Although pellet grill smokers are more expensive than your regular electric smokers, they come with great convenience as they do not demand your undivided attention. Now although there are a lot of reviews online available about pellet grills in general, none of them provided in-depth information about different models of Traeger Grills. So we decided to take on the challenge!
On the better models, a temperature probe in the oven area tells the controller what the temperature is and if it is below the target it tells the controller to feed more pellets and air. The best manufacturers, like MAK and Memphis, have designed their own versatile custom controllers that are easy to use and can hold a temperature within 5°F, tighter than many indoor ovens.
I have had a Traeger Junior Elite for 4 years. In that time I have used it < 50 times. I have replaced a fan motor, a fuse, and now I have been trying to get a thermometer replaced. First time, the service guy dropped the ball and never sent it. Second time- the thermometer got sent around to multiple post offices. Third time, never got to me- apparently they sent it to the wrong address. Fourth time- still waiting. It's been 5 weeks now, and I cannot get the part, and have no idea if the part will fix the grill. Everyone in service has been polite, but incompetent as well. I have had 2 flash fires in the grill from the auger pushing too many pellets into the hot pot, the temperature fluctuates wildly. Save yourself the frustration: avoid Traeger at all costs!
The first thing to consider before purchasing a pellet smoker is your budget. This will allow you to buy the best pellet smoker for the money. If you are a beginner, you do not need to get an expensive unit in order to produce results. However, if you have some experience and you want to take your smoking to the next level, you may look into a more expensive model with the goal of getting some of the features you want.
However, with a pellet smoker, you can ensure that new pellets are being fed into the fire automatically, ensuring that it burns for longer and while it burns, it imparts with its flavors. It doesn’t need to be soaked and fed into a burning pile of coal to work. Above that, sawdust, when separated by the heat and being burned, gets a larger surface area to burn with and thus sends out a bigger burst of flavor per pellet.
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!
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.
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.
For me, I don't care where it is built; it could be Oregon, China or the moon. But I want a smoker that is reliable. As a businessman, I don't understand this company. It is going to be a lot more expensive for the company when I return this thing to Costco and Costco makes Traeger take it back. Just being responsive and sending a new controller under warranty would seem to be easier and cheaper. Of course, if this was a normal company, they would fix the root cause (poor reliability) and make lots of money selling to happy customers. Read more
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.
I bought a Yoder YS480 three years ago. I still use my cheaper pellet grill for everyday smokes, but I use the Yoder when I want to get serious. It does a beautiful job on baby back ribs (can do up to 8 racks laying flat on the grate) and I have smoked two complete turkeys at a time. The only time I have had a problem after 2 1/2 years of smoking was caused by a failed temperature probe. I got a new probe, installed it in a few minutes, and was back up and smoking again.
Whenever pellet grill owners complain about temperature swings or losing their fire mid-cook, the first question we ask is “What pellets are you using?” Many times it’s a cheap, low-quality brand that produces excessive ash, which can interfere with the sensors that help regulate cooking temperatures. In that case, fix is simple: use better pellets that burn cleanly and regularly clean any residual ash from the grill. Often that’s all it takes, and the next time we hear from the customer it’s to order more pellets.
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 the second year, the grill quit working. The auger turns and the heating rod gets hot but the grill shuts itself off within minutes. I think it is the controller but I've had the same experience as others: emails and phone calls to Traeger's customer service are unanswered. My wife just wants to return it to Costco but I'd rather fix it. Given the lack of response and the poor quality of the electronics, I'm starting to come around to my wife's point of view.
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.
To sear a steak you need direct radiant heat. I don't care if you can heat the air to 1000°F, it is still indirect heat and that does not deliver as much energy as direct radiant heat. It's physics, but not hard to understand. In short, heat is not the same as temperature. It feels hotter at 80°F if the sun is shining on you than if it is 80°F in the shade. I discuss the concept in more detail in my article on thermodynamics of cooking.