As I mentioned at the start of this post, there are a few pellet smokers that lead the pack in terms of name recognition. The ones featured here are those that come most highly recommended by friends of mine on the professional BBQ circuits with KCBS and FBA. As such, if you don’t see one of your favorites listed here and would like to offer up a review — please contact me via any of the social media links at the top of this blog’s sidebar, and we’ll see about getting a post up.
The smart-smoke technology in this grill uses an automatic electric feed system that is able to maintain a constant temperature from 180 to 450 degrees and has a hopper that can hold up to 20 pounds of pellets for extended cooking time. The digital control also handles igniting the pellets while fan-forced convection results in even cooking all around, much like rotisserie-cooked foods.
Pellet cookers usually have an auger or another feed mechanism that pushes the pellets into a burn pot typically about the size of a beer can ripped in half. An igniter rod sits in the bottom of the pot and when you turn on the grill it glows like the element on an electric stove. As the pellets ignite, a fan blows to feed them oxygen, and the igniter shuts off. The Traeger L'il Tex, an inexpensive model, draws 300 watts an hour while the igniter rod is on in the first four minutes, then it drops down to 50 watts an hour for the duration of the cook session, less than a standard light bulb.
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Turn it on to "Smoke" mode and use the P settings, or cook mode by selecting a temperature. When you select smoke or a temp setting you start the ignition sequence. The fan, igniter and auger motor turn on. The fan stays on until the smoker is turned off. The auger motor continuously delivers pellets to the red hot igniter rod in the firebox for two minutes under normal conditions. Then the igniter rod shuts off and the pellet fire burns with only the assistance of the auger and the fan.
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.
If you’re in the market to buy a grill, yet you’ve only grilled with propane or charcoal in the past, wood pellet grills may have piqued your curiosity. These grills use a very different cooking method than the direct flame of propane, resulting in more even heating and more precise temperature control. A wood pellet grill is more like a smoker than an open flame grill, as it’s difficult to sear meat with a wood pellet grill. Purchasing and using a wood pellet grill is going to be more expensive than propane and charcoal grills.
Explicitly designed as a tailgate smoker with maximum portability and accessibility, the Davey Crockett does what it does really well. It’s small, but it’s so easy to move and runs off of damn near any power source, so if you want a wood pellet smoker you can take literally anywhere with maximum portability and style, this is the one. That’s why in my opinion, this is the best pellet smoker out there for the money.
Kevin, your recommendation rocked. The Pro is one of the best pieces of grilling and smoking iron I have had my hands on in a long time! Better than the Backwoods? Well depends on how much work you want to do! Maybe not, they are first class, but ease of use? I use the Backwoods a couple times a year, the Pro has already done 8 cooks in 5 weeks. Love it.
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.
Z GRILLS or Z Grills is a maker of smokers, grillers, and stainless steel prep work tables galore. It entered the world of pellet grills recently and launched an IndieGoGo campaign in order to fund its “affordable wood pellet grill” for $500,000 and currently gives even Traeger’s economical offerings a run for their money with its ability to accept all types of pellets and do all sorts of cooking styles.
We purchased our wood pellet grill (Model TFB57CLB) from Costco in August 2017. It came with one bag of the gourmet blend pellets. We used the Traeger cookbook to try a few different recipes in the fall. Most of these involve a period of smoking followed by a period of grilling. The grill seemed to work fine at first. We used it a couple of times on warmer days in the winter and it had some trouble getting up to the desired heat level. We started using it regularly again in April 2018. I was careful to clean it and check the pellets etc. The smoking feature seemed to work alright, but when I would turn the heat up for grilling, the grill would usually struggle to get much over 225. I would resort to turning it up to 375 or more just to get it to 225 and then often it would sink back down to 180 or 160. I went to the troubleshooting guide on the manufacturer's website and checked all the components, which seemed to be working fine.
