Pellet smokers/grills are becoming more popular within the grilling/smoking community. It is a fairly new advancement in the ways of barbecue. Pellet smokers, also known as pellet grills, are powered using hardwood pellets. Pellet smokers are a lot more similar to an outdoor oven than your standard charcoal or gas grill.
This is our definitive buying guide to the best pellet smokers for 2021. In this article, we’re going to outline all the things you need to know about pellet smokers and how to buy them. We’re also going to provide our top list of pellet smokers to give you a great reference when you decide to shop for one. Read on to learn all about pellet smokers.
What is a Pellet Smoker?
A pellet smoker, also commonly known as a pellet smoker, uses ignited wood pellets and a system of fans to heat up to your desired temperature. It operates as an outdoor convection oven. Pellet smokers are very versatile, it can be used to grill, smoke, braise, and even bake foods. Almost anything that can be made in a standard oven can be done on a pellet smoker.
How Does a Pellet Smoker Work?
The pellet grill generates heat by placing wood pellets inside a chamber called the “
pellet hopper”. These wood pellets move through an auger and to a firepot. This heats the grill’s entire cooking chamber of the pellet smoker. The smoke and heat are distributed throughout the grill area via the fan system. The results in a much more natural and rich woody flavor because of the wooden pellets.
Pellet Smoker: Pros & Cons
In this section, we’re going to look at the pros and cons of using a pellet smoker.
- Ease of Use
Pellet smokers are mode lower the barrier of entry for new barbecue enthusiasts. Charcoal may be great for high-temperature cooking; it can be very tricky to get right for new grillers. Gas grills are easier to use compared to charcoal types, however, they can be very pricey especially those that produce high temperatures. A decent pellet smoker is reasonably priced, around $600, and can help new grillers cook the best-smoked meals.
- Simplified Smoking Process
Charcoal smoking using traditional wood is very challenging. The process is very demanding. You have to maintain a steady temperature for up to 12 hours. Not only that, you need to keep feeding the coalbed, monitor internal temperatures, and maybe also entertain your guests. Pellet smokers are built specifically for convenience. All you need to do is to prepare the pellet smoker and place your food inside. You don’t need to tend to the fire or monitor the vents for heat flow; the pellet smoker’s built-in computers will take care of that for you.
- Convenient Grilling
Smart technology has only been available in the latest grills, however, pellet grills have had them for years. You only need to place the wood pellets in the chamber, turn on the grill, select your desired, and pre-heat the interior. Once you start cooking, you can monitor the internal temperature of the grill from the comfort of your sofa using the app on your phone.
- Not as Good as a Grill
Even though pellet smokers are sometimes called pellet grills, true grills still beat them at high-temperature cooks. Most pellet smokers have max temperatures of 450 degrees. Pellet smokers also don’t operate using direct heat like charcoal or gas grills. A pellet smoker may not be for you if you like to cook using high temperatures such as when grilling steaks.
- Technical Difficulties
It is expected that pellet smokers have more moving parts compared to charcoal or gas grills. A lot of moving parts means a higher chance of those parts breaking down. If you’re planning on buying a pellet smoker, make sure that you buy it from a company that has great warranties and functioning customer service. You’re going to want full support from the manufacturer whenever something inevitably goes wrong with your pellet smokers.
Things to Consider When Shopping for the Best Pellet Grills
There are plenty of pellet grill designs available, most of them will be very basic and similar. However, there are also plenty of features, some advanced, that you should watch out for. These features can make your pellet smoking and grilling experience a lot more convenient and efficient.
Pellet smokers often feature smart-tech features that enhance convenience and efficiency. There are Wi-Fi pellet smokers that can monitor their meat temperatures and grilling area. This will allow grillers to make temperature adjustments wherever they may be.
Pellet smoker models can vary in size, from compact portable ones to commercial size units. To determine the right model size for you, determine how many people you’re going to cook for. You should also consider the space you have at home. Portable pellet grills are also great for camping trips.
Warranties are especially important to watch out for when shopping for pellet smokers. Ask the length of time and coverage of the warranty the manufacturer offers. The typical length for pellet smoker warranties is around two years. You should also check out the manufacturer and their customer service quality. However, most of the brands that we’ve seen are very helpful and dependable whenever you have any problems.
You won’t be able to tell the build quality of a pellet smoker by just looking alone, you need to feel it by touch. This is why we recommend going to local stores instead of only browsing online when you want to buy pellet smokers. If it feels and looks cheap, it most likely is. Cheaply built pellet smokers will not last and will fail you when you need them.
Know Your Pellet Smoker Class
There are different classifications of pellet grills, categorized based on their features, performance, and overall quality. These categories are Entry-Level, Practical, Premium, and Luxury. In this section, we’ll provide details about each category and what you can expect when you buy them. This will help you choose the right model that will fit your lifestyle and budget.
Entry-Level Pellet Smokers
- These models most often struggle to reach 500 degrees. They are mostly designed for low-and-slow cooking methods
- Generally made using powder-coated steel
- Has the least amount of features and limited versatility due to relatively low temperatures.
