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.
This smoker offers a massive 560 cubic inches of grilling area with a large-capacity pellet hopper. Even though it’s the perfect starter grill, it’s still packed with plenty of extras that even the pro chefs will enjoy. If the grilling space isn’t enough, the removable upper racks can be turned into extra cooking space. The smokestack behind the unit can also be converted into a prep area.
The Camp Chef SmokePro’s automatic features definitely set it apart and make it truly a “set it and forget it” kind of unit. It makes use of an electric auto-igniter system that lets you start grilling with just one button. The automatic auger instantly dispenses pellets to maintain the desired temperature and use your pellets the most efficient way.
Rec Tec Wood Pellet Grill boasts a cooking area of over 1000 sq. inches. However, that area is calculated from its optional cooking shelf. Without it, the cooking area is roughly around 700 sq. feet. This removable shelf can allow you to increase your cooking area if you’re trying to cook patties, steaks, chicken pieces and items as such; or they can be removed for granting a greater volume of space for smoking brisket or whole turkeys.
So which pellet smoker is worth your hard-earned dough? We've put together a list of the ones we think make the cut, organized from lowest to highest price. Sorry for the sticker shock—even a low-priced pellet smoker will cost more than many grills, and our first selection lists at $333. These motorized, digitally controlled devices just plain cost more, but believe you me, they are worth it! And all of these selections have won the AmazingRibs.com Best Value Gold or Silver Medal.
The first time I grilled something on it -- pulled pork, which takes a long time on the grill -- the fire kept going out on me. My husband called the company, and they said they knew they had that problem. So he told the nice lady on the end of the line that what they needed to do was to add something to the hopper to keep it jiggling just a little so that the pellets continued to go down. "We're working on a solution," she said. "I just told you the solution," my husband, who's a mechanic and loves solving mechanical problems using unusual, but straightforward solutions. His trick? -- get one of those cheap, plastic, clip-on fans and clip it to the hopper, pointing the fan down into the hopper. The fan jiggles it just enough. The air into the hopper "couldn't hurt, either," he told me.
PID Controllers - The most sophisticated type of pellet grill controller, PID controllers use complex algorithms to achieve and maintain the desired temperature within a few degrees. They, too, feature LCD display and one-touch buttons for setting the temperature in 5° increments. However, unlike controllers that use fixed cycles, a PID controller continuously measures the grill’s temperature then adjusts its cycle, adding pellets when necessary to hold the correct cooking temperature throughout the cook. Because they’re more sophisticated, PID controllers can accommodate programmable meat probes that have the ability to automatically lower the grill’s temperature when food is done.
And of course, it’s definitely a plus when the company that makes your grill includes a multi-year warranty and top notch customer service. Pellet grills are finicky compared to gas or charcoal grills simply because there are so many more parts that require electronics or that have electrical components… which means there is a fair bit more that can actually go wrong or require service at some point.
Joe Traeger first introduced the concept of Pellet Grill in 1980’s. Pellet grills are a rage amongst backyard grillers because they can grill, roast and smoke all in one. Since it uses indirect electric heat, there are no chances for it to burn into flames, unlike a gas grill. It is the perfect cooking appliance for a novice chef, looking to experiment with different dishes. Which is actually one of the primary reason for its unbelievable popularity.
If you’re looking for a cheaper charcoal smoking experience, go for a charcoal or a bullet smoker. If you’re looking for everyday cooking, you’d be better off with a griddle or a gas smoker. But if you really want to get the best of all of them, dedicate your life to grilling of all sorts and if you are not afraid to spend a little more, then pellet smokers are definitely for you.
Regardless, it’s worth mentioning the basic types of pellets available on the market to get you started. First there are the hardwood pellets, made from the sawdust from any specific type of hardwood, such as ash, cherry, maple, etc. Then there are different organic hardwood blends: a combination of different types of wood shavings and dust, giving them a customized, special flavoring. For beginners, we’d suggest getting a premium blend, just to be on the safe side (because you can’t go wrong with these). Even then, we’d like to mention a few types of pellets commonly used for different purposes:
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.
This grill actually came about because of an IndieGoGo campaign. IndieGoGo is a crowdfunding platform wherein interested parties on the Internet can donate money to the maker if they want his invention or service to come about. The Z Grills Wood Pellet BBQ Grill and Smoker got its $500,000 from its donators and now the previously nonexistent Z Grills Company now exists to make their wildly popular 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).
Their behavior is sometimes counterintuitive. The hotter they get, the less smoke they produce, and at their top settings, they don't produce much smoke at all. This is good for when you are baking cakes or pies or doing dishes that don't need smoke. But down under 250°F, they produce plenty of mild, elegant smoke. And even though the fuel is wood, it is hard to oversmoke with a pellet smoker. Burning wood on a charcoal grill produces much more intense smoke flavor.
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?
Camp Chef's Woodwind Pellet Smoker is a quality smoker and super searing grill wrapped up in one. As I mentioned above, though pellet smokers are often referred to as pellet grills, most have a limited grilling capability at best. To fill this gap, in 2017, Camp Chef introduced its optional LP gas Sear Box, which can be added to any of its current SmokePro pellet smokers. Woodwind is a package deal that comes standard with the Sear Box and sells for about $50 less than a SmokePro with the optional Sear Box. As a bonus, Camp Chef is one of the few brands on the market with an ash-removal system that deposits ash in a cup under the smoke box for easy disposal.
Pellet grills come in various sizes from the portable types for tailgating to the extra-large units for commercial use. If you are someone who wants to be able to take your smoker on the go, be it camping, partying or any other event you’ll want something that’s easy to lift and has wheels to facilitate movement. If you have lots of parties and gatherings at home, then you might want something bigger. Its all up to what your needs are.
Traeger's, unlike other models, have a temperature probe, these sensors tell it if the temperature is too low and automatically feeds more pellets to the fire. You can set up the temperature in 5-degree increments. Other brands and cheaper versions only offer three settings low, medium and high. There is no sensor to monitor the temperature. If you are purchasing a pellet grill it is because you can set it and forget it. If you plan to hoover then it makes more sense to use a standard smoker or to transform your grill into a smoker.