Everything you Need to Know to Buy the Best Pellet Grill in this Ultimate Pellet Grill Buyers Guide
Pellet grills are quickly gaining popularity among grill enthusiasts and rookies alike.
They combine the convenience of a gas grill with the flavor of a charcoal grill. If you’re wondering if a pellet grill is the right purchase for you, you’re in the right place.
What You Can Expect From This Pellet Grill Buyers Guide
In this pellet grill buyers guide, you’ll learn everything you can expect when purchasing a pellet grill, including the benefits, disadvantages, and optional accessories.
You can also expect a breakdown of how to identify a quality pellet grill before you buy it and how to care for and maintain it, so it’ll pass the test of time.
In this article, we’ll explore:
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What Is A Pellet Grill?
A pellet grill is powered by a combination of wood pellets and electricity. Wood pellets are made of compressed sawdust. The pellets are housed in a side-hopper then automatically moved to the fire by an auger.
Cooking on a pellet grill is even and consistent because a fan circulates the heat and smoke.
A controller maintains the temperature by triggering the wood auger to drop in more pellets as needed.
Pellet grills can fry, braise, bake, roast, smoke, and most importantly, grill.
For an in-depth look at how a pellet grill works, check out this article:
Why Choose a Pellet Grill?
When you have to have that wood-smoke flavor but don’t like lighting coals and waiting for them to get hot, a pellet grill is a perfect solution.
You don’t need to buy propane or have a natural gas hookup to use your pellet grill. Simply plug it into electricity, set the temperature, and it’s ready to go.
As if it couldn’t get any easier, some pellet grills connect to an app so you can regulate the temperature from your phone.
Pellet grills are easy to use, versatile, and many even come with pre-programmed cooking cycles that you can adjust for different types of meat.
Are Pellet Grills A Healthy Cooking Alternative?
While propane grills burn the cleanest out of all the grill fuels, wood pellets come in a close second. They burn more evenly and produce cleaner smoke than charcoal, so it is a healthier option for the planet.
Are pellet grills a healthier option for you also? There’s a lot of conflicting information about whether or not grilled or smoked food releases cancer-causing carcinogens; however, the research is still inconclusive.
We can be confident that as a cooking method that has been widely used since the days of our ancestors, cooking over a wood fire (in this case, inside your grill) won’t be the cause of humankind’s demise.
However, you should remember a few things while cooking on your pellet grill to reduce the risk of cancer-causing properties in your food.
Avoid burnt food build-up on your grill grates by cleaning them each time you use your grill.
Make sure you use the grill for cooking a variety of foods. If you’re eating hamburgers for every meal, your heart won’t be too happy. Use the grill as an opportunity to try new recipes and even cook fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients on the grill.
If you keep your pellet grill clean, if it helps you incorporate more variety in your diet, then you can safely say that a pellet grill is a healthy cooking alternative.
Here is a closer look at the health benefits of cooking on a pellet grill:
Pellet Grill vs Gas Grill
Pellet grills can be more expensive upfront than gas grills. Because there are so many gas grill options, it is easier to find one for any budget.
Luckily, as pellet grills become more common, there are more and more affordable options.
Apart from the price, the cooking quality of pellet and gas grills also differs.
Gas grills tend to cook pretty well using high temperatures, so getting the perfect sear on your steak is quick and easy.
On the other hand, Pellet grills can cook at various temperatures and really shine when it comes to low and slow cooking.
Propane grills can heat up in as little as 10 minutes, and one tank can last up to 20 hours of cooking, so you’ll definitely speed up the process with a gas grill.
The biggest advantage of a pellet grill is that it takes on the flavor of the wood smoke to give your food more diversity and depth, but it makes considerably less ash and mess than a charcoal grill.
Whether you choose a gas or a pellet grill will depend mainly on your budget, cooking style, and the desired outcome of your food. Both are respectable options when it comes to buying a new grill.
Check out my article expanding on the difference between the two below:
Choosing Your Pellet Grill’s Configuration
Before you make the big purchase, you’ll have to decide if you want a freestanding or a built-in pellet grill.
This will largely depend on the setup of your outdoor kitchen. If you don’t already have a designated place for a built-in grill, you might need to make some modifications to your property to include it. Otherwise, a freestanding grill might be your best bet.
Below I added a little more info on each option.
Freestanding Pellet Grills
The advantage of a freestanding pellet grill is that you can move it to wherever you want in the backyard. It also conveniently comes with storage below and on the sides of most models.
