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If you’re a cooking or outdoor living enthusiast, then you’ve likely heard the hype surrounding pellet grills. But which could be best for you and what should you know about pellet grills before you buy one? (And if you haven’t heard the hype, what exactly is a pellet grill?)
Learn everything you need to know about this handy new cooking method, in our complete guide to pellet grills below and the 9 best pellet grills on the market.
What Exactly is a Pellet Grill?
A pellet grill looks like a standard grill but this outdoor cooker is so much more. It’s like you took a normal gas grill, a charcoal grill, a smoker and your own indoor oven and then combined it all into one contraption.
People love pellet grills because they’re easy to use (much easier than a traditional gas or charcoal grill, which requires you to watch the temperature controls at all times), and they still give you the great taste of a traditional charcoal grill or wood smoker.
A pellet grill uses wood pellets, a fire pot and a fan to create a fire, and then spread that heat around the enclosed space (much the way a convection oven might).
Pellet grills can be used for much more than just grilling and smoking. Thanks to the convection method, you can also use a pellet grill for baking or cooking the way you might with a traditional oven.
Pellet grills are often cheaper to run in the long term, as pellets are more affordable than propane tanks for your gas grill, and, because they’re a relatively new method of cooking, the grills often come with high-tech functions, such as WiFi compatibility.
Pellet Grill Options
When shopping for pellet grills, you’ll find that there are several different types of grills you can buy, in terms of how the temperature is controlled.
Three-position temperature controllers are found on most entry-level pellet smokers. These controllers give you three basic heat settings: low, medium and high.
Multi-position temperature controllers are a little more complex, allowing you to adjust the grill or smoker temperature to within 20 degrees of your desired temperature.
A non-PID, single-touch temperature controller also gets you to within 15 to 20 degrees of your desired temperature, via an LCD screen and a few buttons.
Most pellet grill aficionados prefer a PID temperature controller, that allows you to set the temperature to the most accurate setting possible, thanks to the way the pellet grill measures the temperature not only within the grill but additionally inside the food (via meat probes).
Like any other grill set up, you can always upgrade your pellet grill with accessories like a sear box, warming rack, cooking grates and more to make your grilling area exactly how you want it.
Pellet Grill Size
When determining what size pellet grill you want to buy, you’ll want to, of course, look at the weight and overall size just to see how easy it’ll be to move around at your home and to any off-site spot you want to cook at, such as during camping or tailgating. However, you also want to look at the size of the hopper — aka, where your grill stores its pellets.
In general, the number of pounds of pellets a hopper stores is equal to the number of hours the pellet grill can run without needing a pellet refill. So, if you have 40 pounds of pellets in your hopper, you can cook for 40 hours.
While 40 hours of cooking sounds like a lot of time to some, keep in mind that if you’re planning to do any long smoking projects, you may need to cook for as long as 20 hours, which means that 40 pounds of pellets will only last you for two meals. If you get a pellet grill with a hopper that can’t even fit 20 pounds of pellets, you may find you need to refill the grill in the middle of cooking.
Additionally, if you live somewhere particularly frigid, you might find that your pellet grill requires more pellets to accomplish the same amount of heat.
Who Needs a Pellet Grill?
You need a pellet grill if you enjoy outdoor cooking, grilling and smoking, and you already spend a lot of time and money doing so in the summer. It’s truly worth the investment if it’s something you and your family rely on quite a bit to feed yourselves and to host or entertain.
You may not need a pellet grill if you don’t cook outdoors all that often and have a perfectly fine, barely used grill already.
The Best Luxury Pellet Grill: Traeger Timberline Series 850 Pellet Grill
You've probably heard the name Traeger in the grill scene by now, and for good reason. Traeger grills are top of the line bringing that wood-fire flavor all the way to the dinner table. They have a ton of different pellet grill options, but the Traeger Timberline takes your grill game to the next level.
This 850 square inch pellet grill is $1,799 and can fit 9 chickens, 6 pork butts and 8 rib racks on at the same time. If you are shopping for a high-quality pellet grill with a large cooking surface, this is one of the best grills on the market.
It also comes with 3 tiers of stainless steel racks, a double-walled interior and a bamboo cutting board with a max temperature range of 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
The Best Tailgating Pellet Grill: Green Mountain Davy Crockett WiFi Control Portable Wood Pellet Grill
This Green Mountain grill from Amazon is on the smaller side (at less than 70 pounds), which is why it’s so easily portable. It comes out at less than $600 and is a favorite for campers, tailgaters and other folks who want to take their grilling and smoking on the go.
A three-option power adapter allows you to plug in and start cooking in just about any situation. Foldable legs also mean you can set the grill up anywhere you want, but still get the perfect braise you are looking for on your meat.
Special features include a thermal sensor, meat probe, special lid for rib racks and WiFi functionality that allows you to see your grill’s action straight from your phone.
The Most Durable Pellet Grill: Grilla Grills Silverbac Smoker
On the flip side, this pellet grill from popular brand Grilla is a bit larger, giving you 700 inches of cooking space. The heavy-duty machine features a 12-gauge steel body and 14-gauge stainless steel lid.
Of course, with that size and durability, you’re going to pay a larger price, which is why this pellet grill is closer to the $700 mark.
