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.
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.
The Tailgater 20 Series Freestanding Grill is one of the best wood pellet grills from Traeger for those who like to cook away from home. It’s small and lightweight enough that you can load it in your car for tailgating before the big game, cooking while camping or grilling at the park. The ash bucket collects all ash created, which makes cleaning up before heading home easier.
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.
Hey Todd – what pellet grill do you have? Also, by short cooks, how long are you talking? Have you looked at the burn pot? If it’s overfilled, you may need to vacuum it out, along with the interior of the cooker. Then, put 10 or so pellets into the burn pot and start it up again. See if that helps. There should not be much if any ash in the food chamber area or on the food. At least not in my experience.
****Update 12/2014: So I finally found something negative to report. Today I was cooking 2 pork butts and a brisket and discovered that this grill does not do well with wind on a brisk day (It was 45 degrees here today). When set at 250 degree, the smoker could barely make it up to 190 degrees. I was able to bypass the problem by throwing a cheap moving blanket over the grill (an $8 fix) but I think it's worth noting.
Recently bought portable Traeger ptk+ smoker as camp a lot. Food is amazing though grill size better suited for 2-4 ppl and you can’t fit a large roast. However cooked a rack of ribs, several chickens and burgers. Food comes out amazing. You do need electricity hookup camping and it drains too much power to run off cars dc socket. $300 and of you call them to order v online they will throw in free weather cover free shipping and some rub. It does take up some room in car so beware if you have tiny vehicle. Buyer beware racoons love smoked food so remove your trash bag with bones from campsite before retiring, as we found out the hard way
This is obviously no revelations that temperature is the first on my list. When it comes to cooking appliances, temperature is always a key factor. However, it is not the sole reason to be on my list. The thing about temperature you need to look for in a good pellet grill is its ability to control, change and maintain it. Any grill can turn screaming hot, but only the best ones provide you with multiple temperature settings, and are able to maintain it constantly to ensure an even cooking surface where it is not too hot on the left and cold on the right. Many pellets come with special, even patented, temperature features.
Due to the lower oxygen at 9200 FASL, I cannot keep the smoker hot and I cannot get it above 250 Deg. F. I seem to be limited due to the diameter of the smoker…just can’t get enough coals and air to get and maintain temps. Therefore, I want to buy a new smoker, on that will regulate temperature at temperatures of 200 – 450 deg F. Any experience or guidance for a smoker brand and type (wood pellet, charcoal, or electric) at high altitudes? i am looking for a smaller size smoker unit.
In 1982 Traeger Heating in Oregon began experimenting with a furnace that would burn wood pellets made from compressed sawdust, a byproduct of the area lumber mills, and before long introduced a home heating system that they sold mostly locally. Since furnaces sold mostly in cold months, before long they began experimenting with a grill that would burn pellets, too. Eventually they created a device with an auger to feed the pellets and a blower to help them burn.
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.
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.
The Camp Chef Woodwind Pellet Grill was chosen as our sixth choice because it lacked some features found in our Top 5 picks, especially when it came to cooking flexibility. While it does offer an impressive 6-in-1 cooking experience, it lacks an auto shut-off feature, which makes it less of a “set it an forget it” kind of smoker. The grill is rather heavy, at an overall weight of 146lbs. It’s also more expensive than the rest, even though it offers similar (even less) features. It’s a decent choice if flavor is the only thing you’re looking for.
Wood pellet grills look like standard barbecue grills but some with a separate firebox for making smoked meats that will also let you smoke vegetables and other ingredients. As Traeger and Pit Boss both get good reviews from customers, it’s important that you look at the top features of this grills and how each company compares in relation to those features.
An electric smoker and a pellet smoker, according to the reviews, both allow you to set the temperature and walk away. However, the flavor that you’re going to get from a pellet smoker is a lot stronger as compared to an electric one. Pellet smokers allow you a little bit more versatility than an electric smoker, whereas electric smokers are better at maintaining and controlling the temperature inside the cook box.
