When it comes to investing in a food smoker, a pellet smoker needs to be up there on the list, they are for sure worth considering when comparing them against your normal charcoal smokers.
Watching the TV programmes on American BBQ and even over here in the UK, we know that you aren’t going to be a classic pitmasters favourite person, but let’s be honest, in most cases, it’s about what the food really tastes like, and if you can get better outcomes with a pellet smoker vs charcoal, we know what we would go with… Taste over style points any day of the week.
Pellet smokers are going to be a little bit more expensive than similar charcoal or gas grills but paying that little bit extra isn’t going to seem like such a big ask when you realise how much you are getting from a pellet version. We are going to dig into some of the best pellet smokers available and give you some insight on what we think is the best picks for different budgets and needs.
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Who should be buying a pellet smoker?
An entry-level pellet smoker will set you back more than charcoal or gas, and because of that, many people are ignoring them in favour of other types. However, for a little bit more upfront investment, pellet smokers offer simplicity and versatility that is quickly making them popular among barbecue enthusiasts. In 2008, the market for pellet grills was much smaller. Back then you could choose between two companies: MAK Grill and Traeger Grills.
There is a wide range of smokers to choose from on the market today. A modest pellet smoker starts at about £400 and can be above £1,200. When you can get an excellent charcoal smoker like the Weber Smokey Mountain for under £300, it’s worth considering why you would want to purchase a pellet grill?
It all comes down to two things, the ease alongside how versatile they are.
If price is not a concern, then the convenience of a pellet grill is really amazing. Get used to throwing a brisket on when you arrive home from work and just let it simmer while you get about your day (or sleep through the night) without a worry.
How do pellet grills work?
Unlike their gas or electric cousins, pellet smokers use a different heat generation system. This makes them unique in style and efficient at temperature control. These wood-burning smokers work by adding cylindrical pieces of wood, called pellets.
When you turn on the grill, heat is generated through pellets that are pushed and turned into smoke.
One of the most important parts of a pellet smoker is the controller. It regulates the temperature throughout the cook and helps you with cooking times, too.
How durable are pellet grills and what are they made of?
Be careful with newer pellet grills, which even with the good exterior stainless steel may use cheaper or fragile materials on the inside. The most important aspects of a pellet grill are the fire pot, flame deflector, drip pan and grates. If these parts are made from stainless steel (vs. other metals), you can expect them to last for many years.
Make sure that your grilling pan is made with powder-coated steel because the paint will start to chip and peel away. When this happens, rust will begin to form on the metal components beneath the paint. Pellet smokers that are made with high-quality materials will be more efficient and able to maintain their temperature better in cold weather.
What about the size of the hopper?
The hopper in a pellet cooker stores the pellets for the auger to take them to the fire-pot. Therefore, it is essentially how long you can cook with your given device. This means that if it’s too small, it will become annoying fast as your cooks will eventually fail and go unfinished.
A pellet grill with a 40-pound hopper will give you upwards of 40 hours of cooking time at standard smoking temperatures. Grills with an 18-pound hopper, on the other hand, may end up not giving you enough fuel for your trip’s duration. In colder climates, your smoker will use more fuel to warm up and maintain temperature.
There are hopper extensions available for your pellet grill. This is an important factor to consider when you purchase one- it especially matters that the manufacturer is reputable.
How many wood pellets will you use?
Although you’re buying a pellet grill, you don’t expect to have to spend a fortune on them, nobody wants a girl that’s going to eat pellets like they’re going out of fashion. If your pellet cooker is too thin, heat will escape the cooking chamber and its profile prevents optimal use of pellets as it will have to burn more to keep the temperatures.
If the metal is too thick, you will also use a lot of pellets. The thick walls of a smoker act as a “heat sink” in which heat is drawn away from the cooking area and stored in it instead. So, you’ll need a much higher amount of pellets to reach your desired temperature. Thick walls are desirable in most types of smokers, but not for pellet smokers.
There is a debate over how much fuel smokers use, with estimates ranging from 1/4 pound to as many as 3 pounds per hour.
How much room do you need for cooking?
When deciding the size of your cooker, you need to determine how many people you will be cooking for and what type of food is going to be cooked. Purchasing a pellet grill that is too big can be wasteful, so make sure you purchase the correct size for your needs.
