So this article on the best pellet grills for searing is really a carryover from my previous article on indirect vs direct heat cooking on pellet grills. Searing is direct heat cooking with the objective to get a good surface browning on the food to add additional flavour and texture (Maillard reaction). Whether searing ‘lock/seals in the juices’ is up for debate, however, the additional benefit to flavour/texture is not really in question. Some within the BBQ community have stated ‘pellet grills cannot sear‘, while not an accurate statement, some pellet grills are out of the box better at searing than others. Let’s get into this.
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Introduction To Searing On A Pellet Grill
Searing food requires high temperatures at the surface of the cooking grate, as a general rule, you want the surface temperature of the cooking grate above at least 450 degrees. The reason why pellet grills have previously had a stigma around grilling/searing is that earlier generation models could only just achieve 450 degrees. Take for example one of the most popular pellet grills for many years the Gen 1 Traeger Pro Series, while very good at indirect cooking and ‘Low and Slow’ its maximum temperature setting of 450 degrees really held back it’s out of the box grilling/searing performance. When it comes to getting good grilling/searing performance from a pellet grill you really need to be considering these questions:
- What is the maximum temperature setting on the pellet grill? (Can it go above 450 degrees?)
- What is the cooking grate made of? (Thin steel wire or Cast-Iron etc?)
- Does the pellet grill provide direct-flame access?
- Maybe consider a combo pellet/gas grill?
Maximum Temperature Settings On Pellet Grills
Many of the latest generations of pellet grills have a maximum temperature setting of at least 500 degrees. For instance, as I discuss in my Gen 1 vs Gen Traeger Pro Series article. The same is true for budget/mid-range pellet grills from the likes of Camp Chef, Pit Boss and Grilla Grills, all offer pellet grills with a 500-degree maximum temperature setting. You then have the Weber SmokeFire which provides a 600-degree maximum temperature setting. As I discuss in my Weber SmokeFire Gen 1 vs Gen 2 article, while I have issues with it as a pellet smoker, as a pellet grill it’s very capable.
You then have other brands such as Broil King who also offer a maximum temperature setting of 600 degrees and the same is true of RECTEQ pellet grills when their ‘FULL’ setting is activated. When you start moving up into the premium/luxury pellet grill brands such a Cookshack, Memphis Grills, Coyote and Twin Eagles these pellet grills have maximum temperature settings between 600 – 725 degrees. While a higher temperature setting on a pellet grill is going to provide better searing capabilities, what the cooking grate is made of is also important.
What Is The Cooking Grate Made Of?
You will find various materials used on pellet grills for the main cooking grate, and different materials produce different searing performance. Basically more metal means more thermal mass to absorb heat from the pellet fire below. Therefore, let’s say you have two pellet grills with the same maximum heat setting, but one has thin steel wire cooking racks and the other has thick cast-iron grates, the one with cast-iron grates will provide superior searing performance.
When it comes to cast-iron cooking grates three brands fit them across pretty much all the models in their ranges. Pit Boss across budget Pit Boss pellet grills, their Pro Series and Platinum Series pellet grills all feature cast-iron cooking grates. Likewise their sister brand Louisiana Grills also fit cast-iron cooking grates. Then there is also Broil King who fit cast-iron cooking grates across all their models and also feature a high 600-degree maximum temperature setting.
There are downsides to cast-iron cooking grates however. First, they are heavy, therefore the additional weight makes it more expensive to ship the pellet grill and it’s also more difficult for the end-user to move the grill around due to the additional weight. The porcelain coating on the cast-iron cooking grates will eventually fail at some point and start flaking off and for continued easy cleaning the grates will need to be replaced.
On the higher specification pellet grills which have good searing performance instead of cast-iron cooking grates, you will find stainless steel bar cooking grates. Using steel bar instead of thinner wire gauge steel means they have more thermal mass so they can absorb more heat for better searing performance. Being stainless steel these cooking grates will last as long as the grill and remain easy to clean. Brands such as Memphis Grills, Coyote and Twin Eagles fit stainless steel bar cooking grates.
Cooking Grate Upgrade For Better Searing Performance
So let’s take the example of a pellet grill with a 450-degree maximum temperature setting and thin steel wire racks, the Gen 1 Traeger Pro Series being a classic example. Well, there is a product on the market called GrillGrate which you can use to improve the searing performance of such pellet grills. GrillGrate is interlocking hard-anodized aluminium panels that sit on top of the existing cooking grates. They provide a greater thermal mass to absorb the heat from the pellet fire and can provide a cooking surface 100-200 degrees hotter than on the standard thin steel wire racks.
A set of GrillGrates to cover the main cooking area on a typical backyard pellet grill will cost over $100. Therefore, while a worthwhile consideration to upgrade the searing performance of an existing pellet grill they need more consideration for a new pellet grill. What I mean is, if you increased your budget by the same amount or slightly more could you maybe able to get a pellet grill with a higher maximum cooking temperature or maybe even direct flame access.
The Benefits/Drawbacks Of Direct-Flame Access
I have a full article about direct-flame access on pellet grills, so I don’t want to repeat my self too much here but I’ll give a quick summary. As the term describes with direct-flame access the flames from pellet fire on some pellet grills can reach the cooking grate. The benefit being a higher grilling/searing temperature of 650 degrees and beyond. With some pellet grills (earlier generation Pit Boss/Louisiana Grills models) to turn the direct-flame access feature on/off you had to lift up the cooking grates and slide the grease tray open/closed, not ideal.
However, on later models from Pit Boss such as the Gen 2 Pro Series and Black Label Louisiana Grills models a slide lever on the outside of the grill can turn the direct-flame access feature on and off, a much better design. It was Camp Chef with their ‘Slide n’ Grill’ direct-flame access on their Woodwind pellet grills who were really one of the first to come up with the external leaver design for direct-flame access functionality.
The downside with direct flame access is that it’s only over a smaller focused area on the cooking grate, not the whole cooking grate. Therefore, to get the best searing results when cooking a lot of food you will be moving food around over the cooking grate. Second, if you do a lot of slow cooking of fatty meats and produce a lot of grease you need to be careful with pellet grills and direct-flame access as I discuss in my article on when to clean a pellet grill.
Combo Pellet/Gas Grills For Higher Temperature Searing
Another alternative you could consider for higher temperature searing with a pellet grill is a combo gas/pellet grill. If you click that link it goes to my full article on the topic with the best pellet/gas combo options currently available. But essentially a pellet/gas combo grill gives access to the smoky flavour from cooking with pellets and the quick/high-temperature performance of a gas grill. The first option to consider is a gas bolt-on accessory such as the Camp Chef Sear Box/SideKick which will provide a small area for gas grilling/searing. Alternatively, you also have 50/50 split pellet/gas combo grills from Pit Boss and Cuisinart.
Conclusions On The Best Pellet Grills For Searing
So a quick summary of the above points then. To find a pellet grill with the best searing performance within your budget you want to check the pellet grills maximum temperature setting, can it go above 450 degrees for instance. You then want to review the grate material, does it have thick gauge steel wire or porcelain-coated cast-iron grates? If not, then to get reasonable searing performance the pellet grill may need a set of aftermarket GrillGrates. Does the pellet grill offer direct-flame access to provide higher temperatures at the grate of 650 degrees and above? Finally, if searing performance is still a concern then a pellet/gas combo pellet grill may be your best option.
That’s it! I hope you found this article on the best pellet grills for searing interesting/informative. If you have more questions my General Pellet Grill/Smoker FAQ may be of assistance or my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂
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.