Whether you call them pellet grills or pellet smokers (the terms are interchangeable), there's no denying the impact these do-everything cookers are having on BBQ. In the past year alone, interest in pellet grills has grown at an astounding rate, with the number of online searches nearly doubling. Although they've been around for over thirty years, it's only recently that they've earned the title of the Hottest Product in BBQ.
I have used a pellet smoker for about five years, and looked at, or used, many different brands. I have added auxiliary smoke generators, and tried almost every way possible to create authentic BBQ on a pellet smoker— It can’t be done. When the vendors, or users, refer to subtle smoke they mean virtually no wood flavor. Do yourself a favor and try a simple test: go to a really good BBQ joint, or BBQ competition; try some of their Q and then compare it to pellet meat. There is no comparison. I wanted the pellet unit to produce good Q in the worst way because of the ease. You cannot duplicate the smoke created in a wood, or wood/charcoal firebox with compressed sawdust. It pains me to say it but it is true.
****Update 12/2014: So I finally found something negative to report. Today I was cooking 2 pork butts and a brisket and discovered that this grill does not do well with wind on a brisk day (It was 45 degrees here today). When set at 250 degree, the smoker could barely make it up to 190 degrees. I was able to bypass the problem by throwing a cheap moving blanket over the grill (an $8 fix) but I think it's worth noting.
One final word of caution when it comes to pellet pricing. If you see a price on pellets that seems too good to be true, there’s probably a reason for it. If the pellets you got an amazing deal on creates twice as much ash, doesn’t burn as well, generates wild temp swings and ends up ruining a $65 brisket were they worth it? What about if that flame out or temp swing cost you a whole pit full of meat and ruined the family reunion the next day? We are all for saving money as much as anyone, but perspective is key here. We are in no way saying that great pellets cannot be had for pennies per pound, but we are definitely saying, that if those pennies saved are not on a proven brand that you can trust then it’s probably not a bet worth taking.
An electric smoker and a pellet smoker, according to the reviews, both allow you to set the temperature and walk away. However, the flavor that you’re going to get from a pellet smoker is a lot stronger as compared to an electric one. Pellet smokers allow you a little bit more versatility than an electric smoker, whereas electric smokers are better at maintaining and controlling the temperature inside the cook box.
The MAK 1 Star General boasts our favorite digital controller: It's highly programmable and easily accessed via the internet from anywhere in the world. Made entirely in the USA, the 1 Star General is solid-feeling, with a heavy-duty powder coat. The hood is a rolltop, meaning that, unlike a lot of its competitors, the 1 Star doesn't need much rear clearance, and there's plenty of room inside. An optional upper grill grate adds 190 square inches of cook surface. Our only criticism: Not only is it built like a tank, it kinda looks like one, too.
Is it food quality? All of my foods are the best I have ever grilled. The ribs are nearly falling off of the bone, yet still moist! In the past, if I tried to get them to that point, they would have been very dry. All of my meats have been moist with a lightly smoked flavor. My breads perfectly crusted on the outside, moist inside with a perfect crust!
Although pellet smokers already have their own custom-made wood pellets with different flavor and blends, if you choose to moonlight your smoker as a charcoal smoker for some reason (maybe for a different experience or a cooking experiment), you can use it as a regular smoker using wood chips. Under such circumstances, it’s going to be worth learning a bit about the types of wood chips out there.
Hey David – in my opinion, you’re going to find hot spots in any entry level pellet grill/ pellet smoker. I include GMG, Rec-Tec, Traeger, etc. When you start moving into the higher pellet smokers/grills – Memphis Grill, MAK, etc, you can minimize these to some extent. If you experience higher heat on one side, put the thicker cut of meat (pork butt, point of brisket) near that part.
Traeger wood pellet grills pack big hardwood flavor, from sweet cherry, to savory mesquite, into everything you grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, & BBQ. Traeger’s wood pellets are made with 100% pure, natural hardwood giving you authentic flavor and nothing else. Grilling has never been easier—just set it and forget it and let the Traeger work its wood-fired magic.
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.
