No self-respecting BBQ enthusiast would use an electric Pellet Grill, right? Right? Except they are. Wood Pellet Grills are slowly becoming 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 popular in BBQ competitions, and they have been winning top prizes at many of them.
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 controller will sustain it by feeding pellets into a fire pot as needed to maintain your chosen temperature.
But 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. I will explain that a little bit more 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 They 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 to 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. Unlike built-in heat thermometers in the lids of most grills and smokers that can off by up to 50 degrees.
What They Do
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 They Don’t Do
So here is the thing folks (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. There are a few models out there now that allow you to sear directly over the firebox, but even those do not do it well. You can still get lite grill marks from the heated grill grate, but you cannot produce that charred crustiness you would be able to get from a charcoal or even a gas grill. The higher the temperature you cook at, the less smoke produced on a Pellet Grill. So for faster cooking meats like chicken breasts and steaks, you will not get a great sear nor as much of the smokey flavor.
Why Would You Want One?
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 on a charcoal grill 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 Use One?
I absolutely do. The first pellet grill I purchased was a Traeger TFB29LZA Junior Elite Grill and I loved it. You can read my thoughts on the Junior Elite here. I currently own a Traeger Century which is a bigger model and again, love it. I am hoping to upgrade to an even bigger model shortly. 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 this year in my Pellet Grill, and the family
loved it. I've cooked all the traditional smoked foods like ribs, salmon, pork loins, pork shoulders and whole chickens.
I especially love shrimp, bacon wrapped shrimp, corn on the cob and vegetables on the Pellet Grill. I slow roast whole heads of garlic and mix it 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. I could go on, but I think you get the point. So yes, yes I use a Pellet Grill.
Would I Recommend One?
I would recommend a Pellet Grill if you like the flavor of smoked meat but don’t want to go through the hassle and hard work of cooking it on charcoal. 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 of 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.)
Lastly, here is another great article on Pellet Grills and an all around fantastic website for all things BBQ.
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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”!