I bought my second Traeger Grill around Thanksgiving (my last one died after 3 months), spent most of the day assembling it only to find it didn't work. Customer service told me to reset the thermostat, I did and it shut down. I did this routine a few more times with customer service and it kept shutting down, day after day. Traeger reluctantly sent me a replacement grill and promised it would be Fully assembled (I have little use of my left hand and can't work with small parts) Well it showed up unassembled in a bunch of little boxes. Customer service told me 4 times that they would call back with a local Traeger dealer to assemble it. Four promises to have someone come out and not even a phone call.
Manufacturers advertise this piece of equipment as both a smoker and a grill, but it's best to think of it as a superb indirect-heat convection smoker, not a grill. Most models just don't do as good a job of searing a steak as a charcoal grill or even a gas grill with a sear burner can. You'll sear steaks better on a $20 hibachi than on most pellet smokers.
We have already mentioned this product in our review once and we’re talking about it again. Whenever you are thinking of Green Mountain Grills, Daniel Boone should always be your first choice; it’s simply the best among the GMG products. Due to having other products at much lower prices with the same features, we could not include Daniel Boone in this review. We have, however, included the Davy Crockett in our review as our Budget Pick.
Yoder Smokers has overcome this challenge with their YS Series of pellet grills outfitted with their direct grilling package. When fit with this package, the grate temperature on the left side soars past the 700-degree mark and produces those coveted steakhouse quality grill marks, fast cooking times, intense caramelization, color and texture common to cooking over an open fire or gas fired grill.
Meanwhile, it also has a 15-pound pellet capacity comparable to Camp Chef SmokePro (not as large but big enough to eliminate continuous wood pellet refills) and folding legs for better portability. However, certain users who’ve already bought their own REC TEC Grills Mini Portable Pellet Grill have complaints about it, like inconsistent heat distribution of the grill and poor quality control (certain grills break down easily).
Louisiana Grills was one of the first companies to muscle in on Traeger's one-brand show. The smallish CS 450 is one of its more popular models. In 2014, Louisiana upgraded all of its pellet smokers to include digital touch-pad controllers with integrated meat probes. Set it and forget it; the thermostat will maintain cooking temperature just like your indoor kitchen oven does. As a safety feature, the meat probe can be set for your desired target temp. When the internal meat temp rises to within 10°F of the target, the controller automatically drops the smoker down to 170°F (77°C) to avoid overcooking.
I have several smokers I have used over the years. I have dialed in everyone I own over a course of trial and error. They all get great results, but require me to tend them all throughout the cook. I wanted a smoker that I could easily get to the desired temp, maintain the temp, provide good smoke flavor, and have the size to do a small or large cook, and not need me to be tending it throughout the cook. The learning curve on this smoker is super easy if you know all your temps, your first cook will give you the results your looking for. I was a little worried that I was not going to get the smoke flavor with a pellet smoker, but my brisket turned out amazing, very tender, the smoke ring was perfect. When I was searching for a new smoker I was a little shy of the Yoder based on the price, but when you figure in the ability to grill as well this became a better alternative. The quality is top tier, this is built to last a long time. I'm so glad I went with the Yoder YS640 no regrets.
With that said, depending on the size of the green an individual may need more pellets to fuel the food. However, a bigger sized pellet grill allows the cook to grill for a large number of people. While a compact grill can easily be taken anywhere. With that in mind, one important criterion that we wanted to take into consideration is how easy the item is to set up.
Camp chef grill is usually compact and ideal for outdoor adventures like camping but some models of the Traeger grill are hard to camp with. The Traeger grill is usually large and ideal for home cooking or large parties and weekend gatherings. However, you can still find small compact designs of its model. It depends on your demand. Nonetheless, even the smallest model of the Traeger grill can pack a lot of food. As for the big green egg grill, it has a unique shape, like an egg, but comes in different sizes for your needs. Therefore, you can buy one that suits your needs.