Some portable pellet grills even offer extra side burners for added versatility. Others run on a mobile battery pack, so you can take them camping or to the big game without any restrictions.
Built-In Pellet Grills
While built-in pellet grills aren’t as common as built-in gas grills, they do exist. They are more of a luxury option and are a great addition to your outdoor kitchen. Most of them will come in a sleek stainless-steel finish and add a level of sophistication to your outdoor space.
You can see my picks for the best built in pellet grills below:
Pellet Grills vs. Vertical Pellet Smokers
There is a lot of confusion about the difference between a pellet grill and a vertical pellet smoker. Both these pieces of equipment fall under the pellet cooking category, but there are some crucial differences.
Pellet grills are versatile and can cook to high temperatures. As mentioned, they can back sear, slow cook, smoke, and much more.
Vertical Pellet Smokers only cook low and slow.
What are Vertical Pellet Smokers?
Vertical Pellet Smokers don’t reach as high of temperatures as pellet grills. They get to about 450 degrees Fahrenheit and are best for low and slow smoking rather than grilling.
Wood pellets are fed into a pellet smoker by gravity rather than with an electric auger. They are excellent for smoking things like salmon that could easily overcook if temperatures go too high.
Know Your Temperature Controllers
Temperature controllers dictate how many pellets are put on the fire and when. As the temperature goes down, they will automatically stoke the fire with more pellets to bring the temperature back up.
Smartphone apps and preset recipes make it easy to track the temperature and adjust it with a push of a button.
Before choosing your pellet grill, it’s important to understand which type of temperature control it utilizes and how it works.
Below are the three main options available today.
Non-PIDs are the OGs of temperature controllers. They are also the most basic and least accurate. They come with up to 10 temperature settings ranging from low to high and are commonly called LMH controllers (low, medium, high).
These temperature controllers choke the fire when it’s too hot and feed it when it’s too low. The problem is that they can be between 30 and 40 degrees off your desired temperature. That’s a significant temperature difference in the world of cooking.
But there’s no need to panic if you already have a pellet grill with a Non-PID controller. You can still regulate the temperature by using a Remote Grill Thermometer.
Pellet Grill PID Controllers
PID controllers or proportional integral derivative controllers (whew, that was a tough one!) run consistent calculations based on the speed of the fan and the pellet rate. This helps them maintain a constant temperature from within 5 to 10 degrees of where you set it.
PID-Plus controllers go to the next level with digital interfaces, Wi-Fi connection, and built-in temperature probes. These controllers allow you to connect your smartphone to monitor the temperature and receive alerts about your food.
Some pellet grills using these controllers even come with a built-in library of recipes so you can try out new dishes and let the grill adjust to the perfect temperature automatically.
Choosing Your Pellet Smoker Class
Pellet grills can be divided into separate classes based on their quality, performance, and features. As you shop for your new pellet grill, you’ll want to find one that fits your budget and lifestyle, and that has features that are important to you.
We’ve broken down the following pellet grills into four classes: luxury, premium, practical, and economy.
Luxury Pellet Smokers
Luxury pellet smokers are built with corrosion-resistant high-quality stainless steel to ensure durability and longevity. They can be freestanding or built-in to match your outdoor kitchen.
For the most part, the inside temperature matches the set temperature. Of all the pellet grills, this class of grills is the best for a wide temperature range, so you can slow-cook, smoke, and sear all with the same appliance.
You can find examples of Luxury Pellet Smokers here: Luxury Pellet Smokers
Premium Pellet Smokers
Premium pellet smokers feature double-walled insulation with a stainless steel interior. You can fit more food in it thanks to the pill-shaped barrel that holds in smoke, so your fish, jerky, or whatever you love to smoke gets the full treatment.
You can find examples of Premium Pellet Smokers here: Premium Pellet Smokers
Practical Pellet Smokers
Smokers in the practical class have a temperature range from 200 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can grill, smoke, or bake without a problem. For the most part, the temperature stays within about 15 degrees of your setting.
These grills are made from a combination of stainless steel and either painted or powder-coated steel.
Some models in this class come with unique mechanisms for direct-flame grilling, so you get the authentic BBQ experience and a smoker all in one.
You can find examples of Practical Pellet Smokers here: Practical Pellet Smokers
Economy Pellet Smokers
Because economy pellet smokers can’t produce as high of heat as their more expensive counterparts, it’s best for low and slow smoking. The top temperature maxes out at 500 degrees Fahrenheit and, compared to the above options, lacks in temperature range and features.
Economy pellet grills are made with painter porcelain, galvanized, or powder-coated steel and use non-PID controllers.
