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Pellet grills (a.k.a. pellet smokers) are quickly becoming a backyard favorite of casual foodies and barbecue enthusiasts alike. And this surge in pellet smoker popularity isn’t surprising, as the best pellet grills offer upgraded flavor and ease-of-use that traditional gas and charcoal grills can’t match. Here’s what you need to know about shopping for a pellet grill.
What is a Pellet Grill?
Instead of a fixed open flame like gas or charcoal grills, pellet grills use a hopper and firebox system. The hopper continuously feeds the firebox with fresh wood pellets that allow the grill to run for hours at a time (these wood pellets are much cheaper than propane, by the way). Hoppers usually feature an electric auger that feeds the firebox as needed. The smokey heat produced by this continued wood-burning is trapped in the grill, slowly cooking meat while infusing that sought-after, authentic smokey flavor. Plus, you can experiment with different types of wood pellets to produce unique flavors.
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This system of automatically replenished wood pellets makes pellet grills very easy to use. Just close the lid and walk away while your meat is cooked to smokey perfection. Recently, monitoring pellet grills has become even easier thanks to tech upgrades such as WiFi connectivity, which allow you to check and adjust temperatures from your smartphone.
Although they’re called pellet grills, these cookers are actually somewhere in-between a grill and an outdoor oven. With the best pellet grills, you get a range of cooking options including barbecuing, roasting, and baking, in addition to slow grilling.
What Makes a Good Pellet Grill?
Pellet grills are a no-brainer for cooks and certified carnivores, but because pellet smokers only became mainstream quite recently, many shoppers don’t know where to start. To help out, we’ve rounded up some of the best pellet grills to help upgrade your backyard and your dinner table. Below are a few things to consider while shopping for the best pellet grills.
Cooking Space: How many people will you be feeding? If it’s just your family or a few friends, something with a cooking area of around 700 to 900 square inches is best. If you want to cook for larger parties, go with a pellet grill that has over 1,000 square inches of cooking area.
Materials: The build quality of a pellet smoker not only dictates how long it will last while sitting outside, but also how well it will cook. The best pellet grills have stainless steel throughout – not just on the exterior.
Hopper: The size of a pellet grill’s hopper dictates how long the grill can cook. Generally speaking, more pellets equals longer cook times. Some grills burn pellets more efficiently than others, but most pellet grills burn a pound of pellets in about one to three hours, depending on the heat setting.
Cooking Options: As mentioned, most pellet grills can do more than just grill. The best pellet grills feature an array of cooking options such as baking, braising, BBQing and smoking.
Features: Some added features that make a pellet grill easier and more effective include WiFi connectivity, meat probes and a good control panel. WiFi connection will let you monitor temperature and pellet levels from anywhere, while an integrated meat probe will let you check the actual temperature of the meat.
What Are the Best Pellet Grills?
We’ve rounded up some of the best pellet grills on the market, based on performance, power and ease of use.
1. Memphis Grills Elite Pellet Smoker
BEST IN CLASS
Memphis Grills’s Elite model is the Rolls Royce of pellet smokers. The grill packs some impressive features and spec, but what really makes it the best pellet grill is build quality. The Elite is made of 100% dual-walled, sealed stainless steel. This premium construction means it can sit your backyard for years without rusting, but it also cultivates the tastiest meals possible.
One of the benefits of this high-quality build is a scorching max temperature of 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can also go as low as 180 for extra-slow cooking and is controlled via Memphis’s smartphone app.
The Elite grill also features a large 24-pound hopper that can keep the smoker going for up to 62 hours all by itself. As for the cooking area, it’s not the biggest on our list with 844 square inches, but that’s enough for most families and small gatherings.
2. Cuisinart Clermont
Cuisinart’s Clermont is an all-in-one grill and smoker whose multi-functionality actually works. The high-tech grill runs on wood pellets, which Cuisinart offers in an assortment of styles. The auger feeds pellets into the hopper at a sustained rate, so all you have to do is set the temperature, and wait for the Clermont to get hot enough.
In our tests, the Clermont performed very well. It takes a little while for it to get fully heated, but its temperature stays consistent after that. This smoker has three racks for a combined total of 1,400 square inches of cooking surface. This allowed us to cook a lot of food at once without crowding each layer. The only downside is that the Clemont is pretty large, measuring in at 64-inches tall and 58-inches wide. If you have the space, it’s well worth it.
We used the Clermont to grill and smoke meats, but were pleasantly surprised at the fact that somesmokey flavor was imparted onto meat from our shorter cooks. Whether you’re cooking an all-day brisket or burgers, you’ll get some smokiness. Like Weber’s Genesis EX-335, the Cuisinart Clermont offers meat probes with wireless connectivity via an app. The grill will let you know when your meat is done cooking, which is especially important during longer cooks. Again, we advise you to make sure the probe is inserted directly into the center of your meat.
If you’re intimidated at the prospect of having a smoker, Cuisinart’s Clermont is the ideal tool. It’s easy to use, incredibly simple to clean, and it even has notches to hold your cooking tools and paper towels. It’ll quickly become a staple piece of your backyard, and the results will speak for themselves.
3. Traeger Pro Series 780 Pellet Grill
Another great option from the pellet grill gurus at Traeger is this Pro Series 780. The Pro Series isn’t quite as advanced as the Timberline series, but it’s ideal for anyone just getting into pellet smoking and still more than enough for most grill masters.
The Pro Series comes in two variations, 575 and 780, denoting cooking space. The 575 is great, but we think the 780 is a better size for cooking family meals or stepping up for larger parties.
Although the Timberline is the Pro Series’s big brother, the latter is the techie of the two with Alexa connectivity. That’s right: this grill can be controlled and monitored with voice commands using Alexa. The Pro Series also has Traeger’s WiFIRE app control for changing temperatures, checking pellet levels and so on.
As you’d expect from Traeger, there’s no shortage of power and versatility with the Pro Series. A brushless DC motor-driven auger and a wide temperature range (180 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit) ensure smooth, easy cooking with any slap of meat. The hopper fits 18 pounds of pellets, which should be enough for nine hours of cooking on high heat or 18 hours on low.
4. Camp Chef SmokePro SG 24 Pellet Grill
BEST BEGINNER SMOKER
If you just want to dip your toe into pellet grilling or don’t want the commitment of a large smoker, check out Camp Chef’s SmokePro SG. It’s smaller than our other picks but an extra rack brings the total cooking area to a respectable 811 square inches, or enough for 40 burgers.
Despite the SmokePro’s smaller size, it packs a serious punch in terms of power and technology. With a very impressive temperature range of 160 to 650 degrees Fahrenheit, the grill is quite powerful. Add a large 22-pound hopper and you’re ready to smoke, grill or bake for more than 10 hours.
Technology is top-notch as well with connectivity to Camp Chef’s own smartphone app. From the app, you can monitor and control the grill, but it’ll also let you schedule an automatic shut off when your meat is done cooking.
The only downside with the Camp Chef is the build quality. The SmokePro can’t compete with the construction quality of Traeger or Memphis, so this is best for casual chefs rather than aspiring pros.