So with this post, I want to specifically discuss vertical pellet smokers. Not only to discuss your best options when considering purchasing one but to help you determine if you should be buying one in the first place. In other words, I’m going to discuss the differences between horizontal pellet grills/smokers and vertical pellet smokers. In the simplest terms, where a horizontal pellet grill can both grill and smoke, a vertical pellet smoker is designed for purely ‘low and slow’ smoking/cooking. Now, that may lead some to jump to the conclusion a horizontal pellet grill is always your best option as it can do both grill and smoke. However, depending on your requirements and budget, that may not be the case.
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Within this post, I’m going to be referencing several different vertical pellet smoker brands and their capabilities. There currently aren’t as many vertical pellet smokers on the market today as there are horizontal pellet grill/smokers. However, as the pellet grill market has been growing considerably in recent years I would expect to see a few more makes/models of vertical pellet smokers come on the market soon. Therefore, I’ll try and keep this post updated.
Introduction To Vertical Wood Pellet Smokers
So horizontal pellet grills/smokers are designed for both ‘low and slow’ cooking/smoking and also higher temperature grilling/searing for steaks/burgers etc. Now, some will argue that many horizontal pellet grills are not actually grills at all as they cannot exceed a temperature setting of 450 degrees. Hence, some argue all pellet grills are just smokers or simply an outdoor convection oven. Now, this is a very general statement, and not actually true in many cases. However, lower-cost horizontal pellet grills, especially below $500 do struggle with high-temperature grilling.
There are aftermarket solutions such as GrillGrate which can help to improve grilling/searing performance. Furthermore, higher specification/higher priced horizontal pellet grills are actually capable of grilling/searing, easily exceeding temperatures over 450 degrees. However, what if you are purely looking for a ‘low and slow’ pellet smoker/cooker, hence you don’t want to go above 450 degrees. Well, that’s when you can consider either a horizontal or vertical pellet cooking appliance. But why would you want to consider a vertical pellet smoker over a horizontal pellet smoker?
Horizontal vs Vertical Pellet Smokers
So why would you want to consider a vertical pellet smoker over a horizontal smoker? Well, the simple reason is the larger cooking area and value for money. If we consider the horizontal Pit Boss 340 grill/smoker above that has a cooking area of 340 square inches and generally retails for around $300. Compare that to a vertical Pit Boss smoker such as the 77350 that generally retails around a similar price point. Well, on the vertical pellet smoker you get 800 square inches of cooking space. Hence, more than double that of the horizontal smoker. Furthermore, if you want to smoke something tall like a beer can chicken that’s easy with room to spare on a vertical smoker. However, its practically impossible on a budget horizontal pellet smoker such as the Pit Boss 340.
Vertical Smokers Can Also Be Cold Smokers
Vertical pellet smokers are also more versatile smokers. If you look again at the image of the Pit Boss 77350 you will notice that on the upper racks there is some cheese smoking. Hence, with a vertical pellet smoker, you will have higher temperatures in the base (closer to the pellet fire) and then the smoke cools as it rises. Therefore, if the unit is set to one of its lowest temperature settings such as 150 degrees the upper racks are effectively a cold smoker. Put a tray of ice underneath the rack of food and you will lower the temperature of the smoke even more. Furthermore, as the ice melts the moisture will help to bind the smoke into the food above.
Pit Boss Vertical Pellet Smokers
Some of the most affordable and widely available vertical pellet smokers today are produced by Pit Boss. Now, you may come across the same vertical pellet smokers below branded as Louisiana Grills which is another associated subsidiary brand under Dansons (who own Pit Boss). The smallest unit as reference above is the 77350 which is 25″ wide, providing 800 square inches of cooking area. It features a large 35lb smoking wood pellets hopper. However, Pit Boss also offers a larger vertical pellet smoker the 77700. That unit has a width of 29″, providing 2059 square inches of cooking space and a larger 60lb pellet hopper to match.
While browsing YouTube for any quality owner generated content I could find on the Pit Boss vertical smokers I came across a couple of interesting/useful videos. First is a video from Weekend Warrior BBQ and his 5 top tips when owning and using a Pit Boss vertical pellet smoker. This video really does contain some solid advice. For instance, cleaning the door of the smoker before the fat/grease and smoke particles cool and solidify making them harder to remove. The other tips in the video are also good practice to follow, check it out:
The second video below illustrating that Pit Boss vertical pellet smokers are currently some of the most affordable pellet smokers on the market today is by Grill Sergeant. After visiting various big box stores he was able to pick up a 77550 which is the mid-sized unit which sits in between the Pit Boss smokers I discussed above. The video also briefly covers the assembly of the pellet smoker along with footage of him cooking up a spread for his family, worth checking out.
