One huge advantage with pellet smokers is that because of how they work, they’re all generally of a higher standard than a lot of other types of smoker. But just because you’re less likely to grab a bad model doesn’t mean that you don’t want the best, right? There’s still things to think about that make sure you get the absolute best fit for you and your family.
3-Position Controller - 3 position controllers, also called LMH controllers, have just 3 temperature settings—low, medium, and high—which correlate to roughly 225°F, 325°F, and 425°F. They feed pellets in fixed cycles that are determined by which setting you choose. With just three settings to choose from, though, you have less control over cooking temperatures than more advanced controllers. These controllers are often found on lower priced 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.
Editor-in-Chief Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.
I have used a pellet smoker for about five years, and looked at, or used, many different brands. I have added auxiliary smoke generators, and tried almost every way possible to create authentic BBQ on a pellet smoker— It can’t be done. When the vendors, or users, refer to subtle smoke they mean virtually no wood flavor. Do yourself a favor and try a simple test: go to a really good BBQ joint, or BBQ competition; try some of their Q and then compare it to pellet meat. There is no comparison. I wanted the pellet unit to produce good Q in the worst way because of the ease. You cannot duplicate the smoke created in a wood, or wood/charcoal firebox with compressed sawdust. It pains me to say it but it is true.
Typically, most portable grills would give up certain features just to maintain their portability, but this wood pellet grill from Traeger actually had more than what other top grills have to offer. Out of all of our features, it managed to tick 85% off the review. Its digital controls, versatile cooking features, and decent cooking space (perfect for outdoor adventures) all make it our best portable pick.
The popular Traeger Junior Elite is a great smoker for first-time chefs as well as experienced smokers who are short on space. It's versatile and can grill, smoke, bake, roast, braise, and barbecue food. The digital controller is adjustable to +/- 20 degrees and has 300 square inches of grilling space that is large enough for two whole chickens or three racks of ribs.
The “Smart Smoke” controller goes from 160-450F, with an internal sensor and electric auger maintaining that heat. The hopper holds a good 20lbs of pellet - enough for 10-20 hours of smoking. And it’s built from a sturdy stainless steel that feels solid and looks fantastic, with locking caster wheels keeping it secure while in use. It’s also backed up by a 3-year warranty.
PID: For the most precise temperature control, some pitmasters feel that a grill with a proportional-integrative-derivative (PID) controller is the way to go. A PID controller uses algorithms to keep the temperature within a couple of degrees of the setting. It doesn’t use fixed cycles to release the pellets. Instead, the controller only adds pellets when it’s necessary to maintain the desired temperature.
Craft amazing wood-fired creations with the Trager renegade Elite pellet grill. From grilled steak, to smoked ribs, & even a freshly baked Apple Pie, the set it & forget it ease of use allows any home chef to cook it all. Swap the gas & charcoal barbecue for 100% pure hardwood pellet flavor & grill, smoke, roast, bake, braise, or BBQ your next masterpiece.
This is definitely our top pick for a Traeger grill, due to its level of versatility. It can grill, bake, smoke, braise, roast, and barbecue. It is consistent in its cooking, making it ideal for use with large gatherings. Moreover, it is easy to auto-start and has a digital control. In addition, cleaning it is not that hard, as it has non-stick grill grates.
Heating pellets, meanwhile, can consist of a variety of woods, including softwoods like pine, which contains resin that infuses food with a bitter unappetizing taste. Because it doesn’t really matter what’s in heating pellets, so long as they burn, they can also include bark and leaves and other impurities that can adversely affect food flavor and possibly pose a health risk if ingested. Because less care goes into the production of heating pellets and they're not guaranteed to be 100% pure hardwood, heating pellets are significantly less expensive than BBQ pellets, making them appealing to budget conscious shoppers. However, resist the temptation to save a few bucks and never use heating pellets in a pellet smoker.
Although these are marketed as grills, they do much more, including baking or roasting. Because they heat by convection, you might not get the grill marks that a gas or charcoal grill will give you, but you also won’t have the flame-up problems. While many pellet grills offer high cooking temperatures, the maximum depends on ambient temperature and wind. Many users wrap their grills in special insulating covers to help maintain heat, reduce fuel use, and reach the higher temperatures they desire.
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