The industry has brought so many new high end pellet grills and smokers to the market which made it somewhat challenging picking the best pellet grill of the year. Most of these pellet smokers are quite expensive and not for your average backyard enthusiast. If you’re looking for something economical, go check out our other articles here.
For 2023, we have to give the top pellet grill award to the Camp Chef Apex. Camp Chef launched the grill mid year and brought some amazing feature sets that no other pellet grill company has. They essentially integrated a quality gas grill setup into a high end pellet grill chassis.
The Apex is not a Camp Chef Woodwind, so do not try comparing these two pellet grills. Camp Chef completely started from the ground up with the Apex and made big changes such as: insulated cook box walls, revamped smoke flow damper, temp probe storage, easy access grease tray and ash clean out. Very nice features.
We also included our other favorite pellet grills and gave a shout out to some smaller pellet grill companies doing great things that deserve to be noticed.
Read on to see our top picks and honorable mentions for pellet smokers in 2023.
Table of Contents
Angry BBQ’s Top Picks
|Camp Chef Apex 24 with Gas||CHECK PRICE|
|Recteq RT-700||CHECK PRICE|
|Yoder YS640s Competition||CHECK PRICE|
|Traeger Timberline XL||CHECK PRICE|
|Green Mountain Grills Prime Peak||CHECK PRICE|
|Weber Smokefire ELX6||CHECK PRICE|
|Memphis Grills Elite||CHECK PRICE|
Our Top Pellet Grills and Smokers
1. Camp Chef Apex 24 with Gas Kit Review – Top Pick
At the start of June 2022, Camp Chef announced their take on how to get the perfect sear on a pellet grill with the launch of the Apex series of pellet grills. We’ve been a fan of the Camp Chef pellet grills here at Angry BBQ, including their SG 24 WiFi model, but Camp Chef knocked it out of the park with the Apex. That’s why we named it the top of even the best pellet smokers.
The biggest innovation on the Apex series is the addition of gas burners on the models including the gas kit. The 24″ Apex has four gas burners capable of 36,000 BTUs per hour while the 36″ has six burners putting out 54,000 BTUs. Both grills also have Camp Chef’s Sidekick burner that produces 28,000 BTUs.
However, Camp Chef did not simply add burners to one of their Woodwind or SG models. They took the time to focus on how the Apex series performs as a smoker as well as a grill. They added insulation and gaskets to the lid to improve heat retention. The smoke stack is gone, replaced by rear ventilation to help improve smoke and heat circulation throughout the cook chamber.
If you’re a fan of long smoking sessions involving a brisket or multiple pork butts, the Apex from Camp Chef can handle that. It boasts a 30-lb pellet hopper for plenty of fuel as well as four included temperature probes (and a storage drawer!) to make sure whatever you’re smoking reaches the proper internal temperature.
The 24″ model boasts a total of 811 square inches of cooking space with 429 sq in for the primary cooking area and a 382 sq in warming rack. The 36″ Apex has a total of 1,236 sq in split between a 663 sq in main cooking area and 573 sq in warming rack.
The Apex series is also designed to be easy to clean with a grease tray removable from the front of the grill without having to pull the grill grates out. It also addresses one of the other pressing issues of pellet grills, ash cleanout. Apex grills have a removable cup on the bottom where the ash from burning pellets collects for easy dumping.
If you’re big into technology when it comes to smoking and grilling, the Apex series has you covered. It has a full-color digital display and WiFi connectivity to the Camp Chef app on your smartphone.
These grills come on four casters for easy movement while two of the casters are locking to help ensure the grill doesn’t roll away while using. Each grill also has a bottom shelf for storage options.
If you want a deeper dive into the features of the new Apex series, check out our quick-take review.
What We Like…
- Combination of low-and-slow smoking of a pellet grill with high-heat searing of a gas grills in one cooking chamber
- Focus on making cleanup as easy as possible
- Huge 30 lbs. hopper for long smoking sessions
- Digital controller with WiFi connectivity and monitoring of four included meat probes
- Insulated walls reduce pellet consumption
What Makes Us Angry…
- Lack of dedicated prep area. You can use the top of the hopper or closed Sidekick though.
