We love pellet smokers here at the Barbecue Lab. These machines have taken the guesswork out of smoking and given great success to the most inexperienced barbecuer.

With traditional offset smokers, you’d have to add wood or manage charcoal every 45 minutes. But with pellet smokers, you can get great results without having to babysit a temperamental flame. Not only that, the temperature ranges on these pellet grills also give you the ability to smoke, barbecue, grill, and even sear.

Pellet grills heat up fast and enable you to get the best result for whatever cut of meat you’re cooking, or if you want to branch out and try some smoked queso or smoked mac and cheese. These are designed to be basically fool proof and fun to use anytime, even on busy weeknights.

While there’s some debate in the barbecue world that these shouldn’t be called grills because most don’t give you access to direct flame, we don’t think it’s worth getting caught up in semantics. These machines give you great results and are easy to use. So we’ve rounded up our top 9 pellet grills to help you decide which one would be right for you!

Let’s take a look.

Product Information

Top Pick

Traeger Ironwood 885

Traeger Ironwood 885

Cooking Surface: 885 sq inches

Controller: D2 Direct Drive

Temperature range: 165-500℉

Pellet capacity: 20 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Product Information

Runner Up

camp chef woodwind 36

Camp Chef Woodwind Wifi 36

Cooking Surface: 1236 sq inches

Controller: PID controller

Temperature range: 160-500℉

Pellet capacity: 22 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Product Information

Best high end

Memphis pro built in

Memphis Pro

Cooking Surface: 574 or 848 sq inches

Controller: Intelligent control with Wi-Fi

Temperature range: 180-650° F

Pellet capacity: 18 lbs

Warranty: 7 year limited

Product Information

Best Budget

zgrills 1000E

Z Grills 1000E

Cooking Surface: 1060 sq inches

Controller: Digital

Temperature range: 180-450℉

Pellet capacity: 20 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Product Information

Best Built-In

Memphis Elite

Memphis Elite

Cooking Surface: 1274 sq inches

Controller: Intelligent control with Wi-Fi

Temperature range: 180-700° F

Pellet capacity: 24 lbs

Warranty: 7 year limited

Product Information

Best Portable

Asmoke AS300

Asmoke AS300

Cooking Surface: 191.4-256 sq inches

Controller: Dial-in Digital

Temperature range: 180-500℉

Pellet capacity: 4 lbs

Weight: 45.10 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Product Information

Best Large

traeger timberline

Traeger Timberline 1300

Cooking Surface: 1300 sq inches

Controller: D2 direct drive

Temperature range: 165-500℉

Pellet capacity: 24 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Product Information

Best starter

gmg davy crocket

GMG Davy Crockett

Cooking Surface: 219 sq inches

Controller: Digital & Wi-fi

Temperature range: 150-550℉

Pellet capacity: 9 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Product Information

game changer

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Cooking Surface: 560 sq inches

Controller: Digital & Wi-fi

Temperature range: 225-700℉

Lump Charcoal: 10 lbs

Briquette Charcoal: 12 lbs

Warranty: 1 year

The best pellet grills reviewed

We’ve rounded up the best pellet grills for 2021. We believe that amazing grilling and barbecue should be accessible to everyone, no matter their budget, skill, or location. 

With that in mind, let’s take an in-depth look at the best pellet smokers.

top pick

Traeger Ironwood 885

Traeger Ironwood 885

Cooking Surface: 885 sq inches

Assembled Dimensions: 54" X 47" X 27"

Weight: 175 lbs

Controller: D2 Direct Drive

Temperature range: 165-500℉

Pellet capacity: 20 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Read our full review

The Traeger Ironwood 885 would have to be our top pick for a pellet smoker. Not only is it incredibly easy to use, it also boasts many of the features we like in pellet grills at a higher price point.

While It is a true pellet smoker in every sense of the word, we’ve found that  even without direct access to fire, we can grill on this pellet smoker easily without worrying about hotspots. 

Many features set this grill apart from the rest to make a smooth user experience, all while getting great tasting food. We love that the exhaust on this grill is pointed down so that water and debris stays out of the grill.  

One of the things we absolutely appreciate is that you have to be physically present at the grill to turn it on. There’s no accidental turning on the grill if a rogue toddler gets ahold of your phone. You can, however, turn the grill off if you’re away. 

traeger ironwood 885 pellet grill
Traeger Ironwood grill grates

What We Like

Food Tastes Great!

