While this site is called ‘PelHeat’ and I obviously bat for the pellet team, the truth is, gas grilling has some advantages over pellet grilling. Therefore, what I want to discuss in this post is the strengths and weaknesses of pellet grills compared to gas grills. To the point, where if you have a perfectly good gas grill I’m going to tell you to keep it and consider a verticle pellet smoker. On the other hand, if you don’t have a gas grill and want some of their benefits discussed below I’ll discuss pellet/gas combo grills and when that might be a good option for you to take. Then again, depending on the specific pellet grill, you might not need a gas grill at all.
To really come to an educated decision on the whole pellet vs gas grill debate you need to have a wide understanding of all the different pellet grills on the market and the different technologies they use. So while this is a pretty long and comprehensive post, to get a true understanding of what some pellet grills are and are not capable of I’ve linked to many of my other articles below which go into more detail on specific topics. However, in the introduction below, I’ll also discuss the general pros and cons of pellet and gas grills. But before I do, if you do not know how a pellet grill works, I recommend you read that article first.
Introduction To Pellet vs Gas Grills
When I get asked the question about which is better a pellet or a gas grill? I always respond, ‘it depends’. The reason it depends is that it depends on which specific pellet grill we’re talking about and what we are actually cooking. The answer also depends on a very important factor, time. If we are specifically discussing high-temperature grilling and you have very little time to get the cook done, let’s say a work/school night, then a gas grill is generally more suitable. Furthermore, if you want to sear at really high temperatures between 700-900 degrees at the cooking surface then only a gas/propane grill is going to be able to do that.
So what the point of a pellet grill then, or are pellet ‘grills’ a myth and all they can do is smoke!? The statement that pellet grills cannot actually ‘grill’ I’ve come across quite a few times. In some cases its true that some pellet grills can struggle to get to high grilling/searing temperatures at the cooking surface without some assistance. I discuss this more in my post on which pellet grills get the hottest. It all comes down to what type of control panel is fitted to the pellet grill, whether direct flame access is available and what the grate is actually made from (thin wire, cast-iron?) and do GrillGrates need to be used? The reason a pellet grill is a more flexible/capable cooker overall compared to a gas grill as it can produce food with much more flavour with true ‘set and forget’ convenience or even remote monitoring/control via WiFi.
Pellet Grills vs Gas Grills (Quick Head to Head)
So while I hope you read the rest of my article below, we are all busy people. Therefore, I’ve put together some bullet points on the general pros and cons of pellet vs gas grills. However, please bear in mind, these are generalisations and are not applicable to every single pellet or gas grill:
Advantages of Gas/Propane Grills
- Higher Grilling/Searing Temperatures – Any gas grill can easily get over 450-500 degree at the grate and on to much higher temperatures up to around 900 degrees.
- Quicker Warm-Up Time – A gas grill can get up to those high grilling/searing temperatures in a relatively short period of time (roughly 10 minutes).
- Generally Cheaper – Gas grills are generally cheaper to buy and run compared to a pellet grill of the same equivalent cooking area.
Disadvantages of Gas/Propane Grills
- Bland Flavour – The gas itself cannot add any flavour to the food.
- Lacking Precise Temperature Control – While a gas grill can hold a steady temperature in calm weather conditions, it will not adapt if the outside temperature drops or the wind picks up.
- No Remote Monitoring/Control – You cannot leave a gas grill unattended for long periods of time, and you cannot adjust the temperature of a gas grill or turn it off remotely.
Advantages of Wood Pellet Grills
- Superior Flavour – Whether doing ‘low and slow’ smoking or grilling a wood pellet grill is able to infuse flavour into the food by using a wide range BBQ wood pellets as the source of fuel.
- Highly Versatile – Yes, pellet grills can actually ‘grill’. However, they are also capable of much more and are ideally suited to long low and slow cooks of a wide range of meat, fish and vegetables.
- Remote Monitoring and Control – With a WiFi-enabled pellet grill you can monitor and adjust the cook while you’re at work or down the shops. You can fit a pellet grill into a busy lifestyle.
Disadvantages Of Wood Pellet Grills
- Cost – Generally more expensive than the equivalent sized gas grill. Though there are many pellet grills under $500.
- Pellet Availablity – BBQ wood pellets are not as readily available as gas bottles, though next day delivery of BBQ wood pellets is possible through sites such as Amazon.
- Lower Grate Temperatures – In general, pellet grills will not achieve the same high grate surface temperatures as gas grills. However, there are methods to resolve this.
Pellet vs Gas Grills – The Differences In Searing Performance
As I’ve discussed above, as a general rule you will find a gas grill will more quickly get up to temperature and achieve a higher grilling/searing temperature. But why is that? Well, quite simply, its due to energy density. The combustion of propane gas is releasing more energy than the size of pellet fire in a typical pellet grill. But what temperatures do you really need at the grate to achieve good searing/grilling performance? Well, as a general rule you want to achieve at least 450 degrees. Below that temp, you are not going to get the grill marks your after, you won’t hear the meat sizzle and you won’t see it properly caramelise. Can all pellet grills actually achieve and exceed that required 450 degrees? Many yes, but not all. Some pellet grills need a little assistance.