2. Recteq RT-700 Pellet Grill Review: Runner Up
It didn’t make the top spot in our list of the best pellet grills, but you can’t ignore the quality of this model. Recteq’s flagship pellet grill, the RT-700, is made from stainless steel both inside and out, showcasing a commitment to making the pellet grill stand the test of time. All of the components, from the powder-coated lid to the fire pot are made from that stainless steel to help extend its usable life. The company also made the grill look striking with the black powder-coating and the stainless steel bull’s horns for a lid handle.
The RT-700 boasts a massive 40lb hopper to fuel 700 square inches of cooking space. You can even purchase a 350 sq in warming rack to boost the total cooking space over 1,000 sq in. and have even more control over food temperature. You’re ensured of good heat and smoke control across that cooking space because of the grill’s PID controller and two included meat temperature probes.
While pellet grills focus heavily on smoking, Recteq made sure the RT-700 had plenty of temperature control and flexibility so users could count on it as both a smoker and a grill. The RT-700 is named as such because it has 700 sq in of cooking space, but it also can reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit. Not many pellet grills can get that hot which makes the RT-700 a standout performer on the market.
If you like getting your long smoking sessions started the night before you’re serving, Recteq thought of you. It has automatic lights that illuminate the cooking surface so you can clearly see what’s happening on the grill grates.
One of the issues that gives users pause is the app. The RT-700 has WiFi connectivity and connects to Recteq’s app available on both the Apple App store and the Google Play store.
However, users have reported issues and complaints with the app’s usability. Some have experienced issues with the app pushing notifications about when the included temperature meat probe is reaching its target temperature. Other users have expressed their dislike of the temperature readout graphs on the app.
The RT-700 does not have any prep shelves, but you can use the top of the controller to set small items down. It does have a bottom shelf where you can store your pellets and unused tools.
It sits on two larger wheels and two locking casters. At over 200 pounds, the RT-700 can be a bit tough to maneuver around vs other grills that sit on four casters.
What We Like…
- Massive 40lb pellet hopper capacity
- Grill lighting for use at night/on dark days
- Large cooking space, plenty for feeding family and friends
- Stainless steel construction is durable
- Six-year warranty
What Make Us Angry…
- App lacks high-end functionality and some users report experiencing problems with push notifications and occasional temperature update issues.
- No dedicated prep area.
- Not the most maneuverable due to two large in-line wheels vs grills that sit on four casters.
3. Yoder YS640s Competition: Best Competition Pellet Grill
Yoder has always been synonymous with quality and the YS640S is testament to that fact. Built out of high-quality stainless steel and constructed in the USA (the only grill on this list made in the USA), the grill is made with great attention to detail and is incredibly easy to use, yielding delicious results every time.
The confidence Yoder has with this grill is established by the generous ten-year warranty they provide on the grill body. The YS640S weighs in at 418lbs, so you know that it is built with heavy steel. The Traeger Timberline in comparison weighs 213lbs.
When Yoder decided to make a pellet grill, they did something different, they tried their best to emulate an Offset smoker by locating the firepot on the far side of their grill. Most other pellet grill manufacturers locate their firepot in the center of the grill which makes the center the hotspot.
In a true offset, the firebox is located on the side of the cook box and the heat flows through the cook box and out the stack. So the heat and smoke in a Yoder, move more similarily to an Offset. Offsets still create the best smoked brisket, ribs and pork butts, but the Yoder YS640s yields the best results from a pellet grill.
The YS640S offers a whopping 1,070 square inches of cooking space, separated into two racks, with 640 sq. inches on the main bottom rack and 430 sq. inches on the top rack. The pellet hopper can fit in 20 lbs of pellets and the grill has an operating temperature range of 150 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit, making it an incredibly versatile machine.
One of the main standout features of the YS640S is the Variable Displacement Damper, which can be manually operated from outside the unit and can be used to create two separate temperature zones inside the grill. The damper can be moved to one side to concentrate heat on a single side of the grill, or moved to the other size to keep the heat consistent all over. The heat deflector plate also works to keep the heat consistent, and the quality hood has an intelligently placed counterweight.