Super smoke mode. Pellet grills aren’t known for having an excessive amount of smoke, but with this you can really drive that smoke flavor into your meat. 

Custom cook cycles. There are already custom cooked cycles programmed into the grill that are designed to help you cook something new! 

Even cooking temperature. Traeger has already installed an oven-type gasket around the cooking chamber, which keeps heat in and temperatures stable

Super easy to use!

Fast heat up time. The preheat time is 15 minutes, so you don’t have to wait long to get going.

Pellet sensor. Alerts you when you’re about to run out of pellets so you won’t have to interrupt cooking time

Keep your tools in one place. Stainless steel side shelf and tool hooks keeps your tools conveniently in reach. 

Safety features. You can’t turn on the grill from the app, but you can turn it off.  The grill is programmed to remind you to clean it, too! You always want your grill running at peak efficiency and reduce your risk of fires. 

Wifi enabled with Mobile app. The wifi is easy to connect to and stable, unlike other grills we’ve used. Their companion app lets you see exactly what’s going on with your grill at a glance.

Simple to clean

Stable grill grates. You don’t have to worry about the grates sliding around when you’re cooking or cleaning. 

Fast hopper clean out. Cleaning the hopper is super easy, you can effortlessly change out the type of pellets you’re using. 

Easy to set up!

Quick and Easy assembly. It took us 45 minutes to put it together and it’s super easy for a first timer to assemble.

What we don’t like:

No bottom storage shelf. We’d love to see a bottom shelf for pellet or accessory storage.

No access to flame for direct sear. We’d love to have direct access to the flame pot so we can get a direct sear, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

No obvious POWER button. Instead, you have to hold the READY button for a few seconds to get the machine to shut down.  

Covers have to be purchased separately. It really should come with the unit itself. 

Overall, the Traeger Ironwood 885 is a very well thought out pellet grill and smoker. It’s incredibly easy to use and really removes challenges that come with smoking. It really spoils you and turns you into a great cook!.

runner up

Camp Chef Woodwind Wifi 36

camp chef pro dlx

Cooking Surface: 1236 sq inches

Assembled Dimensions: 54" X 47" X 27"

Controller: PID controller

Temperature range: 160-500℉

Pellet capacity: 22 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

The Camp Chef Woodwind Wifi 36 is our runner up for our best pellet grill pick. It’s a good solid 36 inch cooker that’s made with better than average construction materials.

We appreciate the design tweaks Camp Chef has made to correct some design oversight issues that other grills tend to have.

The cooking chamber is squared off so you can use every bit of cooking space that this grill has to offer. And we love that there is an actual place to wrap and store your power cord! 

What We Like

Easy to operate controller. We can really fine tune the set temperature in 5 degree increments and really customize your desired smoke level. There are 4 available temperature probe ports that directly connect to the main controller.  

An app that actually works. Camp Chef has worked hard to give users a stable app that isn’t glitchy and really enables you to operate the grill from your phone. 

Oversized hopper capacity. It’s great to be able to add a whole bag of pellets before the unit becomes completely empty. The oversized lid on the hopper also acts as a shelf and keeps electronics dry. 

Quick release pellet hopper. It’s super easy to empty out the hopper and change out your pellets. Just pull the lever to release the pellets, just make sure you have a container waiting. 

Easy to clean ash pot. Just pull a lever to clean out the ash pot. You don’t have to take out the grates and heat deflector just to vacuum out the fire pot. 

Locking casters & lower shelf for storage. Enough said.

Great accessories. Camp Chef has placed the chimney placement on the back in order to add the optional accessories. The propane side burner can heat up to help give you that great sear you’re looking for. They also have a pizza oven and a cast iron griddle - both of which get great reviews. 

What we don’t like:

No great searing. We wish that we could get a great sear on the Camp Chef without having to purchase the sidekick propane burner. 

A little more difficult to clean. The interior design of the grill makes it a little more difficult to clean than some other models of pellet smokers, but not by much.

Best high end

Memphis Pro

Memphis pro built in

Cooking Surface: 574 or 848 sq inches (with optional upper grates)

Assembled Dimensions: 28" X 28" X 29" deep

Weight: 213 lbs

Controller: Intelligent control with Wi-Fi

Temperature range: 180-650° F

Pellet capacity: 18 lbs

Warranty: 7 year limited

Read our full review

The Memphis Pro is the very model of pellet grill that we put in our DIY outdoor kitchen. And if you love this grill but don’t want a built in, Memphis makes a cart model with all the features we love!

