If you’re in the market for a pellet grill there is a feature that a lot of people look for, direct-flame grilling. So with this article, I want to discuss which brands offer direct flame grilling on their pellet grills and which don’t (currently). I also want to discuss if you really need it and the potential downsides with direct flame access. While giving the user access to the direct flame from the pellet burn pot can improve grilling/searing performance, it does come with risks. Those risks include a higher probability of grease fire flare-ups along with an increased risk of drying out/burning your food. So use the feature with caution.
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While direct-flame access on a pellet grill can definitely help grilling/searing performance, its not true to say you cannot get reasonable grilling performance on a pellet grill without it. There are various other factors that dictate grilling/searing performance.
For instance, what is the grate made from? Thin wire or thick cast-iron? Furthermore, the type of control panel fitted to the pellet grill can also make a big difference. All will be explained below.
Introduction To Pellet Grill Direct-Flame Grilling
Just to point out the obvious, direct-flame grilling is where the means of collecting grease on the pellet grill actually let’s the flames of the pellet fire reach the food. Pellet grill/smokers are commonly referred to as ‘indirect cookers‘, like the oven in your kitchen. Letting the flames reach the food its self is definitely a form of direct heat.
The result of this direct heat is higher temperatures at the cooking surface. Typically, a pellet grill without direct flame access will max out at 500 degrees. Whereas pellet grills providing direct-flame access will typically achieve around 650 degrees at the cooking surface. Hence, the potential for improved high-temperature grilling/searing performance.
Are there potential downsides with providing direct flame access on a pellet grill? Yes, there are, and we have examples below. However, when properly monitored and the pellet grill has been cleaned correctly, those potential risks can be mitigated.
Though the simple facts are if you are going to do direct-flame grilling you need to be more aware and be really paying attention to avoid the potential risks of a grease fire or drying out/burning your food. I’m mainly going to reference the brands which do provide the option of direct-flame access, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t reference Traeger as they are the most popular pellet grill brand (here’s proof).
Traeger – No Direct Flame Option
So to date, Traeger has never offered direct-flame grilling on any of their pellet grills. Traeger is trying to market their brand with features such as the WiFire app on the latest Pro Series, Ironwood and Timberline models as being very easy to use.
Well, adding in direct-flame broiling does require more user skill/awareness. Hence, the reason I think Traeger don’t add direct-flame broiling onto their grills (though its never been expressly stated) is that they don’t want social media posts showing users burning their food or having a grease fire.
How does Traeger’s choice not to include direct-flame access impact their grilling/searing performance? Well, you will not be able to achieve the same high temperatures at the cooking grate as the other pellet grills below. Though grilling performance can be reasonable on the latest models out the box.
However, previous-generation Traeger grills based on the old Traeger Pro controller which is not a PID controller can struggle. That also includes the Traeger Scout and Ranger portable grills. For instance, the latest Traeger grills referenced above will get up to 500 degrees.
Whereas the previous generation Traeger grills will struggle to get to 450 degrees. If a grill can not exceed at least 450 degrees, its grilling performance will be pretty poor. Therefore, with any Traeger grill, I recommend the addition of some GrillGrates to improve grilling/searing performance.
Pit Boss – Direct Flame On Most Pellet Grills
As I referenced above, Pit Boss has built a strong reputation offering direct-flame access on their pellet grills to provide good grilling/searing performance. Furthermore, on almost every Pit Boss pellet grill I can think of, they also include cast-iron grill grates which help to hold onto the heat, again providing superior grilling/searing performance over thin wire-racks found on some pellet grills.
However, not every Pit Boss pellet grill offers direct flame access, however certainly most do. Some Pit Boss budget pellet grills such as the 340 do not feature direct flame access or cast-iron grates. However, all the latest models, which includes the Platinum Series, do feature cast-iron grates and direct-flame access.
For instance, the latest model which has been added to the Pit Boss Platinum range is the Laredo which is currently one of the best pellet grills under $500. Part of the reason for that is the Laredo does indeed feature direct-flame access.
Camp Chef – Direct Flame On Some Pellet Grills
At the top of this article, I stated that Camp Chef currently produce my favourite mid-range pellet grills providing access for direct flame grilling. However, there are several Camp Chef pellet grill models which do not feature direct-flame access.
All Woodwind models feature ‘Slide’n Grill’ direct flame access, but certain models in the cheaper SmokePro range do not. Neither of the SmokePro SE, XT, DLX or LUX variants include Slide’n Grill, however, the SG models do. An example being the SG WiFi 24 which is one of the best pellet grills under $600.
While direct flame access is not exclusive to the Camp Chef Woodwind range, it almost is. While on the Camp Chef pellet grills you can purchase cast-iron grates as an optional extra, I personally would just purchase a set of GrillGrates instead which will perform even better than cast-iron.