You can find examples of Economy Pellet Smokers here: Economy Pellet Smokers
Plan How Much Cooking Surface Area You Need
You can’t buy a pellet grill before you consider the surface area. Are you planning on cooking for just a couple of friends or large parties? Not only the number of people you’ll serve but the size of cut you plan on cooking will determine your needed surface areas.
Pellet grills range from 300 to 1300 square inches of cooking space.
If you buy an extra-large pellet grill, keep in mind that you could be wasting pellets to heat space you don’t need.
Just because a pellet grill is more compact also doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to cook for larger groups. That’s because pellet smokers generally have the same temperature on the bottom rack as they do on the top. So you can still have plenty of cooking surfaces.
Choosing The Hopper Capacity Size
The hopper stores the pellets on the side of your grill until the auger moves them to the fire. If your hopper is smaller, then you won’t be able to cook for as long as if you opt for a grill with a larger hopper.
Generally, one pound of pellets gives you one hour of cooking time. So ideally, you’ll want a 40-pound hopper that will keep smoking up to 40 hours, and smoking won’t be interrupted.
Another thing to consider is your environment. If you live in a cold climate, your smoker will need more pellets to maintain the temperature.
If you find that your hopper can’t keep up with your long cooking times, you can buy a hopper extension optionally. Before you do, just make sure that it’s compatible with the model of pellet grill you have and that it comes from a reliable manufacturer.
Why The Build Quality Matters
Pellet grills can be a hefty investment, so you want to buy one that will last for countless cooking seasons to come.
Make sure to examine the grill inside and out. Just because the outside is stainless steel doesn’t mean corners weren’t cut on the inside to save money. The last thing you want is for your grill to rust from the inside out.
As you compare materials, take into consideration not only your budget but also your climate. Powder-coated stainless steel is not only a sturdy option but also weather and rust-proof.
Most importantly, the flame deflector, fire pot, grates, and drip pan should be made with 304-stainless steel if you want the longest-lasting smoker.
High-quality materials will last longer and perform better. They will retain heat better, so you’ll use fewer pellets, and it will be easier to maintain temperatures in colder weather.
Augers And Pellet Delivery
The auger is the long screw that moves pellets from the hopper to the firepot. The higher the thermostat of the smoker is set, the faster the auger will move the pellets.
What should you look for in an auger? The most efficient pellet grills will have electric-powered auger tubes. The tip of the tube should be a safe distance from the firepot so the fire won’t reach the stored pellets.
Wide side augers are also a better option to prevent the tube from getting jammed and interrupting your cook.
The Wider The Temperature Range The Better
For the most use out of your pellet grill, you’ll want one that has a wide temperature range so you can smoke, bake, BBQ, and grill.
If you only want to smoke low and slow, then a pellet grill that reaches 180 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit will work fine. But if you’re going to hot smoke or sear your food, then you’ll definitely want to look for one that can reach between 500 and 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pellet grills and smokers are generally not known for their searing capability. They are designed for indirect convection heat, which is ideal for smoking but not so much for a good sear.
It won’t matter how hot you get your pellet grill if you don’t have direct radiant heat. You can think of your pellet grill as if you’re sitting in 80-degree weather in the shade and a charcoal or gas grill as sitting in 80 degrees in the sun. The temperature is the same, but which location is hotter?
Fortunately, there is a solution. Some pellet grills combine the slow cook convection with an option to sear on direct heat. Just make sure you look for a pellet grill that includes burners that expose your food to the flame if you want that iconic sear.
Look For Easy Clean-Up Features
It’s important to keep any grill or smoker clean from burnt on food and fat drippings. It will make cooking your next set easier, more hygienic, and reduce the risk of carcinogens.
When shopping for a pellet grill, look for features that make cleanup easier. Smokers with removable grease trays, easy ash removal design, and dishwasher-safe grates will speed up and simplify the cleanup process. Double-check how accessible pellet hoppers are as well so you can replace pellets and clean up with ease.
Pellet grills with an ash cleanout system make cleanup fast and easy. Just pull the lever, detach the ashtray, and dump it in the garbage.
Thankfully, cleaning up pellet grill ash is a lot easier than cleaning charcoal ash. This is partly because the hardwood pellets are made from 100% natural, compressed wood that burns into less than 1% of ash. So 40 pounds of wood pellets leave only about a ½ cup of ash.
How to Clean Your Pellet Grill
- Empty the grease and ashtrays. It’s best to wait until the grill completely cools.