The smokestack is also adjustable, allowing for the right amount of airflow over the pellets for clear blue smoke. Cleanup is easy and ample storage is provided with the grill, which also comes with two sturdy wheels and two locking casters. The stay-cool handles really help with handling.
The standout feature of the YS640S would be the advanced controller. The chip and code controllers used by Yoder are an improvement upon the standard PID controller in many ways. The ACS or Adaptive Control System adapts to the environment and specific user actions to best maintain internal temperature and smoke levels. This means that when you put meat on the grill or open the hood, the controller makes decisions that still keep the heat consistent. The ceramic igniter also works flawlessly every time.
On top of all this, the grill also has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With the companion mobile app, you can connect with the grill and receive real-time feedback on the grill temperature, readings from your meat probes, and the pellet level in the hopper. You can also control every aspect of the grill from the app, removing the need to remain tethered to the grill for the cooking process. Moreover, there is a wealth of accessories to choose from directly from the manufacturer.
What We Like…
- The best construction and materials on the market.
- The closest resemblance to an Offset Smoker on the market.
- Very consistent internal temperature.
- 10-year warranty
What Makes Us Angry…
- Will make you want to quit your day job and start a BBQ business.
4. Traeger Timberline XL Review: Best High End
If you have the money to drop on a pellet smoker, the Traeger Timberline XL is easily our pick for best pellet grill in the high-end category.
Despite sharing the same name, the new Traeger Timberline grills that came out in April of 2022 share nothing in common with the Gen 1 Timberlines. The new Timberline pellet smokers are designed to be the centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen, complete with an industry-first outdoor-rated induction cook top. Traeger even has a kit for converting the grill from casters to leveling feet in order for the grill to be integrated fully into an outdoor kitchen.
The Timberlines also endeavored to address a common complaint of Traeger pellet grills, the lack of prep area. The grill comes with the P.A.L. system, or “Pop And Lock,” for adding extra storage options like a folding front shelf or a condiment basket. You can get tool hooks so you can hang your spatula or tongs wherever is most convenient for you. Traeger also has a holder for rolls of butcher paper to wrap your brisket or pork butt.
The induction cook top serves a number of uses, but it helps address pellet grills’ struggles with proper searing. As long as you have cookware that is magnetic, you can quickly and easily heat food up or even get a perfect sear on a thick steak that you smoked on the pellet side. You can even heat up your favorite barbecue sauce for glazing smoked pork or chicken. Just make sure your cookware is flat-bottomed. A wok will not work properly with an induction cooktop.
Traeger also upgraded the controller on their pellet smokers, giving users a full-color touchscreen interface. It pairs with the two included MEATER+ wireless temperature probes as well as with Traeger’s WiFire app for remote monitoring and control.
The Timberline pellet grills also come with some new features to Traeger for easy cleaning. Traeger made ash and grease cleaning a lot easier with a single catch bucket under the center of the grill that collects both waste byproducts. This will cut down on how many times you have to remove all the interior parts of the grill to vacuum out the burn pot.
Traeger also made it easier to empty the pellet hopper for switching out flavors or storage purposes. The shelves underneath the hopper on this pellet smoker can be removed so you can slide the included pellet bucket in and empty out the hopper. The included bucket is perfect for keeping pellets dry.
There are two pellet grill models: the Timberline and the Timberline XL. The Timberline has 880 square inches of cooking space while the Timberline XL has 1,320 square inches of cooking space. Consider investing in the XL if you want plenty of space for direct flame grilling and indirect heat.
For a deeper dive into the updated Timberline series, check out our quick-take review here.
What We Like…
- The induction cooktop adds versatility that few pellet grills can match
- The P.A.L. system adds additional storage that other Traeger grills lack
- The included MEATER+ meat probe allows for wireless monitoring which means no more tangling wires
- Integrated grease and ash bucket makes cleanup easier
- Can be the centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen
- 10 year Warranty on new Timberline
What Makes Us Angry…
- Price. Traeger is charging dearly for this grill.