What made us decide to put this grill in our kitchen? It has all the features that we wanted in a built in grill.

We can’t roll it into the garage, and since it was going to be stationary, we knew we wanted something that could hold up to the elements of the midwest United States. In between our frigid winters and sweltering summers, our weather is a bit moody here even between the two extremes.

It’s constructed of stainless steel and is a wonderful tool that will perform as both a grill AND a smoker. The cooking surface area is adaptable with the optional steel grates, adaptable to whatever we want to throw at it.

We find that the grill is not so big that we can’t fire it up for weeknights with our family, but it’s also big enough that it will serve us nicely when we cook for a crowd.

The temperature range on this pellet smoker is phenomenal, allowing us to cook low and slow or crank the temperature up to get an amazing sear on our steaks. We can smoke at our favorite temperature of 275℉ or we can sear at 650℉ with access to direct flame - which is usually not available in pellet grills of a lower price point.

The convection fan and intelligent controller helps eliminate hot spots and maintains a stable cooking temperature. It’s a great all in one appliance for our outdoor kitchen, and the food we make tastes great. 

Memphis Wood Fired Grill
Memphis Pro pellet smoker

What We Like

Both grill & smoker. The Memphis Pro is a true hybrid of both a grill and a pellet smoker. This grill is designed with a full coverage double walled lid and made of stainless steel. Cold temps and windy weather can’t compete with this hefty lid made complete with an oven gasket installed all the way around the cooking chamber. 

Custom wood flavors. With the dual pellet chamber gives you the ability to truly customize your pellets for your unique flavor blends

Heavy duty grates. The grates are very stable and heavy duty but are easy to arrange AND clean with the multi-functional grate tool. It’s so easy to flip the grates whether you want amazing sear lines or nice even temperatures. 

Get a great sear. Most pellet smokers aren’t able to get up to the temperature required for a great sear. Not only can this grill get up to 650 with ease, it also gives you access to direct flame grilling. 

Stable temperatures with no hot spots. The double walled construction of this grill helps keep the temperature stable, while the installed fans enable convection cooking and eliminate hot spots that we see with other grills. 

Automatic Smoke Mode. We love that the Memphis Pro automatically turns on smoke mode at any temperature below 295 degrees. The controller is programmed to smoke when you’re cooking at smoking temperatures. 

Protected meat probes & ports. The armored meat probes provided fit easily through the probe port. We like that we can fit more than one armored temperature probe through the port so we can cook every meat to the ideal temperature. 

Companion app & wifi. You can see your food’s temperature at a glance and do a host of other things with the mobile app. The Memphis Pro is wifi enabled with a companion mobile app. You can check meat temperatures and know what’s happening on your grill even if you have to step away. 

Easy clean up. The clean up on the Memphis Pro is super simple and easy. They’ve really designed the grill well so all you have to do is open a drawer and remove the drip pans and replace with clean ones. We also love the multi-functional grate tool that’s provided from Memphis for scraping and cleaning the grates. It even comes with a bottle opener!

What we don’t like:

Rear hopper.  If we could change one thing about this grill, it would be the location of the hopper. The rear dual hopper is difficult to access from the front so keep that in mind when designing your build. If you want easy access, make sure you give yourself room around the back.

Best budget

Z Grills 1000E

zgrills 1000E

Cooking Surface: 1060 sq in.

Assembled Dimensions: W26” X L18” 

Middle grate size:24” X 15.5”
Top rack: 24” X 10.5”

Weight: 143 lbs

Controller: Digital

Temperature range: 160℉ (smoke) - 450℉ (high)

Pellet capacity: 20 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

Read our full review

If you’re looking for a pellet smoker that’s truly designed to be a smoker, then the Z Grills 1000E is what you want.

If you’re a first time pellet smoker, we recommend giving this grill a try. It’s our choice of smoker in our best budget category. 

We appreciate the simplicity of the design along with the “set it and forget it” features. A first time pellet smoker can have success with pellet smoking right out of the gate.

You fill the hopper and set the temperature. That’s it. 

