We all like a good deal! Therefore when it comes to purchasing a wood pellet grill/smoker you want to get the best product for the money your spending. But how do you actually do that? Well, you need to understand the most important features on a pellet grill/smoker. You need to know the features you need vs the features which are just nice to have. Pellet grills/smokers more than any other outdoor cooker vary a lot from different makes/models. As a good starting point for this article, I’ve included a video below from Grilla Grills on what they feel makes their grills the best value for money.
Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or other sites are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase.
Mark in the video above also does a nice demonstration on how a pellet grill works. As I’ve previously discussed in my articles in the past, I do like Grill Grills, and their products are definitely worth considering. However, with this article, I also want to discuss wood pellet grills/smokers in general and the various factors you need to consider when looking at a pellet cooker to determine if it will provide you personally with the best value for money. Whether you have a budget of under $500, under $1,000, under $2,000 or over, you need to be considering the topics below before making a purchase.
Cooking Area vs Quality/Features
While you obviously want to choose a pellet grill/smoker which will provide enough cooking space for your needs, you don’t want to overdo it. In other words, don’t just think ‘bigger is better’ when it comes to pellet grills, as that is often not the case. When you actually compare the specs/build quality of some of the largest grills for a set budget, you will often find they have inferior temperature controllers or lower general build quality compared to a smaller pellet grill of the same price. Now, this isn’t always the case, but it is something you need to watch out for. Really think about how much cooking space do you really need. Then start to search for pellet grill of that cooking area with the best features discussed below.
Materials, Construction and Build Quality
So following on from one of the topics discussed above in the Grilla Grills video, lets talk materials. All pellet grills are made from steel, however various different gauges (thicknesses) of steel are used, and in some cases, typically on premium grills you get more use of stainless steel. Stainless steel is great, its corrosion-resistant, but then again its expensive, so it pushes up the cost of the pellet grill. As I discuss in my Grilla Grills vs Z Grills post, even on budget grills stainless steel can be used strategically. In other words, where will using stainless steel provide the most benefit on a budget pellet grill to not increase the price too much?
Also discussed in the video above, some manufactures, with typical examples being Broil King and Yoder have gone for the thicker steel approach. Thicker (lower gauge) steel will obviously take longer to rust through. Using thicker steel and welded construction will also help with general build quality over thin steel panels bolted together (Cuisinart). However, there are a couple of downsides with thick steel pellet grills. First, they are heavy. Therefore, they are not as easy to move around and you often just have to leave them outside. And really, unless your grill is full stainless steel, its never ideal to leave it outside when not in use. For instance, corrosion is not typically covered under pellet grill warranty conditions.
The other problem with using thick steel on grills is warm up time. Yes, thick steel will hold onto its heat better than thin steel, therefore its potentially better for grilling in winter. However, that thick steel is going to absorb a lot of heat, therefore it can take longer to get the cooking chamber up to the desired temperature. Therefore, as discussed in the Grilla Grills video above, that can also lead to increased pellet consumption and higher running costs. There is another method which Grilla Grills use and so do a few other pellet grill manufacturers, twin-wall construction.
With using two layers of steel (separated with an air gap/insulation material) the pellet grill/smoker will lose less heat through the body. This means its not only more efficient all year round, but it also means its better suited to grilling in colder climates. Both the Grilla Grills Silverbac and Grilla pellet grills are built with twin wall construction. However, Traeger the current most popular pellet grill brand (here’s proof) also use twin-wall construction on their Ironwood and Timberline models. Though I should note, those Traeger grills are considerably more expensive than the Grilla Grills as I discuss in my Traeger vs Grilla Grills article.
Direct-Flame Broiling and Cooking Grate Materials
As strange as it may sound as I run a site called ‘PelHeat’, I don’t always recommend a horizontal pellet grill/smoker as I discuss in my pellet vs gas grill article. If you have a working gas grill already I’ll often recommend to keep it and consider a vertical pellet smoker instead to provide your food with better flavour. You then remove the food from the vertical pellet smoker and sear the meat on your gas grill. Part of the reason for this, especially at the budget end of the market, you typically won’t get great grilling/searing performance from many horizontal pellet grills out of the box. I discuss this more in my article on which pellet grills get the hottest.
Typically, to get the highest temperatures at the cooking grate you will find that on a pellet grill that comes with direct-flame grilling. However, direct-flame grilling on a pellet grill comes with a higher risk of grease flare-ups over say a gas grill. Why? Well with a gas grill you can turn off the gas instantly. On a pellet grill, you can stop the auger feeding pellets, however, that fire in the burn pot is going to take some time actually burn out. Therefore, some people also consider pellet/gas combo grills, where you can use the pellet side for flavour and the gas side for quick/high-temperature searing/grilling.
When purchasing a pellet grill, also pay attention to what the cooking grate is actually made from. Thin steel wire racks are going to last the shortest amount of time and don’t hold their heat well for searing/grilling. Thicker wire racks will perform a bit better, also if they are made from stainless steel they should last a very long time, its unlikely you would need to replace them. Cast-iron racks hold their heat very well, therefore they perform well for grilling/searing. Cast-iron cooking racks are found as standard on many Pit Boss and Broil King grills, they are also available on Camp Chef grills as an optional extra. Aftermarket cast aluminium GrillGrates are my preferred option and recommendation.
