The Best Pellet Grills That Make Cooking Easy
It’s increasingly likely that you’ve come across a pellet grill or heard a friend rave about one—they seem to be popping up everywhere. But their rise in popularity has been a slow build. In fact, pellet grills date back to 1985, when Joe Traeger patented the design. It involves an auger that feeds hardwood pellets made from sawdust into a fire pot, where they burn and can create a nice smoke. A fan feeds air to the fire to ensure that robust combustion and temperature are maintained by the frequency the pellets are delivered. Traeger’s grills became available in the late ’80s and were the only ones of their kind for nearly 20 years—until the patent expired in 2006.
You can now buy a pellet model from almost every grill brand, and competition has driven development that has made them easy to use and versatile, able to grill, smoke, roast, braise, baste, and bake. Here, we’ve reviewed the best, as determined by our testing.
Take a look below at quick info on the top five pellet grills, then scroll down for buying advice and in-depth reviews of these and other models.
How They Work
Pellet grills and smokers are basically wood-burning cookers, fueled by pellets made from compressed sawdust. The pellets are fed to a fire pot, where an electric heating element ignites them at start-up. A fan feeds air to the fire pot to start and keep it burning hot. That fan cycling on and off (done with a thermostatic controller) and the frequency or speed the pellets are delivered to the fire pot both help maintain the temperature inside the grill.
The fire pot is located in the center of the grill, at the bottom, and is relatively small. Above the fire pot there is a large metal plate or pan that diffuses the heat and distributes it evenly. Most grills will have some way to open the center of the diffuser to provide more direct heat—addressing an early concern with pellet grills’ abilities to reach heat high enough to sear.
One of the advantages of pellet grills is how they regulate and maintain temperature. More expensive models do this with a digital proportional integral derivative (PID) controller. In the simplest terms, a PID employs a control loop that constantly calculates the difference between the set temperature and the current measured temperature, and then it applies a correction. Less expensive grills use a standard controller, with pre-set auger and fan speeds and intervals based on your target temperature. Models with these will deviate more from the set temperature.
Manufacturers typically place heat sensors on the side of the grill closest to the controller, slightly above the grates. But that’s typically not where you’re cooking. And they can’t put it where you’re grilling or smoking because, well, that’s where you’re grilling or smoking. So there will often be a difference between what you see on the controls and where the meat or veggies are.
Although wood pellets fuel the grill, the temperature controllers and auger feed systems require electricity to operate. Keep in mind that they need to be within reach of an electrical outlet.
How We Tested
We began our pellet grill evaluations by assessing heat distribution. To do this, we cranked the grills all the way up, then covered them with slices of white bread, and after a couple of minutes, flipped the bread over: Any hot spots clearly showed up in the char marks on the toasted bread. Then came time to grill and smoke—we cooked marinated chicken leg quarters, thick beef burgers, and assorted vegetables, then smoked brisket and made beef jerky. Finally, to test how well each grill held its temperature, we placed sensors in the centers of the grill/smoker chamber, two inches above the cooking grate, and logged the results for an hour, beginning at start-up—we also recorded the maximum temperature over sear zones (the spot on some grills where you can cook over direct heat). All the while, we considered ease of use, capabilities, design, construction, and appearance.
How Well Each Held Temperature Over Time
The Camp Chef and Traeger grills kept the temperature fairly tight—no surprise, given they have excellent PID controllers. (Note that the Traeger initiates a start-up cycle before kick-ing up the heat, hence the flat line for the first ten minutes.) The Cuisinart also uses a PID, but its temperature fluctuated more than the others, largely due to its cavernous volume. The grills from Oklahoma Joe’s, Pit Boss, and Country Smokers all use standard controllers. You’ll see that their temperatures bounced up and down a bit more than the others.
Camp Chef Woodwind Wi-Fi 24
Cooking surface: 811 total sq in. | Hopper capacity: 22 lb | Temperature range: 160°F to 500°F | Recorded high: 629.6°F | Temperature probes: 4 | Sear zone: Yes | Wi-Fi/app compatibility: Yes
The Woodwind Wi-Fi 24 is an attractive, versatile grill that fits better in tight spaces due to its vertical legs and small footprint. We tested it with a nice propane-fueled griddle attaches to the side (called the Sidekick), which runs independently of the pellet grill controller. Heat distribution was even, equaled only by the Traeger. And the sear zone was perhaps the easiest to use, with a slide that pulls out to expose the center of the cooking grate to the direct heat of the flame. The color LCD control screen allows you to set the temperature and the amount of smoke produced. (You can also do that on the grill’s app.) We appreciated all the features and the addition of the Sidekick, but they add to the cost—the Woodwind Wi-Fi 24 runs $800 without the griddle. At the time of publishing, the Woodwind Wi-Fi 24 bundled with the Sidekick was sold out, but you can still buy the Sidekick separately for $239.99.