For example, many grills use and charge for collaborating with a software application on it. I, personally, think this is an absolutely silly feature to include on a pellet grill. Yes, it does start on and off from your phone and change temperatures while you are at Switzerland enjoying Swiss cheese on a lake, but really, is it even logical? I mean, pellet grills have already made the cooking experience as easy as a dream, the least you can do is set the temperature by the click of a button on the appliance yourself! You can’t possibly be that lazy!
Personal review of the Traeger: The auger fed the pellets after the fire pot went out making a large pile up which caused it to catch fire and burn up my grill. I had to use a fire extinguisher to put out the flames and prevent my house from catching fire. I sent Traeger the description of damages with photos. After much waiting and no response from the management team regarding my Traeger grill we gave up. The service team was very responsive but lacked any authority to make decisions to fix the grill. We worked with the service team for awhile having a different person each time respond and request information and photos that were already provided. Then, we got passed up to the management which is highly ineffective because we never heard from them, even after an email requesting an update. We really did like our Traeger grill and had high hopes that since it was under warranty and caught fire due to a failure we would have the grill repaired. Because of the terrible unresponsive service of Traeger we took our money and purchase a Green Mountain Grill.
Rifles Delivery Confirmation-Adult Signature Required. Customer must provide a physical address for delivery of this item. Cannot ship to a PO Box or APO/FPO addresses. Black powder rifles are not shipped to customers in IL, MI, NJ, NY and Washington, DC because of restrictions. This item will be removed from your order if your shipping address is to a restricted location.
Traeger Junior Elite Pellet Grill is a great model for those who want to start up the smoker, add some meat, and let the work be done for them. It is also extremely versatile, allowing you to grill, smoke, roast, and bake. It is perfect for individual households, college students, and even tailgating. And it’s a great option for first timers as well as those who have experience using pellet smokers.
Thanks for the great information and the research you did. I am a retail store owner in Boise, Idaho area and we sell a pellet grill smoker in our store. I would like to encourage to look at the Sawtooth Pellet Grill. It is made local here and is American Made. It is an excellent grill for the price with an awesome company backing it. You can find their website at sawtoothpelletgrills.com. Again thanks for the information and if you do another publication regarding pellet grills, I would love to see what your opinion of the Sawtooth would be 🙂
Now, what that means is that if you have a lower hopper capacity, your pellet smoker will run for a smaller period of time. It also depends on the cooking temperature you have selected for your cooking purposes. However, at higher temperatures, they will provide less smoke; thus would be more suitable for grilling and barbecuing, but not so much for smoking.
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.
Now, for the good stuff: do not hesitate to spend an extra or even two bucks for a feature that you will use and appreciate. Consider your pellet grill as an investment, something you are going to buy, and be using and enjoying for years and years to come. Features like meat probes to check the internal temperature of foods are excellent for taking the guess work away from cooking meat to a particular doneness. You will never end up with an overcooked and rubbery, or undercooked and raw steak ever again! Features like smartly designed grills that consume and spread heat evenly are also great for cooking food to perfection without having to move it from side to side to find the right temperature spot.
Hey Tom! First, thank you so much for commenting on this article. I hope it’s proved useful to you and helping you make your pellet smoker buying decision. I took a look at the smokers you mentioned in your comment, and they appear to be similar in build to those made by Yoder. I can verify that Yoder does exceptionally good work with both the build quality and the heavy gauge steel Construction of their smokers. I don’t know much about the manufacturing practices of the smokers you mentioned. I do like the fact that their controller automatically dropped down to a warming temperature after your food reaches the programmed temperature setting. That’s a feature that I’ve only seen in higher-priced pellet grills like the Memphis Pro Series that I talk about in this article. However, more grills are starting to utilize this in the programming aspect of their controllers. In any case it’s a great feature. To be honest with you I’m not sure that the auger mechanics are going to be all that different between smokers. I’m sure there are differences, but I don’t feel that they are dramatic enough to offer a distinct selling Advantage for the manufacturer. If you haven’t looked at them yet, you might consider taking a look at the Traeger Pro Series pellet grills. You can’t find it on Amazon, but you can find them at different retailers listed on the main Traeger site. A friend of mine has one major competitions using the pro series models.
