While my website is obviously primarily focused on promoting the benefits that wood pellets offer, they do have a couple of downsides/disadvantages too. This carries over to pellet grills/smokers which are designed to use to use BBQ wood pellets as their fuel choice. Do the disadvantages of wood pellets/pellet grills outweigh their benefits? From my perspective, not by a long shot. However, understanding and accepting the limitations/disadvantages of pellet fuel/combustion can help you to enjoy a wood pellet grill/smoker more, because you will appreciate how to use the grill and the pellets to the best of their ability. So what are the disadvantages? Well, let’s have a look at them.
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.
Some of the disadvantages/limitations of pellet grills you may have heard before, such as ‘pellet grills don’t get hot enough to grill‘ are based in some truth. However, its a very general statement, and its actually not true with many pellet grills. The same goes for statements such as ‘pellet grills are too expensive‘. Some are expensive, but there are many pellet grills available for under $500. As I discuss in my articles on pellet vs kamado grills and pellet vs gas grills, each BBQ fuel source has its own advantages and disadvantages, none of them are perfect. It’s just, on the whole, despite their disadvantages I believe that pellet grills are the most convenient/flexible solution.
Disadvantage 1: BBQ Wood Pellets Can Go Bad
So probably the biggest disadvantage with pellet grills and pellet fuel, in general, is the fact that BBQ wood pellets can ‘go bad‘. What does that mean exactly? Well, wood pellets readily absorb moisture, its what makes them such good animal bedding. However, its not an ideal quality when it comes to pellet grills. Hence, as I’ve previously written about in my post on can you leave pellets in the grills hopper, in many instances you don’t want to do that for an extended period of time. Even if rain isn’t directly getting into the hopper, over time a humid environment will eventually break the pellets apart. Therefore, when the pellet grill is not being used, the pellets should really be removed from the hopper and stored in a sealed plastic bag/bucket.
If you don’t want to waste money on BBQ wood pellets you always need to make sure they are kept dry and in a low humidity environment: Image – Amazon.com
Now, those of you ‘in the know’ may be aware of torrefied wood pellets, which don’t absorb moisture. They are similar to charcoal in appearance and are very high-quality fuel. Wouldn’t torrefied wood pellets be good fuel for pellet grills then?! Well, potentially, it would get around the current disadvantage of BBQ wood pellets absorbing moisture. The problem is you would lose a lot of what makes the huge range of BBQ wood pellet flavour varieties so appealing. Hence, you would lose a key benefit of pellet BBQ smokers. Torrefied wood pellets would produce a very generic ‘smoke’ flavour, I suppose similar to charcoal in that regard. So while current BBQ wood pellets absorb moisture which is a disadvantage, they are effectively still raw wood with each species producing a unique smoke flavour. Therefore, really, while the risk of moisture damage is a disadvantage its a risk than can be managed with proper dry storage.
Disadvantage 2: Pellet Grills/Smokers Require Electricity To Work
Once you know how a pellet grill works, you understand there is a series of electrical components required for a pellet grill to do its job. There is an auger motor which is feeding the pellets into the burn pot. There is also an electric fan which is feeding the fire with air and dispersing the heat/smoke around the cooking chamber of the pellet grill/smoker. There is also an electric hot rod igniter and a control panel which needs electricity. Now, while a pellet grill doesn’t consume a lot of electricity (once the hot rod igniter is turned off), a source of power is required. Therefore, it does potentially restrict where you can position and use your pellet grill/smoker.
It is seen as a disadvantage by some that a pellet grill requires a source of electrical power to work: Image – Amazon.com
Now, in most cases sorting out a source of power is not a significant issue/disadvantage. However, its obviously is not something you even have to think about with a charcoal or gas grill. If you are used to using an electric smoker is obviously not a disadvantage at all. Furthermore, in my pellet usage article, it may surprise you to learn that a pellet smoker can potentially have the lowest running costs of all BBQ smokers. Also, there are portable pellet grills which are really popular which can be powered via the 12V supply from a car/RV. So really, the fact that a pellet grill/smoker requires a source of electricity is unlikely to be a concern for most people. Though having to plug in a grill into an electrical outlet is rather odd for some people at first.
