Pellet grills or smokers are absolutely fantastic for beginner smokers. They provide competitive functionality that matches or exceeds the capabilities of other smokers. Using a smoker to prepare your dinner will provide a finished product that is indistinguishable from other options, while also being extremely easy to use.
This is becoming a very competitive space and Traeger is not the only manufacturer innovating. It seems every year the competition is adding new features to try and take market share. We are keeping our eye on Camp Chef as they seem to be coming out with innovative options like their sear box. Read on for an overview of what the top manufacturers are offering today.
Angry BBQ’s Top 5 Picks
|Traeger Pro 575||CHECK PRICE|
|Camp Chef Woodwind Wifi 24"||CHECK PRICE|
|Traeger Timberline 1300||CHECK PRICE|
|Camp Chef Smoke Pro DLX||CHECK PRICE|
|Z Grills 7002B||CHECK PRICE|
How To Choose The Best Pellet Smoker
The top grills are going to have the convenient options necessary to easily manage your cooking without making any sacrifices to the finished product. You also have to consider what kind of grilling you are going to be doing most often when looking at pellet grill reviews. If you are a fan of slow cooking meats over long periods of time or prefer delicate meats like fish, then you might want a vertical smoker.
If you want something more versatile for several different kinds of smoking or cooking, then you will want to go with something more multi-purpose like a freestanding pellet grill. I do all my briskets on my pellet grill.
Why choose a pellet grill over other grill options?
The primary reason you would choose pellet grills over other grill types is for their ease of use. Even a novice griller can produce excellent food. Using these smokers is very similar to using a standard oven. All you have to do is set a temperature you want to cook at and the grill will handle the rest. You don’t have to worry about tending the fire or managing the fuel source, because top rated pellet grills will handle all of that for you. Charcoal Grills or Offset smokers typically need to be tended to much more than a pellet grill.
What makes a good pellet smoker?
The key to a good pellet grill is in the temperature controls. The better the temperature controls are, the more consistent your grilling will be. You can get pellet grills with three main types of temperature controls.
There are the older model of temperature controllers, called non-PID controls. They are much less precise than their counterparts. They are still functional, but they operate within a larger range compared to where you set your desired temperature than other variants. You could expect to see a difference of up to 40 degrees Fahrenheit from where you set your desired temperature.
The other main type of temperature control is the PID control. It essentially operates the same as a non-PID controller, but it is constantly performing calculations using data it receives from several different sources to get more accurate readings on the temperature. It takes steps to adjust the heat, so that it remains within your desired range.
The final type of controls are PID-Plus controls, which are PID controllers that have even further added benefits on top. The most common variety of PID-Plus controllers are ones that have Wifi functionality, which allows you to walk away from the grill and get updates on its progress on your phone.
Are There Downsides to Using a Pellet Smoker?
The primary downside to using a pellet grill or smoker is that you may have a difficult time getting them as hot as other grill types. Premium units will reach acceptable temperatures, but cheaper ones might have some trouble getting above 600 degrees Fahrenheit. You should make sure you look into this before purchasing a pellet grill and adjust cooking instructions, if necessary. I typically always use a gas or charcoal grill to sear my steaks.
What you need to know about using these smokers
While pellet grills do use wood for fuel, they actually run off of electricity, so you need to make sure that there is a source of electricity wherever you plan to use your new grill.
There is a bit of conversation around what kind of pellets you should use for your smoker. There are a surprising number of people that claim to use “Heating Pellets” to fuel their grill. This is a huge mistake and you should not follow in their footsteps. Not only will these pellets make your food taste bad, but they are also detrimental to your health! You should make sure that you are using food-grade pellets to heat your grill and only those.
If you live in a place with harsh winters like I do, but you want to experience the joys of a grilled burger at any time of year, don’t worry about it! Pellet grills DO work in cold weather. That said, they might burn more fuel to maintain their temperature, so you should purchase an insulated blanket for your grill to help mitigate that problem and save yourself some cash in the long-term.
You should also note that you don’t necessarily have to use the brand of pellets made by the creators of your grill. Give the owner’s manual a look to see what the requirements are for pellets used by your grill. If that sounds like too much work or you are confused at any point, then just stick with the brand-name pellets because they are specifically designed to be perfectly compatible with your grill.
