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Pellet grills gas range ovens that are used outdoors and can reach low temperatures for smoking and, in some cases, high temperatures for searing food, like steak. They can be used for everything in between, as well, like baking and roasting. They're powered by pellets made of compressed wood that sit in a hopper and get pushed into a firebox to create heat. The firebox is typically covered by metal that spans the length of the grill, so food cooks over indirect heat versus an open flame like charcoal and gas grills. The results are juicy and tender with a smoky taste.
Though pellet grills can take up to 40 minutes to come to temperature and often expensive, they're convenient to use and offer a set-it-and-forget-it mentality since you don't have to monitor the temperature by adjusting the gas or coals (or water levels when using some smokers); plus, it's hard to overcook food at such low temperatures. Do note that they must be plugged in to work.
In the Good Housekeeping Institute Kitchen Appliances Lab, our Lab experts tested five different pellet grills this year. We tested them similar to the way we test grills but adjusted the cooking methods to highlight the benefits of pellet grills. We cooked chicken thighs in each, as well as steak by using a classic reverse-sear method (meaning we slow-cooked for one hour and then seared) and ribs using the 3-2-1 method (we cooked for three hours low, slow and uncovered, two hours covered and then one hour slathered in barbecue sauce and uncovered.) Our Lab experts assessed each piece of meat for doneness levels as well as juiciness and tenderness. We also compared the smoke rings on the food (how much the smoke penetrated the food) and how smoky they tasted. In addition to performance, we scored ease of use by testing how easy each grill was to move around, how many wheels it had, how many shelves it had, whether it had tool holders, etc. Here are the best pellet grills you can buy in 2021, according to testing and standouts in the category, followed by buying advice.
Best Overall Pellet Grill
Traeger Pro Series 575 Grill
Traeger is synonymous with pellet grills, as they were the first manufacturer of this type of grill. It's among the best-selling in the industry for good reason. All of their pellet grills are made of top-quality steel whether you buy their travel-sized or one of their top-of-the-line Timberline models. This Pro 575 is a good entry point at a relatively inexpensive price. It features Traeger's new D2 direct drive, which doses pellets and adjusts air flow according to the internal environment that's monitored by sensors every 30 seconds. Its temperature ranges from 165ºF to 500ºF, which means you can use it for everything from grilling to smoking, braising, baking and roasting. It comes with a temperature probe so you can monitor the internal temperature of food as you cook and it connects to an app – equipped with more than 1,500 recipes – so you can program it directly from your phone, if you choose, and monitor the cooking process from there.
In our tests, chicken and steak had a delicate smoke flavor, while the ribs came out smokier, likely because they were cooked at a lower temperature. (Traeger advises that food will taste smokier when cooked between 165ºF and 225ºF.) Steak didn't get a dark sear, but we didn't seem to miss it. One tester said this pellet grill made the best brisket she ever had.
Coated grill grates set this pellet grill apart from its competitors, as well as a drip pan that can be lined with disposable foil covers that Traeger sells. It has nearly 600 square inches of grilling area, including the top and bottom grates and an 18-pound hopper capacity, enough to fit several whole chickens or 16 burgers, plenty for the family and neighbors, too!
Best Value Pellet Grill
Pit Boss 700 FB Pellet Grill
This is a great starter pellet grill considering its price, build and capabilities. It’s super easy to use with a dial temperature control and easy readout display. Thanks to the slide-to-expose flame broiler, you can also grill over direct flame in addition to the multitude of grill cooking styles already expected with a pellet grill (smoking, grilling and barbecuing); plus, you can bake, braise, char-grill, roast and sear your food on this all-in-one appliance. And with a 21-pound hopper capacity and 700 square inches of space to cook on including the second tier rack, the manufacturer claims you can make over 30 burgers at once! Like the Traeger's, this grill also has coated grates, which some think makes for easier cleanup.
Popular Pellet Grill on Amazon
Z Grills Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
This Z Grills pellet grill has over 1000 reviews and this new-sounding company has been making grills for other brands for over 30 years. In 2017, it started selling under its own name, which allows for its competitive price point. This grill offers a stainless steel build and a large 700-inch cooking surface and a 20-pound hopper capacity. It has updated temperature controls and ranges from 180ºF to 450ºF.
For a step up at a still competitive price point, consider the new 7002 series that has a PID controller, a temperature probe and a hopper with viewing window. In our tests, the 7002F performed similarly to its competitors in terms of how it cooked food although it seemed to be more on the powerful side. Its frame and door was a little thinner than other models and required more careful handling.
Best Pellet Grill for Searing
Camp Chef Woodwind Pellet Grill with Sear Box
One of the chief complaints with pellet grills is that you can’t sear a steak as well as a charcoal or gas grill can. The Woodwind with Sear Box option from Camp Chef can serve as both a smoker and searing grill. Use the wood pellet grill for easy temperature control and consistent results, then finish it off with sear marks on the cast iron grate that can reach temperatures up to 900ºF. Its ash removal system makes it easier than most to clean since ash is deposited in an easy-to-remove cup under the smoke box, and the 24-pound hopper capacity is a good size for most slow-cooking jobs. The hopper features a viewing window so you can see how many pellets are left in the hopper without opening the lid.
Most Durable Pellet Grill
Rec Tec RT 700 Wood Pellet Grill
This Rec Tec Grill's exterior and many of its accessories are made of stainless steel, while its interior accessories, including the grill grates and fire pot, are made of 304 stainless steel for even added durability. Plus, it's all backed by an impressive six-year warranty. In addition to top-of-the line materials, it can reach up to 500ºF to achieve sear marks, a hard to come by detail in the pellet grill category, which usually maxes out around 400ºF.
