I fully accept as I’ve stated many times in previous posts, on average you have to spend more to purchase a pellet grill over a typical charcoal/gas grill. There are reasons for the higher average price of pellet grills, but that’s not the subject of this post. When I’ve been asked questions about pellet grills I’ve heard on more than one occasion ‘but aren’t pellet grills more expensive to run?’. So with this post, I wanted to discuss this question and to show how the opposite can actually be true, and pellet grilling/smoking can have lower running costs than charcoal and gas grilling/smoking. I’ll also discuss how certain pellet grills consume less BBQ wood pellets than others.
When looking into BBQ wood pellet consumption/usage on pellet grills/smokers there are lots of factors to consider as I discuss below. Such as the size and construction of the pellet grill/smoker. Does it feature a time-based or PID controller? Where you live and the climate/weather conditions? Are you cooking during the day or smoking overnight? Do you have an insulated blanket for your pellet grill, or does it even need one? Finally, there is the price you are paying for your BBQ wood pellets. Should you consider bulk buying (to get a lower price per lb) or not? Lots to discuss.
Introduction To BBQ Wood Pellet Consumption
Later on in this article, I’ll discuss the various factors that naturally make some pellet grills more fuel/pellet efficient than others. However, first, let’s discuss some general pellet usage figures. For instance, what do pellet grill/smoker manufacturers and retails state about the whole pellet usage debate? Well, I’ve included a few examples below, however, there are several pellet grill manufacturers which don’t appear to want to really answer the question of pellet consumption.
Why? Is it because they want to hide how bad the pellet consumption is on their pellet grills? Not really, as I’ll discuss below, the problem is the answer to the question, as is often the case is, it depends. For instance, a pellet grill purely smoking at a low temperature will consume a lot less than when its high-temperature grilling/searing. Furthermore, as I’ve stated above, there are also lots of other factors at play. However, I’ve got a few statements from a couple of pellet grill manufacturers/retailers to get the ball going on this discussion about pellet usage rates.
What Do Pellet Grill Manufacturers/Retailers Say About Pellet Consumption?
“We’ve estimated that a 24-inch pellet grill will burn through about 3 lbs. of pellets per hour. Keep in mind that cooler temperatures will make your grill work harder, resulting in more pellets burned. So depending on the temperature and what’s on the grill for dinner tonight you can estimate how long your bag of pellets will last.” – CampChef.com
“Each bag of flavorful and environmentally friendly wood pellets will last 10 to 20 hours of cooking time.” – GrillaGrills.com
“Plan on using around 1–1.5 pounds of pellets per hour, with the expectation of needing more fuel when grilling at high temperatures.” – BBQGuys.com
General Rule About Pellet Consumption
So we have BBQGuys stating pellet consumption should be around 1 to 1.5lbs per hour. Grilla Grills state a bag (20 lbs) should last 10 – 20 hours, therefore that’s between 1 to 2 lbs per hour. Whereas we have Camp Chef stating about 3lbs per hour. So who is telling the truth here? Well, the truth is depending on how you are using the pellet grill and the outside temperatures they could all be true. If I was going to provide my own very general rule I would probably state the following:
Expect pellet consumption to be around 1-2 lbs per hour when smoking (going low and slow) up to around 250 degrees. When grilling (450 degrees +) expect pellet consumption to be closer to 3 lbs per hour, potentially more.
Cost Comparisons Between Pellet, Charcoal, Gas and Electric Grills/Smokers
Ok, so we now have some general pellet consumption figures above for between 1-2 lbs per hour when smoking and roughly 3 lbs per hour when grilling. In terms of running costs, what does that actually mean? Well, depending on the specific brand of BBQ pellets the cost of a 20lb bag does vary. I have an extensive list of different brands on my BBQ wood pellets post. But for sake of this comparison lets just use a 20lb bag of Traeger Signature Blend, currently some of the most popular BBQ pellets on Amazon.
Currently, Traeger Signature Blend is one of the most commonly purchased 20lb bags of BBQ wood pellets: Image – Amazon.com
Factoring in shipping, typically a 20lb bag of Traeger Signature Blend should cost you around $20. Which makes things nice and easy to calculate. 1lbs of pellets is, therefore, $1, and based on the general pellet consumption figures above while going low and slow it will cost you roughly $1-2 per hour or around $3 per hour when grilling. So how does that compare to other BBQ fuel choices of charcoal, gas or electricity? Well, the guys as Cookingpellets.com have already had a go at calculating this, so check out their article, I’ll just quickly summarise their findings below.
CookingPellets.com offer a BBQ wood pellet alternative (which is often cheaper) to brands such a Traeger: Image – Amazon.com
So the guys at Cookingpellets.com looked at a one-hour cooking session at 225 degrees. For a charcoal briquette grill, factoring in starter fuel the cost worked out at $2.85, the highest running cost of any grill/smoker. It could potentially be even higher for a Kamado smoker on natural lump charcoal. For a gas/propane grill/smoker, the cost worked out at around $1.20 per hour. If you want to see how they got to that figure click the link to their article above. But note, that gas cost does not include wood chunks/pellets to provide some smoke flavour. Now an electric smoker in terms of just electricity worked out to just $0.25 per hour. However, add in about a quarter of a pound of wood chunks to actually get some smoke to flavour the food and the electric smoker running cost is closer to $1.50 per hour.