Our Top 5 Pellet Smokers
1. Best all Around : Traeger Pro 575
Traeger’s Pro 575 has all of the features you could want in a good pellet grill. It is very much a jack of all trades in that it has every feature you look for when considering a new grill purchase. It has an ash disposal option, grease protection, extra space for utensils, plenty of cooking space, and it even supports connection through Wifi so you can cook overnight or while you make a quick run to the store for that condiment you forgot. We’ve all been there. It doesn’t have the highest or lowest temperatures you can find in some grills, but they are high enough and low enough to be functional and get the job done.
To get into more specifics regarding this pellet grill, it implements a lot more new technology than just having support for Wi-Fi. As part of the Wi-Fi support, it also comes with something that Traeger is calling GrillGuide, which will advise you on how to cook certain meats. It gives instructions on what temperatures to use and will also walk you through, step by step, on how to cook fantastic meals using their grill. All of this functionality is baked into their Traeger App and the grill itself, so it is extremely easy to find and make use of.
It also uses a unique drivetrain, which they are calling the D2 Direct Drive. The D2 Direct Drive is meant to increase the overall flavor of your food by ensuring that it gets the optimum amount of smoke, no more, no less. It also has an effect on the temperature variance you can expect while grilling and how quickly your grill will get up to the temperature you need it at.
The temperature range of this grill is a bit narrow. It has a minimum temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit and it maxes out at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Some grills can get higher and lower than this one, but it should be fully capable of performing most tasks and giving you the flavors you are looking for. You might have a bit of difficulty with searing, but otherwise, this temperature range is good enough.
This slight downside is heavily mitigated by all of the fantastic other features this grill comes with, so it should be an excellent choice for both experienced grill masters and novices that are looking to get their first grill. The Pro 575 is a great smoker for beginners.
- Uses a PID-Plus temperature control with Wifi support, so you can step away from the grill if you have to.
- It has a minimum temperature of 165 degrees, which means it should be great for smoking delicate meats or cooking things slowly.
- It uses two grates at different elevations so you can manage the heat efficiently when that is called for.
- The temperatures are advertised to have a range of 10 degrees plus or minus, but the actual range is closer to 30, so be aware of that when working with this grill.
- The grill is very heavy, so you may have difficulties moving it on your own.
2. Runner up: Camp Chef Woodwind Wifi 24″
Camp Chef’s Woodwind Wifi 24″ is a decent alternative to the Traeger model. It is especially good at smoking for long periods due to its gargantuan pellet storage capacity. That feature combined with the Wifi capability means you can smoke something overnight and rest assured that it won’t need any tending or micromanagement during that time. The maximum temperature is a bit low, so searing can be difficult, but for all other purposes, this grill really shines.
The temperature range for this grill is actually just a bit wider than the previous Traeger option at 160 degrees Fahrenheit to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, though that slight 5 degree difference won’t be very impactful for searing, unfortunately.
That said, this grill has other features that are definitely worth appreciating. It has a “Slide and Grill” feature that allows you to swap from indirect to direct heating on the fly which provides you a level of control that a lot of grillers would find sorely lacking in their pellet grills. Inexperienced grillers might not make much use of this feature as they won’t know the value of being able to switch between the two heating options, but a master griller will have a lot of appreciation for the extra control and finesse this feature allows when working with more delicate meats that require more control and understanding to make well.
Another underrated feature is that the display used to control the grill’s temperature and set timers is fully colored! This provides a level of nuance in the information display that most grills won’t be able to compete with because they only operate in black and white.
Temperature is not the only thing that you have control of with this grill, you can also adjust what level of smoke your food is receiving via the PID controller display. There are 10 levels you can choose from that all vary in intensity which allows you to adjust how strong that smokey flavor will be once your food is done grilling, from extremely subtle to a major part of the flavor profile of your meal.
- It has a huge amount of storage capacity for pellets. It can hold up to 22 pounds of wood pellets to feed the fire for hours.
- It supports Wifi connectivity and also can be controlled using an app on smartphone devices, so you can adjust the temperature or set a timer from anywhere.
- It comes with an easy ash disposal system on the bottom of the grill so you can quickly and efficiently clean it out between uses.
- It only has a maximum temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so it won’t have the same brute-force cooking power as other alternatives.
