Pellet grills are all the rage right now and have been for several years. It seems like every time you look, there is a new model to choose from. A good quality pellet smoker isn't a cheap investment and it can be a chore to decide if a pellet grill is even right for you, especially if you've never used one before. Before you go out and drop big bucks on a pellet grill, you should read our article on the benefits – and potential drawbacks – associated with pellet grills.
What is so Special About a Pellet Grill?
Before we get into the many benefits of using a pellet grill, you should know what sets a pellet grill apart from other grills and smokers. A good pellet grill offers you the ability to easily control your cooking temperatures without the need to fuss with charcoal or refill propane tanks. Pellet burners create very little ash so you don't have as much cleanup as you will with charcoal and they add more flavor than gas grills.
Probably the one, most important reason people look at switching from traditional grills and smokers to a pellet grill is for the convenience. Compared to other types of outdoor cooking apparatuses, a good-quality pellet grill is simple to use and gives consistent results.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of A Pellet Grill?
If you've watched videos on our YouTube channel, you know we love using our Traeger Ironwood 885. In our opinion, it's one of the finest pellet grills on the market that offers tons of versatile options and is reliably easy to use. In the years we have used pellet smokers, we've found that there are some consistent pros and cons to consider and if you are looking to purchase a pellet grill as your primary outdoor cooking device, you'll want to take a few things into consideration.
Main Advantages Of A Pellet Grill
The primary advantage to using a pellet grill is the ability to set your temperature and walk away without worrying about big fluctuations. When you are smoking big hunks of meat that take a long time, having the ability to set a specific temperature and forget about your smoker is a fantastic convenience. Compared to a charcoal smoker, you have almost no steps to take once your meat is on the grates.
Temperature Control Convenience
It takes practice to learn how to get a charcoal or gas grill to maintain the perfect temperature. With a pellet grill, you simply set the dial to the desired temperature and that's all there is to it. The pellet grill will control the flow of fuel into the fire box in order to keep the temperature stable all the time.
Better Flavor than Gas
Gas grills are convenient and easy to use, but you don't get the char flavor that's typical of barbecue. There are lots of tips and tricks out there to make your gas grill work like a smoker, but it requires a lot of effort and your results will vary from one cook to the next. When you cook on a pellet grill, you get the ability to easily replicate your favorite recipe every time. Meat cooked on a pellet smoker will have a deep and robust flavor that doesn't happen on a gas grill.
Main Disadvantages to a Pellet Grill
Probably the biggest disadvantage to using a pellet grill is that you'll need to be able to plug the grill into an electrical outlet. Unlike charcoal or gas, a pellet grill requires electricity to run the motor that turns the auger and feeds the fire pot. It also uses electricity to ignite the pellets. Electricity is also necessary for the pellet smoker's controller to control the temperature. Gas and charcoal grills, of course, don't have this limitation.
The second consideration is your local availability of good-quality pellet fuel. With the rise of popularity of pellet grills, lots of companies make wood pellets but they are not all created the same. You can have significant variance from one batch to another in both the types of wood and the quality of the wood used to make the fuel. If you live in a place where you have a significant drive to get to a store that sells pellets, you'll have some level of inconvenience. Of course, online retailers like Amazon have made it easier to buy the ideal product and have it delivered to your door, but you'll still have a wait.
Methods of Cooking on a Pellet Grill
Pellet grills can be versatile cooking instruments that let you prepare foods in numerous different ways. Unlike a charcoal smoker that is primarily for smoking or a gas grill that is primarily for grilling, pellet grills can easily be adjusted to provide low heat for slow cooking or higher heat for searing.
Wood pellet grills are excellent options for smoking meat and vegetables. Because you easily control the temperatures, you can set your pellet grill to smoke at temperatures from 175 to 250 and simply wait until the internal temperature of your meat has hit the point you are aiming for. In this case, the only advantage of charcoal is that you can achieve and maintain much lower temperatures than a pellet grill. If you want to smoke cheese or fish, charcoal is often the better option.
