that can hold a tight temperature.
I talk with a lot of teams out there, and I know for certain that some of them have turned to my buddy Fred Grosse’s MojoBricks to boost their smoke profile when using pellet grills. In fact, of the teams who win with Pellet Smokers – I’d wager at least a quarter of them to maybe half have used MojoBricks to round out their final product. I really like Fred as well – which makes it a pleasure to include his products in this grouping of pellet grill reviews.