If you’re in the market for a new pellet grill/smoker you may have been told ‘you need to get one with a PID controller’. Now, I personally would not say anyone ‘needs’ a pellet grill/smoker with a PID controller. What I would say though is it can make the process of using a pellet/smoker even more simple and predictable. Therefore, with this post, I’ll discuss which wood pellet grills/smokers come with PID controllers and which don’t (currently). Some of the most popular brands sell some models with and without PID controllers. I’ll also explain why a PID controller makes using a pellet grill/smoker more predictable, but also another area of contention, does a PID controller actually produce less smoke?
Within this article, I’ll answer another pretty important question, ‘what the heck is a PID controller and how does it work?’. I’ll explain how the alternative time-based pellet grill/smoker controllers work and the pros and cons of the two technologies. What you should be aware of, is currently, to get a pellet grill/smoker with a PID controller it will cost you more on average. For instance, the Z Grills budget brand is still at this point not fitting PID controllers to any other their models. However, in saying that there is a PID controlled pellet grill you can get for under $500, the GMG Davy Crockett.
Introduction To PID Controlled Wood Pellet Grills/Smokers
What you do need to be aware of is some pellet grills (particularly older/cheaper models) are fitted with time-based controllers. Whereas more modern (and generally more expensive) pellet grills/smokers are fitted with PID (Proportional Integral Derivative) controllers. A quick tip, if the pellet grill or vertical pellet smoker features WiFi, then in every case I can think of, it will also feature a PID controller. What is the difference between a time-based and PID controller? Let me explain.
Well, a time-based controller works, as you may have guessed on timed gaps of turning the pellet feed auger motor and combustion fan on and off to (try) and achieve/maintain the set temperature. This type of controller works reasonably well. However, you should expect the temperature to swing roughly 25 degrees around the set temperature. A PID controller, on the other hand, is constantly monitoring the internal grill temperature and comparing it against the set temperature. Its then making constant adjustments to the pellet feed auger and fan speed to maintain a temperature within 5 degrees of the set temperature. Hence, in short, a PID controller holds a much more accurate temperature. In other words, a PID controller is a much smarter pellet grill control panel.
However, what PID controllers are also much better at is dealing with external temperature changes, for instance, grilling/smoking in the cold winter months. As a PID controller is constantly making adjustments in the colder months to feed in more fuel automatically. However, a time-based controller won’t do that on its own. Hence, on previous generation Traeger pellet grills, you would typically have to adjust what’s called the P-Setting (pause setting) in colder/winder weather to maintain the set temperature.
Traeger PID Controlled Pellet Grill/Smokers
As I’ve referenced above, Traeger has some pellet grills with PID controllers and some without. Their most popular range the Pro Series in its latest generation (Pro 575 and 780) do feature PID control panels. However, the previous generation using the Pro Controller shown above do not. I discuss this more in my Traeger Pro Series Gen 1 vs Gen 2 article. Basically, with the Pro Series Gen 2 Traeger launched a new drive system (D2 Direct Drive) which features variable speed DC motors perfectly suited to being controlled by a PID algorithm. However, Traeger still sells a couple of models which currently don’t feature PID controllers, but I believe this will change soon. They are the Traeger Tailgater and their smaller portable pellet grills the Scout and Ranger.
Traeger also now has a range of pellet grills built to a higher specification compared to the Pro Series, called Ironwood and Timberline. Both of these pellet grill models feature a similar version of the D2 controller fitted to the Gen 2 Pro Series, hence they are PID controlled. All Traeger D2 PID control panels also come with Traeger WiFire. As I stated above, if you find a pellet grill with WiFi functionality, every example I can think of also features PID functionality.
Pit Boss PID Controlled Pellet Grills/Smokers
Until recently Pit Boss didn’t have any PID controlled pellet grills and smokers, all models used time-based controllers. However, that all changed with the introduction of the Platinum Series. These are currently the best pellet grills that Pit Boss produce, therefore its only natural they should include a PID controller. The KC Combo is a popular pellet/gas combo grill. Now, while you can control these pellet grills with your phone, they are not WiFi enabled, they purely work on Bluetooth. That may not be a big deal or a concern at all for many people. However, just be aware, you will not be controlling/monitoring these grills while your down the shops/at work etc.