5. Green Mountain Grills Prim Peak SS Review: Honorable Mention
It may not have won the spot for best pellet smoker, but Green Mountain Grills continues to develop pellet grills that focus on high-end features without completely breaking the bank. The Prime Peak SS is their top-of-the-line pellet smoker model packed full of features, including WiFi connectivity, windows in both the pellet hopper and main lid, side shelf and folding front shelf, and interior grill lighting.
Green Mountain Grills made the Prime Peak SS out of steel, both the body and interior components, for longevity and style. It packs a respectable 658 square inches of cooking space all on the main cooking grate. This pellet smoker also has attachments for an optional rotisserie kit to add even further cooking functionality. The cooking chamber is 13.5″ from the grill grate to the top of the lid, allowing plenty of room for big cuts of meat or carving out space for indirect heat.
The window in the lid allows you to keep watch on whatever you are smoking, grilling, or otherwise cooking without opening the lid of the pellet grill. This allows for you to watch as that bark forms without losing heat or smoke.
The Prime Peak SS has an 18lb pellet hopper capacity, smaller than a number of the pellet grills on the list but still plenty large enough for most smoking sessions. The large pellet hopper window allows you to keep an eye on the amount of pellets so you can refill as necessary without worrying about running out while smoking.
GMG designed the Prime Peak SS with an operating internal temperature range of 150-550 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re looking for even higher temperatures to cook a pizza or sear a steak, GMG has a pizza oven attachment that fits right onto the pellet smoker’s firepot. Its design allows the pizza oven to reach temperatures around 900 degrees to give a true wood-fired pizza experience.
Storage and work surface was a big priority for GMG when it came to the Prime Peak SS. It has the full-length folding front shelf, a side shelf with four tool hooks, and a bottom shelf for storing tools and pellets when not in use.
The Prime Peak SS connects to the GMG app via WiFi. The app allows users to control and monitor their cooks. It also has a feature called Server Mode, allowing you to access your pellet grill even when you aren’t home on the same WiFi network as your grill.
For pitmasters who live in a colder climate, the pellet grill comes with an ambient temperature sensor and system called Sense-Mate. It will signal the grill to have the pellet feed move faster to the firepot to give it the necessary boost for startup.
What We Like…
- The big cooking chamber allows for big cuts of meat without concern of running into the lid
- Windows in the pellet hopper and the main lid give you plenty of observational options without opening any part of the grill
- WiFi connectivity and Server Mode means plenty of control and monitoring from your phone
- Dump door on pellet hopper makes for easy switches and cleaning
What Makes Us Angry…
- Smaller Pellet Hopper capacity
6. Weber SmokeFire Sear+ ELX6 Review: Most Versatile
For a company with as much history, name recognition, and quality in the grilling space as Weber, to say its initial foray into the pellet grill industry did not go well was an understatement. However, to its credit, Weber did not give up and has spent the last couple of years refining the SmokeFire pellet grill. The Generation 2 version of the grills addressed the majority of the debut grill’s issues and was generally well-received.
Well, to kick off 2023, the company announced the SmokeFire Sear+ including the ELX6. This pellet grill took the success of the Gen 2 SmokeFire and boosted the temperature range while including Weber’s new CRAFTED cooking grate system to give users the ability to truly sear on a pellet grill.
Whether you want to smoke brisket or sear steaks, the SmokeFire Sear+ ELX6 can do that with a range of 200°-600°F. Throw in the CRAFTED dual-sided sear grate and you can get beautiful, deep sear marks on your burgers or steaks.
If you are wanting to smoke some delicious barbecue, Weber’s got you there, too. The grill has 1,156 sq in of cooking space spread between two large grates. You’ll be able to smoke enough meat for a gathering or just your family, whatever you need. If you want an extra boost of smoke flavor, the ELX6 also has SmokeBoost. This feature is best used at the very beginning of your smoking session to add as much smoke flavor for the first hour or two. The pellets burn at temperatures between 165°-200°F so more smoke is released for flavor. However, Weber does state that you need to then set your grill to the normal temperature for the rest of the cooking session.
