Pellets look like rabbit chow. They are about the width of a pencil and as long as a couple of erasers. If they get wet they turn into a pile of sawdust. The beauty of pellets is that they have none of the additives and fillers in charcoal briquets, so they combust almost completely. Almost zero ash. The pellets provide the heat as well as flavor. No need to add wood chips. Surprisingly, they do not produce overly smoky food. If anything, the food is undersmoked to some people because the combustion is so complete.
Once you start paying more than $500, you’re looking at a big boy professional level machine. It’s going to be big enough that you don’t have to worry about having the neighbours over as well as the family. You’re also looking at more expensive sensors and thermostats, so you get a more consistent temperature, which leads to a much better end result, and there’s generally some sort of cleaning assist built in, which makes cleanup and putting it away at night so much easier.
Well built and compact, this smoker and grill still has a 300 square inch cooking space, and is generally big enough to fit a small turkey inside, so it’s ample for six to eight people. It’s really easy to use, with an automated electric start, front mounted thermometer and idiot proof digital controls that make this so simple, an absolute beginner could walk up to it, have a quick play around and start cooking.
On Tabletop Models: I didn’t include them here because though extensive, this post is more of an overview of a few select makers of Pellet Smokers I think do a fine job with both manufacturing and product support. The one exception is that I did include a link to where you can find the Rec-Tec mini. That’s Rec-Tec’s answer to the smaller, tabletop or tailgating models.
The initial design by Mr. Traeger consisted of a “classic” drum barrel shaped grill design with a chimney on top. Instead of the firebox, the grill contained a pellet hopper. It used a fan to distribute the heat evenly over the pellets. Unlike the modern pellet grills, the original design didn’t include any auto-ignition features and the pellets had to be lit manually.
It also has the standardized dial-in digital control with LED readout (not to the point that it has WiFi like the Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Pellet Grill, but still quite convenient). However, it’s rated low on this list because of poor quality control. Too many customers ended up with bad Pit Bosses that have inconsistent temperature control (going all the way to 615° Fahrenheit).
Technology is a focus of many pellet grill manufacturers today including features such as Bluetooth temperature controls with an option to download an application on your smartphone. While these features are great, they can sometimes get in the way of the actual materials used to create the structure of the grill. At Grilla Grills, we’ve always put the focus on what we, and our customers, believe are the most important components of the grill. That means you’re paying for high-quality components in the places that tend to be most likely to fail on other cheaper grills, and many in the same price range that have more bells and whistles.
In 1982 Traeger Heating in Oregon began experimenting with a furnace that would burn wood pellets made from compressed sawdust, a byproduct of the area lumber mills, and before long introduced a home heating system that they sold mostly locally. Since furnaces sold mostly in cold months, before long they began experimenting with a grill that would burn pellets, too. Eventually they created a device with an auger to feed the pellets and a blower to help them burn.
Hey Jimmy, thanks for commenting here about your experience. I’m sorry to hear your experience was less than optimal. I have only cooked on the Traeger pro models. I do know that it is good practice to vacuum out the burn pot after cooks of a few hours or more. Not sure this was where your problems were initiated. Did you contact Traeger support? If so, what was their response?
Controlling temperature is the best way to get the desired piece of cooked meat. This smoker grill has a built-in thermostatic control and a digital thermometer, so that means you won’t have to do much guesswork during barbecue. If the sensors sense a fall in temperature, more wood pellets are added to the burner, which allows you to place the meat on grill and relax.
A pellet smoker with a primary cooking area of 500 square inches should be sufficient for an average-sized family who wants to have the occasional cookout. If you’re cooking for yourself or a couple, tailgating, or camping, we recommend going for smaller units. It all depends on your needs, keep in mind that bigger doesn’t always mean better. You don’t want to be paying extra money for space you won’t use at all.
What sets Z Grills apart significantly from the rest of competitive grills is a completely different construction that is more resembling of something like gas grills, which means a door in the front that one can keep grilling accessories behind. Usually most of manufacturers leave the front of the grill open and don’t make use of the space underneath the grill which gives Z Grills huge thumbs up for using this space in a nice and creative way.