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What Is a Pellet Grill? – An Introduction to Pellet Grilling

No self-respecting BBQ enthusiast would use an electric Pellet Grill, right? Right?

Except they are and so here we are to help you out.

Wood Pellet Grills have quickly become one of the fastest-growing trends in the outdoor cooking industry. Their popularity is surging and for a good reason. They are able to give you the flavor of wood smoke, with the turn of a dial convenience of a gas grill.

Wood Pellet Smokers have even become extremely popular in BBQ competitions, and these pellet smokers have been winning top prizes at many of them.

The great thing about them is that out of all the many smoker designs on the market today, electric wood pellet smokers are the simplest to use.

They are thermostatically controlled, just like your kitchen oven. You pick a cooking temperature, and the built-in temperature controller will sustain that temp by feeding pellets into a fire pot as needed to maintain your chosen temperature.

What Is a Pellet Grill?

Pellet Grills are advertised as both a grill and a smoker. In my opinion, you are better off considering it mainly as a smoker, although they have come a long as grills over the last several years.

I will explain a little bit more about that in a minute, but for now, you should understand that Pellet grills cook by using indirect heat, convection (air driven) style. The smoke produced by the burning wood pellets enters your food and helps provide the barbecue flavor we are all after.

Pellet Grills burn hardwood sawdust and wood shavings compressed into cylindrical pellets that are about twice the size of a pencil eraser. They come in many different varieties of flavors like oak, mesquite, and hickory to name a few, just like wood chunks.

How Do Pellet Grills Work?

Pellet Grills have a storage hopper (a container that tapers downward and is able to discharge its contents at the bottom) on the side or back that you fill with the wood pellets. An electric rotating auger (a device consisting of a long screw-like shaft to force bulk materials from one end to the other) feeds the pellets into a firebox.

The firebox contains an igniting rod that gets red hot when you turn on the grill. When pellets are pushed into the firebox by the auger, they catch fire. The heat and rich, hardwood smoke are then diffused by a blower fan throughout the cooking chamber. A metal heat tray is placed above the firebox and under the grill grate for complete indirect heating.

Pellet grills usually have a drip plate below the main cooking grate that allows drippings to drain, generally into a pail of some sort.

You set your desired temperature just like you would an oven. The thermostat lets the built-in computer controller know when it is time for the auger to feed new pellets into the firebox to maintain the temperature. Actual temperatures will fluctuate a bit as the controller switches on and off but will hover around your set temperature.

A LED display will let you know the current temperature in your grill using a built-in temperature sensor that actually works well. Unlike built-in heat thermometers in the lids of most grills and smokers that can be up to 50 degrees off.

What Pellet Grills Do Well?

They cook your food by using great indirect heat and in my opinion, should actually be considered more of a convection smoker. They cook like an oven but with the added BBQ smokey flavor added in.

The pellets burn very cleanly and do not produce much ash. They do long, “slow, and low” cooks like a champ. When cooking at low temps, they provide plenty of flavorful smoke to your food. They make for great flavor and produce very juicy meat.

At high temps, they crisp your food but produce a lot less smoke. Long-cooking or smoked meats like brisket, pork, ribs, homemade bacon or beef jerky, salmon, and turkey come out great.

I will be honest folks, cooking with a Pellet Grill is really hard to screw up.

What Pellet Grills Don’t Do Well

So here is the thing, (yes, there is a thing), as I mentioned above, if are looking for grilled food, then maybe a Pellet Grill is not right for you.

Pellet Grills cook mainly by using indirect heat, and the ability to sear is almost non-existent. More and more models on the market now allow you to sear directly over the firebox, but even those do not compare to true wood-fired cooking.

You can still get grill marks from the heated grill grate, but in most cases, you cannot produce that charred crustiness you would be able to get from a screaming hot charcoal or even a gas grill.

On top of that, the higher the temperature you cook at, the less smoke is produced on a Pellet Grill. So, for faster cooking meats like chicken breasts and steaks, you will not get as good of a sear nor as much of a smokey flavor. On the other hand, the meat stays juicy and tender.

Why Would You Want a Pellet Grill?

Pellet grills are as close to “set it and forget it” as you can get when it comes to outdoor cooking.

