So you want to buy a grill? You’ve looked online, visited several stores, listened to dozens of salespeople, and even asked your neighbor his opinion on the perfect grill. Unfortunately, buying a grill isn’t that easy even when you’ve already worked out the type of grill you’re looking for. If you’re really into grilling, you probably want to go traditional which is a charcoal grill. Unfortunately, nowadays, even charcoal grills can be split into several categories. You got the barrel grills, the kettle grills, the kamado-style grills. All good choices with their own pros and cons. Today, though, we’ll be tackling a new revolution of charcoal grills that is quickly becoming the hottest trend – the pellet grill.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top Pellet Grills of 2018
- 2 How Pellet Grills Work
- 3 Why Pellet? - Things to Consider
- 4 Pellet Grills Reviewed
Top Pellet Grills of 2018
How Pellet Grills Work
What is a pellet grill? You’ve heard of pellet stoves, right? Well, they pretty much operate the same way. In fact, that’s where it all started. Back in 1982, Traeger decided to expand their business of manufacturing pellet stoves to creating grills that used the same fuel source. The rest is history. So, how do they work? Like a pellet stove, the grill has a hopper that contains wood pellets. These pellets are around an inch long and 1/4 inch wide (diameter). They’re made of compacted sawdust and wood shavings without the additives and fillers found in charcoal briquets. As an added bonus, they come in several flavors such as oak, hickory, apple, pecan, and cherry. From the hopper, the pellets are fed into a burn pot by an auger or some other feed mechanism. The burn pot has an igniter rod that lights up once the grill is turned on and a fan blows air to stoke the fire as well as spread the heat and smoke throughout the cooking chamber. Pellet grills come with a digital controller that enables you to select the temperature you want. The temperature you set also affects the rate of feed (the amount of pellets that are burned over a period of time). The lower the temperature, the slower the rate of feed. For higher temperatures, the auger will feed pellets into the burn pot at a faster rate.
Why Pellet? - Things to Consider
Pellet Grills Advantages
Personal Flavor: BBQ enthusiasts love charcoal grills because of the flavor it adds to your grilled meat. With a pellet grill, you get the added bonus of choosing the flavor you want based on the type of pellet you burn. You can burn one flavor at a time or customize your own by blending two or more.
Ease of Use: Unlike the traditional charcoal grills, pellet grills preheat within 10 to 15 minutes. In short, you get the quick startup of a gas grill but you also get the smoky flavor of a charcoal grill. And if you’re a fan of the “set-it-and-forget-it” technique, you’ll love the pellet grill. Because of the presence of the digital controller, you get the convenience of selecting your target temp and letting the grill do its thing. Also, since the smoke flavor from the pellets are very subtle, you don’t have to worry about oversmoking your meat. You also don’t have to worry about uneven cooking while you’re away from the grill because it operates like a convection oven.
Safety: With a pellet grill, there’s no longer any need to deal with hot coals – moving them around to suit your needs. Since most of the cooking done in a pellet grill is through indirect heat, you don’t have to worry about no sparks flying out. Pellet grills also come equipped with a deflector plate which is placed right below the cooking grate. This deflector grate absorbs the heat from the burn pot and keeps the grease from hitting the fire so no flare-ups at all. Lastly, the pellets are all natural – no added chemicals or fillers – so
Versatile: Like Kamado grills, pellet grills are very versatile. You can use it as a grill (obviously) or a smoker. You can also opt to roast, braise, or bake with it. The odd thing about pellets is that the hotter they get, the less smoke is produced. So if you’re baking a cake or a crème brulee, you won’t have to worry about the extra smoky flavor. Under 250 0F, the smoke is plentiful but still subtle which is perfect when you like to slow cook some ribs or pork shoulder.
Pellet Grills Drawbacks
Needs electricity: The control you get with a pellet grill comes with a price – electricity. So unless you have a generator or an extremely long cord, the portability of this grill is very limited. Traditional charcoal grills (kettle, barrel) and some small gas grills, on the other hand, are extremely portable – perfect for the beach, the park, or a tailgate party in the parking lot. Also, when the power is out, your pellet grill is definitely not going to be an option for cooking your meal.
High maintenance: It takes a lot of effort to clean and maintain a pellet grill. While other charcoal grills only require you to dump the ash tray and scrape the grate, pellet grills require you to also clean the deflector plate. As mentioned earlier, the grease and sauce that drip from the meat fall onto the deflector plate instead of the burn pot, preventing flare-ups. Not cleaning it means that it will smolder and turn into soot over time, affecting not only the flavor of your meat but also the heat transmission of the plate. Thoroughly cleaning the plate takes about 30 minutes. Also, you’ll need to make sure that you clean out the burn pot every after 10-15 hours of cooking. While pellets produce almost zero ash, it still accumulates over time. And ash build-up in the burn pot can prevent your ignitor rod from lighting up. Ash can also get scattered all over the lower part of the grill (below the deflector plate) so you might also need to run a vacuum under there from time to time.
Pellet grills have moving parts as well as electrical ones. This means that it can break down and repair or replacement become necessary. This is a drawback that the other charcoal grills don’t have.
Fuel Source: Unlike other charcoal grills, pellet grills are dependent on only one type of fuel source – wood pellets. And that means a higher cost. More on that below.