Temperature Controllers and WiFi (Do You Need It?)
When it comes to pellet grills/smokers they all have an electronic control panel managing the pellet feed auger, combustion fan, internal temperature sensor and hot rod igniter. However, some pellet grills are smarter than others. When looking for the best pellet grills for the money your spending you ideally want one with a PID temperature controller. PID stands for Proportional, Integral, Derivative, and I explain how a PID controller works in my post linked above. The simplest way to think about a pellet grill with a PID controller is that its smarter than a pellet grill without a PID controller (time-based controller).
A pellet grill with a PID controller will maintain the temperature inside the grill to within 5 degrees of the set temperature. Pellet grills without a PID controller, on the other hand, will see wider temperature swings, typically anywhere from 25 degrees from the set temperature. Now, all PID pellet grills I can think of (except for Grilla Grills) currently come with WiFi. Though I should note, Grilla Grills are going to be adding WiFi as an option in the future. Do you need WiFi? Need might be the wrong word to use, but in several instances, if you want to leave the pellet grill cooking while you’re at work or down the shops it can come in very handy. I compare two WiFi versions in my Traeger WiFire vs Camp Chef Connect article.
Big Box Stores vs Direct Sales
In the past, if a manufacturer/brand wanted to get their product in front of as many people as possible they had to sign a deal with big box stores, Walmart, Lowes etc. If you wanted a new grill you would pop down to your big box store, see what they had on the self and pick up a grill that day that had the features/price you were looking for. With the internet, consumers now spend much more time researching (such as reading this article) before they decide to make a purchase. Hence, you typically already know what you’re looking for before you even consider stepping into a store.
Big box stores can only hold a limited range of grills, and storage costs money. Therefore, any grill you see in that big box store is having to factor in 30%, maybe even more to the price of the grill to attract the big box stores to even sell the grill. What that means, particularly on budget grills, is the manufacturing costs have to be cut to the absolute bone. The result is often a product where the quality/durability and features of a grill have to be cut back to accommodate that 30%+ margin for the big box store.
Therefore, today there are more pellet grill manufacturers, just like Grilla Grills from GrillaGrills.com who have chosen to offer their products purely for direct sale. Hence, they are not having to factor in the additional margin for the big box store to sell their products. They are therefore able to make a better quality product still at an affordable price. Therefore, going forward you will typically find the best pellet grills for the money will often be purchased online from directly from the manufacturer.
Conclusions On The Best Pellet Grills/Smokers For The Money
So I hope you can appreciate from my comments above, that getting the best deal on a pellet grill/smoker is about knowing which features you really need over features which are less essential, and just nice to have. Really, you want to get a pellet grill/smoker with a PID control panel. Its going to provide you with the best temperature accuracy in all weather conditions. When it comes to direct-flame broiling, its a nice feature to have, though it has its own pros and cons. Twin-wall pellet grill construction is also a nice feature to have, though potentially not essential if you live in a generally warm climate. If you can, look for stainless steel internal components on the grill, you then won’t have to worry about replacement parts. In terms of buying from the big box stores, its not that you cannot get a good deal, though never presume buying from a big box store will get you the best pellet grill for the money, as that’s often not the case.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope my comments above and the links to my other articles do help you to pick up a pellet grill that will best serve you for the money spent. I have lots of articles on wood pellet grills/smokers in my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide, so please check that out. 🙂
Back in 2007 when I first become aware of pellet grills and smokers the only brand I was really aware of was Traeger. Traeger is really where this whole concept of cooking with pellets started in the 1980s. It was a ‘slow burner’ (pardon the pun) but since the 2010s is really when pellet grills and smokers started to get mainstream awareness, discussed alongside gas and charcoal grills. There are now over 30 pellet grill/smoker brands that I’m aware of, and the link above goes to my A to Z list of brands article.
Now, you may already be aware of a few of the other brands such as Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and I’m sure you are aware of Weber, though you may not have known they have entered the pellet grill game. However, they are now many, many more brands to look into. Some may be what are commonly referred to as ‘Traeger clones’, but many others are offering their own unique designs and features.
A pellet grill/smoker is only as good as the BBQ pellets you put into it. The type/quality of the BBQ wood pellets you use will impact temperature performance and smoke flavour. There are many pellet flavours including Apple, Hickory, Mapel, Oak and Walnut to name but a few. However, some brands are hardwood blended pellets whereas others are 100% single wood species.
In this article, I provide details on over 20 brands of BBQ wood pellets, their range of flavours, whether they are 100% single wood species or hardwood blended pellets, their typical price and where they are available. I also provide tips on how to get the best deal when buying BBQ wood pellets and how to test pellet quality. Finally, I discuss the new kid on the block, charcoal pellets and their special attributes compared to all other hardwood BBQ pellets.