Earlier in 2022, Z Grills was kind enough to send me the Pioneer 450B wood pellet grill to review for Angry BBQ. While most of my experience smoking meat is with offsets and charcoal smokers, I am gaining more experience with pellet grills, specifically the Z Grills’ 200A Cruiser portable pellet grill. While the Cruiser gave me the basic experience of using a pellet grill, cooking and smoking on a cooking space more than twice the size is a different experience.
I’ll be diving into my experience from putting the 450B pellet grill together to smoking whole chickens and everything in between in this review. I’ll also talk about some of the features, the specifications, and my overall feelings on the Z Grill.
|Z Grills 450B||CHECK PRICE|
|Z Grills 450B Thermal Blanket Bundle||CHECK PRICE|
Table of Contents
A History of Z Grills
While Z Grills has only been producing pellet grills under that name since 2016, the company has been in the game for longer than that. Z Grills was a manufacturer of pellet grills for other well-known companies before moving out on their own.
Z Grills’ product line ranges from the Cruiser portable pellet grill to pellet smokers with over 1,000 square inches of cooking space. Some of the grills have WiFi connectivity while the 600 series of grills offer direct flame access for searing. Angry BBQ’s very own Julie Harris also reviewed the Z Grills 700D3 pellet grill, so check that out for further information on Z Grills’ offerings.
Z Grills Pioneer 450B Overview And Specs
The 450B is one of the smaller full-size pellet grills Z Grills offers. Yet it still handles plenty of food for a family without dominating the backyard. It may be more of an introductory pellet grill, but its PID controller ensures great temperature control throughout the length of the cook. Z Grills ensured that the Pioneer 450B is a bargain, not a bargain-bin pellet grill.
Z Grills 450B Unboxing and Assembly
Putting together the grill was a fairly intensive task. My 11-year-old son and I took the better part of two hours putting it together. The hopper and controller do come already attached to the cooking chamber, but putting the legs on the grill takes time, patience, and elbow grease. Some of the screws for the two left legs are right around the auger area, making it hard to reach and attach properly.
As with the Cruiser portable pellet grill, Z Grills included tools with the Pioneer’s hardware, meaning I didn’t have to hunt through my tools to get the right size wrenches. All the legs came labeled which prevented any issues of trying to figure out why the legs weren’t lining up properly.
Once I had the grill assembled, I followed the initial set-up process to help burn the oils off from the manufacturing process. Do not skip this step! Those oils can affect how your food tastes if you don’t follow the instructions. It takes time, so don’t try to put this grill together and plan on immediately throwing a brisket or a pork butt on it.
Z Grills 450B Specification Table
|Cooking Space||459 sq. inches|
|Grill Grates||Two porcelain-coated steel grates|
|Hopper Capacity||15 lbs|
|Meat Probes||2 Probes|
|PID Temperature Controller||Yes|
|Warranty||Three-year warranty and 30-day return|
While the Pioneer 450B may lack some of the high-end features of more expensive grills, it has a PID controller running the show. So how does it handle low-and-slow smoking?
Even though they are called pellet grills, most people care about how they perform when smoking low and slow. The Z Grills Pioneer 450B delivers in this area with flying colors. While it may not have the largest pellet hopper capacity at 15 lbs, it has a pellet view window so you can keep an eye on the pellet level without having to open the hopper lid.
As a side note, I did encounter an issue with the pellet window once during a longer smoking session. It was partially self-inflicted in that I did not ensure I had enough pellets in the hopper prior to starting the smoking session. However, I had pellets get hung up on the window so it did not look like I was running out of pellets. It’s only happened once, but I did want to share that experience.
Another nice addition to the Pioneer’s pellet hopper is the pellet cleanout system. You can open the rear cleanout on the hopper to switch out pellet flavors without unnecessarily burning through pellets to clear the hopper out.
Cooking Chamber and Space
With over 450 square in of cooking space spread out over two cooking grates, you can smoke plenty of food for friends and family on the Pioneer 450B. The top 128 sq in cooking rack is removable if you are smoking a taller cut of meat, and the main rack is 331 sq in. I smoked two whole spatchcocked chickens on the main rack and could have used the top rack for even more food.
Smoking Performance Continued
The PID controller that Z Grills uses on the Pioneer 450B keeps temperatures consistent, especially at 225-250°F for smoking meat. I saw swings of five degrees most of the time with the occasional 10-degree swing when smoking at the lower temperatures, perfectly fine for smoking a pork butt. It only takes about 10-15 minutes for the grill to reach 225°F for smoking.
For added smoke flavor, you can run the 450B at 180°F or even on the SMOKE setting for extra flavor early on in the smoking session. The grill does a good job of not letting a lot of smoke and heat escape around the lid. While a number of new pellet grills use rear vents to help improve smoke and heat circulation, the 450B still has an old-school smokestack on the right side but it still works well.
|Z Grills 450B||CHECK PRICE|
|Z Grills 450B Thermal Blanket Bundle||CHECK PRICE|
450B Temperature Probe Ports
One of the early complaints about the Pioneer 450B was that while the controller has two probe ports, it did not include any probes. However, at some point, Z Grills heard the complaint. If you look online at the webpage for the 450B and download the PDF of the Owner’s Manual, it shows the version number VN122020. My model that arrived in August of 2022 has an Owner’s Manual with VN042021. My grill also includes two meat probes.
Now the 450B does not have WiFi or Bluetooth capability so you cannot monitor temperatures remotely without utilizing a third-party wireless thermometer like the ThermoWorks Smoke X4.