There is no more trying to light a fire, waiting for the charcoal to be ready, then transferring it to the grill. Lighting an electric Pellet Grill is as easy as flipping a switch. No more fiddling with the air control vents trying to get to the right temperature. You just choose the desired temp, and the grill will stay there.

No more hovering over the grill, making sure your heat has not risen or fallen too much. You just set it and forget it. There is no longer the need to light up a fire chimney to add additional coals halfway through a cook.

The wood Pellets create very little ash and are therefore easy to clean. I just use a mini-vac every couple of weeks to suck up the light coating of ash inside and around the firebox. Then wipe it down with a wet paper towel.

Low and slow smoking is a lot of hard work and a time-consuming process. Pellet grills can produce the same or better results much easier and without all the hassle that comes with hardwood or charcoal.

Do I Personally Use a Pellet Grill?

I absolutely do. I currently own a Camp Chef and Traeger and have used many other models during my testing.

Read on for some of the foods I cook using my Pellet Grill.

I get requests for my smoked brisket at least once a month from family and friends. I smoked our Thanksgiving Turkey for many years in my Pellet Grill, and the family loves it. I’ve cooked all the traditional smoked foods like ribs, salmon, pork loins, pork shoulders, and whole chickens. Homemade bacon and beef jerky are real winners at my house too.

I especially love smoking chicken wings, shrimp, bacon-wrapped shrimp, corn on the cob, and vegetables in the Pellet Grill. I slowly roast whole heads of garlic and mix them with butter, fresh parmesan cheese, and parsley flakes to create a wonderfully buttery, smokey garlic paste for homemade garlic bread that I bake in the Pellet Grill.

That’s not all I use it for. I’ve made pizzas that have come out fantastic. I make flavorful beef jerky, homemade maple, and pepper bacon, grilled pineapple, and peaches. Homemade mac-n-cheese and any other side dishes you could think of.

I could go on, but I think you get the point. So yes, yes, I use a Pellet Grill often.

Would I Recommend a Pellet Grill?

I would absolutely recommend a Pellet Grill. Especially if you like the flavor of smoked meat but don’t want to go through the hassle and hard work of cooking and maintaining a charcoal grill. If you like the convenience of “set it and go,” but still want the great BBQ results, these Grills won’t let you down.

If you had only one selection of grills that can almost do it all, smoke, barbecue, roast, grill (sort of,) and that are practically idiot-proof, it is hard to make an argument against a Pellet Grill. All without the hassle, mess, and time spent on traditional Grills.

Anything you would cook in an oven, you can cook on a Pellet Grill with the added benefit of getting to spend time outdoors.

Top Ranked Pellet Grills on the Market (In No Specific Order)

Below you can find some of the top-ranked pellet grill brands on the market today. I’ve had the opportunity to try all of these brands and while some may be slightly better than others, they are all worthy considerations.

Memphis Wood Fire Grills

Traeger Pellet Grills

Camp Chef

Green Mountain Grills

REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill

Fast Eddy’s – Cookshack Pellet Grills

Yoder Smokers

Lastly, here is another great article on Pellet Grills and an all-around fantastic website for all things BBQ.

Amazing Ribs Pellet Smokers And Grills

As always, if you find this information on Pellet Grill informative, please consider sharing it with your Grilling friends!

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Advice I May Have Missed? Questions?

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I hope you have enjoyed my article and it proves helpful to you. I also hope that you are one step closer to joining me in “The Grilling Life”!


Pat G.

Disclosure – At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.

Patrick Ginise

A backyard warrior, certified carnivore, lover of good whiskey, grill master and I’m Living The Grilling Life!

I have a passion for cooking with live fire and smoke, no matter the weather. I’m a real person just like you, who loves outdoor cooking and BBQ. Food, fun, and time spent with family and friends are what it’s all about! It is my mission to take my passion and knowledge for outdoor cooking and all things BBQ and share this expertise in techniques and grilling equipment with you. In other words, Living The Grilling Life!

I have personally tested over 150+ Grills and Smokers and hundreds of grilling thermometers, temperature controllers, grill brushes, grilling tools, fire starters, and other BBQ products.