Making a decision to buy a pellet grill is all about wanting that distinctive smoky barbecue taste. You can spend a lot of money on one of the excellent natural gas / liquid propane grills from Weber but they won’t give you the same flavor that you get from a pellet smoker. However, pellet grills are fairly small in comparison and aren’t the best grills for catering for large gatherings. But if it’s that smoky barbecue taste you after then nothing compares to a pellet grill on Amazon.
In this article, I will be discussing what features to look for in pellet smoker grills and I’ll be reviewing and comparing what I consider to be the best pellet grill for the money.
The main difference between a pellet grill and a gas or charcoal grill is that a pellet grill burns small wooden pellets. These are made from compacted sawdust and they give different flavors depending on the type of wood that they came from. You give a very different flavor to your food depending on whether you are burning pellets from oak or hickory for instance. The pellets come in a variety of different “flavors” and they all give a very different taste.
Unlike a conventional gas or charcoal grill, pellet grills have a number of moving parts as they have to feed in the pellets from their storage hopper into the grill at a controlled rate. The rate at which pellets are fed into the grill is what determines the temperature inside the grill. As a result, they are mechanical and more sophisticated and could potentially break down which is unlikely if you were grilling with gas or charcoal. As a result, the build quality is a much important consideration when buying a pellet grill. Buying a cheap pellet grill is likely to be more expensive in the long run as they can be expensive to repair.
As well as smoking your food you can use your pellet to grill or roast your food. Smoking food requires the least amount of heat but the cooking times are much longer and therefore it uses up the most amount of pellets. Grilling or roasting food requires that the grill be heated to a hotter temperature by feeding pellets in at a faster rate but the cooking times are short. A pellet grill will typically take between 10 to 15 minutes to heat up to the desired temperature.
What to Look For When Buying a Pellet Grill
- Build Quality: You will probably be leaving your pellet grill outside in the elements to make sure that it is made from stainless steel. Cheaper pellet grills are likely to rust, become jammed or fall apart.
- Get a Cover: It is even more important to protect a pellet grill from the elements due to the electrical parts. Some grills come with a rain lid to prevent water from getting inside. At the very least you should get a cover for your grill.
- You Get What You Pay For: Cheaper models of pellet grill are likely to have a poor quality pellet feeding mechanism which could potentially cause it to jam. When a pellet grill jams the temperature will drop and it may go out. Poor quality grills tend not to burn the pellets as thoroughly and this can cause the grill to become clogged up with ash.
- Customer Service: Easy maintenance is an important buying decision with pellet grills so you want to make sure that the manufacturer provides spare parts.
- How long is The Warranty? You can get a good idea for the quality of a pellet grill by the length of the manufacturer’s warranty. REC TEC, for instance, offers a 6-year warranty on their grills. Some pellet grill manufactures only honor their warranties if you are using their own brand of pellets.
Why Should I Choose a Pellet Grill and Not a Gas or Charcoal Grill?
Flavor! It’s all about the flavor. The flavor is in the pellets and without the pellets, you simply don’t get that flavor. Other grills just can’t compete. The other advantage is that pellet grills are usually fully automated so they are more hands off to use than gas grills. They are programmable which means that you can just specify the temperature and how long you want to cook the food for. There’s no need to keep prodding and flipping the food over and checking the temperature.
What Disadvantages Do Pellet Grills Have Compared to Gas Grills?
If you are still undecided over whether a pellet grill is the right type of grill for you then here is a list of reasons why you might be better off with a gas grill.
- Whatever price you pay for a pellet grill you can buy a much bigger gas grill for the same price. The mechanical parts inside pellet grills make them more expensive and you won’t get as much grill for your money.
- Pellet grills are all around the same size and you don’t get really big ones. As a result catering for large groups of people is better with a gas grill.
- Enjoyment, some people simply prefer the more hands-on experience of cooking with a gas grill. With a gas grill, you get to be the chef and how good a chef you are has a bigger impact on how tasty the food is. Gas grilling is definitely more of social experience. You might prefer that to the set and forget nature of pellet grills.
- Lack of gadgets. Gas grills such as those made by Weber come with sear stations, side burners and rotisseries so there are more ways to cook the food with a gas grill. You won’t get those classic seared grill marks on a pellet grill but you will get them on a gas grill with a seer station.
- Using a pellet grill to smoke your meat takes on average about ten hours, so you have to start cooking long before your guests even arrive.