To make it even better, we recommend applying some gasket seal tape around the cooking chamber and picking up a thermal blanket for the grill if you’re cooking in the cold weather. 

cold weather grilling
digital controller on the 1000E
Pellet hopper
storage cabinet doors closed

What We Like

Stainless steel construction on the places where it matters. For this price point, we love that the Z Grills 1000E has a stainless steel hood & shelf on the hopper.

Simplicity in it’s design.  Fill the hopper, set the temperature, and you’re good to go. 

Easier to clean than most other grills. The grill is designed to have the grease drain off without pooling into a drawer on the back that you just pull out to clean. 

We can cook at our favorite temperature -  275 degrees. Some other smokers won’t let you choose 275, but we love that our favorite smoking temperature is pre-set and will give us what we know are the best results. 

What we don’t like:

No wifi built in. But hey, we’re okay with going old school. 

No pellet dump. The pellets have to be removed manually if you want to change out the flavors.

Overall, as long as you remember that this pellet smoker is designed to be a smoker and not a grill, we think you will be really happy with it. We think it’s pretty great.  

Best Built in

Memphis Elite

Memphis Elite

Cooking Surface: 1274 sq inches

Assembled Dimensions: 28” x 39” x 29” deep

Controller: Intelligent control with Wi-Fi

Temperature range: 180-700° F

Pellet capacity: 24 lbs

Warranty: 7 year limited

The Memphis Elite is an even bigger model of pellet grill than we put in our DIY outdoor kitchen. It’s made with a 36 inch grate instead of the 29 inches that the Pro model offers, an even broader range of temperatures, and a bigger pellet hopper. 

The Memphis Elite gets our vote for the best built in. If you love this grill and aren’t looking for a built-in, Memphis makes a free-standing model with all the features we love!

It has all the same features that are listed above for the Memphis Pro model. It’s a double walled stainless steel pellet grill, complete with a heavy duty oven gasket to help seal the whole chamber and keep the temperatures stable.

Another thing we love about this model is that the temperature range is more broad than the Pro model. The Memphis Elite can heat up to a powerful 700℉ for a fantastic sear capability, and go as low as 180℉. 

The design of this grill complete with the dual convection fans and intelligent controller helps eliminate hot spots and maintains a stable cooking temperature. It’s a great all in one appliance for any outdoor cook. 

Don’t want a built in? This also comes as a stand alone cart with all the same core features that we love on this pellet grill!

What We Like

Both grill & smoker. The Memphis Elite is a true hybrid of both a grill and a pellet smoker. Cold temps and windy weather can’t compete with this hefty lid made complete with an oven gasket installed all the way around the cooking chamber. 

Dual pellet chamber. You can really customize your flavors and mix and match to get the custom blend you want. 

Heavy duty grates.  The grates are very stable and heavy duty but are easy to arrange AND clean with the multi-functional grate tool. It’s so easy to flip the grates whether you want amazing sear lines or nice even temperatures. 

The control panel is separate from the unit, so you can control how you build it into your outdoor kitchen. 

Fantastic searing. Most pellet smokers aren’t able to get up to the temperature required for a great sear. But not true for the Memphis Elite. You get direct flame grilling with this grill with the upper temperature range of 700 degrees. 

Double walled means no hot spots. The double walled construction of this grill helps keep the temperature stable, while the installed fans enable convection cooking and eliminate hot spots that we see with other grills, perfect for an outdoor cook in less than ideal outdoor conditions. 

Automatic Smoke Mode. The Memphis Elite also automatically turns on smoke mode at any temperature below 295 degrees. The controller is programmed to smoke when you’re cooking at smoking temperatures - that’s a win for us! 

Heavy duty meat probes. The armored meat probes provided fit easily through the probe port. We like that we can fit more than one armored temperature probe through the port so we can cook every meat to the ideal temperature. You can see your food’s temperature at a glance with the mobile app. 

Fast and simple clean up. The clean up on the Memphis Elite is super simple and easy. They’ve really designed the grill well so all you have to do is open a drawer and remove the drip pans and replace with clean ones. We also love the multi-functional grate tool that’s provided from Memphis for scraping and cleaning the grates. It even comes with a bottle opener!

Wifi enabled with companion app. The Memphis Elite is wifi enabled with a companion mobile app. You can check meat temperatures and know what’s happening on your grill even if you have to step away. 

What we don’t like:

Rear hopper -  If we could change one thing about this grill, it would be the location of the hopper. The rear dual hopper is difficult to access from the front so keep that in mind when designing your build. If you want easy access, make sure you give yourself room around the back. 