Take your outdoor cooking to the next level with the Camp Chef Pellet Grill and Smoker. Designed with the home griller in mind, built-in features simplify the process of smoking. The included digital temperature readout takes the guesswork out of the cooking process. An advanced digital temperature chip gives a more steady smoke and temperature, eliminating large temperature swings and giving a more consistent cooking temperature. The Pellet Grill and Smoker features range from innovative digital smoker controls to dual temperature sensors. Discover the real secret of award winning BBQ cooks, low and slow smoking.
Second, you’ll have to figure out what BBQ pellets you want to use. There are many different brands, blends, and mixes to choose from, and you’ll likely want to do some side by side testing to see what you like best on what meats. My very good friend and BBQ buddy Shane Draper really likes to make his own blends – using different woods in different proportions depending on what he’s cooking.
The hopper capacity is the same as the Traeger Lil’ Tex Elite 22, but what sets it apart is the “Pellet Hopper Drain Chute Technology”. So if you are looking to try a different wood or just storing the grill for a long time, then all you need to do is hang a bucket on the chute and pull out the knob to catch the pellets… and before you know, the tedious task will be over, leaving you with nothing but love for your Camp Chef Grill.
Many of the models require you to clean them up for 30 minutes because you have to take out the gooey deflector plate and the greasy grates in order to scrape them off and wash them until they’re shining. Careful cleaning is required when the grease and carbon are covering the deflector plate. The easy-clean grills typically make the parts more accessible but the amount of cleanup remains the same.
This is the single main advantage of a pellet smoker. Unlike charcoal, gas or wood fired smokers you don’t need to do anything with fuel except make sure it’s full when you start. This means no more having to go back and check fuel levels, no fluctuating temperatures, no spending ten minutes setting up charcoal and getting it at the right temperature, and no random heat variance giving you oddly cooked food ’cause you set it all up wrong.
Now comes the best part about pellet smokers: they can conveniently do all these three. Coming with a large cooking space and a lid, the top rated pellet smokers would allow you to keep them open or closed, depending on what results you are looking for. With a dedicated space for putting your charcoal, you can use it as a charcoal grill, smoker or a barbecue. Or you can use it like a kitchen oven using the direct fire from the firepot. Finally, it does what it was made for – pellet smoking. Using small hardwood pellets running over the firepot in a corner, this smoker uses a fan to distribute the heat and smoke throughout the grilling area. This indirect heat ensures that the food is slow-cooked and smoked over long periods of time.
Editor's Note: If you're looking to upgrade your backyard cooking setup this summer, you're probably in need of a little advice. We're longtime admirers of the folks behind AmazingRibs.com, the site dedicated to unraveling the science of barbecue and grilling. Please welcome back Max Good, the only person in the world whose full-time job is testing, rating, and reviewing grills and smokers. The database he maintains includes over 500 grills and smokers, ranging in price from $30 to $50,000. When it comes to barbecue equipment, nobody knows it better.
If you can use an indoor slow cooker If you can use an indoor slow cooker you can easily amaze everyone with authentic smoked recipes. This Stainless Steel Double Grid Electric Water Smoker from Meco includes a 5.5 Qt. hydration pan to fill with beer juice wine soda sake water or other beverage so your smoked delicacies stay ... More + Product Details Close
Kevin- super helpful article. Thanks! I just moved from a big city small apartment with no grill to a house in the country. Most essential purchase is the grill. I’m really on the fence. I like the idea of a pellet grill, but in reality- I’m mostly cooking burgers, fish, steaks, scallops, and veggies. The brisket and ribs will be more of a special occasion. From an economical perspective, am I better buying a gas grill and just getting one of those smoke tubes to add some flavor? From many of the online comments, it seems like the pellet grills benefit from additional smoke anyway, and though you can get additional grates for searing, seems like a square peg in a round hole. The gas grill is sort of the tried and true, and way more economical. Those $500 entry level pellet grills seem a little scrawny, and the next level up is a cool $grand. I’m really on the fence, and getting pressure to “just buy the darn thing” to consummate the move to the country! However the pellet grills seem like the new shiny object and have my curiosity. Any advice? PS- love the website! Thanks, Cary