There is an absolutely huge range of makes and models of wood pellet grills on the market today. Year on year more makes and models are added or improvements/upgrades are offered on previous pellet grill/smoker models. Even for someone who has owned a pellet grill in the past, it can be tricky to work out which make/model is going to be their best option when buying a new grill. However, if you have never owned a pellet grill before I’m sure the prospect of choosing the best pellet grill to meet your needs could feel very daunting. Therefore, hopefully, this post can help. I’m going to discuss the different types/classes of wood pellet grill on the market to help you narrow down the search for a pellet grill which will best suit your needs.
To help to bring some order to the chaos that is the many, many wood pellet grills on the market today I’m basing this post on the video above produced by the BBQGuys. The categories/classes discussed in this post are how the BBQGuys have chosen to organize the inventory on their website. The reason I want to clarify this is because the terms used below for the different pellet grill categories/classes are not universally used by all pellet grill makes/brands. However, I personally like the class definitions that the BBQGuys have come up with, so that what I’m also going to use.
Pellet Grill Configurations (Freestanding, Built-in, Portable etc)
First, you need to really think about how and when you want to cook with your pellet grill. Do you primarily intend to cook for just you and your partner? If so a small portable pellet grill such as a Traeger Scout or Ranger pellet grill maybe your best option. However, if you want to cook in your backyard at home for the whole family and for when friends come over that’s when a larger freestanding grill such as a Traeger Pro Series is going to be your better option. At the top end if you are lucky enough to have space and resources to have an outside kitchen, then a built-in pellet grill/oven is something you could consider, such as the premium range of pellet grills from Memphis.
Pellet Grills vs Vertical Pellet Smokers
In most instances, people are looking for a pellet grill to replace their existing charcoal or propane grill. Therefore, you need a pellet grill which can achieve 450 degrees plus so you have the option to rapidly cook meat, fish and vegetables. In terms of being able to sear, well that’s where things get a bit more complicated. While I think Traeger produce some of the best pellet grills/smokers today, they don’t provide the highest grill temps for seeing and they cannot flame broil. To be able to sear/flame broil all on one pellet grill you may want to look at something like a Camp Chef Woodwind with a Sear Box or SideKick propane attachment.
However, in some instances, people want to sear, grill or broil food on say a propane grill. Though they want to smoke their food to add flavour. That’s where BBQ wood pellets and a vertical pellet smoker comes in. As the name implies, these units are only suitable for long and slow cooks and for smoking, they don’t have the capacity to grill or sear. However, when talking about capacity (volume) that’s where these vertical pellet smokers shine. For the price, when compared to a similarly priced pellet grill you can typically smoke a lot more food at once. Hence, if its primarily long and slow cooking/smoking your after, that’s when you may want to consider a verticle pellet smoker.
A typical example of a small/domestic vertical pellet smoker is a Pit Boss 77550: Image – Amazon
The Different Pellet Grill Controllers (WiFi, PID etc)
Within the last couple of years, the competition within the pellet grill market has really stepped up. As a consumer, competition is great, because it forces pellet grill manufacturers to constantly look at how they can improve their products. For instance, for quite a long time now the control panels fitted to most pellet grills all looked and operated the same. However, competition has meant we now have more advanced pellet grill controllers on offer with WiFi and PID functionality, which I’ll explain more about below.
A typical previous generation pellet grill controller fitted to Traeger and Pit Boss grills etc. Notice the wide 25-degree gap in temperature settings: Image – Amazon
Previous generation pellet grill controllers (Traeger Pro Controller) would typically have a digital readout display stating the temperature within the pellet grill, a rotating dial and if your lucky a couple of external meat probe ports at the bottom. However, as is stated in the BBQGuys video above, in most cases these were pretty basic controllers. They would compare the set temperature on the dial to the actual temperature in the pellet grill reported by the RTD temperature sensor. If the internal temperature of the grill was higher than the set temperature on the controller it would turn off the auger motor. If the temperature inside the grill still hadn’t reached the temperature set on the dial, it would keep running the auger motor along with the induction fan. With some Traeger controllers, you could change the P-Setting (pause setting between turning on the pellet auger), but that was about it.
Temperature Accuracy With Older Pellet Grill Controllers
The benefit of these older generation pellet grill controllers (still found on budget models today) is they were reasonably reliable. However, the downside was they were not very accurate. As stated in the video above, the actual temperature within the pellet grill could swing around 20-40 degrees from the temperature set on the dial. When you also factor in that the temperature dials only had settings in 25-degree temperature increments, accuracy was definitely not their strong point. This is would particularly be the case when cooking in very cold climates. As I discuss in my Traeger accessories post, in most cases, you would want to fit a thermal blanket. The problem with the old controllers was a delay between the controller knowing the temperature wasn’t right and feeding in or not feeding in pellets to accurately regulate the pellet grills temperature.
