Thank you so much for this very informative post!! My husband and I just bought the Traeger Select Elite Pellet Grill On Cart yesterday as a somewhat impulsive buy on a Costco shopping trip. It was the last day in the road show so I figured we could always return it if we have buyer’s remorse. Having no past experience with pellet smokers/grills, I am doing my due diligence in researching the reputation of this company and comparing to others in the market. The selling point for us with this particular Traeger grill was the ability to convert this to a built in unit by simply taking off the right side shelf. The sales rep at Costco had a picture of one that his parents had built into an attractive brick surround and we liked the option, however, after reading your post and several other sites, I am finding that Traeger may not be the best investment comparatively and with a purchase this expensive, long-term quality is extremely important to us. In staying within the same price range, I am very interested in the Rec-Tec and it’s stainless steel build. My question is, do you know if the Rec-Tec or another pellet grill @ the $1000 price point can be made to look “built-in” and if so, are there any dangers or potential problems with this.
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Wood pellets are small pieces of hardwood made from compressed sawdust from hardwood. Generally, some wood pellets made for room heating and stoves are produced using some form of binding agent like glue and other additives, which would leave a bad taste and flavor when used for cooking. However, for modern-day grilling, wood pellets are made of pure wooden sawdust and sometimes a little bit of vegetable oil to help it burn. So, nowadays, wood pellets are even better than the real wood chips for grilling.
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:

I brought my YS640 to Mexico on a friends recommendation, he was right. I takes the complexity of smoking away but this is not the reason why I got it. We live in south of the Sonoran desert and we are over the 100F most of the year, its almost impossible to stay close to your smoker to watch the fire and temperature. Plus, wood is not as easy to get in the desert. Since I got it, I have been selling food on Sundays, I was sold out since day one. Flawless food time after time. I am planning to get the old time offset cooker to smoke in the winter just for fun. There is really no need for it.


With a large cooking space and the most advanced cooking techniques, this is easily one of our favorite products among our top ten. While it lacks some of the features that the other grills and smokers in this review have (such as an ash and grease cleanup systems), it does deliver fine-dining quality foods, which is the ultimate goal of every grilling enthusiast. For its price, it offers some of the best features you can find in high-end products.
I think a lot of reviewers here don't have enough experience in pellet grilling to recognize how many features are packed into this unit for the money. I'm not going to talk about the usual advantages of pellet grilling in general in this review (i.e., clean flavor, "set and forget", less ash,). Instead, I'm going to focus on what makes this one uniquely better than the other grills in it's class.
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This is best pellet smoker for the money if you are a newbie but want to cook like a pro. It is super easy to use and allows you to set up the whole system and then walk away. It has an electronic autostart ignition, which means you don’t even have to start a fire. Just plug it in, do a little prep work, add some pellets, and it will not be long before you have some delicious food to enjoy with your family or serve to your friends.
This maker of top-quality wood and pellet grillers is the company spearheading the digital revolution in the pellet smoker industry like its digital controller that manages pellet flow to control internal temperature and WiFi that connects your phone to the grill, allowing you to use it to control your grill for good measure. It’s the more gimmicky of the different pellet grill makers.
Ease of Use: At first, the unit appears somewhat mind boggling to use however when you get over it the first occasion when it turns out to be very simple. For one thing, there is a get-together video instructional exercise from the maker’s site for a less demanding get-together. Else, anybody that has used a BBQ before wouldn’t have any type of trouble with the unit.
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I purchased a Traeger Lil Tex 22 yesterday. I “grilled” a whole chicken. It overshot the temperature by nearly a hundred degrees which wasn’t a bad way to crisp up the bird but I was afraid it was going to melt itself down so I shut it down. I was up by 5 this morning to smoke a pork butt for pulled pork sandwiches. My wife’s family is coming over for dinner tonight and time being a concern I fired up the “smoker”. It snowed 12 inches last night so the next hour I was shoveling my walks. Imagine my surprise when I checked on the Traeger and it had shut itself off . The meat was colt to the touch. I read through the instructions to make sure I started it up correctly and I did. I removed the meat and restarted the smoker. It smoked for awhile then quit. The temperature never got above 140. I called Traeger technical support twice and each rep gave me a different answer as to why it wasn’t working. After 3.5 hours I gave up on the Traeger for a more conventional method. I purchased the Traeger for the the set and walk away feature. It let me down!! It is 34 degrees outside today so I will wait until it warms up to try again. Should it fail me again I will sell it for scrap! So far I am not impressed. My wood smoker takes time but it is reliable.