Disadvantage 3: Not As ‘Smokey’ As A Charcoal Grill
Now whether this is really a disadvantage or not really comes down to personal preference. But it is generally acknowledged that food produced on a pellet grill will not have the same intensity of smoke flavour compared to a charcoal grill. Now, if you want a more subtle smoke flavour into your food, this is obviously not a disadvantage at all. However, for those people who like their food extra smokey, they may come away from using a pellet grill a little disappointed. However, this potential disadvantage to some people does I think come to be an advantage for others. You see as the smokey flavour that a pellet grill/vertical pellet smoker offers is more subtle you can appreciate a wider range of smoke profiles from a wide range of BBQ wood pellet flavours.
For instance, with charcoal, you pretty much have the option of just oak, hickory and mesquite, and that’s it. The reason being, as the smoke flavour is more intense its harder to actually tell the difference between the different wood smoke flavours. However, with BBQ wood pellets you have the choice of the following:
- Alder – Great for cooking birds and salmon
- Apple – Works well with pork, seafood and lamb
- Cherry – A good allrounder
- Hickory – Works well pork and BBQ ribs
- Maple – Nice for cooking vegetables and cheese
- Mesquite – Particularly suited to red meats
- Oak – The ‘foundation’ of BBQ wood pellets
- Pecan – Best suited to for cooking poultry
- Walnut – Especially nice for game and red meats
There are actually even more options that those stated above when you consider the blended wood pellet options and niche grill pellet flavours made with adding in various alcohol liquors etc. As BBQ wood pellets produce a more subtle smoke taste, you can actually tell when the different wood species have been used for the cook. So if you are looking for a very strong smokey flavour a pellet grill may disappoint you. However, if you are looking to experience a wider range of smokey flavours this is where a pellet grill/smoker can really shine.
Disadvantage 4: High-Temperature Grilling Performance
If you are on a tight budget and you are looking to replace your gas grill with a pellet grill, you may end up a bit disappointed with the grilling/searing performance on some budget pellet grills. Now, if you choose to purchase a pellet grill that offers direct-flame access and it also features some cast-iron grates the grilling performance could be on par with your previous gas grill. Also, if you upgrade a pellet grill with a set of GrillGrates even some of the cheapest pellet grills on the market can achieve at least reasonable grilling performance. Though, even the pellet grills that offer the best high-temperature grilling performance are going to take longer to get up to those high temperatures (500 degrees +) compared to a gas grill. Therefore, some manufacturers are offering a different solution.
The pellet/gas combo grill is becoming more of a ‘thing’. While Camp Chef was probably the first brand to introduce such an idea with their propane Sear Box/Side Kick other manufacturers have now started to offer their own versions. The most prominent examples being products such as the Pit Boss KC Combo and the Cuisinart Twin Oaks. As a gas grill can often get to higher temperatures at the grate than many pellet grills, if someone already owns a working gas grill I’ll often recommend keeping it and considering a vertical pellet smoker to sit alongside it such as the Camp Chef XXL. The vertical pellet smoker will add flavour into your food and the gas grill can then be used to finish off the meat with a nice sear, perfect!
Conclusions On Pellet Grill Disadvantages
Every type of BBQ has its strengths and weaknesses, hence pellet grills do have a few disadvantages/compromises. With pellet grills, you have to make sure you keep your fuel dry and in a low humidity environment. You also need to make sure you have a source of electrical power available to actually run the grill. You also need to appreciate that some pellet grills are not going to be ideal for grilling/searing straight out of the box (without some GrillGrates). However, I do believe the advantages of pellet grills overcome their disadvantages. With BBQ wood pellets you will experience a wide range of smoke flavours. The control panel on a pellet grill makes it much easier than any other type of BBQ to cook your food to perfection with little involvement on your part. Add in features such as WiFi for additional convenience and there is simply no easier means to produce excellent BBQ.
That’s it! I hope despite the disadvantages/compromises of pellet grills and BBQ wood pellets their many advantages still appeal to you. I now have a pretty respectable collection of articles on most the wood pellet grills/smokers on the market today. So please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide to learn more. 🙂
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.