160ºF up to 500ºF temperature range for slow smoking to grill (25,000 BTU). Stainless Steel meat probe measures internal food temperature. Simple Ash Cleanout System (patented).Smart Smoke Technology. Stainless Steel fire box. Digital controller automatically maintains cooking temperature. Grease Management System. Blue LED digital temperature display..Bottom utility rack. Large, heavy wire grilling area dimensions: 19.5" x 22". Included warming rack provides (570 sq. in. total cooking surface).
In my experience, running Traeger pellets, the grill has functionally three temperature settings; 1) Off. This is self explanatory. Looks very pretty on a picnic table in the campground or on your patio table. 2) Hot and Smoky. Wide temperature swings, over-fueling, massive smoke followed by high temps. The controller gets into a "correction induced oscillation" of ever wider swings in temp potentially resulting in either Ler or Her shut downs. 3) Very, Very Hot. This is the high setting where it will run 500+ temps and gets the deflector/drip pan very hot even with the lid open. Burner sounds awesome in Open Lid Mode. Very Macho.
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.
Thanks Kevin for the reviews and content. Like many of the folks I too will be purchasing a pellet pooper. I have narrowed my choices to a MAK 2 star and a Memphis Elite. One of the earlier posters indicated on the Memphis that the effective direct grilling space was about 1 square foot. I am assuming that with the smaller footprint of the MAK that the direct “flame zone” is less than that. I’m just wondering how much less.
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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.
Apart from the aforementioned problems, you might face some minor issues like the smoker staying hot for hours in the end even after your cooking is over and it’s turned off? It’s better to check out the backdraft preventing cooling fan for your grill. Although this wouldn’t cause any major issues with your grilling experience, it’s a safety feature that is always worth checking out and fixing.
To cook food using a pellet grill, put the pellets into a hopper. When you turn it on, the igniting rod will burn pellets in the fire. The motor-driven auger will then supply the fire pot with pellets from the hopper. The ratio that auger delivers pellets to fire pot depends on the settings you control. If you set it at a high temperature for a longer period of time, the auger will keep on feeding the fire pot with pellets. However, if you are slow-cooking and set a low-temperature one, the feeding and delivery of pellets will also slow down.
Wood pellets that are tailored for pellet stoves or fireplaces usually contain tree barks and binding agents such as glue. When used in pellet smokers, these wood chips can expel some harmful chemical substances infused with the food. But since the dawn of Traeger pellet smokers, different manufacturers have been producing food-grade wood pellets to be used in pellet smokers.
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.
There is a bit of a learning curve when cooking with pellet grills. This unit can smoke, grill or bake similar to an oven. The Traeger smokes at 180*, but can cook up to 450*. It is indirect heat, so you can grill a ribeye without flare ups. My unit holds temps within 5+/- of the setting. Yes, you do have to clean it like a fireplace, it doesn't run on gas. The build quality is amazing, especially for a PRC manufacture. If you are interested in a pellet grill, buy a pellet cookbook. Something that gives smoke and cook times for an easier introduction into pellet cooking. The only knock against the unit is that for $800 it should have came with the "optional" folding shelf...
I have the larger Traeger smoker and have really liked it but not from the start. I had issues with the heating unit but the Traeger help people managed to get my “mechanical blondness” through this and all is well. The assistance center people at Traeger weres super supportive so I’m a loyal fan today. One thing I suggested to Traeger, and all who have a Traeger smoker, is to make the grill surface in two parts so it fits into a dishwasher. I cut my grill in half allowing it to fit in my dishwasher. Easy peasy to clean now!
The best thing about pellet smokers is that unless you’re buying the absolute cheapest models, there are no bad choices. In this list for under $500, you’ll find pellet smokers and grills perfectly suited for dropping a few burgers at home use like the Traeger Junior Elite, for throwing in the back of the van and using anywhere like the Green Mountain Davey Crockett, or for cooking whole turkeys when you have ten people round on Thanksgiving, like the Camp Chef Smokepro.