- Assembling the grill might take some extra time and is a little complex.
3. Best Premium: Traeger Timberline 1300 Wifi
Traeger’s Timberline 1300 Wifi provides unparalleled cooking capacity. It has three different grates for you to cook on and each one provides a huge amount of surface area so you can feed a massive amount of people at once with this grill. Worthy of note is that the startup time for cooking with this grill is pretty slow, so you will want to prepare for that ahead of time when you are making plans to grill for a lot of people. You might want to start setting up 30 to 60 minutes before you want to serve.
The number of grilling grates and the high capacity aren’t the only things to appreciate about this grill though, you are also afforded the opportunity to control the grilling process more with this grill by altering the elevation of the grilling grate to bring it closer or farther from the flames. This will allow you to sear your meats even though the 500 degrees Fahrenheit maximum temperature would usually make that harder.
This grill also implements a new way to circulate smoke through the system for more flavor and more efficient grilling. It uses a TRU convection system as well as a Downdraft Exhaust feature from Traeger to completely change the way this grill will handle smoking your meats and provide flavors that you would be unable to achieve with a different grill.
- Has three different cooking grates for maximum capacity, efficiency, and versatility.
- There are 1,300 square inches of cooking space inside this grill so you can cook a staggering amount of food inside.
- It has built-in counter space so you have places to put food after you have cooked it but before it is ready to serve.
- The Wifi connectivity for this grill is a bit spotty and has frequent issues, so it is best not to rely on it.
- This is a very slow grill. Despite advertising to the contrary, this grill takes quite a while to get up to the desired temperature. About 30 minutes for 300 degrees and 50 for 500.
4. Best Value: Camp Chef Smoke Pro DLX
Camp Chef’s SmokePro DLX is a relatively small grill, but it has a pretty large pellet storage capacity for that size at 18 pounds. You can quickly grill up a few burgers and keep the grill running while you cook up seconds without issues. I had some trouble getting excess pellets out when I wanted to store the grill until I removed the cooking grate, so be prepared for that.
This grill is a cheaper alternative to the other grills on this list. It is a fairly no-nonsense grill with a job to do and it knows it. It has all the features you need to make a fantastic meal, without implementing unnecessary luxury features that you would usually have to pay an arm and a leg for. We really appreciate the simplicity of this design especially because it doesn’t result in any lost functionality or a less enjoyable grilling experience.
This also isn’t to say that it doesn’t have any convenience features. It makes use of an easy cleaning system through the ash catching can attached to the bottom of the grill and having such a large hopper means that you will have to fill this grill’s fuel source a lot less often than would otherwise be necessary, so you can spend more time grilling and less time dealing with maintenance tasks.
It also has an internal temperature system that helps to maintain the temperature inside of the grill at the exact degree that you set it at and it provides a built-in temperature probe so you can monitor your meats in real time during the cooking process and take them out at the optimal time to serve them.
- The pellet capacity is very large for the size of the grill. It can hold up to 18 pounds of pellets at full capacity.
- It has an ash disposal can on the bottom of the grill for easy removal and quick cleaning.
- It comes with a built-in temperature probe so you can get accurate readings of exactly what temperature it is cooking at any time.
- This is a very heavy grill, especially considering its size. It weighs approximately 127 pounds, so be careful when moving it.
- It can be a bit inconvenient, trying to get the pellets out of the hopper when you want to store it. You will definitely have to remove the grate.
5. Best Budget: Z Grills 7002B 8 in 1
Z Grills’s 7002B is a great budget pellet smoker. It comes at a cheap price and works very fast without sacrificing on convenience features. Previous versions had complaints of poor temperature control but the new digital temperature control has helped keep temperature control in check.
If you just want a good grill for a really cheap price on short notice then this is definitely the grill to go with. It has the usual convenience features that allow for easy cleaning and maintenance while also having performance that is sufficient to get the job done and allow you to grill up a tasty meal.
It also has a very large cooking area of 694 square inches. This is substantially more area when compared to some of the larger pellet grills above. It’s quite heavy built weighting in at 137 lbs. So that shows Z Grills use heavy gauge steel to build their grills which means these should have a long life. A 20 lbs pellet hopper will ensure you have plenty of pellets to smoke that brisket for 15+ hours.
