The first thing we have to understand is the anatomy of a pellet smoker. Check the related section on this page to get the idea. Once we know which part goes where, the bigger battle will be won. Next, we’re going to have to be able to analyze the problem if we are to solve it. What seems to be the issue? Are the pellets not lighting up? Are the pellets getting stuck and not working properly? Weird noises coming out from the hopper? Are foods not cooking well? Let’s take a look at these problems and how to solve them:
So what about the question of blends versus 100% pure species pellets? Should you avoid blends? Should you only use 100% pure? That is a web to unweave and depends greatly on what you are cooking as to the correct answer. Through our testing we found many blends to work very well. We liked them so much that we incorporated them into what we offer. Not all blends are created equal though and the amount of hardwood versus flavor wood varies widely across brands. We also found that some 100% pure pellets such as cherry and apple had harder times reaching higher grilling temperatures and lacked the harder core flavor punch of hickory or mesquite. Coming from the world of stick burners many new pellet grill owners assume that going 100% cherry or apple is going to work for them since that is what they have grown accustomed to. At the end of the day, they end up moving to a pellet with a deeper flavor like hickory or mesquite to get the results they are used to.
Using accurate digital thermometers to monitor cooking and internal meat temperatures is essential to being all that you can be in the backyard. Unlike the caveman-era heat estimators built into the lids of most grills and smokers, modern pellet smoker LED displays will give you the real story of what's happening in your smoker. Of course, if your smoker doesn't come with a dual-display system that monitors both cooking and meat temps, you'll still need an accurate digital meat thermometer.
Spent thousands on Traeger, they are ok. Wouldn’t have an issue if they were only $500. But the last one I bought, (Timberline 850) cost $2500 Canadian. Almost burnt my house down because it got over 600F and was still climbing. All Traeger does is mail you more Chinese parts to fix your China made grill. By the end of it you will know your Traeger in and out because you WILL have to take it apart to repair! Overpriced for a smoker with many issues. Timberline lower grill has a portion of the grill removed for some kind of design. They added a 1/4 lip to justify this Grand Canyon of a hole in the back of the grill. Well needless to say if you cook wings or something small and toss them around you will for sure lose the wings to this big stupid hole. But they said they pit the little lip to stop the food from falling... Do they not test these products?
To solve this problem, several companies have come up with alternative ways to expose food to the flame by allowing you to use the small area directly above the fuel pot. It's still not as good as a charcoal or sear burner, but better than the designs that are strictly indirect. Check out the Memphis Elite, Fast Eddy's by Cookshack PG500, and the Yoder YS640 for this feature. Camp Chef also recently introduced its Woodwind pellet smoker, which has a super-hot gas-fueled sear box attached to the right side.
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
I bought this directly from Traeger. Beware that this model is now discontinued. They replaced it with the Traeger Renegade Pro without notice. The new model has an updated saw horse design and a new digital controller with probes. It does not come with the handy spice rack however. To each their own but I'd check with Traeger prior to purchase. That said, I paid more from them so if this is discounted, grab it. I love mine!
What we loved most is that it has a trap door to allow burn pot cleaning after every cooking. It lessened our job of cleaning this pellet smoker by 60%. It is more than amazing because from our research we know that a feature like this will cost twice as much as the Camp Chef. Honestly, this has emerged as our key point when we selected this smoker to be the best in our review.
Rec Tec has always been known for making advanced Rec Tec wood pellet grills coming in at a higher price. However, some of the popular models come in smaller sizes, like Trailblazer 340 or Bullseye 380. However, compared to their capacities and features, the products in our top ten lists would be better choices. So, among its products, the RecTec Bull 700 is the only one that falls in our Honorable Mentions.
Hey Kevin great article. I too am currently looking for a pellet smoker. I’ve narrowed it down between a Yader, Memphis Pro and the Rec Tec. The Green Mountain did not seem very well built. The wheels looked liked the would break on the first roll and the stainless steel door was flimsy and did not have a good seal. I know the Rec Tec has a 6 year warranty. Do you know how long the warranties are on the other two?
Mixing flavored woods with oak offers a couple of advantages, starting with price. Woods like cherry and hickory aren’t nearly as plentiful as oak and therefore cost more, making 100% flavored wood pellet more expensive than those that use a base of oak or alder. By using a blend of oak and cherry, pellet makers can keep prices down—and because oak is fairly neutral the cherry wood smoke flavor still shines through.