The ELX6 is not the heaviest pellet grill on the list, clocking in at 166 pounds. It rides on four casters, two of which are locking, so you can maneuver the grill around easily then lock it in place for cooking or storage. The grill even has hooks for the cooking grates when you want to use the sear grates or remove the upper cooking grate.
The ELX6 has a slide-out compartment where the grease tray is housed so you don’t have to worry about accidentally bumping a grease bucket and spilling grease all over your cooking area. Two side shelves give you plenty of prep space while each boast two tool hooks for hanging your tools within easy reach. The grill also boasts lights in the cooking chamber and around the control knob for when you need extra light.
The ELX6’s controller is WiFi connected so you can monitor your grill and make adjustments through the WEBER CONNECT app. The controller also boasts four probe ports and comes with two so you can monitor multiple cuts of meat at once.
What We Like…..
- Large cooking space of 1,156 sq in spread across two grates
- The combination of 600°F top-end heat and Weber CRAFTED double-sided sear grate allows you to actual grill and sear
- Two side tables and tool hooks gives you plenty of work and storage space
- Built-in hanging hooks for when you need to swap out grates or remove the top warming rack
- Cooking chamber and controller lighting for those early morning or late night cooking sessions
What Makes Us Angry…..
- Slightly more expensive than some other brands with similar feature sets
7. Memphis Grills Elite Review: Most Expensive Pellet Grill
There’s no question that the Memphis Grill Elite is a visually striking pellet grill. The all-stainless steel construction shines while also helping extend the life of the grill. The two side shelves hide the dual-bin pellet hopper construction with the shelves sliding out of the way. The controller is a touchscreen panel mounted to the side of the cooking chamber and looks like a small tablet.
However, this grill isn’t only about the looks. As noted, the pellet grill has two separate hoppers, one on either side of the grill covered by a sliding shelf. If you’re asking yourself how that works, this pellet grill features two augers that feed from each bin to ensure you can get the perfect blend of pellets without having to mix them yourself.
Plus you have two prep spaces built into the grill, which is always handy. Each hopper and shelf also has four tool hooks in the front so you don’t have to worry about finding a spot to hang your tongs, spatula, or grill brush.
The grill comes stock with 862 sq in of cooking space between the main grill grate and a smaller warming rack. You can add on with optional grates that increase the total cooking space to 1,275 sq in if you really want to cook for a lot of people.
Pellet grills tend to focus on the smoking aspect of cooking, but Memphis Grills did ensure that you can use the Elite pellet grill to, well, grill. It has an insert that allows for direct flame cooking so you can reverse sear. The grill has a temperature range of 180°-700°F, plenty of heat for steaks while being able to go low-and-slow on your brisket or pork butt.
Memphis Grills boasts that the Elite’s IntelliBurn Technology makes the Elite the most efficient pellet grill on the market when using it for grilling or baking applications. Memphis Grills says that the Elite only burns 1.3 pounds of pellets an hour when running at 350°F, ensuring that you’ll be able to grill or bake for hours without worrying about the amount of pellets in the hoppers. The Elite also has WiFi connectivity for remote monitoring of the grill temperature and food temperature thanks to the included meat probe.
Memphis Grills built the Elite to be efficient and last with its double-walled heavy-duty stainless steel construction. The grill weighs in at 283 pounds but rides on four locking casters so you can still move it when needed while ensuring it doesn’t roll over anyone’s toes or off the deck accidentally.
What We Like…..
- Searing ability due to direct flame access
- Large 24-pound pellet hopper split into two bins for mixing and matching pellet flavors
- 862 sq in of cooking space is plenty for almost every cook
- WiFi controlled
- Stainless steel construction
- Seven-year limited warranty
What Makes Us Angry…..
- One of the most expensive pellet grills on the market while lacking some of the high-end features of other less-expensive grills
Other Pellet Grills Worth Mentioning
These grills are not as commercially known as the pellet smokers above. They are all manufactured in the USA by smaller grill companies. These grill companies are doing some great things and deserve to be noticed. Here are a couple of our favorite pellet smokers from small company grill manufacturers.