Weber – Direct Flame Access, But…
While Weber is relatively new to the pellet grill game, they are the biggest name in BBQ, period. So there was a lot of fan fair when Weber brought out their SmokeFire range of pellets grills to market, which feature direct flame access.
Unfortunately, as many users have found, this first generation of SmokeFire pellet grills have some issues. Now, while I’m very confident that Weber can address all of these issues with their next generation of SmokeFire grills, its been a tough learning experience for them.
The choice to use the same flavorizer bars from their gas grills and their method of capturing grease and ashes from the fire are the main cause of the issues. So while they are very capable pellet grills is it recommended to clean SmokeFire pellet grills of grease more frequently than other grills for safe operation.
GMG – Direct Flame Access, If You Ask For It
So GMG (Green Mountain Grills) are an interesting case, and while you can get direct flame access on any pellet grill they offer, including the superb Davy Crockett portable pellet grill, you have to purchase the required sliding grease tray separately.
When I asked GMG why this is the case, they responded with ‘the open flame system can be very dangerous to a user not familiar with it.‘ As I’ve stated several times above, this is true, and therefore I actually commend GMG for their approach.
They are offering the option to consumers, but not specifically marketing the feature. Therefore, they get to warn users before they decide to use the feature. I suspect if Traeger ever does offer direct-flame grilling in the future, this is the approach they may take.
Oklahoma Joe’s – Direct Flame On Most Pellet Grills
There are currently three Oklahoma Joe’s pellet grills on the market in their Rider range. Now, the base model (Rider 600) does not have a sliding grease tray for direct flame access. However, the two larger models the Rider 900 and the Rider DLX do have sliding grease trays.
Though I should note, the Rider DLX offers a much more convenient means to adjust the grease tray to let the flames through. With the 900 you have to lift up the grates and use a tool to slide the grease tray. On the DLX there is a handle on the outside, you select Smoke and the grease tray is closed. You select Sear and the grease tray opens up to let the flames through, it appears to work pretty well.
Z Grills – Direct Flame On One Pellet Grill (Currently)
Until recently direct flame was not accessible on any Z Grill pellet grills. Furthermore, as they are based on previous generation time-based control panels (not PID), they are limited to a maximum temperature of 450 degrees. Therefore, their grilling performance has not been great out of the box.
However, Z Grills have started to add adjustable grease trays to let the flames through. Their latest 600 series features this style of grease tray and I expect to see it on more Z Grills models in the future.
Luxury Pellet Grills All Offer Direct Flame Access
So let’s say you are not limited by a budget of up to $2000 and you are in the market for a luxury stainless steel pellet grill. In that case, they all offer direct flame access by various means. There are quite a few luxury pellet grill brands, and the number seems to grow every couple of years, currently, they include:
But Do You Really Need Direct Flame Access?
Ok, so you do need at least 450 degrees at the cooking grate to have at least reasonable (not great) searing performance. As I’ve discussed above, having direct flame access can definitely help to get the cooking surface in excess of 450 degrees, and much higher, potentially up to 700 degrees.
However, a pellet grill with a PID temperature controller and decent cast-iron racks or GrillGrates will get above 600 degrees. So my point is, don’t presume you have to have direct-flame access to get good grilling/searing performance from a pellet grill. I discuss this more in my article on which pellet grills get the hottest.
Another point worth making is a gas grill will actually get to a higher temperature at the cooking grate, closer to 900 degrees. Therefore, you are seeing some manufacturers come out with combo pellet/gas grills. Alternatively, Camp Chef is adopting a slightly different approach with their Sear Box/Sidekick attachment, which is my personal preference.
Then again, as I discuss in my pellet vs gas grills article, if you have a working gas grill already a vertical pellet smoker might actually be a better option to get you better-tasting food for the lowest cost possible. You do the first part of the cook on the vertical pellet smoker, then sear the food off on your gas grill.
Conclusions On Wood Pellet Grills With Direct Flame Access
Do I think direct flame access on a pellet grill is a good feature to have? Most definitely. While the user has to be aware of the risks, I think its an important feature. Do I think its the most important feature on a pellet grill with regards to grilling/searing performance? No.
I think first and foremost you should focus on getting a grill with a PID controller if you can afford it. Then focus on the grate material, thin wire>thick wire>cast-iron. However, I pretty much recommend GrillGrates on all pellet grills (any grill for that matter). Therefore, the grate that comes with the grill isn’t that important.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope this article has helped you to decide if you need a pellet grill with direct flame access or not. There are lots of pellet grills without direct flame access that are excellent grills/smokers. 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.