The Rec Tec RT 700 connects to an app and comes with two probes so you can monitor the internal temperature of two different foods. No need to worry about running out of pellets mid-cook either – it has a 40-pound hopper that can cook up to 40 hours (assuming that one pound of pellets takes one hour to burn), the largest on our list, plus a 702 square-inch lower cooking surface.
Best Pellet Grill for Upgrading
Traeger Ironwood 885
Traeger's Ironwood 885 is one of the brand's most popular models. It's on the larger side, at 885 square inches, with an oversized top grate. The grates are coated (like the Pro 575's) for easier cleanup and maintenance than non-coated versions. Aside from more cooking space, the Ironwood 885 is loaded with updated features like an easier to read and control panel, Super Smoke and Keep Warm settings, a sensor that lets you know when the pellets are low, a door on the hopper to empty the pellets if you want to try another flavor before they finish, meat probe storage and a strong side shelf with tool holders. The grill comes with a temperature probe and also connects to the Traeger app so you can keep an eye on it from afar. It has a 20-pound hopper.
In our tests, chicken came out super juicy and tender with crispy skin reminiscent of duck skin that was cooked well; it was light, crispy and airy. Steak also cooked well and tender and was able to achieve grill marks. The grill has a downward exhaust system located on the back instead of a traditional smokestack.
Best Pellet Grill for Charring
Weber Smokefire EX4 (2nd Gen)
Pellet grills are a new category for Weber, one of our top-tested grill brands. The Smokefire EX4 (2nd Gen) features the high-quality polished build the brand is known for as well as the same flavorizer bars designed to vaporize drippings during cooking for more moist results. It ranges in temperature from 200ºF to 600ºF, which allowed for (unusual when it comes to pellet grills) char marks on our steak during testing. Foods seemed to cook a little quicker than other brands we tested, but that yielded ribs most people are used to: slightly caramelized, fall-of-the bone and delicious.
One of the Smokefire's nicest features is its built-in Weber Connect technology, which you can control and monitor right from the grill or from the app. It allows you to keep an eye on the air temperature, as well as the internal temperature of foods; one probe is included with the grill but up to three can be bought separately and used at the same time – ideal for keeping track of various items.
The Smokefire comes in two sizes: A large 432 square-inch version with a 240 square-inch upper rack, or this extra large 648 square-inch option with a 360 square-inch upper rack.
Best Portable Pellet Grill
Green Mountain Davy Crockett Pellet Grill
If you're looking for a mobile option, the Davy Crockett model from Green Mountain is our go-to. Great for a day of tailgating or camping adventure, it has a 9-pound hopper capacity and foldable legs so you’ll take up less space in your trunk on game day. (A smaller hopper means you'll have to add pellets more often but proves useful when you're on the go.) This is one of the few portable options that feature digital controls and an integrated thermometer (referred to as Sense-Mate) to check on the internal meat temperature of your food. And thanks to Wi-Fi capabilities, you can monitor the progress of your food from your phone if you’re too busy watching the game. The app also features an integrated food timer so you can get notified when it's done.
What you need to know before buying a pellet grill
Why pellet over charcoal or gas? Pellet grills offer a greater deal of versatility as they can be used for smoking, grilling, roasting, baking and more. If you like wood-smoked food, pellet grills make it easier to achieve this taste profile than burning wood on a grill or smoker and unlike charcoal grills, pellet grills require no effort to start and little maintenance unless the pellets run out (which is unlikely because one pound usually lasts an hour). Plus, it doesn't require any propane or gas, and getting wood chips is easier to ship and store than propane tanks or charcoal. Pellet grills also preheat quickly like a gas grill, usually about 10 minutes.
How does a pellet grill work? Simply load hardwood pellets into the hopper, turn the grill on, set the temperature and wait for it to heat up. The pellets make their way to a fire pot beneath the grill via a motorized auger and a hot rod is used to ignite the pellets to create a fire while a fan stokes the fire, creating convection.
What pellets are best? You can select from a variety of hardwood flavors to complement whatever you’re cooking. For instance, apple hardwood pairs well with chicken and veggies, but you may want to opt for oak or maple for beef.
Is it true that pellet grills are healthier? Manufacturers of pellet grills claim that because you are using an indirect heating source, the formation of carcinogenic chemicals is minimized. However, there is little scientific research showing pellets to reduce the formation of cancer-causing chemicals. And most pellet grills are required to list Prop 65 in California meaning cancer-causing chemicals are present. So if you’re opting for a pellet grill, do it because you prefer the taste imparted by hardwood.
How to find the best pellet grill for you
Cooking capacity is something you should factor in before you purchase any grill. Will you be using it for small family dinners, or larger backyard parties? Also consider what type of food you'd like to cook. Most will comfortably accommodate your typical bbq fare, like burgers and ribs, but if you want to smoke a large piece of meat or steak, a large grill is your better bet.
Hopper size affects how long you can leave the pellet grill unattended in addition to how often you'll need to refill it and buy more pellets. A larger hopper allows for long smoking sessions without having to check in often. The amount of pellets used per hour varies based on the pellet and grill. It also varies based on the temperature used — more pellets burn at a higher temperature versus a lower one, but lower temperatures usually mean longer cook times and more pellets.
WiFi capability allows you to keep an eye on your food without being on top of it. Connected apps often monitor the internal temperature of foods with temperature probes, the air temperature and the amount of pellets left in the hopper.
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