Depending on your budget and grilling needs, there are a variety of Traeger options ,including the Renegade. With the Traeger Pro Series 22 you get a bigger Traeger with more advanced features at about the same price, while the Junior Elite, Tailgater, and Bronson also offer an incredible value. Or, if you prefer a pre-set package deal, the Outlaw Package comes with upgraded accessories and and costs less than the Renegade.
Camp Chef has already been mentioned several times on this list. It's a venerable company that makes up in quality what it lacks in the name recognition of a Traeger or Weber. Their Deluxe Pellet Grill is built to reach and hold ideal temperatures for smoking. An internal system syncs pellet delivery to temperature instead of simply feeding in fuel when it begins to run out. This ensures a clean, consistent cooking experience. A removable ash can makes clean-up a snap as well.
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.
Hi Mark – I’ve not personally used the Smoke Hollow Pellet Grill you mention here. The base model pellet smokers I see at stores like Sam’s and Costco are going to do fine for most backyard cooking preparations. I’d look into what the Smoke Hollow folks offer customer service wise. When you buy at the lower end, understand that the unit might not enjoy the longevity or durability of other mid-tier or higher end models.
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.
I've been BBQing and pit smoking for many years. About 4 yrs ago I tried out pellet grilling with an import brand, and had to rebuild and replace parts for 3 yrs until it was no longer worth it! I started looking at the YS640 about a year ago, and finally pulled the trigger on buying one. No gimmicks, No hype, this is the finest backyard pellet grill/smoker and wood fired sear machine on the market. The YS640 would also be right at home on the competition circuit as well. As many other reviews have stated, if your thinking about buying one, just do it. You will not be disappointed. Shes built like a tank and holds temp very consistently. From start to finish the staff at ATBBQ has been outstanding and professional, the unit arrived in only 1-1/2 weeks and was packaged securely on a pallet. Great American made product, and great customer service have made this one of the best purchases we've made in years, Thank you.
An attractive option for many people are stainless steel pellet grills, which are rust-resistant, more durable, and easier to maintain. While pellet grills made from commercial-grade 304 stainless steel are the most desirable, they come at a higher. However, there are also some pellet grills made from 430 stainless steel, which is more affordable and still incredibly durable.
The PK-360, with 360 square inches of cooking space, this rust free, cast aluminum charcoal grill is durable and easy to use. Four-way venting means it's easy to set up for two zone cooking with more control than single vent Kamado grills. It is much easier to set up for 2-zone cooking than any round kamado. Beautifully designed and completely portable. Meathead says it is his preferrred grill.
In 2010, I sprung for a discounted Rainer with $80 in tip money and a pro deal through the whitewater rafting company I worked for. It was an expensive purchase for me at a time when my monthly food budget was around $60. But hey, along with a Roll-a-Table, two chairs I “borrowed” from the rafting company, and my cooler, I had almost a full kitchen that I could deploy from the back of my truck. And the Rainier quickly proved a wise investment.
Many merchants pay us a small referral fee when you click our links and purchase from them. On Amazon it works on everything from grills to diapers, they never tell us what you bought, and it has zero impact on the price you pay, but has a major impact on our ability to improve this site! And remember, we only recommend products we love. If you like AmazingRibs.com, please save this link and use it every time you go to Amazon https://tinyurl.com/amazingribs
As far as backyard cookers go, Pellet Grills are the newest products on the market. With their roots in the 1970’s, these versatile outdoor grills combine the capabilities of a traditional grill, with the wood-fired flavor of a smoker, and even the convenience of a modern oven. The “Pellet” in the name refers to the specific variety of fuel used. These are specially made cylinders constructed of compressed sawdust. The grill is powered by electricity and doles out specific amounts of pellets to maximize fuel efficiency. The primary benefit of these types of grills is their versatility. Wood pellets can be burned at all different temperatures and volumes, making it possible to sear, smoke, or slow cook a whole array of meats in an infinite variety of styles.
