Buying Guide

Pellet Grill Buying Guide

How Pellet Grills Work
A diagram of a pellet grill.

Pellet grills, or wood pellet smokers as they are also called, run on electricity which is used to burn the compressed wood pellets that are used for the cooking fuel; wood pellets are made of single varieties of hardwoods, sold in various types to produce different flavors in food.

The wood pellets are loaded into a hopper which connects to a fire pot with an auger tube. Based on the selected temperature, the auger consistently feeds the appropriate amount of pellets into the fire pot which then triggers an igniter to fire the wood. Using fans and a digital controller on the thermostat to maintain the correct temperature, the entire system is very clean and precise. Many are coming to favor pellet grills over gas or charcoal grills.

Advantages of a Pellet Grill
A person holding wood pellets that serve as fuel for a pellet grill.

A pellet grill or smoker offers convenient cooking. It requires no starter fuels and most models start with the push of a single button. Temperature control is simple and highly accurate; pellet grills can be set to cook at a precise thermometer mark and maintain that degree of heat. While ambient temperatures can often make it hard to maintain the correct temperature in a gas or charcoal grill, most pellet grills will fluctuate no more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit from the set point no matter what the temperature is outside. Pellet grill cooking is also very versatile. Grilling, smoking, roasting and even baking or a braise can be accomplished easily due to thermal sensors and the precise temperature control.

Wood pellets are sold in 20-pound bags and prices range from $15 to $25 per bag. Costs generally vary based on wood type. A 20-pound bag of wood pellets will allow about 20 hours of cooking time. Overall, pellet grilling averages $1 to $3 per grill session plus the costs of electricity.

Ultimately, flavor is one of the greatest advantages of the pellet grill. The simplicity of use and hardwood fuel makes it easy for even the most novice grilling enthusiast to produce well-cooked food with the smoky flavor everyone loves. 

Pellet Grill vs Gas Grill
A pellet grill cooking fish fillets.

In terms of initial cost, gas grills currently have a significant advantage over pellet grills. Gas grills are less expensive than pellet grills, and the range of gas grills ensure that just about any budget can find a gas grill that will fit. However, as pellet grills become more common in the market, prices can be expected to drop. 

Pellet grills take slightly longer to reach their set temperature than a gas grill; however, pellet grills have the distinct advantage of being able to maintain temperature more easily, and therefore will produce more consistent results.

Gas grills perform best when cooking at high temperatures, making them a champ at searing steaks or other cuts of beef. Pellet grills, on the other hand, produce great results across a range of temperatures, which is what supports this grill’s versatility at cooking many different dishes. In addition, pellet grills are normally insulated very well, which adds to their usefulness in cooking items which need low temperatures and longer cook times. 

Disadvantages of Pellet Grills
A pellet grill cooking meat and poultry.

When thinking about the pros and cons of a pellet grill, the advantages tend to tip the scale in the grill's favor. The only significant drawback of a pellet grill is that it requires an electrical outlet to operate. For some grillers this might limit the positioning of the grill outdoors. This also means that pellet grills are not suitable for camping or tailgating unless you also bring along a generator.

In addition, the wood pellets that the grill uses for fuel are a specialty item, so it is best to keep a backup bag of pellets in storage at home. While you can usually find charcoal and even spare propane tanks at larger grocery stores now, wood pellets are generally stocked only online or at home improvement or grilling equipment stores. If you happen to run out in the middle of a grilling session, you might not be able to easily secure more pellets.

The only other disadvantage is one of aesthetics. Since the heat source in a pellet grill is primarily indirect heat, produced by the circulation of the heated air inside the grill, you will not get the clear grill marks and degree of sear you would from other grills such as gas or charcoal. If this look is important to you however, there are searing inserts you can purchase as pellet grill accessories, or you can simply preheat a cast-iron pan or griddle on the grill grates of the pellet grill before you begin your cook session and use this for searing.