They stated a pellet grill running at 225 degrees would consume around 1lb per hour. Which, as we discussed above is a reasonable estimate. Now, as CookingPellets are a cheaper alternative to say Traeger branded wood pellets, the pellet cost per hour actually works out at just $0.76! Hence, not bad at all!
What About The Cost Of High-Temperature Grilling?
Above we have established that when it comes to low-temperature cooking/smoking (225-250 degrees) pellets may very well be the cheapest option in terms of running costs. But what about high-temperature grilling? Well, following the discussion above, on a pellet grill it will likely be around 3lbs ($3) per hour when grilling, however, it could potentially be more. You also have to be aware a pellet grill will take a while to get up to those really high grilling temperatures. How long will depend on lots of factors, but the point is, you will have to wait quite a bit longer for a pellet grill to get to say 500 degrees compared to a gas grill. Furthermore, a gas grill is going to go way above 500 degrees, somewhere up to 900 degrees at the cooking surface. Granted, a pellet grill with direct-flame/GrillGrates will exceed 500 degrees, but not as quickly as a gas grill.
Hence, when it comes to high-temperature grilling there is potential for the gas grill to be the cheaper option in terms of running costs. Furthermore, with high temp grilling you are not producing smoke, so its not so much about adding smoke flavour. Therefore, you are purely looking at the cost of the gas, no pellets/wood chunks to add a smokey flavour. This is part of the reason why combo gas/pellet grills are becoming more popular. You can use the pellet side for lower temp cooking to benefit from the great smokey flavour but you also have access to the rapid and higher temperatures of the gas grill. If you already own a working gas grill, I often recommend keeping it and considering a vertical pellet smoker to sit alongside it instead of purchasing a horizontal pellet grill/smoker.
Pellet Grill Construction and Insulated Blankets
If you are in the market for a new wood pellet grill, and especially if you live in a generally cold climate or you intend to use the grill in the winter months, you need to choose your pellet grill carefully. I’ve discussed this previously in my article on can you use a pellet grill in cold/winter weather, so I’ll just quickly reference those points here in the context of running costs. Using the grill in cold weather is possible, though that cold weather will try and pull the heat out of the grill. Therefore, in the colder months, you should generally expect higher pellet consumption figures, as you would expect higher fuel consumption figures on any type of BBQ. However, there are means to try and address the additional heat loss.
A typical example of a insulated blanket to fit a Traeger Gen 1 Pro Series pellet grill: Image – Amazon.com
First, if you already own a pellet grill you could consider an insulating heat blanket. Its essentially a winter coat for your pellet grill. Its not intended to be used as weather-resistant cover, its purely fitted for use when grilling in the winter months. The benefits being it will keep more of the heat in the grill improving cooking performance in the cold winter months and at the same reduce pellet consumption to the more ‘normal’ levels discussed above. However, the insulated blankets are not ideal, as they can be a real pain to get on and secured properly while still giving you proper access to use/open the grill lid. Also, over time the smoke/grease will stain them etc. There is another option, purchasing a pellet grill with twin-wall insulated construction.
As shown in the image above, Grilla Grills use twin-wall construction on their pellet grills. However, it should be noted, currently, on Grilla Grills only the combustion zone (lower half of the grill) is twin-wall construction. When you start to look a higher specification (higher priced) alternatives such as the Traeger Timberline, the whole interior of the pellet grill is twin-wall construction, with the interior surface being stainless steel. I do believe you will start to see more manufacturers offering twin-wall construction on their pellet grills going forward. While it does add to the manufacturing costs of the pellet grills, educated consumers will see the benefits to improved performance and lower running costs/pellet consumption.
Conclusions On Grill/Smoker Wood Pellet Usage
So what have we learnt? Well while some people seem to believe that pellet grills/smokers have higher running costs over alternatives such as charcoal and gas grills the opposite can be true in many cases. Generally, I do believe that to be true when it comes to ‘low and slow’ temperatures of around 225-250 degrees. However, when it comes to high-temperature grilling as a gas grill is able to get up to higher temperatures and get to high temperatures more quickly, its possible gas grills have the edge on running costs there. However, as discussed above, pellet and gas cooking appliances can work well together and compliment each other’s advantages and disadvantages. If you want to use a pellet grill/smoker in the colder winter months insulated blankets can help to reduce pellet consumption and thus running costs. However its also worth looking out for a pellet grill with twin-wall construction when making a new purchase to keep pellet usage to a minimum.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found the above article useful and you learnt something new today. I have lots and lots of other wood pellet grill/smoker articles addressing various other questions. Please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide for links to many of my other articles. 🙂