- It costs a lot more to buy pellets than it does to pay for natural gas or liquid propane. Smoking uses more pellets than grilling and you can expect to get through about five to ten pounds of pellets when smoking for ten hours. It may cost you as much as ten bucks for the pellets to keep the smoker going that long.
- Gas grills are a lot more reliable and will probably never require any replacement parts.
There’s definitely more advantages to owning a gas grill, but the unique smoky taste of food cooked in a pellet grill make it an easy choice if that’s what you want.
Now that I’ve dealt with the pros and cons of owning a pellet grill it’s time for me to introduce what I believe are the best grills for your money.
REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill Review
If you have the budget then the best pellet grill by far is the REC TEC wood pellet grill. We are all familiar with the term “smart” these days when it comes to technology like mobile phones but you may not have heard of smart grills.
The REC TEC grill features what the manufacturer calls Smart Grill Technology to maintain a constant temperate that you can set in 5° increments between 180°F and 500°F. Once you have loaded the grill with food and pellets you simply push a button and it will automatically ignite and heat up to the selected temperature and maintain that temperature for the duration of the cooking process. To get the best results from the grill you need to be using REC TEC’s own Premium Hardwood Pellets.
The build quality of the REC TEC grill is exceptional and it comes with an unrivaled six-year warranty. The grill is portable enough to be raised by the handle and wheeled on two large plastic wheels that feature locking casters. The grill features a very nice and useful hood light.
What is amazing about the REC TEC is that the precision cooking control means that you get the same amazing taste from your food every time. There are no random variations in temperature that you get from lesser grills that impair the flavor. Have you ever used a normal grill and ended up wondering what you did last time you cooked the same recipe to make it taste so much better? You won’t get that experience with the REC TEC grill.
The grill features an Extreme Smoke button that causes the fan to oscillate on and off which causes more smoldering from the pellets. This creates an even smokier taste but you can only use it at lower temperatures between 180° and 250°.
What is the Cooking Capacity of the REC TEC?
The REC TEC has a 680 square inch cooking surface which means it’s big enough for about 33 burgers. The grilling area when the lid is down has a height of nine inches which means you easily fit several whole chickens inside.
The grill has a 40 pound pellet hopper which feeds pellets into the grill automatically at the rate of about one pound per hour. As a result there is never any need to load the grill with pellets whilst cooking meaning you can leave it unattended for the entire duration of cooking.
Where Can I Buy a REC TEC Grill?
I highly recommend you buy your REC TEC grill from Amazon as they sell it for a big discount from the official list price. I always use Amazon when it comes to making buying decisions as you can learn so much about a product from the customer reviews. At the time of writing the REC TEC has over 230 customer reviews with an average rating of 4.8 stars out of 5 with 93% of customers giving it the maximum 5 stars. That is phenomenally high customer satisfaction that you won’t find from any other pellet grill.
Verdict on the REC TEC
We had excellent results every time we used the REC TEC smoker as the precision temperature control ensured we got the same consistent results. We found that the grill evenly distributed the heat throughout the grill ensuring that the food on edge of the grill was heated just as well as the food in the center.
The build quality is amazing and I can see the grill lasting well beyond its six-year warranty. This is a very striking looking grill with a bright red hood and bullhorn-shaped handles. It really is as amazing to look at as it is to use.
The only negative was that the assembly instructions were rather basic. It was pretty obvious how the large components fitted together but it wasn’t very clear where the individual nuts, bolts, and washers were supposed to go.
If you are looking for a pellet grill then this is the one I would recommend based on build quality and overall cooking experience. It was a joy for me to use and I’m sure you will love it too.
Maybe you have fallen in love with the REC TEC but you can’t afford the asking price. Before I tell you about other brands of pellet grill I should tell you that there is also a REC TEC Mini pellet grill. For about half the price you get pretty much the same pellet grill only smaller, lighter and more portable.
The REC TEC Mini has a grilling surface area of 341 square inches. This is exactly half the size of the full-size REC TEC pellet grill. This is big enough for about 16 burgers.
Half the price for half the size, that’s a pretty good deal seeing as you get the same quality and features. So if you don’t need the larger grilling area then you may as well get the REC TEC Mini as you are not losing out on anything other than grilling area.
If you have scrolled down without reading my review of the full-size REC TEC pellet grill I suggest you scroll back up as it’s the same grill but only bigger. Everything I had to say about it also applies to the REC TEC Mini.