I got my YS640 for a combination Father's Day/ Birthday gift and regardless of whether it's grilling or smoking beef, pork or chicken the results have been outstanding. I can hardly wait to break out the turkeys for the Holiday meals. The direct grilling grates leave a steak with beautiful grill marks and the use of the fruit wood pellets along with quality steaks have made for some incomparable meals. As for quality of the smoker itself, I have sons-in-law that are already jockeying for position to try to be the next to have the YS640 after my demise - - - and we're figuring that won't be for at least 20-30 years!
Yo, Kevin! Hope that you can soon review one of my all-time favorite purchases, the Traeger Li’l Tex Elite Smoker/Grill. After using it for a couple of months, I gave away my two year old gas-grill to my grandson. We’ve done chicken, turkey, pheasant, lamb, all kinds of beef, pork and sausages including some wonderful ribs and brisket. Our Easter Rib Roast turned out terrific as did the chunks of assorted sausages that we did for another family get-together. I was never a big fan of grilling until we got our Traeger. Both Traeger and the web-sites like yours are full of great recipes and ideas.
They had the field to themselves for a few years, but the idea was too good to go unimitated, and with the digital age came the electronic controller that allowed Traegers and others to create a system that had a thermostat in the cooking chamber that would tell the fan and auger when to do their thing. Today there are more than a dozen manufacturers making increasingly sophisticated machines.
Once you start paying more than $500, you’re looking at a big boy professional level machine. It’s going to be big enough that you don’t have to worry about having the neighbours over as well as the family. You’re also looking at more expensive sensors and thermostats, so you get a more consistent temperature, which leads to a much better end result, and there’s generally some sort of cleaning assist built in, which makes cleanup and putting it away at night so much easier.
Bigger isn't necessarily better, especially if you're just paying for space you never use. The best pellet grill is the one that suits your needs. For an average size family, a pellet grill with a primary cooking area of 450-500 square inches should be sufficient. Singles and couples can go smaller, while larger families and those who like to entertain should consider larger pellet grills.
The MoJack has huge barrel with lots of cooking space. With the 24 inch model, you are going to have 418 in.² to cook on. You will easily be able to read and monitor the temperature with the LED digital temperature control. This model has a bottom storage rack, which makes a great place for you to put extra pellets or tools that you will use for cooking.
You aren’t limited to basic barbecuing. For us, what really stood out was its ability to deliver pro chef-level cooking even at home. This smoker lets you explore all there is about cooking, letting you braise, grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise and BBQ all kinds of food. Using only the best and the purest hardwood pellets, you’re sure to have the juiciest and tastiest meats and vegetables every time you host your outdoor parties. If you think you have to give up quality because of the quantity of foods it can cook, that’s not the case. Quality is maintained whatever it is you’re cooking.
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.
****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.
Hello Mark! Thanks for commenting here. The Kalamazoo Hybrid Grill looks like a BEAST! If you can swing it, I’d go for it. I truly enjoyed cooking on the Memphis Grill, which is to date the most high end pellet grill I’ve used. It offered a nice blend of professional grade convection with the wood fire taste of the pellets. The Kalamazoo hybrid really does seem to offer one step beyond with the addition of charcoal and wood chunks. I see that Derrick Riches of About.com stands behind the Kalamazoo brand. You’re hard pressed to get a better endorsement of a grilling product than that! Keep me posted at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how your search goes! 🙂
Barbecuing and grilling meats to the perfect temperature, texture and doneness is a skill that is acquired over years and years of practice. There is a lot that goes into making a good BBQ than just good seasoning and fresh meat, and any pit master will agree. There are just so many aspects you have to learn how to control: the temperature, the smoke, the placement, the ratios and so on. But you are lucky that this is new of yesterdays.
Regarding getting a good draft, this is a common misconception for pellet grills. The burn pot on pellet grills receives oxygen via a fan unit. As such, there’s no need for a draft to get a measured burn in the traditional sense. Most pellet grills lack sufficient insulation / gaskets, etc to prevent smoke from leaking out of the body. So, unless you’re going with the Memphis or something that uses oven style insulation, you don’t really need a chimney at all IMHO.
Since wood chips are by-products of carpentry and woodwork, they are not only inexpensive but are also helpful for the environment since you’re using up all the parts of a tree. Its death wouldn’t go in vain! If you’re looking to learn more about the types of available wood chips and what kind of flavors they impart with, feel free to check out our post on that topic.
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.
Something you may not have read in other Pellet grill reviews is that there are two key concerns: flavor and fuel consumption. As previously stated, pellet smokers are not known for producing a strong smoke flavor, no matter what pellets you use. Though, some brands can be more pronounced than others. Hardwood pellets provide longer overall burn times per pound than fruit wood pellets. 1oo percent fruit wood pellets will also be more expensive on average.