Masterbuilt Vertical Pellet Smokers
The other brand of low-cost vertical pellet smokers you could consider is Masterbuilt. These units are available in a couple of different sizes from the smallest unit (330B) offering 724 square inches of cooking space and the larger (340B) offer 977 square inches of cooking space. However, these units don’t have the same temperature range when compared to the Pit Boss smokers.
Both the Masterbuilt 330B and 340B have a temperature range of 150 -350 degrees. Hence, the Masterbuilt verticle pellet smokers don’t go as low as the Pit Boss vertical pellet smokers or quite as high. Also, I’m not sure for how much longer Masterbuilt is going to be producing pellet based smokers or grills. They seem to be much more focused on their charcoal gravity series grills/smokers. To promote their new line of charcoal grills they released the following promotional video.
Now, I get it, causing a bit of controversy around BBQ wood pellets stating ‘pellets are for rabbits’ can develop some free marketing ‘buzz’. However, it can also create quite a bit of confusion from potential customers when they look to see that you are selling your own line of pellet smokers? Therefore, this leads me to conclude that Masterbuilt may indeed be phasing out their vertical pellet smoker line-up to focus on their gravity charcoal grills/smokers. And best of luck to them, I do think their gravity charcoal grills have a lot of potential and do seem to be a very promising alternative to pellet grills/smokers. Now personally, I believe I can still put forward arguments why a pellet smoker has several advantages/benefits over even a semi-automated gravity charcoal smoker, but I’ll save that for another post.
Camp Chef Vertical Pellet Smokers
Camp Chef currently only produce one vertical pellet smoker, however, I believe it to be the best domestic vertical pellet smoker currently on the market. I’ve got a detailed article on the Camp Chef XXL WiFi Vertical Pellet Smoker. Below is just a quick summary of why I believe its the best domestic vertical pellet smoker on the market currently.
The Camp Chef XXL is currently the only domestic vertical pellet smoker on the market today with a PID/WiFi control panel. Now if you have read any of my previous posts you will know that I sing the praises of PID controllers quite a bit for their much better temperature accuracy (within 5-degrees of the set temperature). However, Camp Chef also have their ‘Smart Smoke Technology’, so you can choose the smoke setting from one to ten. Hence, this pellet smoker not only provides you with tighter temperature control than the Pit Boss and Masterbuilt vertical pellet smokers above but more smoke control. Add in the fact its got WiFi and the ability to control the smoker from the Camp Chef Connect App and I think its currently the best domestic vertical pellet you can get.
Cookshack Vertical Pellet Smokers
Now, if you take your time smoking food a bit more seriously, say you compete in various BBQ competitions, for instance, you will probably be more interested in a Cookshack vertical pellet smoker. These units are made in the USA to a very high standard and feature full stainless steel construction. The benefit of stainless steel is not only that your pellet smoker is going to last much longer it will also be a lot easier to clean. Cookshack produce a range of vertical pellet smokers starting with the FEC100 which is their residential-sized unit. They also offer larger vertical pellet smokers for commercial applications such as the FEC120.
The FEC100 offers 1,564 square inches of cooking area and is fitted with a 20lb pellet hopper which is sufficient for the smoker to run at 250 degrees for up to 24 hours. Obviously, if you are running the smoker at a lower temperature the hopper full of wood pellets will last longer. Where the Cookshack FEC100 differs from products by Pit Boss/Masterbuilt is not only the use of stainless steel and the fact these smokers are made in the USA its also their controller and high-quality insulation.
Insulation plays a significant role in how predictably a smoker performs. Without insulation any smoker, pellet fueled or otherwise will struggle to maintain a consistent temperature when ambient weather conditions change. While that obviously means the difference between using a smoker in the summer compared to the winter it also refers to the wind. When the wind picks up that on its own can make it hard for some smokers to accurately achieve and maintain the set temperature. What a well-insulated pellet smoker such as the FEC100 also offers is reduced pellet consumption, therefore its cheaper to use.
Conclusions On Vertical Pellet Smokers
So, in conclusion, there are certain circumstances where a vertical pellet smoker can make more sense than a horizontal pellet grill/smoker. If you specifically want to do ‘low and slow’ cooking and smoking, especially with the budget models above from Pit Boss/Masterbuilt you can get more ‘bang for your buck’. Furthermore, as stated above with a vertical pellet smoker set to its lowest temperature setting and with the food (and maybe an ice tray) on the highest racks you can also cold smoke. There are some horizontal pellet grills with cold smoker attachments, however, they are few and far between. Though Cookshack and MAK GRILLS have integrated cold smokers into some of their horizontal pellet grills/smokers.
That’s it! I hope you found this article on vertical pellet smokes interesting/informative. If you are interested in any of the units discussed above, if you pop on over to BBQGuys.com they can sort you out. However, if you would like to spend more time consider whether a vertical pellet smoker or horizontal pellet grill/smoker is your best option please check out my wood pellet grill/smoker guide. Enjoy 🙂