The REC TEC Mini is also available on Amazon and has the same average rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. The only fault I can find with the Mini is that it only has a 2-year warranty compared to the 5 years warranty of its big brother. That doesn’t make much sense to me as it’s pretty much the same grill.
No article on the best pellets grills would be complete without a Camp Chef pellet grill review. I appreciate that my best-rated pellet grill, the REC TEC is rather expensive so I’ve picked the Camp Chef PG24 as being the next best thing. Right now it’s a little more than half the cost of the REC TEC smoker so it may well be a better match for your budget.
The Camp Chef PG24 is available and can be shipped from Amazon. The Camp Chef PG24 is very easy to use pellet grill and smoker that will give you exceptional grilling results with the minimum fuss because it’s automated.
Like the more expensive REC TEC smoker it features sensors that maintain the grill at constant temperature and it features a built-in LED thermometer. However, the pellet hopper is half the size with a capacity of 20 pounds. But that’s enough to keep it going for about two ten hour smoking sessions without manual intervention to refill it.
For smoking foods, you would set the grill to 150° and it will go up to 500° for grilling and searing. The grill does a great job of maintaining a constant heat that ensures the food always comes out as just as you want it.
One nice little feature is included that many other grills don’t have and that is the meat probe thermometer. You simply insert this into the center of the meat before you close the grill. It allows you to read the temperature inside the food from outside the grill without having to open the lid.
The total grilling area is 560 square inches compared to the 680 you get with the REC TEC. Therefore it is quite a bit smaller but still pretty big and should be able to cope with about two dozen burgers.
The grill comes with a very good little recipe book with some great barbecue recipes to get you started.
Where Can I Buy the Camp Chef Grill?
The best place to buy Camp Chef grills is from Amazon as you get great prices and customer service. At the time of writing this grill, it has over ninety customer reviews with an average rating of 4.7 stars out of 5 and 80% of customers have given it a 5-star review. That’s not quite as high as the REC TEC but still, the sign that the vast majority of customers have been very happy with their purchase.
Verdict on the Camp Chef
The Camp Chef Delux on Amazon is the next best thing to the REC TEC if you are looking for a cheaper pellet grill with comparable features. One advantage this grill has over other pellet smokers is that’s it easier to clean as it features an ash catcher.
The digital controls are excellent and once you have set the temperature and loaded the food you are good to go and you can leave it unattended. It is very much a set and forgets grill.
Traeger Lil Tex Elite Review
My final recommendation is the closest you can get to a budget pellet grill without sacrificing too much in the way of quality. The Traeger Junior Elite is quite a bit cheaper than the Camp Chef and has a much smaller grilling area of only 292 square inches which is just over half the size. This means that you are limited to cooking about a dozen burgers at a time.
What are the Main Features of the Traeger?
The Traeger wood pellet grill has a digital thermostat like the other grills in this review which means you can leave it unattended and it maintains and constant temperature. A convection blower means that you never need to worry about hot and cold spots as hot air is circulated evenly throughout the grill. The grill is easily ignited by the push of a button so there is no need for lighters.
The grill will require some assembly when you unpack it but it can be put together in minutes by following the easy to follow instructions.
The build quality is comparable to the Camp Chef and the main difference between the two grills is their size. The price difference would reflect the difference in size between the grills more so than their quality or features. It is definitely a grill worth your consideration if you don’t need such a big grilling area.
Where Can I Buy a Traeger Lil Tex Elite Grill?
You can buy Traeger grills from Amazon where you are certain to find them for a great price. At the time of writing the grill has an average customer review rating of 4.0 stars out of 5. However, only 58% of customers have given it the maximum five stars whilst a worrying 30% of customers have only given it a single star rating with many citing reliability problems.
I found the Traeger to be a great little grill that produced excellent tasting food and I experienced no problems with it. However, if I was considering purchasing a pellet grill I would opt for the bigger but more expensive Camp Chef simply based on the much higher ratings given to it by Amazon customers. Unless of course I really didn’t want such a big grill in which case I would go with the Traeger.
Which Pellet Grill Should I Buy?
The small size and the cheaper price are the main reasons for purchasing a Traeger. If you have a slightly bigger budget and want something a lot bigger than the Camp Chef would be the ideal pellet grill for you. However, the best pellet grill of the lot is easily the REC TEC. But the REC TEC is a luxury purchase. If you have to the have best, the best pellet smoker has to be the REC TEC grills all the way.