1. MAK Grills Two-Star General Pellet Grill Review
The MAK Grills Two-Star General pellet grill is a made-to-order stainless steel pellet grill designed to smoke low and slow as well as hit higher temperatures than most pellet grills. MAK Grills uses their proprietary FlameZone system to focus higher heat across the entire grilling surface.
The Two-Star General can cook at temperatures between 170 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit across a cooking surface of 429 sq in. It also has a built-in warming and smoker box allowing you to cold smoke cheese and other foods without additional equipment, The Two-Star General has 20lb of pellet hopper capacity, plenty for whatever you put on its cooking surface.
Rather than individual legs, the Two-Star General has two leg panels to help with assembly time. The panels sit on four locking casters for increased mobility when you want to wheel your pellet smoker around while keeping it still when you’re using or storing the grill.
The pellet hopper lid and smoker box double as work space while the smoker box has four tool hooks to keep your spatula and tongs close at hand.
The pellet grill’s control panel has ports for three K-style meat thermometers that provide quick and accurate temperature readings on whatever is inside the grill. This pellet smoker comes with two probes ready to go.
2. Myron Mixon BARQ-1700 Pellet Grill
Myron Mixon is known as the winningest man in competition barbecue and is a five-time world champion. He knows what it takes to produce high-quality barbecue over and over again. So he took that knowledge and turned it towards making fantastic smokers, including the BARQ series of pellet smokers.
The BARQ-1700 uses four cooking racks stacked on top of each other to create 1,588 sq in of cooking surface. The pellet smoker has a 20lb hopper capacity, plenty to fuel long smoking sessions with the cooking chamber packed full. It has a front and side shelf for workspace as well as bottom shelf for storage purposes.
Mixon’s pellet grill is made out of stainless steel on the exterior while the cooking racks are nickel-chrome. The walls of the grill are double-walled for ideal heat retention and insulation. It sits on only two wheels which are big enough to roll the grill around, but this pellet smoker is meant to stay in one place.
The cooking process is controlled by a PID controller to keep the temperatures steady. It has WiFi connectivity for remote monitoring and control as well.
3. Lone Star Grillz Pellet Smoker Review
Lone Star Grillz’s pellet smoker is a beast of a smoker, sitting on industrial-grade 5″ wheels with two locking casters. The body is made from stainless steel and even comes with a lifetime warranty on the cooking chamber and steel structural parts. It also has a steel front shelf for prep work. The lid was designed to seal in the smoke and heat with flanges and gaskets the entire way around.
The Lone Star Grillz has 1062 sq in of cooking space on the 36″ model between the two cooking grates fueled by 40lb of pellet hopper capacity. It has a range of 160-450 degrees Fahrenheit with the ability to reach 700 degrees Fahrenheit at the bottom grate due to direct heat. This pellet smoker has a sliding heat deflector allowing you to expose the fire pot for grilling.
Despite the 40lb pellet hopper capacity, it still has a dump out feature on the hopper to switch out flavors or for storing pellets in a dry place.
Lone Star Grillz made cleanup easy by making the burn pot accessible from the exterior of the pellet smoker. That allows you to remove the pot and clean out any built-up ash without having to remove all the internal components to reach the bottom of the grill.
4. Broil King Regal 500 Pro Pellet Grill
Broil King might not have the same name recognition as some of the other companies on this list, but it has certainly found a good niche in the outdoor cooking industry with some great gas grill options. The Regal Pellet 500 Pro aims to do the same in the pellet grill market.
This pellet grill boasts a total cooking space of 865 sq in, 625 of that on the main cooking grid. All the cooking surfaces are made from solid stainless steel to help stand up to the rigors of smoking and grilling for years. What sets the Regal Pellet 500 Pro apart from a lot of pellet grills is the included rotisserie kit. You can hook up the kit and cook chickens or large roasts while still enjoying the smoke flavor from the pellet grill.
