Their behavior is sometimes counterintuitive. The hotter they get, the less smoke they produce, and at their top settings, they don't produce much smoke at all. This is good for when you are baking cakes or pies or doing dishes that don't need smoke. But down under 250°F, they produce plenty of mild, elegant smoke. And even though the fuel is wood, it is hard to oversmoke with a pellet smoker. Burning wood on a charcoal grill produces much more intense smoke flavor.
Secondly, make sure you pay attention to the controls and temperature settings. As well as a thermostat, higher quality smokers come with meat thermometers built in. As you cook, the internal temperature of your meat is going to rise, and unless you’ve got a meat thermometer, there’s no way of knowing exactly how hot it’s got. If you don’t know why this is bad, when you let food sit too hot for too long, you run the risk of drying it out. You’ll undo all of your good work, plus it just tastes bad.
Yoder smokers are named after the size of the cooking surface. The YS640 pellet smoker has 640 square inches of grilling surface. In addition, you can get yourself a removable second shelf that adds 65% to the cooking surface area – bringing the total space to 1,070 square inches. The entire smoker is built out of quality materials and come with a lifetime guarantee against burnout.
I have owned a Memphis Elite (built-in) for 16 months now. It is a very high quality product, and couldn’t be easier to use. The direct flame area is arguably a little small (effectively a bit smaller than 1 sq ft), but it does a great job. The temperature control is phenomenal, and includes a meat probe control that can put the grill into “hold” mode once the meat reaches the target internal temperature. A very happy owner here!
But if you like the idea of a wood pellet grill, one of the oldest names in wood pellet grilling is Traeger, which developed some of the first units to use this technique three decades ago. Having that name recognition gives Traeger a leg up versus some of its competitors. And for the most part, Traeger’s grills live up to what consumers expect from this established brand, providing good design and longevity. They don’t typically match up with the higher end models currently on the market in terms of precise cooking temperatures, but Traeger is a nice mid-range product with several price points available.
Purchased my grill last fall at Costco, overall it works OK, some meats like Lamb Chops are just delicious. However, customer service seems to be deteriorating as the company is having success. My kids recently purchased me an add on to my Pro 34, a cold smoker. Traeger sells this but does not support it. The installation instructions are incomplete, I was sent parts that do not go with the unit, then customer service couldn't figure it out, this went on for weeks. After getting it installed, I asked for some instructions or recipes on how to use it, there are none. The old cover does not fit now, and Traeger does not sell one to go with a unit with a cold smoker, or plan on doing so. After a web search, I found one at Charbroil that kinda fits. Also, I just saw the same model at Orchard Supply, it now comes with more shelves and upgrades which I now have to buy as extras.
I have used a pellet smoker for about five years, and looked at, or used, many different brands. I have added auxiliary smoke generators, and tried almost every way possible to create authentic BBQ on a pellet smoker— It can’t be done. When the vendors, or users, refer to subtle smoke they mean virtually no wood flavor. Do yourself a favor and try a simple test: go to a really good BBQ joint, or BBQ competition; try some of their Q and then compare it to pellet meat. There is no comparison. I wanted the pellet unit to produce good Q in the worst way because of the ease. You cannot duplicate the smoke created in a wood, or wood/charcoal firebox with compressed sawdust. It pains me to say it but it is true.
The biggest cleanup issue is the buildup on the heat deflector under the cooking grates. You'll need good gloves and an apron. On most models, a thorough cleanup means a 30 minute process of taking out the greasy grates and the gooey deflector plate, scraping them and washing them. You should do this when the carbon and grease cover the deflector plate. Stainless parts can go in the diswasher, but I wouldn't do it. That grease is like tar and it could get all over the insides of the dishwasher and hang on for dear life. I use a handheld steamer like the Steamfast SF-320 Portable Steam Cleaner shown here.
Regarding your question about a decrease in smoke flavor when using the pellet grill / smoker, I do believe you will experience a little bit of a drop off. This said, many people find the flavor from pellet grills / movers to be adequate. If you require a stronger smoke profile, you can always use one of the tube smokers that sits inside of the cooking chamber.
“We love pellet grills but didn’t like the designs of the models on the market. They are more like an oven than a grill. MAK Grills are designed to be the best in class. You get outstanding BBQ flavor and safe cooking with real wood, along with an automatic lighting and fuel feed system. Simply turn the grill on and you’re cooking in minutes! Our direct heat FlameZone ® feature is pioneering the industry for “gas grill like” cooking without the hassle of flare-ups and burned food.” — MAK Grills
Pellets not Lighting: It’s a simple issue. There is a problem either with the connection of your lighting rod or a damaged system. Repairing the wiring, if that’s where the problem is, might be a little complicated for most. So, for the average griller, the best and the easiest option is to replace the lighting mechanism altogether. When you buy the replacement part, it will come with a detailed instruction manual that anyone can follow.
The monster of the Traeger Pellet Grill line, the XL boasts 850 square inches of cooking space, which is big enough for a small whole hog or 16 racks of ribs. At around $2,000USD, this is Traeger's largest and most expensive pellet grill. The pellet hopper holds more than 42 pounds of pellets in front of the cooker, under what serves as a work space. This is big enough for catering or competing, but ultimately it is still a Traeger which means a little less than ideal quality.
The cooking surface is relatively small – the grill surface 12” x 16” (192 square iches) with the hood being 7” tall at the highest point. This is just big enough to cook some larger cuts of meat like tri-tip or brisket. However, small size is not necessarily a downside. While you won’t host a 4th of July cookout with this pellet grill, the small capacity and the compact size of the Davy Crockett pellet smoker makes it a perfect choice for condo dwellers or for picnics.