Camp Chef PID Controlled Pellet Grills/Smokers
Today almost all Camp Chef pellet grills are using PID controllers. The only exception appears to their cheapest unit the SmokePro SE24 which still appears to be fitted with their older time-based controller. Though, other than that, all models in the Woodwind and SmokePro range are fitted with PID controllers. The Woodwind range features a PID/WiFi control panel with a full-colour screen.
The SmokePro range features the Gen 2 PID/WiFi control panel, the screen is not full-colour and it only features 2 meat probes instead of the 4 found on the Woodwind control panel. However, the PID algorithm used in both control panels is the same. The Gen 2 PID/WiFi control panel can also be retro-fitted to older SmokePro models which is good. So previous customers can upgrade their grill instead of having to purchase a new grill. The same goes for the Camp Chef Sear Box/Sidekick, a great upgrade option. The Camp Chef XXL Vertical Smoker has also just been upgraded with the Gen 2 controller.
Other Pellet Grill Brands/Models Fitting PID Controllers
- Grilla Grills
- Weber SmokeFire
- Green Mountain Grills
- REC TEC
- MAK GRILLS
- Memphis Grill
- Twin Eagles
Pellet Grill Brands Not Currently Fitting PID Controllers
But Do PID Controllers Produce Less Smoke?
Now, this is an interesting question, and its partly true (sort of). Though, don’t let that put you off a PID controller, because there are means to enable a PID controller to produce more smoke. Why would a PID controller produce less smoke? Well, the answer is simple, with more efficient combustion you get less smoke. In other words, as a PID controller is more precisely balancing fuel (pellets) through the auger speed and the amount of air with a more accurate combustion process you get less smoke as a result. But we need smoke! The whole purpose of a pellet grill is to get that great flavour from cooking with BBQ wood pellets! Yes, yes, don’t worry, a PID controller can be set up to produce more smoke, but in doing so it will also lose temperature accuracy.
With the Camp Chef PID controllers, you independently set the Smoke Control setting from 1 to 10, either on the grill control panel or via your phone with Camp Chef Connect. Traeger, on the other hand, has a ‘Super Smoke’ mode on their Ironwood and Timberline grills. It doesnt provide the same level of granular control as the Camp Chef Smoke Control setting but it does effectively the same thing. Those modes deliberately add a time-delay into the PID algorithm, therefore you lose some temperature accuracy but you gain more smoke. Grilla Grills with their Alpha Control panel has gone for a slightly different approach.
The Grilla Grills Alpha Control panel has both a time-based ‘Pro Mode’ which will produce more smoke and a separate PID mode if you are looking for more accurate temperature control. Currently, the Alpha control panel doesnt come with WiFi, however, Grilla Grills is looking to add it soon. The point is, you don’t need to worry about smoke production with PID control panels. You can make a PID less accurate to produce more smoke, whereas a time-based controller is limited to a rather wide 25-degree temperature accuracy.
Conclusions On Pellet Grills/Smokers and PID Controllers
I wouldn’t describe a PID controller as a ‘must-have feature’ as a pellet grill based on a time-based controller is perfectly workable. It just means you will need to be a bit more ‘hands-on’ and watch the cook a bit more closely. If you can afford a pellet grill with a PID control panel I definitely think its a feature which should carry a lot of weight when making your choice. First and foremost you don’t want to burn/dry out your food, and you want it to be cooked properly. Well, if you are busy and not a ‘BBQ expert’ the accuracy of a PID controller reduces the risks of under or overcooking your food. Further, as I’ve discussed above, don’t worry about PID controllers not producing enough smoke, they can be set up produce as much smoke as time-based control panels. You will just need to watch the cook more closely with the wider swings in temperature.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found this article on the various brands/models of pellet grills/smokers do and do not feature PID controllers. If you would like to learn more or you need more information on how does a pellet grill actually work, please check out my Wood Pellet Grill Smoker Guide. 🙂