The 22-pound hopper offers a good amount of fuel for whatever you want to cook, whether you’re smoking pork butts or grilling burgers. The grill offers a range from 200°-600°F so you can do just about whatever you want on the grill. The controller has WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity so you can monitor your cooking session from the Broil King Pellet Grilling App. The grill also comes with two probes to help with that monitoring.
The Regal Pellet 500 Pro also boasts a stainless steel side shelf and a folding front shelf so you can prep your meals or serve right at the grill.
For cleanup purposes, the grill has a slide-out grease tray as well as an ash cleanout system to help make routine cleanup easier than having to remove all the inner workings like some grills.
What We Like…..
What Makes Us Angry…..
How To Choose The Best Pellet Smoker
What I look for in a good pellet grill and smoker comes down to a couple key items. Listed below are the items that are most important to me and if the pellet grill can achieve most of this list, then we have a great pellet grill.
- Build Quality and Materials Used
- Consistent Temperature Management
- Temperature Ranges
- Technology and Features
- Track Record
We will go over these topics in more detail and explain what to look out for in each category for the pellet smoker that’s best suited to your needs.
Pellet Grill Build Quality and Materials
Build quality and materials are probably the most important items that I look for in pellet grills. What gauge of steel was used to fabricate the pellet smoker? How good are the weld joints? What fire box and ignition system are they using? Paint finish quality? Here are the key components to look at when buying a pellet grill.
If the pellet grill was made out of a thin gauge steel, you will feel a cheapness to the grill instantly. Thin steel creates a couple problems for pellet smokers.
- The grill will not hold consistent temperatures very well.
- Pellet consumption will be higher.
- Life expectancy of the cook box will be lower if thin gauge steel is used. These can burn out over time.
Pellet Drive Auger
The pellets are moved through the internals of your pellet smoker 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. Several pellet grill manufacturers have moved to a DC driven auger which has proven to be more reliable. Ex. Traeger
Precision Temperature Control
The key to a good wood pellet grill is in the temperature controls. The better the temperature controls are, the more consistent your grilling will be. You can get pellet smokers 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.
It’s such a basic specification to look at with a pellet grill, but hopper capacity needs to be considered. I believe any respectable pellet grill should have a hopper capacity of 20 pounds of wood pellets as a minimum.
The larger the wood pellet grill, the larger the hopper capacity it should have. Large pellet grills have a much higher burn rate than smaller pellet grills. Add some wind, colder temperatures, and there is a chance you’ll run out of wood pellets before your long cook brisket or pork butt is done.
Now for some people, portability is of great importance. You need to really decide how you plan to use the grill. If it’s going to sit on your deck or patio, do you really need portability? If you plan to do some BBQ competition, then you might want to consider a grill that includes a competition cart that has extra tie downs for trailer mobility (like the Yoder above).
Pellet grill companies are now offering small portable pellet grills that can be carried in one hand and used on picnic tables in campgrounds. We didn’t cover these in this article, but we did review the best portable pellet grill best portable pellet grill and others here.
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 wood pellet 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. Yoder offers a ceramic igniter that has proven very fast and instant pellet ignition.
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.
Location of the firebox is important to me. Most locate the fire pot in the middle of the cook chamber which is not similar to an offset smoker where the fire box is located on the far side. Yoder locates their fire box on the far side of the cook chamber.
Cooking Chamber / Barrel / Box
The cook box is where the magic happens in your pellet grill. The key items you want to consider here is steel thickness for temp consistency. Is the cook box insulated? Traeger offers insulated cook boxes in their Ironwood and Timberline models. Yoder builds with such heavy steel, that they do not offer insulated cook boxes. Most grill manufacturers offer an insulated exterior blanket to cover the grill when being used in cold temperatures.
Space in the cook box is also important. If you cannot fit a packer brisket in the cook box, why even consider the grill?
New Technology and Features for Pellet Grills
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.
Built in Meat Probe
A lot of pellet grills are now implementing internal meat probes for checking the temperature of your meats versus the temperature of the grill. Using a meat probe 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 Enabled Pellet Grills
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 Enabled Pellet Grills
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.