- Remove cooking grates, plates, and racks from the grill.
- Vacuum out any additional ash from inside the firepot.
- Wipe off any other grease or burned on food that didn’t fall into the grease tray.
- Use a rag with hot, soapy water to wipe down the inside of the grill.
- Empty the grease bucket (hint: line it with foil for quicker cleanup).
- Wash grates, plates, and racks in the dishwasher or sink with warm, soapy water.
What Is A “Smart” Pellet Grill?
A smart pellet grill uses Bluetooth or Wi-Fi technology so you can pair it will your smart device or phone. The special app will let you keep track of and control your cooking temperature. Some will even notify you when it’s time to flip your food or when your food has finished cooking.
Additional Questions To Ask Yourself
Choosing a fuel type and size is just the beginning of your grill-buying journey. There are countless features available on pellet grills, and you’ll want to decide which ones are most important to you.
Check out the additional features listed below to help you decide.
Do You Want Your Pellet Grill To Have Wi-Fi Connectivity?
Nowadays, most Premium and Luxury class pellet grills offer Wi-Fi connectivity so that you can control your grill with your smartphone. A lot of Practical class pellet grills offer it too.
Of course, you will have to download the manufacturer suggested app and learn to use it, but the slight learning curve will save you time and the stress of guessing in the long run.
How About Built In Meat Probes?
A meat probe goes a step further than your standard thermometer. You attach one end of the probe to the meat and the other end to your pellet smokers controller. Then as the meat cooks, you’ll see the internal temperature displayed on the grill’s LCD monitor.
Watch the temperature of your meat rise in real-time instead of opening the lid and checking manually. This feature is available on PID-Plus controllers.
Should I Include A Sear Box?
As discussed, indirect heat won’t give you the same level of a sear as direct infrared heat. A sear box is a simple solution if you’re planning on char-grilling your meat.
Double-check that the model you’re looking at comes with this feature before you buy if you’re planning on using your pellet grill for more than low and slow cooking.
Do I want Built-In Lighting For Night-Time Cooking?
If you want to use your pellet grill camping or don’t have adequate outdoor lighting, a built-in light will be helpful. Skip trying to balance a flashlight or your phone to check on your food and enjoy the convenience of built-in lighting.
Are Multiple Level Cooking Racks Something I Need?
Multiple levels of cooking racks allow you to cook different foods all at the same time. They also offer differing heat levels, so if you want to get more direct heat on one food and slow cook the other, you can. Finally, they provide more cooking surface for feeding larger groups.
Do I Want My Pellet Grill To Be Portable?
If you plan on moving your pellet grill to different areas of your patio depending on the season, or if you want to take your pellet grill to the beach, a party down the block, or camping, then look for a portable one.
Look for pellet grills with a locking caster, sturdy wheel, foldable legs, and easy-to-hold carrying handles. Four wheels are always better than two and will last longer as the weight is more evenly distributed.
A portable grill should be easy to transport, and you shouldn’t have to worry about parts breaking in the process. Ideally, it will be compact and easy to move.
Good Customer Support Matters
Nothing is more frustrating when you need a question answered or have a problem with your grill, and you can’t get ahold of the support team. So before you buy, look at ratings, reviews, and feedback about customer support.
No one will give you a better idea of what kind of help you’ll get than customers who have been in your shoes. So research the company’s reputation before you buy.
Know Your Warranty Options Before You Buy
If a pellet grill doesn’t have an extended warranty, it’s a good sign that the company doesn’t stand behind its product and doesn’t expect it to last long.
So before you buy, research the warranty length and everything that is covered under warranty. Smaller moving parts are especially prone to breaking and cracking over time, so make sure they’re included in the warranty as well.
Stick with companies that stand behind their products as they will be the ones that use the best building materials and generally have the best customer service as well.
Know Your Budget
Most quality pellet grills range from $400 to $2000 plus. The key is to strike a balance between affordable and durable.
Apart from quality, prices will depend on the size and number of features on a pellet grill. So, if you’re on a budget, consider a smaller size or one with fewer features rather than one that is cheaply made and won’t last.
Write out a checklist of the features that are most important to you, and then find a model within your price range. Low-quality smokers and grills will only cost you more money in the long run, so invest in well-built cookers even if you don’t get all the bells and whistles.
Final Thoughts On Our Pellet Grill Buyers Guide
Pellet grills have come a long way in recent years. They are more versatile and easy to use than ever before.
As you shop for your next pellet grill, keep in mind which features are most important to you, what you plan on cooking, and your budget to make the best purchase choice.
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