Best Portable

Asmoke AS300

Asmoke AS300

Cooking Surface: 191.4-256 sq inches

Controller: Dial- in Digital

Temperature range: 180℉ - 500℉

Pellet capacity: 4 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

The Asmoke AS300 gets our pick for the Best Portable pellet grill. Even though it’s designed to be portable, there is nothing lacking with this grill’s performance.

We love the versatility that the ASmoke offers. You can grill and smoke, charbroil and even bake on it.  We love that the Asmoke AS300  gives you access to direct flame to get some great char.

This simple design and compact packaging are made for taking this grill on the go with you - whether you’re camping, tailgating, or want to bring along your smoker on vacation. If you live in an apartment or small home and space is lacking, this is for you!

What We Like

Simple design that delivers. You really can’t mess it up, you’ll get great results.

Keeps temperature stable. Doesn’t lose heat like bigger grills

Straightforward and simple controls. You don’t have to wonder how to heat up the grill or turn it off. 

Stores easily. Can take it camping or store it easily because it doesn’t take up much space. 

What we don’t like:

Special temperature probe size. The temperature probe jack is 3.5 mm, so you can’t just use any old temperature probe. 

It runs on AC power only. You’ll need a converter if you want to run it on DC power.

Best Large

Traeger Timberline 1300

traeger timberline

Cooking Surface: 1300 sq in

Controller: D2 direct drive

Temperature range: 165℉ - 500℉

Pellet capacity: 24 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

The Traeger Timberline 1300 is a beast of a pellet smoker that will easily allow you to cook for a crowd. The integrated technology and intuitive design brings together everything we love in a pellet smoker.

This very user friendly pellet grill is made to give you an end result that you will love - which is why it gets our Best Pick for Large pellet smoker. 

This Traeger grill model is designed to be a smoker first, as you won’t get a great sear at the top temperature range.

The double walled stainless steel construction and convection cooking will allow you to get awesome results without hotspots or letting smoke escape. Even cooking temps mean better results, which can be tricky if you’re fixing a big feast. Traeger has minimized heat and smoke loss with this grill. 

What We Like

Integrated technology helps make you a better cook!

Super smoke mode. Get more of that smoke flavor that you want into your meat. While most pellet grills aren’t known for having an excessive amount of smoke, this feature really helps you develop that smokey flavor.

Custom cook cycles. This grill is designed to help you branch out and become a better cook. We like that the controller is designed to remove the intimidation factor and lets you step up your cooking game. 

Pellet sensor. The grill will notify you when your pellets are running low.

Extended wifi signal. A stable wifi connection means that you really can utilize the app and all it’s cool features to communicate with your grill.

Safety features. You can’t accidentally turn on your grill from the app, you have to be physically present. However, you can turn off the grill or put it in “keep warm” mode from the app. 

Companion app. Programmed to help keep your grill running at peak efficiency. The app will remind you when it’s time to clean the grill, alert when your pellets are low, give recipes and give you all sorts of information about your grill while you’re using it. 

Solid construction & design

Sturdy grill construction. The whole lid and barrel is double walled stainless steel and is sealed with an oven gasket. Heat and smoke don’t escape, which means better flavor while being more efficient with pellets. 

Downward exhaust. Keeps the rain and weather out and helps your grill last longer

Easy hopper clean out. Just open the magnetized pellet door and catch the access pellets. 

Easy to clean. The drop pan and grease management system is all internal and is very simple to clean. 

Very easy to use! Intuitive design and great for beginners. Very smooth user experience. 

What we don’t like:

No bottom storage shelf. We’d love to see a bottom shelf for pellet or accessory storage.

No access to flame for direct sear. We’d love to have direct access to the flame pot so we can get a direct sear, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

No obvious POWER button. Instead, you have to hold the READY button for a few seconds to get the machine to shut down.  

Covers have to be purchased separately. 

Overall: This grill really is designed to remove all obstacles to pellet grilling and get you a great result. 

Best starter

GMG Davy Crockett

gmg davy crocket

Cooking Surface: 219 sq in

Controller: Digital & Wi-fi

Temperature range: 150℉ - 550℉

Pellet capacity: 9 lbs

Weight: 57 lbs

Warranty: 3 year

The Green Mountain Grill Davy Crockett pellet grill is our top choice for those who are just starting out with smoking or that don’t have a lot of space to store a pellet grill. You don’t even need tools to set it up and it comes with its own carrying bag so your stuff doesn’t get greasy.