What’s more, it has an LED display with a Digital Elite Controller for temperature control. Judging by its ratings, unlike the other grills on this list, its temperature and quality controls work just fine. This grill also has an electronic auto-start ignition and easy-to-clean grill gates to boot. Its quality control isn’t perfect though, and some faulty units slipped through the cracks.
My propane smoker lived a good life, but after just 18 months it's another rusted out piece of junk that's was unsafe to use. I wanted to replace it with something that would last so I began researching the internet. I was delighted to stumble upon 1) pellet smokers and then 2) the Yoder 640. This is a premium price item that had me wondering if I should spend that much, but I was sold by the online reviews and YouTube video's. ATBBQ had it at my house in less that 5 days and the build quality, ease of use, and the food it helps produces are all second to none. I'm thrilled companies like Yoder can build the best products in the industry right here in America! Its a large investment in cooking, but worth every penny.
First one, had an auger problem... told that this never happens. Returned to Costco, now on 2nd Unit. FIRE HAZARD, fire pot overloaded after temp dropped from 375 to 100 on a four-hour turkey. When I opened the lid to see what was going on it EXPLODED into a fireball and then had flames shooting out from all sides of the grill. There was even smoke and heat felt from the firebox side of the grill and it looked as though the overloaded firepot was burning into the auger line as well. DANGEROUS PRODUCT!!!
Regarding getting a good draft, this is a common misconception for pellet grills. The burn pot on pellet grills receives oxygen via a fan unit. As such, there’s no need for a draft to get a measured burn in the traditional sense. Most pellet grills lack sufficient insulation / gaskets, etc to prevent smoke from leaking out of the body. So, unless you’re going with the Memphis or something that uses oven style insulation, you don’t really need a chimney at all IMHO.
Another pellet smoker from industry leaders Traeger. The Lil Tex Elite is an upscaled Junior Elite, and whilst it’s still a good quality smoker and grill with a powerful burner and excellent heat output, plus all of Traeger’s usual electronic gizmos. There’s just not enough of a difference between this and the Junior Elite, especially not when you consider the increased price tag, which is disappointing.

Editor's Note: If you're looking to upgrade your backyard cooking setup this summer, you're probably in need of a little advice. We're longtime admirers of the folks behind AmazingRibs.com, the site dedicated to unraveling the science of barbecue and grilling. Please welcome back Max Good, the only person in the world whose full-time job is testing, rating, and reviewing grills and smokers. The database he maintains includes over 500 grills and smokers, ranging in price from $30 to $50,000. When it comes to barbecue equipment, nobody knows it better.
Wood pellets are an all natural product. No petroleum products in them, no fillers, chemicals, or binders. They are an excellent source of smoke flavor and compact energy, 8,500 BTU per pound. No hot coals, no flareups. There is also very little ash: 10 pounds of pellets will produce about 1/2 cup of ash. All the rest is converted to energy and combustion gases. I clean out the bottom of the ones I tested after about 10 cooks. At high temps there is very little smoke, at low temps the pellets smolder and produce superb but understated smoke flavors. Click here for more about pellets.
A pellet grill is an outdoor cooker that runs on electricity. It uses wood pellets as fuel to cook as well as smoke and flavor the meats. A pellet grill is a combination appliance of grills, smoker, oven and more. It can be used to sear, smoke, grill, roast and even bake! A pallet grill can be used to cook almost all types of meats and proteins. It also accommodates larger quantity and size than a normal indoor appliance. This is what makes a pellet grill so special, its versatility and convenience of use.