A typical example of pellet grills which are going to struggle to actually ‘grill’ without some assistance is Gen 1 Traeger Pro Series grills, several Z Grills and basically any pellet grill with a non-PID control panel and without access to direct flames. If you’re not aware of what a PID pellet grill control panel is, its effectively a smarter control panel which not only achieves the most accurate temperature control, it also helps a pellet grill achieve better searing/grilling performance. Why? Well, a PID controller achieves more efficient combustion, and with the more efficient combustion, you also get more heat.
Every pellet grill on the market today which is fitted with a PID control panel can reach and potentially exceed 500 degrees at the cooking grate. Hence, they can at least achieve reasonable grilling/searing performance. If the pellet grill also offers direct flame access like several Pit Boss and Camp Chef grills as just two examples, then they can potentially achieve 700 degrees at the cooking grate. However, as mentioned at the start of this article, the searing performance of a pellet grill also has a lot to do with grate material. For instance, thick wire racks will perform much better than thin wire racks, and cast-iron grates will perform even better. However, I always encourage every pellet grill owner to consider a set of GrillGrates to get the best grilling/searing performance.
Pellet vs Gas Grills – Why Choose? Have Both In One!
As I’ve discussed above, it is possible to get really any pellet grill up to at least a reasonable level of searing/grilling performance. Though some pellet grills do perform better at searing than others. However, a gas grill is still going to get up temperature quicker than a pellet grill and potentially get close to 900 degrees at the cooking surface. If this is causing you a real dilemma between choosing either a pellet or gas grill, fear not, you can actually have both fuel options within a single grill. They are called pellet/gas combo grills. Your three main options are currently provided by Pit Boss, Cuisinart and Camp Chef.
The two examples above from Pit boss and Cuisinart are 50/50 split pellet/gas combo grills. In other words, the total cooking area provided is spilt equally between the pellet grill side and the gas grill side. Therefore, within a single grill, you have the option to use the pellet grill side to smoke and grill and get the best flavour possible into your food. However, you then also have the gas grill side if you looking to do a really quick bit of grilling or you want to finish off the food you have been cooking on the pellet grill side with the highest temp grilling/searing. Both of these 50/50 split pellet/gas combo grills are good grills. However, personally, my favourite option is fitting a Sear Box/Sidekick on the side of a Camp Chef pellet grill.
Why is the Camp Chef solution my favourite option? Well, I feel in most cases with the PID controller and the ‘Slide ‘N Grill’ direct flame the standard Camp Chef Woodwind pellet will meet most peoples needs. Therefore, you can just start with the pellet grill on its own, and then add either the Sear Box/Sidekick propane attachment at a later date if you really need it. Granted, you will have less propane grilling area compared to the other 50/50 split combo grills. However, as I say, I believe most people will get along just fine with pellet grill on its own most of the time.
Already Own A Gas Grill? Keep It!
If you already own a gas grill and its in perfect working order I would personally not sell it or god forbid scrap it. Personally I would give it a BBQ sibling, a vertical pellet smoker. The main reason most people want a pellet grill is to get better flavour into their food. Well, if you already own a gas grill you have got the high-temperature grilling/searing side of things sorted, we just need to get you some flavour! In that case, a vertical pellet smoker is likely your best option. As you will get the best bank for your buck in terms of cooking area compared to a horizontal pellet grill/smoker. I have a separate article on the most popular vertical pellet smokers currently on the market. In terms of the best (domestic) vertical pellet smoker, I currently believe it to be the Camp Chef XXL WiFi Vertical Pellet Smoker.
The main reason this is my favourite vertical pellet smoker it is has been updated and fitted with a Gen 2 WiFi/PID controller. Hence, it will have the most accurate temperature control of any domestic vertical pellet smoker on the market. Also, the WiFi functionality with Camp Chef Connect means you can monitor/control the cook remotely. Using the meat probe to see how its actually cooking from your phone. You can also set the smoke setting from 1 to 10 depending on your preference.
Let me give you a scenario, with a WiFi vertical pellet smoker and your existing propane grill you could do the following, even during the busy working week. Use the vertical pellet smoker to slowly cook the meat during the day monitoring and adjusting the cook while you’re at work. You then get home, get the meat out of the vertical pellet smoker, slap it on your gas grill to get the outer surface properly grilled and caramelised and voilà! You will have produced high-quality great tasting food with very little time spent standing at the grill.
Conclusion On Pellet vs Gas Grills
So I now hope you can appreciate from my article above, its not a simple answer of ‘this grill is better than that grill…’. Both pellet grills and gas grills have their own strengths and weakness, which can mean that both grill technologies can actually work together in some cases to provide the best option. However, with certain pellet grills, they can compete directly with gas grills on grilling/searing performance, while at the same time being more flexible/capable cookers providing superior food flavour. Then again, if you already own a gas grill that’s still in good/working condition, don’t feel you need to change it for a pellet grill to enjoy the world of cooking with wood pellets. In fact, a gas grill and vertical pellet smoker is actually one of the best outdoor cooking setups to have!
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope this article has helped you decide your best option in the pellet vs gas grill debate. If you’re still interested in pellet grills and smokers please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