This Green Mountain smoker model is super popular with the RV and camping crowd. It’s designed to be compact and easy to pack up while still giving you an easy way to make some great food.

While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the bigger model of pellet grill, it’s got a meat probe, wifi & app, so you’ll still get great results.

The GMG Davy Crockett pellet grill is a great plug and play cooker with some great extras. Check out their pizza oven attachment!

What We Like

Simple set up.  Lift up the grill to prop the legs into place and you’re ready to go. 

Adaptable power source. Can cook with either 12V or 110V.

Integrated tech. It has built in wifi & a companion app so you can see exactly what temperature your meat is at and get a great result.  

What we don’t like:

It can get pretty greasy. This is to be expected with a small pellet grill. Just be sure to clean it frequently and keep it in the bag to keep grease off your stuff. It is really easy to clean!

No internal grease catch. We use a small galvanized bucket to catch our grease. 

Game Changer

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560

Cooking Surface: 560 sq in

Controller: Digital & Wi-fi

Temperature range: 225℉ -700℉

Lump Charcoal: 10 lbs

Briquette Charcoal: 12 lbs

Warranty: 1 year

We HAD to include this grill in our line up. Even though it’s not a traditional pellet grill, we are still really excited about it. 

Masterbuilt has taken the simplicity of the pellet grill design and built a gravity fed charcoal smoker. 

Charcoal smoking just got way easier with this model. It’s designed so you can use this any night of the week - smoking is not just for weekends anymore. 

This grill is a truly versatile piece of equipment - you can both smoke and grill. It only takes 13 minutes to heat up to 700 degrees, so you can even get a great sear on your meat.

And don’t worry about missing that lovely smoke flavor, all you do is intermix some wood chunks (not pellets) in with the charcoal in the hopper.

Masterbuilt also says that you can place some of your favorite wood in the ash pot so that when the hot ash falls onto the wood, it will start the smoking process. Yum!

digital temperature control
charcoal hopper

What We Like

Versatility. Use this as both a charcoal smoker and/or grill. You can get up to searing temperatures in this bad boy to achieve a direct sear with reversible grill grates. 

Double wall construction. All 3 sides and the door are double walled. The controller also has a variable speed fan to regulate temperature. 

Double cast iron grates. We love grates that are stable and can stand up to hard work.

Great price! You really can’t beat the price point for the features of this grill. Other gravity fed charcoal smokers start at around $2500. 

What we don’t like:

The lid of the hopper opens toward the grill.

The Masterbuilt Gravity series comes in 3 sizes. You can read our full review of the 800 here.

Pellet smokers: what makes them different? 

Pellet smokers are designed to be all about convenience, and they are by far, the most convenient smoker on the market. What makes them convenient? You don’t have to babysit. You can fill up the hopper, plug in the grill, and let it do most of the work for you.

You don’t have to worry about managing the flame or air flow or maintaining consistent temperatures with pellet grills. The grill does all that for you, and you get pretty dang good barbecue. Beginners and piit masters alike get great results with a pellet grill.

Wait, is it ‘pellet smoker’ or ‘pellet grill?’

Every industry has its quirks, and the barbecue world is no exception. While some experts believe that these machines should only be called pellet smokers, and not pellet grills, really the words are used interchangeably. 

Since you’re not traditionally cooking with direct flame the way you would with a gas grill, technically you aren’t grilling, per say. But you are cooking at grilling temperatures on a product that’s designed to cook outside. So we here at the Barbecue Lab say that you can call it either a pellet smoker or pellet grill. Trust us, if you’re making great food on it, no one really cares what you call it. 

The Importance of Materials and Construction 

When you’re choosing your pellet grill, you’ll need to consider what the weather is like where you live, what type of environment you’ll be cooking in, and where you’ll be storing your grill. 

You want to choose materials that are resistant to the weather and can hold up to extreme temperature fluctuations. Not only will it affect the longevity of your unit, but it will also affect your cooking.

Some grills have cold rolled steel, which is fine, but it has little ability to stand up to the elements. You have to keep the paint intact with touch ups. The repeated heating and cooling of  the unit will also weaken and thin the paint and allow rust to get through. 