I find it surprising how different the warranty options are from each manufacturer. Some are very short and others surprisingly long but you have to read the fine print. Some will brag a long warranty but it is only on very specific parts of the grill.
Pellet grill Warranty Comparison
|Manufacturer||Years Of Warranty||What Is Included|
|Traeger||10 years||Only for New Timberline. Defects from materials and workmanship under normal use.|
|Yoder||10 years, 3 years, 1 year||10 years on cooker body, 3 years on control system, 1 year on igniter.|
|Camp Chef||3 years||Defects from materials, and workmanship under normal use. Excluding paint and finish.|
|Louisiana Grills||5 years||Defects from materials and workmanship under normal use.|
|Z Grills||3 years||Defects from materials, and workmanship under normal use. Excluding paint/finish, firepot and cover.|
|Green Mountain Grills||3 years||Defects in workmanship and materials, excluding cosmetic elements like paint and finish.|
|Recteq||6 years||Limited warranty. Against defects in material and workmanship under normal operating conditions.|
|Broil King||5 years||Limited warranty. 5 years on cook box and stainless grates. 3 years on remainder.|
|Weber||5 years||Limited warranty. 5 years on cook box and all components except for cooking grates, pellet slide, burn pot, heat baffle, pellet grate, and controller bezel are 3 years.|
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 wood 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.
Quality of Wood Pellets Effects Pellet grill Performance
Hardwood Pellets as a Fuel
The fuel source used for a pellet grill is what gives it its name. A wood pellet grill uses wood as its 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.
Wood Pellet Flavor
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 in a wood pellet grill 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 Wood Pellets
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.
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 pellet 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 wood pellet 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.
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 pellet smkers 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.
Another complaint of pellet grills is the lack of smoke flavor they provide when compared to a true offset smoker. Though Camp Chef has gotten creative in this area with their new Woodwind Pro. The way pellet grills burn their fuel does not produce the same amount of smoke over the food, plus they use electric fans to manage cook temps which makes the smoke escape the chamber at a faster rate then an offset.
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 wood pellet 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 wood pellet 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.
Of all of the pellet grills, the Camp Chef Apex lineup is the most versatile pellet grill and smoker on the market today. The Apex finally brings high temp searing to the pellet grill market and also brings high end features such as insulated cook box walls, WIFI, and easy ash and grease clean out. They managed to keep the price in line for this pellet smoker and kept it well below Traeger’s premium lines. Now you don’t have to keep that gas grill parked beside a pellet smoker, because the Apex can do both.
Best Pellet Grill FAQs
Is Traeger or Pit Boss better?
Each of these pellet smoker brands has good products. If you’re looking for a pellet grill with a larger cooking surface, you may prefer Pit Boss over Traeger pellet smokers. We have a pellet grill model from Traeger as our top pick if you’re getting a high-end pellet grill, but you don’t necessarily need to shell out big bucks for a product you’ll love.
Are pellet grills worth it?
That depends on what you want to use your pellet grill and smoker for. In general, a pellet grill and smoker can do a lot. It’s a versatile tool. But if you plan on cold-smoking anything, most pellet grills can’t do low enough temperature control for the best results. Hot smoking isn’t a problem, but they can’t achieve a subtle smoke flavor that comes with temperatures below 90 degrees F. There’s also a very wide range of prices. You don’t have to buy the Weber Smokefire Ex4 Wood Fired Pellet Grill, which clocks in over $1,000, to have a pellet grill and smoker you’ll be happy with.
What company makes the best pellet grill?
That depends slightly on your needs, but based on our extensive testing, we believe the Camp Chef Apex 24 with gas is the best pellet grill overall. The right pellet smoker for you, though, may be the best portable pellet grill because you want to bring it along or a pellet grill and smoker set up for competition if you’re in that circuit.
Which is better pellet or wood smoker?
A wood pellet grill is going to be a better choice for most people than a smoker that uses wood chunks or logs. Most pellet smokers will be easier to start and more efficient, and have better temperature control. The better your heat control, the more consistently you can maintain your desired cooking temperature, which will get you the best finished product for your efforts.