Although I marked price high. I would buy it again, tomorrow. I was a novice. I had never smoked anything when I bought this. It is amazing and if you asked my friends and family I should have opened a bar & grill. It's grills better than any gas grill u can buy. The YS640 only gets better with time you get good at using it. It's the best cooker on earth. If your considering paying over $800 for a cooker. Spend the money... you will not regret it. My cousins have Traegers.. and they smeared by them. One weekend at my cabin one has ordered his the other don't have the money yet. I have used it a minimum of 2 days a week and have already got my money out of it by not ruining meat. The guys at Yoder have a monopoly. No one makes a cooker that could stand up to it. THANK YOU YODER. YOU HAVE MADE SOME GREAT HOLIDAY MEMORIES FOR ME AND MY FAMILY. Remember if your on the borderline don't know if it's worth a little more. By the 12th month of owning it. You will look at your wife or girlfriend and say "I'm so glad I spent a little extra and got that. It's beautiful.
Versus other hardwood pellet grills, Traeger represents a good value whether for a gift or for general use, although if you’re looking for a fully Made in America grill, you’ll want to consider other options. If you decide to go with Traeger, be certain you’ve thought about how much grilling area for food you’ll need and pick an adequate model, as the various Traeger grill price points depend heavily on available grilling area.

Smoking v. Grilling more about the temp you’re cooking at than how it’s heated. Smoking happens below 300F most of the time. The Sawtooth Pellet Grill can get to 550F-600F at the top end so it’s more of a grill at that point that smokes. I’ve grilled burgers and fajitas and other stuff like you would a gas grill. Works great and it’s made in the US!
If the metal is too thick, you will also use a lot of pellets. The walls of a thick-bodied smoker act as a “heat sink”. Heat is taken away from the cooking area and stored in the walls of the cooker. So, it will take a lot of pellets to get the cooking area up to the desired temperature. While thick walls are desirable for some types of cookers, they are not required in pellet smokers.
You want your smoker to retain heat and to maintain a constant temperature. If you purchase something that’s inexpensive, yet made with a thin metal, you’re going to regret it because you’re going to be constantly fighting with the temperature. You could purchase the best smoker pellets, but if you don’t have a high quality smoker, it is all for not.
The Camp Chef SmokePro is probably the best pellet grill on this list by rating and by performance. It has a decently large area for cooking at 19.2 inches by 22 inches plus its smoking or warming rack is also 6 inches by 24 inches in size. This is one of the best pellet smoker for home use because of its combination of quality features that are never superfluous and works as advertised.
Pit Boss wood pellet grills make it easy to prepare and serve the finest in wood-fired gourmet goodness. Using 100% all natural cooking-grade wood barbecue pellets for fuel, no gas, propane or charcoal is needed! turn a simple dial to start the grill, and you can sear a steak, bake pizza or cookies, smoke jerky, ribs or brisket, all with natural flavored wood pellets. With a dynamic range of cooking temperature from 180 degree to 500 DegreeF, you have complete control with the turn of a dial. The digital control board, along with the oven-like meat probe, result in precise cooking control. Fan forced convection cooking seals in meat juices and eliminates the need for a rotisserie. The 340 is the smallest in our pit boss wood pellet grange. But it doesn't hold back. It still offers all the great benefits of a pit boss wood pellet grill, just in a smaller package. This is perfect for a small family that wants that 100% natural wood pellet flavor.
From among these 65 products, we have selected the top class pellet smokers out there shortlisting 18 of the best candidates. Then, we have conducted a secondary research and compared their features against each other to find the best 10. Finally, we have compiled this review list of top 10 best rated pellet smokers considering their features, reviews, ratings, review frequencies and how great they were when we tested them out during BBQ parties.
