As you can see in this selection of pellet grill reviews, the act of heating pellets and generating smoke in any pellet smoker is pretty much the same. Yes, some pellet grills use thicker metal, have better thermostats, air flow, racks, drip flow, etc. But the ask any professional BBQ cooker who uses a pellet grill, and they’ll tell you that the quality of your smoke really does come down to the pellets themselves. Here’s what one very astute BBQ pro had to say over at the Pellet Smoke Ring:
In reading through the comments section, it seems the recommendations have shifted over time. As it stands today, which smoker would you go with and why: GMG Jim Bowie, Traeger Pro 34, or the RecTec? I like the cooking space of the Traeger Pro 34, but the other 2 seem to have more bells and whistles. I’ve been smoking about 5yrs, so not a pro but not a beginner. Currently have a 10+ year old Traeger Lil Tex elite hand-me down that is ready to give up the ghost. Would appreciate your thoughts!
When looking at a pellet grill also consider the material its made from. A majority of pellet grills on the market are made from painted steel. However, the quality of that steel and the paint can vary. A good high-temp powder coat paint can stand up to high heat without blistering or flaking. This is essential, because once the steel is exposed, it will rust. Even if the grill body is painted well, you have to look inside. The fire pot and diffuser plate have the potential to corrode and are two of the most common parts that need replacing. With some painted steel grills, such as Traegers®, you can can upgrade the grill and hopper lids to stainless steel, as well as the firepot, diffuser, and drip pan.
Depending on size, the Traeger grill is very easy to store. However, the camp chef is usually the most portable with ease of transport and storage while the big green egg grill has a weird egg shape but a bit compact depending on size. Therefore, depending on your size, you can easily store any of these grills in as little space as you want. Besides, most have wheels for easier movability. As for cleaning, the Traeger grill is easier to clean and maintain, when compared to the other two grills.
Dealers are happily selling these while Traeger is aware per 1-800 call that they need to replace thousands of drip pans/heat exchangers on units that have been shipped because the ones in the units shipped allow heat to fluctuate widely. Traeger recommended NOT USING THIS BRAND NEW GRILL until I receive the replacement part which they will not receive until the last part of August and they will not commit to expedited shipping when they finally ship.
Z Grills is a lesser known manufacturer and a great low-cost alternative to the more expensive Traeger grills. Their pellet grill is a sturdy, heavyweight model with a roomy 500 square inches of cooking space and an electronic feeding system for fuel pellets. An additional warming rack provides additional space for cooking at lower temperatures. Furthermore, Z Grills also ensures their product with a generous 3 years warranty.
The best pellet grill smoker has the benefit of being easy to light and easy to use. With a pellet smoker, you put the pellets in the hopper, light the heating unit, and you don’t have to worry about it. Conversely, with a charcoal smoker, you have the struggle to light the charcoal, and then throughout the entire cooking time, you need to check the backup on the unit to make sure that it’s functioning properly.
The biggest cleanup issue is the buildup on the heat deflector under the cooking grates. You'll need good gloves and an apron. On most models, a thorough cleanup means a 30 minute process of taking out the greasy grates and the gooey deflector plate, scraping them and washing them. You should do this when the carbon and grease cover the deflector plate. Stainless parts can go in the diswasher, but I wouldn't do it. That grease is like tar and it could get all over the insides of the dishwasher and hang on for dear life. I use a handheld steamer like the Steamfast SF-320 Portable Steam Cleaner shown here.
It has a cooking area of 800 sq. inches and a hopper capacity of 20lbs. While that just would be fine for regular smoking, this product needs some supervision and pellet refilling for longer smoking sessions. It does not have a Wi-Fi enabled control system, though it does come with a digital control system to provide you some ease of control while cooking with this product.
Is it customization? I called before I order my YS640 and told them I wanted my grill grates made out of expanded stainless steel, and a few other small things done to ""personalize"" my grill so it was just the way I wanted it. ""No problem. The added materials will cost extra, and shipment will a week so we can fabricate your grates."" Try getting that with a Chinese import!
We did return the Traeger to Costco for a full refund. It's not that Traeger has poor customer service; they don't have any customer service. We brought a Bradley Smoker, an upright design, and it has performed much better than the Traeger. The Bradley also takes up much less space and we've placed it on a dolly so it can be rolled around. Overall, a much better solution.
Central to all pellet cookers is a digital controller similar to the controllers on modern indoor ovens. You select a temp you want, and there is an LED display that tells you the actual temp. Some of the controllers also are programmable so you can cook at a certain temp for a determined time. Some have leave-in meat probes that can dial back the ovento a holding temp when the meat hits its mark.
Have you reviewed at all the Grilla Silverbac? If so, does it not make your list because it isn’t as good a quality as those you have picked? I mean, when I look online for reviews of those who have bought them I haven’t found anyone disappointed with theirs, but perhaps they haven’t been out as long to have a track record? I’m so confused at this point as to which to buy with PID or no PID (some say smoke does better without one), thickness of metal, etc.
I ordered a thermostat for my Junior Elite grill because service said that was most likely the problem with my 4-year-old Traeger grill. I was promptly charged on my credit card. The order did not get to me and 2 weeks later, I emailed them. They said they would send out another thermometer. That thermometer has been making the rounds in 1/2 dozen post offices:
Using accurate digital thermometers to monitor cooking and internal meat temperatures is essential to being all that you can be in the backyard. Unlike the caveman-era heat estimators built into the lids of most grills and smokers, modern pellet smoker LED displays will give you the real story of what's happening in your smoker. Of course, if your smoker doesn't come with a dual-display system that monitors both cooking and meat temps, you'll still need an accurate digital meat thermometer.
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.
With 440 square inches of cooking space, an auger-fed pellet delivery system, and a digital LED thermostat and controller, your cooking will be simple, whether it’s burgers, a whole turkey, or racks of ribs. The side shelf is a convenient place for cooking tools or plates while the bottom shelf can hold spare bags of pellets or jugs of sauces out of the way.