The first thing we have to understand is the anatomy of a pellet smoker. Check the related section on this page to get the idea. Once we know which part goes where, the bigger battle will be won. Next, we’re going to have to be able to analyze the problem if we are to solve it. What seems to be the issue? Are the pellets not lighting up? Are the pellets getting stuck and not working properly? Weird noises coming out from the hopper? Are foods not cooking well? Let’s take a look at these problems and how to solve them:
The Ortech has two knobs. The large one, the "Cook Control" has settings for: Off, Smoke, 180, 225, 250, 275, 300, 325, 350, 375, and High. One smoker manufacturer says that the "Smoke" setting is about 160°F and "high" is about 525°F, but both can vary due to ambient temperature, humidity, fuel type and quality of the smoker. Another knob, a teensy weensy knob to the right of the LED screen looks more like a push button. Labeled "SMOKE" and called the "Smoke Control Knob", it is meant to turn, not push, and it controls the pellet feed rate with auger on/off sequences indicated by "P settings". The P settings range from P0 to P15.
The moment we found this as one of our most desired articles, we had to conduct extensive research on what a pellet grill is. With that said, if you are new to the pellet grill industry and want to know what it is, here we go! Pellet grills are often considered, ‘pellet smokers’, due to the construction quality and design. The reason is that pellet grills combine different cooking elements such as charcoal, gas grills, and a conventional kitchen oven. Now, they are fueled by wood pellets, hence the name. With that said, pellet grills can smoke, cook, and grill all in one simple mechanism and design. With an electronic control panel, an individual can control the wood pellets that fuel the fire to regulate airflow and maintain the proper cooking temperature. Did you get that? We hope so because it is time we share with you the criteria to evaluate the best pellet grills.
As you can see from the image of a Traeger Pellet Grill above, pellets move from a hopper (left) via an auger to a burn pot (far right). The rate at which the pellets are fed into the hopper is dictated by your Pellet grill’s thermostat. Extra fuel in the form of oxygen is blown over the burn pot to increase the burn rate and help regulate a nice, steady, and efficient burn. The lower your temp, the more smoke is created.
Maintenance is an issue. There are moving parts on these grills. Moving parts eventually break. There is an auger with a motor, and a fan with a motor. There are proprietary electronics systems on these babies. Augers clog. Motors burn out. Electronics have bugs or fail. Especially when exposed to rain, snow, hot, and cold. When they fail, will the manufacturer have a replacement part?
Auger Making Weight Noises: It’s usually indicating a problem with the motor that’s responsible for rotating the augers. Under such circumstances, you would be left with no other choice than to replace the motor completely. Since the motors and augers are usually packaged together, this can get quite expensive. In such scenarios, it’s better to let it make noises and run for as long as it would serve you before going to replace it. However, once that problem occurs, you’d often find the auger not feeding the pellets at the expected rate and thus, the desired temperature might not be reached in some cases.
Included meat probes and whether they’re programmable - Not every grill that can accommodate a meat probe comes with the probe. Some require you to buy it separately Also, not all meat probes and the control boards they connect to are created equal. Some are just for monitoring temperatures. Others are programmable—you can actually program the pellet grill to lower the heat when your food reaches its finishing temperature.
The digital controller has a temperature dial (180 F to 400 F), shutdown cycle setting and an on/off switch which is very basic. Compared to the Camp Chef, it misses out on bypass startup button, food probe, feed button, lo smoke/high smoke settings and most importantly access to the fuse. In order to change the fuse in the Traeger, you’ll have to remove both screws on the digital controller and pull out the controller.
We were surprised to see that the pellet grill was WiFi-compatible. Usually, grills come with basic remotes, but this one comes with a digital WiFi controller. It allows you to control and monitor your cooking through an app on your iOS or Android phone. We found this convenient, since we didn’t have to get up to check on our grill every few minutes. This is probably why it’s one of the top pellet grills in the market.
Another avenue that many pellet grill owners use is participating in a bulk buy of their favorite brand. Many times by ordering as little as a thousand pounds of pellets and having them shipped via pallet can save enough per pound to be worth the effort. Also, check the websites of the pellet brands listed above, many have local distributors that maybe with an hour drive of your location. If you are new to the pellet world, the thought of ordering a thousand pounds of pellets may sound excessive or intimidating. Many felt this way at first, but if you are in a location where it is hard to get pellets, the mantra of keeping at least a hundred pounds of pellets (five 20 pound bags) on hand at all times starts to make sense quickly.
-Warranty-(Forgive my soapbox here, folks.) I'd give it 5 stars if Camp Chef would give it a real warranty. One year is pathetic and WAY below the industry standard. Camp Chef, I know you are reading this because you guys are too excited about your great new product to not pay attention to feedback like this. Nut up and stand behind your awesome product. Why would anybody buy a product from an industry newcomer with no track record when you yourself are only willing to stand behind it for 1 lousy year?... Especially when the "industry leader" will guarantee their product for 3 years?!?! You are communicating that you have 1/3rd the amount of trust in your product that Traeger does. That's terrible! You should exceed what they are offering just to make the point in the industry! At a minimum, you should at least match their warranty just so it doesn't become a stumbling block to potential customers. Look, you basically took the lil tex and said "ok boys, so how can we make this better?!?" You did that! You totally knocked it out the park! Why cheap out with the warranty?!? As a customer, it makes me nervous that you know something I don't.
As time passed, a thermostat was added to the equation, and the production BBQ smokers fueled by pellets working in “set it and forget it” fashion was in full force. From this point, several manufacturers of pellet grills began to pop up, with a few key names like Yoder Smokers, Mak Grills, Green Mountain Grills, and Fast Eddy’s Cookshack grills being among the most notable.