Igniter: An igniting rod, heated up to a red hot level, ignites wood pellets as they fall inside the firebox. A cooling fan blows air into the pellet smoker from behind the pellet auger to prevent heat backdraft, while the fan underneath the firebox fans the flame – distributing heat evenly throughout the smoker. This heat is used to smoke and slow cook food in the smoker to give it the best flavors possible.
The built-in cords on outdoor cooking devices are often not long enough, and although regular household extension cords will work for rotisserie kits, they will not carry enough juice to keep you pellet smoker or electric smoker going. They could become a fire hazard as they heat up trying to deliver power to the unit. To extend the cord you need a large capacity cable as measured in amps. Here's how to figure out what you need:
Buying factory direct means that you are purchasing a product directly from the manufacturer, which eliminates the need for a middleman. There’s no need for the product to go through any kind of supply chain and acquire additional costs in order to reach you. The price tag that’s displayed on factory direct products doesn’t contain any markup to compensate for additional costs. Buying factory direct gives you the best chance at receiving the lowest price possible for the product you’re purchasing.
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And #3, good bbq or grilled meats should taste great without a ton seasonings or sauce. Beef especially can be excellent with simple salt! Make sure your seasonings enhance flavor. Another great read, the late (and much grieved at our house) Paul Prudhomme’s ‘Louisiana Kitchen’ again available on Amazon used for a couple of bucks and a masterpiece! Paul was a master of seasoning. Don’t kill it with seasonings and sauce, enhance the foods flavors. Barks on meat are great if they are right. However burnt, sugar and many other seasonings detract from the meats natural flavor. I personally love a meat you can eat without a sauce and then sauce if you want some added flavors going on!
Second on our list of the best pellet grill review the Traeger pellet grill has a 292 square inch cooking surface area. It weigh 70 pounds and measure 21 inch by 23 inch by 21 inch in dimensions. This pellet grill is made out of steel and arrives in a black and bronze body. It has an automatic auger, an electronic auto start and a digital temperature control. The Traeger Pellet grill also feature a Digital Thermostat Control which detects the temperatures inside the grills using an RTD detector, and instructs the auger to fuel the fire and release the pellets according to that. Other than that, they also come with a manual temperature setting of smoke, medium and high.
Because the burn pot is small, there is usually a hot spot directly over it. Some units have an optional perforated section above the burn pot so you can put the meat over direct flame, but the ones I've tested still do not sear properly. And there is no way to set up a 2-zone cooking system with a cool zone. As with most other grills and smokers, the differences between lower and upper racks is not huge, so think of it as one heckuva indirect heat convection smoker with precision temperature control.
While the Traeger Lil-Tex does offer similar features as our top pick, such as a digital LED temperature control system and an auto-dispensing auger, there was one missing feature which we thought was necessary. This product has a smaller grilling area and lacks a removable upper rack, which gives you less grilling and prep space. I should mention that the unit does come in a bigger 700 square inch version for $200 more, as well as a smaller version that costs less. If this smoker is too big or too small for you, there are always other options available. Compared to our top pick, it’s also more expensive despite offering similar specs. Aside from that, this is a very efficient and reliable smoker – might even have been the best if our top pick wasn’t available on the market.
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.
They had the field to themselves for a few years, but the idea was too good to go unimitated, and with the digital age came the electronic controller that allowed Traegers and others to create a system that had a thermostat in the cooking chamber that would tell the fan and auger when to do their thing. Today there are more than a dozen manufacturers making increasingly sophisticated machines.