Grilling is a cooking method that uses direct exposure to flame. A pellet grill will grill just as well as charcoal or gas while adding better flavor and more convenience. Most pellet grills will have a high temperature of around 500 degrees which is hot enough to grill just about anything.
Barbecue is one of America's favorite cooking methods. You can use a pellet grill as a barbecue by setting up an indirect and a direct heat zone. Unlike grilling, barbecue is characterized by the use of dry, indirect heat and is a slower process than grilling.
A wood pellet grill works very well for searing steaks and other cuts of meat. Simply get the temperature as hot as possible and place the meat on direct flame for a few minutes for perfect char lines and a crunchy exterior. Searing on a pellet grill gives you better flavor than gas and is easier than charcoal.
Roasting is another dry, indirect heat method that you can accomplish on a pellet grill with ease. Roasting allows meat to caramelize while retaining juiciness. Roasting is easier on a pellet grill than on charcoal or gas.
A pellet grill can work just as well or even better than you oven for baking pies, cakes, and bread. By using light flavored pellets, you'll reduce the flavor of smoke, letting sweet and savory items come out delicious.
One of the best ways to cook large, tough cuts of meat is braising. This is a two-step cooking process that pellet grills are ideal for accomplishing. First, you sear. Then you place the meat in a pot with a stock or broth and roast until done. Because you can easily go from high searing heat to low roasting temperatures, a pellet grill is one of the easiest ways to braise.
This is a cooking process similar to searing in which you quickly cook meat that has a ton of spices in a dry rub. Blackening is popular with fish and chicken which cook quickly. Blackening is as easy on a pellet grill as you'll find on gas or charcoal.
Is a Pellet Grill Worth it?
Here is where things get complicated. When you determine the value of something, you need to understand how important it is for you. When you buy a wood pellet grill, you are making a significant financial investment, typically two or three times as much as you'll spend on a gas or charcoal grill. You can replicate the pellet grill experience with either gas or charcoal, but it does require extra effort and there is always the possibility that things simply won't go right. Thats why, we personally, think they're worth it. Pellet grills offer an abundance of convenience without the need for special skills or time spent closely paying attention to what is happening.
Factoring Fuel Costs
Gas grills are by far the least expensive option when it comes to outdoor cooking. Whether using portable propane tanks or an LPG conversion plumbed to your house, gas is a cheap and easily available fuel source that is commonly available even in rural areas of the country.
Wood pellets and lump charcoal are about on-par when it comes to cost. A bag of Traeger-brand wood pellets runs around $20 for a 20 lb bag – which is pretty much the same price as hardwood lump charcoal. The amount of fuel you use depends on the type of cooking you are doing in both cases. Hotter temperatures will burn through wood pellets and lump charcoal faster than low temperatures. You can expect to use about one to one-and-a-half pounds of lump or pellets per hour at 225 degrees.
Charcoal smokers also use hardwood chunks or chips to add flavor. A commercial bag of wood chunks runs $5-$10 for a 5 lb bag which is usually enough for two or three long smoke sessions, but it is an additional cost to consider when deciding whether a pellet grill is the right choice for you.
Final Thoughts on Pellet Grills
We love using our Traeger and often tell that to people who are on the fence about whether it's a good idea to spend that kind of money on a cooking instrument. We think that buying a good pellet grill is a great investment. With that said, there are lots of brands out there at varying price points. You should check out reviews on fitment issues and metal thickness before buying an off-brand, inexpensive pellet grill. Most of the time, you are going to be better off buying a higher-priced option that is guaranteed to work rather than trying to save a few hundred dollars on a cheaper option.
A pellet smoker offers consistency and convenience that no other cooking method approaches. If you've tried smoking on charcoal and found the experience frustrating or if you've always used a gas grill and are looking for more flavor, a pellet grill is the way to go.
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