Pellet grills are the newest addition to the grilling line-up. Using wood pellets as a fuel source not only provides an easy alternative to other smoking options, it infuses foods with incomparable flavor.
What is a Pellet Grill?
A pellet grill uses wood pellets as a fuel source. Pellet grills also use electricity to power the grill, requiring an outlet or generator.
The pellets get loaded into a hopper, which is a storage area for the pellets while grilling. The hopper loads pellets into the auger, which moves pellets from the hopper into the ignition chamber or fire pot. A component called the “hot rod” ignites pellets that are in the chamber creating smoke and heat.
Pellet grills offer extreme versatility since the heat controls are unmatched in the industry. Most brands advertise pellet grills as being able to smoke, bake, grill, and roast. Though most people use them for smoking foods.
Almost all pellet grills have a fan that will stoke the fire and circulate smoke and heat throughout the grill. Giving the user extreme ease in using a pellet grill.
Pros and Cons of a Pellet Grill
Like most things on the market, a pellet grill has pros and cons. I’ll list the pros first.
Pros of Pellet Grills
Pellet grills offer unmatched heat control. Being an electric controlled grill, pellet grills have controllers that regulate the temperature for the user. This heat regulation, in some of the high-end models, can control temperature to extreme precision.
Gas grills can offer the same heat control, but not at the same level. Charcoal does not have temperature control at all.
Pellet grills are considered a place and wait grill. Due to the conventional heating and smoke circulation, pellet grills will evenly cook foods without having to move them around. Compared to gas and charcoal where you might need many cook zones to avoid overcooking.
Most pellet grills you can buy also include a built-in drip pan under the grates. This addition completely removes flare-ups. No need to worry about trimming excess fats or using certain marinades. Gas and charcoal grills cannot offer this and will always have a risk of flare-ups.
Since the heat is controlled so well, pellet grills are versatile. For one price you can get an oven, a grill, and a smoker.
If you are looking for the most bang for your buck when buying a grill, pellet grills may be your option.
On top of all these pros, pellet grills are super easy to use. Load the hopper, plug it in, let it heat up and you’re ready to smoke. No need to constantly stoke a fire or check the foods. No need to move them around as the grill moves the heat and smoke right to the food.
You can literally place the foods on the grill and walk away. Something you can’t do with gas or charcoal.
Not to mention since the pellet grill runs on wood pellets there is no need to haul those gas tanks around anymore. You will still need to buy pellets, but you can buy them in such bulk that you should never really run low.
Yet nothing is perfect and pellet grills do include some cons.
Cons of Pellet Grills
They are not good for wet conditions, we are grilling with wood after all. The pellets can deteriorate if they get wet. Keep your pellets dry and you should be able to avoid this problem.
Since the grill uses indirect heat the grill marks associated with grilled foods won’t be as pronounced. You can purchase accessories to help create that iconic grill marks, but out of the box, most grills will be lacking in this department.
The grill is electric and so is at the whims of electricity. I could throw my charcoal grill in my car and take it anywhere. The pellet grills need to be plugged in. Yes, you could use a generator to power one but now we are just using gas again.
Since the internal components of the grill are electric and moving they can break down, causing your whole grill to become nonfunctional. This is a risk with any electronics. You can offset this con by buying from a reputable company with a strong warranty!
Tips for Pellet Grilling
Pellet grills are wood-fired grills and so choosing the right wood for the foods you’re cooking is vital.
Research the suggested pairings of wood types with certain foods. For example, Hickory is a good option for Pork and chicken, but not recommended for seafood.
Research your wood choices!
Since the wood pellets are susceptible to the elements storage is key. Storing wood pellets in a dry place is vital to keeping them fresh and usable.
If storing inside keep pellets elevated off the ground and store in a dry location. Try to store in an airtight container!
If inside storage is not an option don’t freak out! Outside storage is possible too. Like before, keeping pellets off the ground. Use a tarp to cover the pellets and use weights to hold the tarp down. Place an object at the top of the pellets under the tarp so that the top of the tarp is not flat. A flat tarp collects rainwater, whereas a slanted top lets rainwater slide off.
Most importantly check on your pellets!
The hopper is not a long-term storage option. Yes, you can keep pellets in there for a day or two, but any longer than that you should empty the pellets out and store them properly.
Research what your grill can do! Some of the higher end models offer some cool perks such as cold smoking, perfect for that lox style salmon! Pellet grills are super versatile don’t hold yourself back.
Pellet Grill Buying Guide: What to Look For
When buying a new pellet grill, I suggest the first thing you look at is the company itself. A good company will make longer lasting grills.
You should also research the warranty offered by the company to ensure repairs if anything does break.
Check to see what kind of temperature control the unit has. Some are better than others at holding temperatures even in different weather conditions.
When in doubt ask for help!
Always look at the size of the hopper and the cooking space. It would be a shame to buy a grill that is lacking in cook space. If the hopper is too small you may not be able to grill for long periods of time without reloading it.
Look at the temperature range of the grill! Grills vary in the high and low temps they can operate at if you don’t check you’ll find out when you need those extra degrees! Check twice, cook once.
Check the construction of the grill. You most likely will be buying a painted steel grill and so ensure that the paint is of high quality. You don’t want a grill that has low-quality paint as it can chip and boil in the heat.
Once steal is exposed it can rust ruining your brand-new grill.
The best option is Stainless steel!
Ask questions about the material of the firepot (The area where the pellets are ignited). It is the most replaced part on pellet grills and asking these questions before buying will get you more life out of your purchase.
Know the difference between cheap and affordable. It’s true that pellet grills can become very costly very fast. Yet some people feel that the cheaper models are more affordable. That is not always true.
A cheaper model will require more replacement which will offset the cost of a more expensive grill with better construction.
Do your research, don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Improvising a pellet grill
If going and buying an actual pellet grill is a bit much – maybe you already have a charcoal grill – then there’s ways to still get that woody, smoky flavor.
For this you need two items: a smoker bot, and wood chips.
The difference between wood chips and pellets is that wood chips retain much more of the tree’s actual flavor, thus impart better smoke flavor.
You’ll find a very good and sturdy smoker box on my Best Smoker Box page (recommended gear), which is made of thick aluminium, and will not warp when exposed to severe heat.
It’s easy to load, and easy to clean, and most importantly it can hold enough wood chips to let you smoke an entire meal in one go !
Second, you’re going to need the wood chips to smoke the meta (or what else you’re grilling).
There are many wood types to choose from (more on that here), and you should always soak those chips in a little water before using them.
For example Oak and Whiskey are medium hardness woods, and lend their flavor better to stronger meats. If you were tog rill chicken, I recommend you use Apple or Pecan.
A good set of smoking chips can be found on my Best Smoking Chips page, where you’ll find the Western brand. They’ve got bags of 180 sq inch of wood chips, and those can last you the whole grilling season.