Although pellet smokers already have their own custom-made wood pellets with different flavor and blends, if you choose to moonlight your smoker as a charcoal smoker for some reason (maybe for a different experience or a cooking experiment), you can use it as a regular smoker using wood chips. Under such circumstances, it’s going to be worth learning a bit about the types of wood chips out there.
At the end of the day, the act of heating pellets and generating smoke in any pellet smoker is pretty much the same. Yes, some pellet smokers use thicker metal, have better thermostats, air flow, racks, drip flow, etc. But the ask any professional BBQ cooker who uses a pellet grill, and they’ll tell you that the quality of your smoke really does come down to the pellets themselves. Here’s what one very astute BBQ pro had to say over at the Pellet Smoke Ring:
In 2008 there were only two consumer pellet grill manufacturers. Today there are dozens. The market for these relatively expensive devices is small but growing fast. Not all of these small manufacturers will survive. Forget the warranty and ask "When it breaks will the manufacturer still be in business?" They do not have repair shops near you. When it breaks will they be able to diagnose the problem over the phone? They may be able to figure it out, but then you have to buy the replacement parts and do the repair work yourself. Are you up to the task?
I don’t know why these cookers are referred to as grills. By definition they are not grills. Grilling involves cooking with direct heat and none of the pellet cookers I’ve seen use direct heat; they all use indirect heat. They are more accurately described as smokers/convection ovens. For me what this means is they’re useless for cooking chicken since I like my chicken cooked with crispy/burned skin. I’ve done some experimenting to get the skin to crisp up but always end up with leather skin. They have their place in outdoor cooking but grilling ain’t it. I just bought a Green Mountain and I’m still debating if I’m going to hang on to it. Shame on me for not doing more thorough research first.
Set & Forget - Pellet Smokers are the best solution for people who want to smoke meat for many hours without stress. The set & forget style is a domain of this type of grills. Just set the desired temperature and your smoker will maintain it for the following hours. That way you can leave your meat for even more than a dozen hours at a fixed low temperature without worries.
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In true Yoder fashion the 640 is not a fancy cooker with lots of shiny things, bells and whistles. Don't mistake that for poor craftsmanship, the Yoders are all built to the highest quality standards. They just happen to be more muscle car than sports car. Big, bad ass, built to last American muscle car that will blow the doors off the competition on your back deck or on the comp trail.
While the exterior is certainly whimsical, this smoker is serious business, with a proprietary Digital Pro Controller that maintains even cooking temperature, just like an oven. Dual meat probes let you monitor the pork and the chicken at the same time, and 425 square inches of grilling space means you can easily feed a crowd. The 11.5-pound hopper holds plenty of pellets, so you won’t need to refill for many hours. 

Now comes the best part about pellet smokers: they can conveniently do all these three. Coming with a large cooking space and a lid, the top rated pellet smokers would allow you to keep them open or closed, depending on what results you are looking for. With a dedicated space for putting your charcoal, you can use it as a charcoal grill, smoker or a barbecue. Or you can use it like a kitchen oven using the direct fire from the firepot. Finally, it does what it was made for – pellet smoking. Using small hardwood pellets running over the firepot in a corner, this smoker uses a fan to distribute the heat and smoke throughout the grilling area. This indirect heat ensures that the food is slow-cooked and smoked over long periods of time.
The rest of the product we reviewed offered 6-in-1 features, but this one surprised us with its 8-in-1 cooking versatility. If an efficient smoker that can do multiple things is what you’re after, then there’s no need to look further. This could just be your top choice! The pit Boss Pellet Grill with Flame Broiler cooks almost all kinds of food with 100% genuine wood pellets. Talk about quality and quantity!
To sear a steak you need direct radiant heat. I don't care if you can heat the air to 1000°F, it is still indirect heat and that does not deliver as much energy as direct radiant heat. It's physics, but not hard to understand. In short, heat is not the same as temperature. It feels hotter at 80°F if the sun is shining on you than if it is 80°F in the shade. I discuss the concept in more detail in my article on thermodynamics of cooking.

Traeger invented the original wood-fired grill over 25 years ago in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and continues to lead the industry as the worlds #1 selling wood-fired grill, perfected by decades of mastering the craft of wood-fired cooking. Fueled by 100% pure hardwood pellets and controlled with a digital controller, means from low and slow to hot and fast grilling, you'll fire up deliciously consistent results every single time. The Texas Elite 34 packs a huge punch with 646 sq. in. of grilling area, new wider legs for added stability, and an upgraded Digital Elite Controller. It combines powerful, wood-fired convection performance with simple operation. So invite the neighbors and taste the wood-fired difference.