So what about the question of blends versus 100% pure species pellets?  Should you avoid blends?  Should you only use 100% pure?   That is a web to unweave and depends greatly on what you are cooking as to the correct answer.  Through our testing we found many blends to work very well.  We liked them so much that we incorporated them into what we offer.  Not all blends are created equal though and the amount of hardwood versus flavor wood varies widely across brands.  We also found that some 100% pure pellets such as cherry and apple had harder times reaching higher grilling temperatures and lacked the harder core flavor punch of hickory or mesquite.  Coming from the world of stick burners many new pellet grill owners assume that going 100% cherry or apple is going to work for them since that is what they have grown accustomed to.  At the end of the day, they end up moving to a pellet with a deeper flavor like hickory or mesquite to get the results they are used to.
Overall, I think you would be happy with the smaller smoker / grill. I really like what Green Mountain grills has done with the Davy Crockett model, and that is the unit I have personally. That said,Rec-Tec makes a great product, and some people prefer the cart stand it comes with rather than the fold up legs that Green Mountain grills uses on the Davy Crockett modeling. Either choice would be good for you if you are looking for a smaller unit. I am of course speaking about the mini version of the Rec-Tec. The larger version is excellent as well.
Hey Jim, first – thank you for commenting on this post! As you probably know from reading the contents, pellet smokers are a great choice for set it and “nearly” forget it BBQ. Of course, you’re not going to get the same smoke profile with “pellet poopers” that you are likely getting with your other smokers. That said, the smokers listed here are all going to hold temp very well – even in lower temperature or windy weather. I do see instances where temps and wind effects pellet grills, but solutions including a fireproof blanket over the top of the smoker seem to mitigate things well enough.
What makes this smoker unique, though, is the sear box. It runs on propane, and it gets VERY hot, VERY fast. You can easily sear meats on it, and many use the "reverse sear" method, which means to sear meats AFTER smoking them. Additionally, the sear box can be used as a small propane grill; we use it all the time for things like hot dogs and sausages.
PID controllers: PID controllers are considered by many to be the gold standard of grill controllers. Using complex algorithms, temperatures are accurate to within a few degrees. The pellet feed is constantly adjusted to maintain the correct temperature, and this type of controller can even accommodate programmable meat probes that work in tandem with the controller to lower the temperature when the meat is done. They also feature LCD and one touch buttons.
Main Problem (Product): Main Barrel arrived damaged (bent inward on one end where the open area is located), and the replacement was sent a month and a half later since my purchase. Its an 80 lb. box, with little padding, and all of the components are placed loosely in the barrel. The small tack welds inside for the trip tray arrived broken. (One person struggles with this big heavy box) They would do better by placing more cushion for shipping.
UPDATE 8/27 - This grill is still performing flawlessly. No error messages, maintains temperatures. I have made homeade pizzas and strombolis on a pizza stone and it actually makes them better than in the oven. Its like a restaurant wood fired pizza. I made a pork butt, beef brisket, bacon wrapped scallops....it just simply cooks everything well. Love my Pit Boss !!
Hey Kevin great article. I too am currently looking for a pellet smoker. I’ve narrowed it down between a Yader, Memphis Pro and the Rec Tec. The Green Mountain did not seem very well built. The wheels looked liked the would break on the first roll and the stainless steel door was flimsy and did not have a good seal. I know the Rec Tec has a 6 year warranty. Do you know how long the warranties are on the other two?
The Memphis Pro Wood Fire Pellet Grill is one of the best pellet grills on the market. It combines high-quality construction and engineering with versatile cooking capabilities that will let you "grill" almost anything. Able to reach temperatures out to 650 degrees F. this pellet grill can sear a steak while also being able to hold temperatures down to 180 degrees F. so it can smoke, low and slow, any kind of BBQ. Add to this the convection fans and temperature control precision this wood pellet grill can rival the best indoor ovens. This truly is a grill that can do it all and give you an authentic wood flavor.
Cleaning other types of smokers typically includes scooping ash from the burners and removing burnt remains from the racks. Traeger turns this messy process into a very simple one. The smoker burns pellets so efficiently that there is almost no ash left behind. Since there is no direct flame, the cooking grates will not get sticky and caked with excessive amounts of burnt, juicy meat. In order to clean the racks, all you have to do is brush them quickly and then wipe them with a paper towel.