We like grills that are made of stainless steel. 304 stainless steel is the industry standard that won’t rust, and is made to be uncovered. If you live near the ocean, you’ll want to look for marine grade 316 stainless steel, so it can stand up to water and salt. 

If you can’t afford a grill that’s made of all stainless steel, then we recommend that any part of the grill be made of stainless steel that water would hit or pool on.

If you can afford the double walled chamber models, even better. The double walled construction helps keep heat in and weather out. Keeping a stable, even cooking temperature will let you have more consistent results and remove some of the frustration of cooking with cheaper models. 

If nothing else, make sure you have an oven gasket around the chamber. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to install. 

Hopper: Size matters…. Maybe

Not sure what size of hopper you need? It depends on how long of cook you plan to do and your availability to refill it if it runs low. 

Most of our top picks of pellet grills have a hopper capacity of 18-22 lbs of pellets, or roughly one whole bag. While, our portable picks have smaller hoppers for obvious reasons, longer cooks are definitely possible. You’ll just have to refill the hopper - set it and forget it overnight cooks aren’t possible on the smaller models. 

Pellet consumption

One 20 lb. bag of pellets can run about 20 hours at smoking temperatures. The general rule of thumb is 1 lb of pellets used for 45 minutes - 1 hour of cook time. So if you’re doing shorter cooks, one bag of pellets will last you quite a while, about as long as a tank of propane. 

What’s the difference between smoking and barbecuing? 

Generally speaking, the smoking and barbecuing vary only by the temperature you’re cooking at. Smoke is produced at lower temperatures of 150-250 degrees F, while barbecuing is around 250-350 degrees F. There just isn’t as much smoke produced as the flame starts consuming whatever fuel and the temperatures climb. 

Barbecuing and smoking are for cooking cuts of meat that have lots of fat or connective tissue. Cooking these low and slow in order to dissolve whatever fat or collagen is in the meat so it’s got delicious, melt in your mouth goodness instead of being chewy or tough.

Grilling happens at temperatures from about 350-500 degrees, and are best for cuts of meat that are lean and need to be cooked fast. You can most definitely smoke lean meats, just use a temperature probe so you don’t overcook your food. 

Finally, searing is possible at temperatures in the 650-700 degree range, and is only for finishing cuts of meat to get a nice crust on the outside while preserving the inside. This is possible when you have direct access to the flame on the grill. 

What size of pellet smoker do YOU need?

What do all the square inches of cooking space translate to for you? What size do you need? Think about what you want to cook and how many people you want to be able to cook for on your grill. 

Here at The Barbecue Lab, we recommend that you buy a grill or smoker based on whether the main grate itself can support what you’re generally wanting to cook. For a family of 4, a bottom grate of around 500-600 square inches would be enough of a cooking area for about 90% of what you want to do, including cooking for a crowd. 

How to choose a pellet smoker

  1. 1
    SIZE: How many people do you typically cook for? Choose based on the main cooking area grate size! Use our recommendation for a family of 4 plus occasional entertaining as a starting point. The main grate should be about 500-600 square inches. 
  2. 2
    TEMPERATURE RANGE: All in one outdoor cooking appliance or a nice addition? If you’re looking for all in one machine to dominate your outdoor cooking, select a pellet grill that has a wide range of temperatures and some nice accessories. If you’re wanting to do everything like smoke, grill, and sear, choose a pellet grill that will reach 650-700 degrees. If you’re just wanting to smoke and grill with indirect heat, 500 degrees should suffice. If you’re wanting a nice addition to expand your outdoor cooking options, then go with a simple pellet smoker. You’ll save a bit of money and still get great results. 
  3. 3
    COOKING LOCATION: Where are you going to cook? Your environment and grill storage options should also be taken into consideration when choosing your pellet smoker.

If you’re going to be mainly smoking on the road or have limited space, then a portable pellet grill like the Green Mountain Grill - Davy Crocket or Asmoke AS300 will be a good choice.

Just make sure you choose models that have stainless steel construction on the parts where it matters - which is anywhere water would potentially sit and pool. Make sure to get the right stainless steel (316) if you live next to an ocean. If you choose not to get stainless steel, make sure to keep up on maintenance so the paint doesn’t chip on it. 

If your backyard patio or garage/driveway grilling area is prone to breezes, then make sure your pellet grill has an oven gasket or similar feature to keep the heat in your smoker where it belongs and help regulate pellet consumption. A thermal blanket can also help if you're cooking in cold and breezy temperatures.