This grill is also very efficient. It is designed with saving you money as a main priority. You can expect to get about an hour of grilling done with just a pound of pellets. That is extremely efficient and should make all of your grilling endeavors much cheaper over time.
- It is extremely affordable, so you can start smoking and grilling at less cost.
- It is very quick to heat up and should reach the highest possible temperature very quickly.
- Updated digital temp. control, to keep consistent temperatures
- It comes with a cover that you can use for safe storage to protect it from the weather when it won’t be in use for a while.
- No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity so you cannot monitor your temps while away from the smoker.
Pellet grills are much more complex pieces of equipment than your other typical grill types. They have a lot of increased functionality that makes them much easier to use, but in order to accomplish those functions, there needs to be a lot more intricate equipment inside of them. There are six very important parts of a pellet grill that are needed to make them function as intended and we’ll walk you through each of them below in the order that they present themselves through the process of cooking.
The fuel source used for a pellet grill is what gives it its name. Pellet grills use wood as their source for fuel, in the form of small pellets that are fed through a hopper, typically found on the side of the grill. The pellets are usually made out of pure, hardwood that is ground into dust. That dust is then compressed under a large amount of physical pressure while in a very high temperature environment to condense it into the pellets that you use as fuel in a very similar process to the creation of diamonds.
There are a lot of differences, though, between different types of wood and there are variations on the process we just described for different brands. You can see this at a glance by comparing two different brands of wood pellets because you will notice that they often look different and are different sizes.
Different types of wood will have different flavors and they will pass those flavors on in the smoke that they infuse your food with. It can be hard to figure out what kind you like in the beginning, before you have experimented with a lot of different kinds. While taste cannot be transferred through text and it is a purely subjective sensation, there is still a bit of advice we can give you to help you along your way and focus your experimentation so you can find the kind that will work best for you.
The smoke produced by different woods will have stronger flavors than others. Using something like Mesquite or Hickory wood pellets will result in a very strong smoke flavor being added to whatever you cook with them.
If you want a lighter or subtler flavor, then consider using something like Apple or Cherry. These two kinds of wood are very similar and both result in a very subtle taste infusion so that the smoke doesn’t overpower the natural taste of the meat or vegetables. They are very good options when you are working with a very delicate meat or something with a lot of flavor on its own that doesn’t need much added to it.
Heating vs Food Grade
Something else you should keep in mind is that there is a difference between heating pellets and food grade pellets. Many people have heard that heating pellets can be used in a pellet grill and they are further vindicated by the fact that pellet grills can use heating pellets as fuel. That said, this is a case of misinformation being spread far and wide, just because you can use them as fuel doesn’t mean that you should.
You should not use heating pellets in your pellet grill under any circumstances. They are not intended to be used with food and this is because they will infuse that food with unhealthy byproducts of combustion that can result in serious health problems. You should always check to see if the pellets you are buying are food grade before making that purchase and do not listen to the advice of others if they are telling you to use heating pellets for cooking food.
The pellets are moved through the internals of your grill using the “Auger” which passes the pellets through the internal systems of the grill from the hopper to the fire pot where they will be burned to produce the smoke and flame you need to make your meal.
As the pellets are moved from the hopper into the grill itself, they pass over the combustion fan and it begins to cycle air through the internal parts of the grill which is used to fuel the fire that will burn the pellets and give your grill the heat it needs to cook your food.
The igniter is what causes combustion and ignites the fuel as it passes into the fire pot where the fuel actually burns and creates the smoke you’re after. This is where the air from the combustion fan is going to keep the fire strong and consistent. The air that is cycled over the igniter will keep the flame healthy and make it more powerful if you decide to increase the temperature of your cook.
Inside the fire pot is where the fuel finally ends up and where it burns. The more fuel that is inside of the fire pot, the higher the temperature will be, but the lower the temperature it is the more smoke will be produced, so there is a fine balance that needs to be struck to get the right temperature and the right amount of smoke to infuse your food.
The barrel is where your cooking grate is and where your food rests while it is cooking. The smoke from your burned fuel will rise up from the fire pot and into this area so it can pass over and around your food before finally making its way out through the vent on top. That is how the flavor of your wood pellets get added to the food you are making.