Something you may not have read in other Pellet grill reviews is that there are two key concerns: flavor and fuel consumption. As previously stated, pellet smokers are not known for producing a strong smoke flavor, no matter what pellets you use. Though, some brands can be more pronounced than others. Hardwood pellets provide longer overall burn times per pound than fruit wood pellets. 1oo percent fruit wood pellets will also be more expensive on average.
There are several types of grills and these are charcoal, gas, wood, electric smokers, open fire grill, and pellet grill. Each of them offers different benefits. In terms of comparison, pellet grill is still superior because it is the combination of all such grills. You can use it to smoke that way charcoal grill does. You enjoy the wood flavor of wood grill using pellets, and it is also electrically and electronically-operated.
If you have an older smoker and need a lot of physical maintenance like changing the hopper and the digital control, then changing those two parts may not help. These two changes may cost you $200 – $250 and with a rusty hopper, you will continuously lose the smoke you produce. This is not safe for your health, so in this situation, you should definitely opt to get a new pellet smoker grill.

I don’t know how many meals I cooked on that thing, but it’s been enough to make me a hero and de facto camp chef among my friends. I seared up a tri tip large enough to feed four hungry kayaking buddies at the Salmon River Festival one year, then covered it with foil and cooked it on indirect heat for one of the best steaks of my life, which we happily consumed in the middle of nowhere. The grill also perfectly charred onions and peppers to deliver a mountain of chicken and beef fajitas to a crowd of ten. I still get compliments on that one. 
Bought a YS-640 in 2012 and have been an avid supporter of Yoder pellet grills. Cooks great and very solid construction. Technical support started out phenomenal but seems to be less competent now. Have replaced the thermocouple every two years, almost to the month (pellet grill gets used 1-2 times per month, at low temp 275 deg F cooks). Really disappointing thermocouple life for a $1500 pellet grill. Still love the way it cooks but I have to keep a spare thermocouple in my tool box so I don't have an issue on my cooks.
Regarding your question about a decrease in smoke flavor when using the pellet grill / smoker, I do believe you will experience a little bit of a drop off. This said, many people find the flavor from pellet grills / movers to be adequate. If you require a stronger smoke profile, you can always use one of the tube smokers that sits inside of the cooking chamber.
It's true that even the entry-level models of pellet smokers are a bit pricey. But I've never met an unhappy pellet smoker owner, even if they paid a few hundred bucks more than the cost of their neighbor's grill. And manufacturers are rising to meet increased consumer demand, with more selections, more features, and more competitive pricing. While many folks struggle trying to get cheap offset and bullet smokers to work, with a pellet smoker, it's easy to make the best smoked ribs, brisket, and pulled pork in the neighborhood.
Thanks for your question! I think you’ve actually selected the grill that I’d recommend too. The Camp Chef pretty much has it all. It’s quality, it’s priced nicely, it does a great job smoking… and honestly, that ash cleanout feature is pretty much something that I wouldn’t want to do without. Especially if you’re new to pellet grilling, anything that makes the job smoother and simpler will be appreciated!
love your article and got lots of good info from it….i do have a question tho that i didnt see an answer to…..do pellet grills have to use just pellets?….i have 3 acres full of oak branches that could be shredded. my question is can a pellet grill use home shredded wood chips to burn and cook with or is it mandatory that the fuel be in the pellet state?….would be great if i could find a good use for all these fallen branches….
I purchased a Traeger 34 inch smoker a month ago and it has never worked correctly. I called customer service several times and the bottom line is that if I want to have it serviced, I have to load it into my car and drive it to Long Beach. There isn't a service dealer in the entire City of Los Angeles! Going to return it to Home Depot. Buy any smoker other than a Traeger.

You prefer a direct heat method of grilling: The Traeger grill uses an indirect heating source, much like an oven, so you won’t be able to sear meat, as many people like to do when grilling a steak. The Traeger system is better for those people seeking more of a smoker type of cooking system, although you can sear your meat by using a frying pan with a little oil initially before you finish cooking it with the Traeger grill. You can use the frying pan on a stove top burner or on the surface of the Traeger grill.
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