The large size means you can fill the grill with more pellets (up to 20 pounds) for a longer cooking time. The fine-tuned heating mechanisms can heat to a precision no more than five degrees off your desired temperature.
The Best Portable Pellet Grill: Camp Chef PG24STX SmokePro Pellet & Smoker
Another small, easy-to-move pellet grill is this model from Camp Chef. Many users prefer this model for its ease of use, both in terms of transportation and cooking.
The digital controls and probes allow you to set your temperature and then walk away, leaving your food to cook until it’s done.
One feature that sets this option apart is the ash clean-out system, a patented feature that allows you to clean the pellet ashes from the grill with just a pull of a lever.
Assembly is easy, too!
The Best Budget Pellet Grill: Masterbuilt MB20071117 Digital Electric Smoker
If you want something a little more on the budget-friendly side (think around $200), you can forgo some of the features found on some of the above models, and try this digital electric smoker from Masterbuilt. It still runs on pellets, but its primary function is smoking, with 30 inches of smoking space to fit ribs, brisket or anything else you want to smoke.
Like some other models, this one is portable, too, at just 50 pounds, so you can take it wherever you want to go, from a friend’s barbecue to your tailgate.
The Best Pellet Grill for Serious Homecooks: Rec Tec Grills Bull
At $1,200, the Rec Tec Grills Bull RT-700 is for those who are serious about investing in their outdoor cooking.
Some of the stand-out features? A stainless steel chamber (some can be painted, meaning the possibility for peeling after enough exposure to the elements); built-in WiFi for easy cooking from afar; two meat probes instead of the standard one temperature probe; and a 40-pound hopper.
The Best Pellet Smoker & Grill: Z-Grills ZPG-7002E Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
At just $500, this Z-Grills pellet grill is a bit more palatable to those who want to try out the pellet grilling lifestyle without dropping a ton of cash.
This model can hold 20 pounds of pellets at one time, which will allow you to cook for approximately 20 hours. The grill can narrow down to a precise temperature with only a 10-degree margin of error. It works with just a push of a button, making it easy to use for beginners.
A special clean-up function collects waste and oil, for safer and easier cleaning after you’re finished using the grill. Plus, the grill is easy to move around, thanks to locking wheels on one side.
Lastly, if you buy the latest model with the 2020 upgrade, you’ll be able to cook at temperatures ranging from 180 degrees to 450 degrees.
The Best Professional Level Pellet Grill: Cookshack PG500 Fast Eddy’s Pellet Grill
If you think you’re ready to join the big leagues, you can further upgrade your pellet grill situation to this professional-level pellet smoker designed for commercial-grade cooking. At more than $2,000, it’s an investment, but one that comes with a lot of perks.
It comes with 800 square inches of cooking space for enough room to cook just about anything you can think of. An LCD control panel allows you to control the internal temperature with ease.
There are two cooking decks inside, as well as two warmer trays, to keep your cooked goods hot. A side table offers a spot for you to keep your cooking utensils that you might want to have on hand at any time.
Don’t think you can move this model around to your tailgates or a friend’s house, though. It weighs a whopping 330 pounds, so you’re going to want to pick a spot and then leave it there.
The Best Pellet Grill for Large Crowds: Louisiana Grills Country Smoker
Another pellet grill and smoker that leans a little more to the commercial end of things, this Louisiana Grills model is more affordable, at around $1,000, but it offers more cooking space, at more than 1,000 square inches of smoking area. In terms of capacity, this smoker is the way to go.
Unfortunately, this model isn’t one of the easier ones to use. It isn’t as tech-forward as other models, either. You have to load the pellets in on your own through a loading chute, which means that you’re controlling the temperature manually (whereas other models control the temperature you set for you). This can lead to uneven temperatures and varying cooking times.
This is one pellet grill and smoker that, while huge and great for those cooking for large crowds on a regular basis, is better left to the seasoned pros.
Using Your Pellet Grill Safely
So you have your new pellet grill and/or smoker. What’s next?
First and foremost, you’ll want to make sure that you stay safe from your very first grilling or smoking project.
While one of the benefits of a pellet grill and smoker is that you can usually set it and forget it, if you have a brand new pellet grill, you’ll want to keep a very close eye on it the first one or two times you use it.
Don’t use your grill/smoker in inclement weather. Keep any electrical cords away from water and give them a look on occasion to ensure there’s not been any damage to the cords. Always unplug your pellet grill after use.
Only use a pellet grill outdoors, and always somewhere with plenty of ventilation.
When finished, clean your pellet grill thoroughly.
Cooking with Your Pellet Grill: Choosing Your Pellets
One of the first cooking choices you’ll make with your pellet grill is what types of pellets you’ll want to buy. Different kinds of wood pellets give your food different flavors.
Some of the most popular pellet options include apple, cherry, hickory, maple, mesquite, oak and pecan. Oak, mesquite and cherry go well with cooking red meat. Cherry, hickory, apple and maple go well with pork and poultry. Apple goes well with seafood, and vegetables and other items you might want to cook may benefit most from maple pellets.
Ready to Get Started?
If you’ve been interested in pellet grilling and smoking for quite some time, now may just be the perfect summer to give it a try. Consider one of the above pellet grills or smokers to elevate your cooking area for your next backyard bbq. From high-end to Bluetooth enabled, there is a pellet grill out there for everyone.
You might also be interested in: The 7 Best Electric Smokers of 2020