One standout feature of pellet smokers is the even heat distribution, making it possible to cook evenly on racks on both the top and bottom.
An important detail to keep in mind when cooking is that the primary cooking area refers to the centre of the cooking plate, whereas the total cooking area takes into account both main and secondary levels. Hence, a large cooker with a covered cooking area of 500 square inches might actually be less useful to you than a smaller cooker with an uncovered cooking area of 450 square inches and a 125 square inch secondary rack. If you don’t want to do any math, that’s a total cooking area of 575 square inches.
Think about cleaning..
Pellet grills require regular cleanup, as the ash and heat strips around them accumulate. Some models have an easy way to clean out the burn pot or ash without taking apart the grill. Most models are relatively easy to clean with a vacuum. You’ll need to take the grill grates off and remove the deflector plate at a minimum.
All you have to do is pull on a sliding rod and your catch pot will drop to the ground. You’ll also need to take the ashes from the firebox, but that’s easier than scrubbing it off of a grill with food stuck in it. Every time you cook, if left uncleaned, your pot’s burn area will accumulate ash and could cause issues in the future.
What sort of portability do you need?
Many grills in the marketplace come with various features. However, they are bulky and difficult to move from one place to another. Look for a grill that features sturdy wheels, a locking caster, foldable legs, and carrying handles for easy transportation. When you want a portable grill, you need one with the features of the Country Smokers Pellet Grill. They should be small, lightweight and easy to carry around.
Pellet grills come with some fun gizmos!
Compared to traditional charcoal or offset smokers, pellet grills often come with features that may not be considered a ‘basic’ feature, you can get some awesome tech included such as:
- Meat probes: Cookers with outputs for attaching a meat probe are available. You can then conveniently view the cooking time on your screen.
- WiFi: Pellet smokers are now being designed with WiFi connectivity in mind, meaning that you can monitor and control the temperature remotely from just about anywhere using your phone or computer as long as you have an Internet connection. The best pellet grill makers like Green Mountain Grills and pit boss provide free downloadable apps (or sometimes even include them) to make this task simple and more convenient.
- Variety of grilling options: While pellet cookers were once limited in their grilling capabilities, some manufacturers have since started to give pellet smokers the ability to grill using certain areas of the smoker.
- Pellet removal systems: Some pellet grills make it easy to clean between cooks by allowing you to remove unused pellets through a chute. Others require that you vacuum them out.
Pros and cons of buying a pellet smoker
Pellet smokers are the perfect edition for any cooking set up, the ease of use alongside the versatility they offer makes it a great choice, there are however some drawbacks.
- You won’t get quite as good of a sear on the meat with a gas grill. Nor will you enjoy the smokey flavor that comes from an offset smoker.
- You need to plug the grill into a power outlet if it doesn’t come with its own generator – this means you can only use your grill in an outdoor space that has electricity or is close enough to your house.
- Have an emergency pellet stockpile on hand – if you are grilling with propane or charcoal and run out, you can easily nip down to the store. But getting your favourite brand of pellets may require an Amazon order, or a trip to a local barbecue store.
- Easy temp control – Most pellet smokers let you dial in the temperature within five degrees and they maintain a stable temperature throughout the cook.
- Set and forget – Being able to load up the hopper, set the temp and leave it be is great! There is little else to worry about at that point, apart from having a cold drink and getting the sides made!
- Less time to clean up – Charcoal grills need a lot of attention to make sure that it is clean and tidy. On the other hand, pellet grill users have to clear out their firepot very occasionally, we’re talking maybe once every 60 uses!
The big question, price
The prices of pellet grills vary greatly and some can be as low as a few hundred pounds. However, if you purchase a cheaper cooker, it will start to break down within a couple of years, your warranty is not good, and customer service isn’t up to par with others on the market.
At the same time, If you’re buying a wood pellet smoker like a pit boss, or something with all the tech, you may be paying a much higher price. If you’re not making the most of your smoker, it may not be worth spending the extra money.
There is such a range of pellet bbq grills that you’ve got a good search on your hands! We hope that our guide to pellet smokers has given you a good idea of where to look, what you need to look for in terms of brands. Are you going after a traeger, pit boss, or a cheaper option? Enjoy your low and slow cooking on your new pellet smoker and let us know how you get on.
Last update on 2021-09-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API