As wood pellet grills and smokers have become more popular, they have started to go through a modernization process that has resulted in a lot of new technologies being implemented into them. Pellet grills identify themselves from other grill types with their added convenience and ease of use, so technology finds a natural place with them since they share the same purpose. You can find different tools being added to them often with different purposes, like allowing you to cook without being near your grill, or checking the temperature of your food without having to remove it from the grill.
A lot of pellet grills are now implementing internal meat probes for checking the temperature of your meats versus the temperature of the grill. This is especially useful as a way to tell you when your meat is finished cooking and ready for consumption, without having to cut it open and check it visually.
It has the added convenience of being part of the grill’s function instead of being a separate tool that you would have to open your grill to use. Instead, you can take advantage of the convenience this new feature implements into the grill directly.
Another highly convenient feature being added to a lot of pellet grills today is the ability to connect to them from your phone and manage the temperature and other things while on the go by connecting to it through the internet or Bluetooth.
This is great for when you need to step away from the grill to check something inside of your home or even when you need to leave your home entirely. Gone are the days when you would have to shut down your grill and postpone your meal because something came up and it was unsafe to leave your grill unattended.
Now you can connect to it with your phone and receive alerts if something happens so you know it’s time to rush back and take care of whatever problem might have occurred, and if all goes smoothly then you can manage the temperature and adjust it any time, from anywhere.
There are two ways to use this new technology, using Wi-Fi and the internet to connect to your grill from anywhere or using Bluetooth within a certain radius of your grill.
Wi-Fi could theoretically be used to connect to your grill from anywhere. As long as you have an internet connection, and your grill is connected to your internet at home, you should be able to connect to it. That said, this technology is relatively new and pellet grill manufacturers are still working out the kinks, so we would still recommend that you take the time to check in on your grill frequently while using this feature.
Bluetooth is another way that you can connect to your grill from a device and manage it remotely, but it will only work within a certain radius, so this is good for when you need to step away from your grill, but you aren’t going to be traveling too far. It is especially useful if you want to cook something overnight while you are sleeping because if something does happen your phone can wake you up and you can take care of it, but otherwise, your meal will be done by the time you wake up.
A History of Pellet Smokers
Pellet grills did not form out of a vacuum. They are actually an alteration to an earlier device, called a pellet stove. In 1973 there was an oil crisis that resulted in a demand for alternative sources of heat for your home. One of the alternatives that was considered, and then put into use, was the pellet stove using wood. In the late 1970s, in the United States of America, we created pellets out of wood for our fuel source. They were small, capsule-shaped pieces of sawdust that were compressed to about the size of a pencil’s eraser.
In the early 80s, there were two different people experimenting with using these wood pellets as a fuel source for stoves, Joe Traeger, a heating company owner in Oregon, and Jerry Whitefield, who worked as an engineer in Boeing aviation in Washington. These wood stoves that were being created by them looked a lot like the traditional wood stoves you are probably familiar with, but they were run on electricity and they worked a lot like what we described earlier, with the pellets being moved through the system using an auger into a fire pot that was fueled by a combustion fan and an igniter.
In 1986, the first pellet grill was made by Traeger. He signed a patent for his design which made it exclusively his property for the next 20 years and he continued to hone his craft over that time without any competition. The original designs for the first Traeger pellet grills used what was called an “LMH” temperature controller. It was called “LMH” because he allowed you to adjust the heat between Low, Medium, and High. Each of those different settings was representative of a certain range and fed a specific amount of pellets to the fire pot to achieve those temperatures.
Unfortunately, this early system was pretty unsophisticated and didn’t have any means for adjusting the number of pellets it used to regulate the temperature based on any factors other than the setting that the user set, so they required a lot more tending and management by the user.
Today, this type of controller is called a non-PID controller because PID controllers are much more sophisticated and common, so much so that they are likely what you are familiar with working with and most users have probably never seen an LMH controller except on the cheapest of pellet grills.
Of all of the pellet grills, the Traeger Pro 575 is the most consistent and versatile. It has decently accurate temperature controls and comes with a lot of features that make it very convenient and easy to use so even novice smokers and grillers should have a smooth grilling experience and can take their time learning the ins and outs of smoking without having to worry about producing something inedible while they’re still learning. I loved working with this grill and I’m fully convinced that anyone else will be too. On a tight budget? Check out our favorite pellet grills under $500.