Cost: Pellet grills are very expensive, ranging from several hundred dollars to over $4,000. In addition, the pellets aren’t really that cheap either. They burn rather quickly, especially at high temperatures. And they’re not as available as other fuel sources like charcoal and gas. Getting yours pellets shipped to where you are is an added expense. And if the pellets get wet, they disintegrate. So if you’re not careful on where you store them, your money will disintegrate along with them. What about repair or replacement when the grill breaks down? Does the manufacturer offer one, both, or none at all?
Now we get to the bottom line. Pellet grills are definitely not perfect. They’re expensive, have limited portability, and are more likely to break down compared to traditional charcoal grills. But they’re also highly versatile, cooks with great flavor, and is easy to set up as well as use. If you’re willing to make the investment, you might find that this type of charcoal grill is exactly what you’re looking for.
Pellet Grills Reviewed
Char-Griller Wood Pro
If you want a charcoal grill because of the flavor it gives your meat but also would like something that’s more set-it-and-forget-it, then you should definitely consider getting a pellet grill. And if you’re worried about the cost of a pellet grill, don’t be. Char-Griller offers an inexpensive one that has excellent cooking performance.
What we love about it:
Nothing beats the price. Pellet grills are generally expensive but they more than makeup for it in terms of versatility. You can grill, roast, smoke, and bake with a pellet grill. Char-Griller’s Wood Pro offers you that same versatility along with great cooking performance that rivals those high-end pellet grills you find in the market today. In fact, many have compared it with Traegers’ pellet grills and their reviews state that this newcomer definitely made the grade.
While Char-Griller isn’t well-known for its durability (manufactured in China), they seem to have quality in mind when they built this one. The Wood Pro is built like a tank and seem sturdier than other pellet grills out there. The wheels make this huge grill easily portable when needed. And the collection bucket for the drip pan makes cleaning up after a cookout the easiest thing ever.
Another feature we love about this pellet grill is the temperature control and digital thermostat. You can easily set the temperature you desire and just forget about it while your meal cooks to perfection. As an bonus, you can even set the amount of smoke you want to use on your meat.
What we don’t like about it:
While the Wood Pro looks sturdy enough, there’s no telling really how long it will last. Most Char-Griller products generally last a few years. Some customers have complained about how hard it is to get replacement parts while others have problems with their Wood Pro right out of the box. The latter could probably be said for a lot of other brands.
All in all, the Wood Pro is a great deal for those who are looking to buy a quality pellet grill at a low price. According to some owners, it has definitely surpassed the cooking performance of a Traegers pellet grill at almost half the cost.
Camp Chef Woodwind Pellet Grill with Sear Box
Anyone who’s ever tried a pellet grill simply cannot go back to plain charcoal. And if you’ve ever cooked on a Camp Chef Woodwind Pellet Grill, you might never want to try any other. This fully equipped grill provides you with Smart Smoke Technology which takes “set-it-and-forget-it” to a whole new level. The grill has digital temperature control and automatic auger which keeps feeding pellets to your grill to ensure that the heat is maintained. No more babysitting work for you at all. But that’s not all this grill can do. It has a large cooking area. With 570 square inches of cooking surface, you can cook whole chickens, racks of ribs, briskets, and more to feed any hungry horde. In addition, the grill features a Sear Box which can produce the perfect seared finish by reaching up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit. This 16,000 BTU stainless steel burner, however, runs on propane, so take note. As for cleanup, you never have to worry about vacuuming any ash out since the grill comes with a patented ash cleanout system that just requires you to pull a lever to dump all the ash out. While this grill is a mite expensive, it is definitely worth the money.[/vc_column_text]
Traeger Grills Tailgater 20
Why use charcoal or gas when you can get wonderful flavors from wood, right? But one of the drawbacks to a pellet grill is its lack of portability. Or it was until Traeger came out with the Tailgater 20 Portable Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker. This pellet grill features EZ-fold legs so you can pack this baby up and take it where you want to go. Of course, it weighs a hefty 62 pounds but you probably won’t notice it much when you take it tailgating or camping as long as you have that extra hand to help you. Like any pellet grill, it comes with a digital controller that keeps your temperatures within +/- 20 degrees F of your desired temp and ensures setting your grill temp is as easy as pie. It provides you with 300 square inches of grilling space which can fit 9 4-inch burgers, 2 whole chickens, or 3 racks of ribs. Enough to feed a large tailgate party at any sports game. The porcelain grates are easy to clean. The electronic auto-start ignition means you can easily flip the on/off switch to get your grill going. Overall, if you’ve a hankering for wood-smoked meals, you can never go wrong with this Traeger.
Camp Chef SmokePro DLX PG24 Pellet Grill With Patio Cover
The Camp Chef PG24DLX Deluxe Pellet Grill and Smoker is one of the most affordable pellet grills in the market. It features smart digital temperature control and an automatic auger feed so you can set the grill and go about your day while it does the cooking for you. It has 429 square inches of primary cooking space provided by the steel rod cooking grates, powder-coated steel construction, an 18-pound capacity side mounted pellet hopper, a removable bottom mounted ash catcher, an adjustable smoke stack cap, and a temperature range of 180 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. For a pellet grill, this is a pretty decent buy. It’s highly versatile so you can use it for grilling, baking, smoking, roasting, and braising. It comes with a built-in meat probe so you can easily check your food’s temperature. However, you need to take into consideration that the lower cost of this grill means lower quality in certain areas. The lid doesn’t line up right in some units so heat retention becomes a problem. This also means more pellets will be consumed to keep the temperature within the desired range. Also, this grill is made in China.