However, now that you can purchase the 450B with two included meat probes, you can do real-time monitoring at the grill itself. The controller’s digital readout will show you your temperature setting, the cooking chamber’s temperature as measured by the internal temperature probe, and up to two meat probes at the same time.
The biggest issue that the pellet grill industry faces is how to achieve a high-quality sear. Pellet grills at their core are designed for indirect heating. Searing is achieved through high, direct heat. Multiple manufacturers have worked on ways to achieve searing. Z Grills simply relies on heating your pellet grill to high which reaches somewhere around 450°F.
I did not get high-quality sear marks when I attempted with sausage and then burgers. I got the best results near the edges of the grill grates where more of the heat rose up around the grease tray that works as a heat diffuser.
I still was able to grill well enough and get good results with the food, I just was unable to get the same markings on my food that I would get on a charcoal or gas grill.
On the plus side, you can fit a lot of burgers, sausages, or hot dogs on the grill at the same time. Z Grills says you can fit 18 burgers on the grill, and between the two racks, that’s certainly attainable. However, I would only stick to cooking burgers or hot dogs on the 450B, not something where I want high-quality sear marks like a steak. I would stick with a gas or charcoal grill for steaks.
Overall Fit And Finish
Z Grills built the Pioneer 450B with a powder-coated steel exterior in black, and it looks sharp. It sits on two casters and two large wheels, perfect for easily moving around my cooking area without slipping and sliding away. While the powder-coated steel will hold up to inclement weather for a time, you should always use the included rain cover if you store your grill outside.
The grill grates are porcelain-coated stainless steel which is easily cleaned. You do need to remove the grates, the grease tray, and the heat baffle in order to clean out the bottom of the grill. You should use some type of shop vacuum regularly to get out the ash buildup, every one to three cooking sessions.
To help make cleanup better, the most recommended tip (or hack, if you prefer) is to wrap your grease tray in aluminum foil. Removing used foil and replacing it can be a lot easier than having to clean the large grease tray after every couple of uses. The grease bucket hangs off a permanent spout on the right side of the grill and is plenty large.
The controller has a nice bright screen that is easy to read regardless of how bright it is outside. The temperature selection dial is easy to use and has a good amount of texture for gripping it. It still increases the temperature by 25°F so you may not have the high degree of control that some high-end pellet grills have, but for the price point, this is a great grill.
The one drawback to the design of the Pioneer 450B is that the only prep or work surface is the hopper lid. It does not come with any work shelves nor does it have any under-body storage. You will need to have some sort of work surface if you’re planning on doing your preparations outside.
- 15-pound hopper – The hopper is plenty large for most low-and-slow barbecue sessions and it has a window to help keep an eye on the pellet level. It also has a cleanout door for making pellet flavor switches easily.
- PID controller – The real-time internal temperature monitoring of the cooking chamber allows the controller to keep big temperature swings almost completely nonexistent.
- Removable top cooking rack – The top cooking rack can be used to maximize your cooking space or be easily removed if you want to cook taller cuts of meat.
While putting the Pioneer 450B together may have taken some time and elbow grease, I’ve loved smoking food on it. I did have one bit of an issue when initially getting started. The grill only works in one of two plugs of my outdoor outlet. The 200A Cruiser I reviewed before worked in both plugs without issue.
Once I got that electrical hiccup sorted, the 450B has been a wonderful experience. In the time I’ve had the grill, I have smoked or cooked:
- Two whole chickens (for the article on how to smoke a whole chicken)
- Chuck roasts (love doing smoked chuck roasts brisket-style)
- Cast-iron skillet brownie
- Chicken leg quarters
- Country-style bone-in ribs
I love how easy the 450B is to use. I start it on the SMOKE setting for 2-5 minutes, then once I see consistent smoke, I close the lid and select my temperature setting and let it preheat. Then I simply put my food on and monitor the temperature and the pellet hopper until it’s done. My family has enjoyed the large amount of food I can cook on it at once. It’s been a hit in my household.
Z Grills Pioneer 450B Warranty And Customer Service
Z Grills has a consistent limited 3-year warranty that covers issues with materials and workmanship. The warranty does not apply to the paint or any damage caused by corrosion.
I did interact with Customer Service due to the weird electrical problem that I had upon initial setup. I did not speak to anyone over the phone due to when I discovered the issue, but I had daily email interactions with Customer Service until I was able to resolve the issue.
Would I Recommend the Z Grills Pioneer 450B Pellet Grill?
What I Like…
- The pellet hopper is plenty large for most smoking sessions. I have only run into issues once and it was mostly self-inflicted. Any time I’ve made sure the pellet hopper is topped off, everything went smoothly.
- Temperature consistency – With the PID controller, I don’t have to watch the cooking chamber’s temperature to ensure it stays where I want it.
- Plenty of cooking space – I can easily feed a family of five and even some guests with the cooking space. I was able to spatchcock two whole chickens and fit them on the main cooking rack without issue.
What Makes Me Angry…
- The top cooking rack – I can use it, but there isn’t much of a gap between the top of the grill opening and the rack. It works fine for burgers and hot dogs but anything taller could be a problem.
- Cleaning – Having to remove all the internal components to effectively clean the ash and firepot is a bit frustrating and time-consuming, but this is common with pellet grills of all brands.
Final Verdict On The Z Grills Pioneer 450B Pellet Grill
Despite a few hiccups with the 450B, I have genuinely enjoyed having this grill in my cooking area. It has plenty of cooking space for my family and is consistent. While it may not have the features of some higher-end pellet grills even in the Z Grills lineup, it is a quality grill at its price point.
If you’re looking for more of an introductory pellet grill or aren’t concerned about having a huge cooking area for consistently hosting parties, the 450B will give you a great experience.