- Only has pre-set temperatures via non-PID controllers
Practical Pellet Smokers
- The temperature range is around 200 to 600 degrees. They can allow baking, grilling, and smoking with ease
- Internal temperatures for these models are generally consistent, staying at 15 degrees of the grill’s current setting.
- Some models may also come with special features that allow direct-flame grilling.
- Built using a mix of power coated or painted steel and stainless steel.
Luxury Pellet Smokers
- Built only with the highest quality stainless steel for guaranteed long-lasting durability
- Temperatures inside the cooking chamber will always reflect what you’ve set as the temperature setting.
- These models have the widest temperature range of any pellet grill. Perfect for anything from slow-and-low smoking to high-heat searing.
- It has plenty of built-in configurations that make it a great addition to your outdoor kitchen.
Pellet Smoker’s Configuration Types
Pellet smokers have different configuration types that are made to do well in specific situations.
Freestanding Pellet Grills
Freestanding pellet grills are the most common configuration types for pellet grills. This offers mobility around your home or backyard. Freestanding pellet grills may also feature bottom and side shelves for storage. Some of them also have extra cooking appliances attached such as gas side burners. Portable pellet cookers are also considered freestanding pellet grills. The portable models typically run using a 12-volt battery or a mobile battery pack. These are great for camping and tailgating.
Built-in Pellet Grills
It is also possible to integrate your pellet grill into your BBQ islands. However, not all of them are compatible so you should do your diligent research. Built-in pellet cookers are also considered a luxury. This guarantees that they will be stainless steel for practicality and style.
Controller Types: PID, Non-PID, and PID-Plus
You may be wondering how pellet grills can run by themselves. The secret is in their intuitive temperature controllers. These controllers manage the smoker’s pellet consumption and stoke the fire as needed to achieve the target heat and smoke levels. In this section, we’re going to look at the different control types for pellet grills.
- PID Controllers
There was a recent surge in popularity for Proportional Integral Derivative or PID controllers in the industry. A lot of pellet smoker models use the newest smart technology today. However, some use the old, less precise tech. PID controllers allow very precise controls on fan speed while also helping to maintain accuracy and temperatures. This is why PID controllers are a must-have if you want to be more efficient in your grilling.
- Non-PID Controllers
Non-PID controllers are the old-school pellet grill controllers that provide pre-set temperatures from “Low”, “Medium”, to “High”. This is why they are also called “LMH” controllers. These controllers aren’t the most reliable, they hover between 30 to 40 degrees of your desired temperature. If you want highly accurate and specific temperatures, you should avoid Non-PID controllers. These controllers are very common among entry-level or cheap pellet smokers. If you intend on buying these types of pellet smokers, we highly recommend getting a separate grill thermometer so that you can monitor your meat and grill temperatures better.
- PID-Plus Controllers
Manufacturers didn’t stop at improving control and efficiency via the PID controllers, they have also equipped them with even more smart technology. The most common PID-Plus addition is the combination of Wi-Fi connection and smartphone applications that let you control your pellet grill from anywhere in your home. These apps also help you monitor your cooking and also send alerts. Some models even go further to improve convenience by providing a built-in library full of recipes and guides in their touchscreen interface.
Best Pellet Smokers for 2021
Now that you’re more knowledgeable about pellet smokers and their different features, let’s look at our top list of the best pellet smokers in 2021. We’ve picked these models because we believe that they are the best bang for the buck in their respective categories. Let’s dive right in!
Best Overall Pellet Smoker – Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Grill
If you’re looking for a pellet smoker that excels at various departments, this model won’t disappoint. The Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Grill is our top choice overall. This pellet smoker is very easy to assemble. It is constructed using heavy-gauge steel ensuring long-lasting durability. We haven’t encountered any serious technical difficulties when we tested it. It also features 572 square inches of cooking space, perfect for small gatherings.
What we love the most is that this model operates with better precision compared to most of the models in its price range. It is fairly cheap, for how well it performs. It also goes on sale numerous times; you may even catch it for even cheaper.
Best Budget Pellet Smoker – Pit Boss 820 Pro
Not interested in splurging on a pellet smoker? We’ve got you covered with the Pit Boss 820 Pro. It features 820 square inches of grilling area, plenty of room for entertaining a small gathering. For its price point, it is very well-built and the construction quality isn’t too bad. This model doesn’t have many features, however, it does have a meat probe that notifies you when your food is finished. It also has a post handle that lets you change the heat source from indirect to direct.
Best Portable Pellet Smoker – Traeger Ranger Wood Pellet Grill
Looking for a pellet smoker to bring with you during outdoor trips? The Traeger Ranger Wood Pellet Grill will accompany you on your next camping trip. Don’t underestimate its small size, it has enough power for a 12-hour brisket smoke session. We are very impressed with the build quality and performance despite the price and size. It features porcelain-coated grates and a drip tray for easy clean-up. Despite being fairly small in size, it is still very heavy; weighing at 60 pounds.
That concludes our buying guide for the best pellet smokers for 2021. We hope that you’ve learned something new about pellet smokers. If you’re still unsure about our list, you can use it as a price and feature reference when you shop for your new pellet smoker.