The Benefits of PID Pellet Grill Controllers
On many mid-range and premium pellet grills today you will find a PID controller which stands for proportional–integral–derivative controller. Using mathematical algorithms and constantly reviewing the internal temperature of the pellet grill these controllers are able to maintain a much more constant temperature. You will find PID controllers on several Traeger models today including the Pro Series, Ironwood and Timberline range. Traeger introduced PID controllers as part of their D2 Direct Drive upgrades. In some cases such as with Camp Chef, they have released their Gen 2 WiFi Controller which is PID enabled and can be used as an upgrade on older pellet grills such as the SmokePro range. The basic point being, if you have the option of getting a pellet grill within your price range that has a PID controller it will provide you with more predictable performance.
WiFi Enabled Pellet Grill Controllers
On many mid-range and premium pellet grills today, even some budget models you will find WiFi integrated into the pellet grill controller. Therefore, using each manufactures app you can monitor and control various aspects of the pellet grill. For instance, you can see the current temperature inside the grill and you can set a new temperature from your smartphone. For those controllers with external meat probe ports, you can also monitor those from the app. On many grills, you can set timers via the app. There are differences though between the various apps as I discuss in my post on Traegers WiFire vs Camp Chef Connect. For instance, within the Traeger WiFire app, you can review recipes and download cooking settings to your grill, you can also monitor the Traeger pellet sensor.
Wood Pellet Grill Classes
Below I’m going to break down some examples of different pellet grill models into classes, Economy, Practical, Premium and then Luxury. Again, please remember these class definitions are just following on from the BBQGuys video above. There are currently no official industry standards on how to class specific pellet grills.
Economy Class Pellet Grills
As the name implies these are the cheapest pellet grills you can buy. Not necessarily the smallest though. You can get relatively large pellet grills in the economy class. However, they will have fewer features than grills in the higher classes. For instance, they will typically be using more basic pellet grill controllers with wider temperature swings. Its unlikely you are going to find PID/WiFi controllers within this class. Examples include the Camp Chef SmokePro range, Traeger Tailgater/Scout and several Pit Boss budget pellet grills. The Cuisinart Woodcreek and Twin Oaks are currently some of the best budget/economy pellet grills available.
The Traeger Tailgater is a typical example of an economy class pellet grill: Image – BBQGuys.com
Practical Class Pellet Grills
A step up from the Economy Class, they will typically be constructed from better materials. The controllers on these pellet grills will be more advanced for tighter temperature control. Some units may also feature WiFi and PID controllers. You will also typically find higher quality grates such as porcelain-coated steel. Though you need to be careful when cleaning a pellet grill with porcelain grates and never use a steel wire grill brush. There may also be the option to grill and sear at higher temperatures, and on some units, direct flame grilling may be an option. Typical examples in this class include:
- Traeger Pro Series
- Camp Chef Woodwind
- Weber SmokeFire pellet grills
- Broil King Baron and Regal pellet grills
- GMG Pellet Grills
Premium Class Pellet Grills
In the premium class these grills in almost all cases today will have PID controllers with WiFi integration. They will feature superior construction along with more premium materials (more stainless steel). For instance, they may feature stainless interior linings and stainless steel grill racks. Typically these pellet grills will also be better insulated with twin wall construction. Hence, the internal cooking area inside the grill is less affected by external temperature changes in the peak of summer and the depths of winter. Two typical examples of premium pellet grills are the Traeger Ironwood and Timberline ranges. These grills have advanced Tru Convection smoke/heat circulation designs along with their horizontal downdraft exhausts.
Luxury Class Pellet Grills
With the Luxury class of pellet grills, you should expect to see pretty much exclusively stainless steel all around. Their construction is also often riveted/welded instead of being bolted or screwed together. That makes these pellet grills not only extremely weather-resistant due to their stainless steel construction, but also extremely strong/durable units. However, full stainless steel construction is expensive, hence why you will only find it in the Luxury pellet grill class. These pellet grills are available as free-standing units or they are also available as built-in models for outside kitchens. A typical example of Luxury pellet grills are those produced by Memphis grills. However, there are also higher specification units produced by Twin Eagles.
Conclusions On How To Choose The Best Pellet Grill To Best Meet Your Needs
For most people when choosing a pellet grill keeping within a certain budget is their first consideration. Therefore, in many cases its about focusing on the features that will meet your needs the best, while keeping within budget. For instance, if you are quite experienced with grills or you have owned a pellet grill before you may want to focus on applying your budget to a larger grill with a simpler/more basic controller. However, if you are less experienced and you want the pellet grill to do more of the work for you, then you may want to opt for a smaller grill with a PID/WiFi controller. I discuss this more in my article on how to find the best pellet grills for the money. Whatever your budget there is a pellet grill out there for everyone!
That it! Thanks for reading, hopefully, the video above from the BBQGuys and my own comments will help you to chose the best pellet grill to meet your needs and budget. By all means, pop over to BBQGuys.com and check out the huge range of pellet grills they have on offer from economy/budget models all the way up to high-end/luxury pellet grills. To learn more about the various grills on the market please review my wood pellet grill/smoker guide. 🙂