Despite often being called “pellet grills,” they still cook via indirect heat, as opposed to flame, and are better seen as a smoker. They’re excellent for smoking briskets, chicken and turkey, salmon and other fish, but maybe not for steaks, as you won’t be able to get the same crispy, browned sear they call for, and that you can get with an open-flame grill.
To your question regarding Traeger, I’ve not reviewed their grills of yet. I do know that Traeger as a company is taking steps to up their game some, as quality/reliability of their pellet grills has diminished over the last few years. The new CEO – Jeremy Andrus – they hired comes from the Skull Candy company and brought that headphone company from annual sales from less than $1 million to nearly $300 million. I know also that a few big hitters in the BBQ world are being contacted by Traeger to bring the brand back to its former prominence. You can read more about that here from the site of one of the company’s that now has an ownership interest in Traeger: http://www.trilantic.com/News_Story.aspx?StoryType=1&ID=56.

To solve this problem, several companies have come up with alternative ways to expose food to the flame by allowing you to use the small area directly above the fuel pot. It's still not as good as a charcoal or sear burner, but better than the designs that are strictly indirect. Check out the Memphis Elite, Fast Eddy's by Cookshack PG500, and the Yoder YS640 for this feature. Camp Chef also recently introduced its Woodwind pellet smoker, which has a super-hot gas-fueled sear box attached to the right side.
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Now, I will be very honest with this topic here. While prices vary from model to model and brand to brand, one thing to understand is that the best pellet grills are made with the best materials, made by keeping consumers needs in mind, made with intelligent designs and features that can serve and last a long time. There are pellet grills in the market ranging from extremely cheap and affordable to very expensive, and sometimes even unnecessarily expensive. While there are exceptions in many cases, the blatant truth is that good stuff will cost an extra penny. This is why I will be giving you my pellet grill review, so that you can see and identify your specific needs and buy a grill according to that instead on spending a fortune on low quality or unnecessarily multiple-feature grills.

Most grills feature a primary cooking area (the main grate) and a secondary cooking area (additional racks). In a pellet grill, there’s less difference between the two grilling areas because it mainly cooks by indirect heat, so the temperature is the same throughout the grill. It’s best to pay attention to a pellet grill’s total cooking area because it is the sum of the primary and secondary cooking areas.
Thank you all for a great site and an informative discussion. I am a newbie to smoking and presently have a charcoal grill for when I have more time and a gas grill for a fast meal. Its time to replace my gas grill so I am looking at alternative options. Is a pellet grill overkill, or a timely expedition, if I want to grill a couple steaks or chicken breasts during week nights? I’d also be interested in smoking larger hunks of meat (and ribs!) less often, but am wondering if a pellet grill can cover both? How long does it take a pellet grill to get to temp (e.g. 450°)? With the indirect heat, can you get char marks on your meat? Thanks in advance for the info!
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After about 10-15 hours of cooking, you should remove the burn cup and dump the ash. If the ash builds up it can prevent ignition. Ash also accumulates in the bottom of the unit, but doesn't impact cooking. A vacuum cleaner with a hose makes short work of it. Only a few manufacturers, such as Blaz'n Grill Works and Camp Chef have a slide out combustion cup that makes cleanup much easier, but you still have to get underneath the deflector occasionally and suck out fly ash that has scattered around the lower part of the grill body.
The Rec Tec Bull is built for serious smoking. The stainless steel chamber doesn't have paint that will chip or peel, and the built-in Wi-Fi technology allows you to monitor your cook from anywhere in the house. And with two meat probes you'll have more flexibility when cooking different types of meals. The 40-lb. hopper and interior LED are features the backyard pros will love.
Second, It would be just my wife and me BBQing so I’m looking small. I’m considering the REC TEC Mini Portable Wood Pellet Grill (RT-300) after reading your reviews. Having only ever BBQed with hard wood coals on a Webber, is there going to be a taste fall-off going to the pellet grill as far as charring and/or smoke? I’d hate to spend that kind of money and get bland steaks. Really, steak is all we ever cook outside, though that would probably change with a nice grill.
I'd like to start off by saying I loved the grill when it worked. I haven't had the experiences of a lot that I've read about on here. This rating is solely based on parts replacement. My unit went down the first of October. They had me replace the hot rod, controller, and the power cord. Alas they decide to send me an entire new hot box. Seems totally fair to me. They did a great job upfront in trying to fix it. Then comes the hot box. They were supposedly sending one out ASAP.

On the better models, a temperature probe in the oven area tells the controller what the temperature is and if it is below the target it tells the controller to feed more pellets and air. The best manufacturers, like MAK and Memphis, have designed their own versatile custom controllers that are easy to use and can hold a temperature within 5°F, tighter than many indoor ovens.


The Pit Boss Grills 340 Wood Pellet Grill is a great grill with dial-in digital control and led read-out. Pellets are 100% natural hardwood. This grill has got an automatic start and cool down. It’s heavy duty with 16 gauge steel construction. It’s easy to assemble. It’s a little expensive. However, other grills are more expensive and seeing that I would recommend this to anyone.
Yoder's Variable Displacement Damper is another unique feature: Essentially, it's a metal plate that may be moved from left to right along the lower smoke box. Positioned all the way left, it concentrates heat directly over the fire pot for conductive searing with optional aluminum GrillGrates. Move it back to the right for even heat across the entire smoke box. Yoders are sold primarily through independent retailers.
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