So the fact you have come across this article is because you are aware of the growth in popularity of wood pellet smoker/grills but you’re not sure what all the fuss is about. Well, there are various reasons why pellet grills/smokers have become so popular. Really, the key reason is they are one of the most convenient solutions to produce great tasting food. Isn’t a gas grill more convenient that a pellet grill? In some aspects yes (high-temperature grilling/searing) and in other aspects (accurate temperature control/WiFi) no their not. Furthermore, when it comes to the depth of flavour in the food produced a wood pellet grill/smoker should win hands down over a gas grill every time. But what about charcoal?
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Ok, so pellet grills/smokers are not perfect, there are some pellet grill disadvantages. I have also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of pellet vs gas grills and pellet vs kamado charcoal grills in the previous articles. With this article, I want to provide a summary of why on a whole for many people I think a wood pellet grill/smoker can suit their needs (and modern lifestyle) better than other types of BBQ.
Introduction To The Popularity Of Pellet Grills/Smokers
If you are unsure about why pellet grills/smokers are so popular you may not be familiar with how they actually work. Therefore please check out my article on how a wood pellet grill works where I go into quite a bit of detail on that topic. Essentially, a pellet grill/smoker or dedicated vertical pellet smoker uses a computer control components (auger/combustion fan etc) to precisely control the temperature inside the cooking chamber of the pellet cooker. Hence, unlike with a gas/charcoal cooker that requires the user to make adjustments to achieve and regulate the desired temperature, a pellet cooker does all that on its own. Hence, it means anyone can produce amazing tasting BBQ with very little skill, and importantly very little effort/time.
Now there are either horizontal or vertical pellet smokers to choose from, each with their own abilities and limitations. However, all pellet cookers have the same core strength of making cooking with real wood as simple/easy as it could possibly be. I should also note when you look at a pellet ‘real wood’ may not immediate come to mind. However, BBQ wood pellets are made from just real wood with some times a bit of vegetable oil added to lubricate the process. The wood is just milled and compressed to form a pellet. I say ‘just’, the process is a lot more complicated than that, but that’s the general gist of how wood pellets are made.
Good Food Takes Time And Many People Don’t Have A Lot Of Time To Spare
So when people and media outlets discuss pellet grills/smokers you will often hear and see phrases such as ‘set and forget’. This really gets to the main reason pellet grills and smokers are growing in popularity, they’re a time saver. For instance, slow cookers in kitchens have become popular for a similar reason, put in the meat and sauce in the morning before you go to work, you come home and that slow cooker has produced amazing fall off the bone meat. Slow cookers are great for making stews, but you don’t want to eat stew all the time. Sometimes you want brisket, sometimes you want pork butt, hence some times you want a pellet smoker.
Therefore, you can really just view a pellet smoker in the same terms as a slower cooker in your kitchen, it just has different abilities. You can prep the meat in the morning, chuck it on the pellet smoker before you go to work etc, come home and enjoy fall off the bone amazing meat with a nice smokey flavour. Granted, typically the smoke flavour produced by a pellet smoker is not as intense as a charcoal smoker. However, that more subtle smokey flavour comes with the benefit of being able to taste a wide range of smoke flavour options with many different pellet flavours available.
You cannot leave a charcoal smoker unattended for over 8 hours or so when you go to work. Well, you could, but who knows what the results would be. The point being, one of the key reasons for the popularity of pellet smokers is they are a time saver. Now, I’ve used the work example above, but it obviously applies to any other scenario in this busy modern world. Its not as if everyone experiences a lazy weekend where they can sit by a charcoal smoker. So that’s it really, the main appeal of pellet smokers is they can save their owners time while still consistently producing great tasting food. However, some pellet smokers are more independent and produce more consistent results than others.
Best Time-Saving Pellet Smoker Features To Look For
You may have heard people state ‘pellet smokers are expensive!‘. Its a rather general statement, but it does have some truth to it. Though there are now many pellet smokers available for under $500. However, not all pellet smokers are created equal, and while spending more on a pellet smoker may not seem too appealing at first, it could actually save you more time and produce better results. So what I’m really talking about here is consistency. A pellet grill with the features I’ll discuss below will be able to produce more consistent results when its not being attended to, while your at work etc.