―BEST VALUE PELLET GRILL―
Oklahoma Joe’s Rider 900
Cooking surface: 906 total sq in. | Hopper capacity: 20 lb | Smoker temperature range: 200°F to 300°F | Grill temperature range: Low–High | Recorded high: 640.5°F | Temperature probes: 1 provided, accepts 2| Sear zone: Yes | Wi-Fi/app compatibility: No
The Rider 900 has a three-piece, porcelain-coated, cast-iron grate that has plenty of mass and helps maintain a steady temperature. And unlike many other options, the Rider has smoke and grill settings in two different scales on the same dial, with temperature listed up to 300°F for smoking, then low, medium, and high above that for grilling. We smoked brisket in the lower range and grilled chicken in the low end of the grilling range. The unconventional control was odd but delivered delicious results.
―BEST MID-SIZE PELLET GRILL―
Traeger Pro Series 575
Cooking surface: 575 total sq in. | Hopper capacity: 18 lb | Temperature range: 160°F to 500°F | Recorded high: 531.8°F | Temperature probes: 1 | Sear zone: No | Wi-Fi/app compatibility: Yes
From the originators of the pellet grill, the Traeger Pro 575 is a solid performer. In our testing, it produced plenty of smoke at consistent temperatures for our brisket, which we cooked overnight. And Traeger’s app delivers all the info we needed so we didn’t have to step outside to check on the grill. The white bread test revealed remarkably even heat. This meant that we didn’t worry about leaving anything in one place for too long and that the burgers were all done about the same time. The 575 delivers pleasing, consistent results and can smoke at lower temperatures than many others.
―BEST PELLET SMOKER―
Pitt Boss Copperhead 5-Series Smoker
Cooking surface: 1,657 total sq in. | Hopper capacity: 55 lb | Temperature range: 150°F to 450°F | Recorded high: N/A | Temperature probes: 1 | Sear zone: No | Wi-Fi/app compatibility: No
We pulled the best brisket of the test off the Copperhead 5-Series. Admittedly, as a dedicated cabinet smoker, this Pit Boss has an advantage when it comes to that particular cut. The glass door is a nice feature, allowing you to monitor things without opening it and losing heat. It is a double-edged sword, though, because we had to clean it after each use to see what was going on inside. The first meat we put in the smoker was that brisket, going for 9.5 hours at 225°F. As it fed in pellets, the unit produced visibly more smoke, something we found quite reassuring. Cleaning the resulting ash out the fire pot and smoke chamber afterward was a simple process and should take you just a few minutes with a shop vac.
―BEST PORTABLE PELLET GRILL―
Country Smokers Traveler
Cooking surface: 256 sq in. | Hopper capacity: 3.5 lb | Temperature range: 225°F to 450°F, + High | Recorded high: 73 0.1° F | Temperature probes: No | Sear zone: Yes | Wi-Fi/app compatibility: No
The Traveler is about as stripped-down and simple a pellet grill as you can find. It’s also one of the least expensive. That’s good news, because we found it to be a very nice little grill, capable of smoking low and slow, as well as grilling burgers and chicken. The relatively small internal volume means you’ll want to keep it closed as much as possible—especially when smoking on it—since opening the Traveler causes the temperature to drop quite a bit. When we did crack it open, we found that the “High” setting, above 450 degrees, helped keep constant temperatures on the cooking surface. We were initially wary of the small hopper and expected to be constantly filling it, but that wasn’t the case. We smoked for about six hours before having to top it off—and it probably could have gone a little longer.
―BIGGEST PELLET GRILL/SMOKER—
Cuisinart Clermont Grill and Smoker
Cooking surface: 1,400 total sq in. | Hopper capacity: 40 lb | Temperature range: 160°F to 600°F | Recorded high: 692.4°F | Temperature probes: 2 | Sear zone: Yes | Wi-Fi/app compatibility: Yes
The Clermont is a behemoth, at nearly 65 inches wide and with 1,400 square inches of space. Think of it as a multi-purpose outdoor cooker, with sealed glass doors, two oven racks above the grill surface, internal lighting, and a wrap-around workspace. When smoking brisket, we placed it on the middle rack in the center of the grill, where temperatures were more stable. We grilled burgers, chicken, and vegetables on the main cooking grates without issue. But we did find a hot spot to the right of center on the main grill. When we did want to apply some direct heat, sliding the front lever to open the vents and warm up the sear zone to add some color and finish things off was easy.
Published at Tue, 25 May 2021 18:19:00 +0000