Look For A PID Temperature Control Panel
Every pellet smoker features a digital control panel that will regulate the temperature inside the pellet smoker. However, some control panels are smarter than others. The cheaper/budget pellet grills typically feature a time-based control panel that turns the pellet feed auger/fan on and off based on an estimated period of time to achieve a set temperature. Typically, this type of time-based control panel will be able to keep the actual temperature within 25 degrees of the set temperature. The better option is a PID control panel that can regulate the temperature within 5 degrees.
However, while PID temperature controllers are better at more precise temperature control on calm days/nights, they are also much better at adapting to changes in weather conditions such as a change in wind speed/direction for example. Hence, if we consider the scenario again that you will be away from the pellet smoker for several hours while you’re doing other things a PID control panel will do a better job of keeping the internal temperature constant/accurate, especially if the weather conditions change.
Look For WiFi (Not Bluetooth) Functionality
If you are going to leave a pellet smoker to do its things unattended for several hours it would still be nice to be able to keep an eye on whats going on remotely. In that case, you should really consider a pellet smoker with WiFi functionality. You can then use an app on your phone to not only check the internal temperature within the pellet smoker but with the attached meat probes you can see how far along the meat its self has cooked. You can then adjust the temperature or even turn off the pellet smoker when the meat is done. Or just turn the temperature right down to keep the meat warm until you get home to enjoy it.
Typical examples of WiFi integration is Traeger WiFire and Camp Chef Connect. Now, if you do want to monitor and adjust your pellet smoker while you are away from home you need WiFi and not Bluetooth. Examples of Bluetooth only pellet grills is the Pit Boss Platinum range and Cuisinart pellet grills. Bluetooth is only capable of short-distance communication. For true WiFi functionality from anywhere with a WiFi/Cellular connection, you need to set-up the pellet smoker with your home internet router. Now, in some cases, this can be a bit tricky, and some pellet smokers have been known to have software gremlins. However, in general, many of those issues seem to have been resolved by many of the pellet smoker manufacturers.
Look For A Twin-Wall Insulated Pellet Smoker
So this is also similar to ideally choosing a pellet smoker with a PID control panel, its to do with consistent cooking performance. A twin-wall insulated pellet grill/smoker will produce more consistent results as its more protected from external temperature changes such as the outside temperature dropping or the wind speed/direction changing. You can also use an insulated blanket, which if the pellet grill is not twin-wall insulated I would recommend when trying to cook outside of the spring/summer months. However, ideally, you want your pellet smoker to insulated in the first place.
As well as producing better BBQ an insulated pellet smoker will also reduce pellet consumption. Now, true pellet usage is actually less than I think many people fear, but that’s especially true with an insulated pellet smoker. So when it comes to winter cooking, I think an insulated pellet smoker and a PID control panel are definitely features to look for to produce more consistent results. What about using a pellet smoker in the rain? Well, it does feature electrical components, so you don’t ideally want it getting wet for that reason, and if pellets get wet they do go bad. Therefore, if rain is possible some cover over the smoker would be preferable. However, you always need to provide sufficient ventilation for the smoke to safely escape, that’s very, very important.
Conclusions On Why Pellet Smokers Are So Popular
So really, there are two key reasons why wood pellet smokers are so popular. Yes, they let you experience the benefits of BBQ smokers. However, they also do that in the most convenient/least time-intensive means possible. The level of precise control/adjustment you can achieve with a pellet smoker while your not even stud next to it (via WiFi) is not achievable with any other BBQ smoker. So yes, while pellet smokers generally cost more than something like an electric smoker, they are actually cost comparable (often even cheaper) than several kamado charcoal smokers. I have an article on the most popular pellet smoker brands which you may want to check out. Its not based on my opinion, its based on actual facts.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope the above has helped you to appreciate why wood pellet smokers have become very popular. Pellet smokers have actually been around since the 1980s. However, its obviously only recently we have got features such as advanced PID control panels and WiFi. Please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide to review all your options. 🙂
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.