Thank you for stopping by to read this article pertaining to Pellet Smokers. If you’re here, it’s likely you’ve already read a few Pellet Smoker reviews. As such, you’re in the process of figuring out whether Pellet Smokers are a good choice either for personal backyard BBQ cooking or as a means of getting started on the BBQ competition circuit. It is my goal to cover as much about how Pellet smokers work, what brands of Pellet smokers are most reliable, and exactly what type of BBQ end product you can expect to achieve using Pellet smokers. Note: throughout this post, you’ll see the terms Pellet Smokers and Pellet Grills used interchangeably.
As always, if you find this selection of Pellet Smoker reviews informative, please consider sharing it with your BBQ friends!
Some History Behind Pellet Smokers
From everything I’ve been able to find online, Traeger Pellet Grills appear to be the very first pellet smokers to be offered on the market. Dating back to the early 1980s, Joe Traeger’s company first experimented with using wood pellets as fuel for a BBQ smoker as an offshoot of the home heating furnaces he was selling locally that used pellets. As time passed, a thermostat was added to the equation, and the production BBQ smokers fueled by pellets working in “set it and forget it” fashion was in full force. From this point, several manufacturers of pellet grills began to pop up, with a few key names like Yoder Smokers, Mak Grills, Green Mountain Grills, and Fast Eddy’s Cookshack grills being among the most notable.
How Pellet Smokers Work
If you live in an area where wood furnaces are used (not like down here in FL where a few heat strips will do the trick), you may also be familiar with pellet furnaces. In short, pellets compressed from sawdust and wood shavings fill a hopper and are then fed into a burn pot using an electric auger system. The auger, which is basically a long screw, delivers pellets to the burn pot based on the speed dictated by the unit’s thermostat. As the burn pot ignites, the pellets burn. Heat then carries through the home via convection (air driven) means, thus allowing air flow and a blend of warm and cool air to maintain steady, even burn temperatures. A heat exchanger separates the smoke fumes from the warm air, thereby warming the room without smoking everyone out.
Pellet grills work in much the same way, albeit with the heat exchanger removed so that the smoke produced by the burning wood pellets bathes your food in its goodness and helps render the barbecue product you’re after.
As you can see from the image of a Traeger Pellet Grill above, pellets move from a hopper (left) via an auger to a burn pot (far right). The rate at which the pellets are fed into the hopper is dictated by your Pellet grill’s thermostat. Extra fuel in the form of oxygen is blown over the burn pot to increase the burn rate and help regulate a nice, steady, and efficient burn. The lower your temp, the more smoke is created.
All of this is run on electricity, which more than one professional Pellet Head BBQ pitmaster will tell you is of premium importance during competitions – and is not always easy to come by!
Pellet Grills and Indirect Heat Delivery
With almost all Pellet smokers, the heat is indirect, allowing you to cook larger cuts of meat or larger quantities of meat for long cook times at lower temperatures.
Pellet grills normally have a drip plate under the main cooking surface that allows fat drippings to flow into a catch vessel – normally a pail of some sort. Because the heat and air flow is so well-regulated in Pellet grills, you can pack it with meat and literally walk away – being assured of steady temps and very predictable outcomes.
Backyard “at home” BBQ smokers appreciate this feature when cooking things like chicken, which normally isn’t trimmed down as much as competition cooks might leave it.
Speaking of competition cooks, you’ll find that many competition BBQ pitmasters who use Pellet grills as their primary means of cooking are among the more well rested come Saturday.
Getting Your Pellet Smoker Lit and Ready
Getting your Pellet smoker lit and ready is a pretty straightforward process. Simply make sure your hopper is full of wood smoking pellets, flip the on switch, set your temperature, and let the process begin.
Electricity causes the auger to start pushing pellets into your burn pot and begins to heat up the glow rod until it’s red-hot, which in turn ignites the pellets in the burn pot. Air is pushed into the burn pot via the holes you see around it – allowing for a maximum efficiency burn.
A Word About the Pellet Smoker Flavor Profile
At the end of the day, the act of heating pellets and generating smoke in any pellet smoker is pretty much the same. Yes, some pellet grills use thicker metal, have better thermostats, air flow, racks, drip flow, etc. But the ask any professional BBQ cooker who uses a pellet grill, and they’ll tell you that the quality of your smoke really does come down to the pellets themselves. Here’s what one very astute BBQ pro had to say over at the Pellet Smoke Ring:
Pellet cookers in general have a very mild smoke profile, they are efficient with their fuel use, and run about the cleanest fire you can get.
So if you want more of a smoke profile, cook at longer and lower temps in your pellet pit. I have found that is the best way to get a more distinct smoke profile in your food. Cook at 180-190 for the first several hours. That probably has the biggest impact. Next, make sure you are using a good, quality hardwood pellet. I can tell you that you will notice a very large difference in the flavor profile between say a Traeger pellet vs. say one of Candy’s [BBQr’s Delight pellets]. — Read more on PelletSmoking.com
Are you catching on that there’s a bit of a “favorites play” going on with wood pellets? I’ve spoken with a few of my Pellet Head friends and those who use both stick burners and pellet grills and the consensus seems to be that folks will use whatever pellet brand they find produces the best flavor profile.
It’s really a lot like charcoal in terms of brand loyalty. Thus far the brands of BBQ wood pellets that stand out as being best of breed come from the following manufacturers. Note – this list is not in any specific order.
- BBQr’s Delight – Pine Bluff, AR
- Lumberjack Pellets – Hayward, WI
- Cookin’ Pellets – Racine, WI
- Bear Mountain BBQ Pellets – Cascade Locks, OR (Thanks Rob Green for the 411!)
Shipping cost is an important consideration to keep in mind. To that end, if you don’t have a supplier local to you where you can just go pick up your BBQ pellets, consider looking for online options that are in your neck of the woods.
Key Things To Keep In Mind With BBQ Pellets
Something you may not have read in other Pellet smoker reviews is that there are two key concerns: flavor and fuel consumption. As previously stated, pellet smokers are not known for producing a strong smoke flavor, no matter what pellets you use. Though, some brands can be more pronounced than others. Hardwood pellets provide longer overall burn times per pound than fruit wood pellets. 1oo percent fruit wood pellets will also be more expensive on average. So, if you want to do a pellet smoker cook using 100 percent cherry wood pellets, you’re going to use more fuel than you would with a cherry/hardwood blend, and it’s going to cost you more as well on average.
One comment I see a lot in various forums like PelletHeads.com is that you want as much efficiency as you can get. As with lump charcoal, this means burning as clean of a cook as you can with as little ash as possible. Different pellet mixes will produce differences in what you get in this area, and the cooker you’re using will dictate this to some degree as well.
Hunting For Cheap BBQ Pellets or BBQ Pellet Bargains
Of course, there are always bargain hunters. Some might say “Why pay $2000 for a pellet smoker and then bargain hunt for your pellets?” but if you think about it this way – isn’t it like cooking with varying qualities of charcoal? Sometimes an inexpensive, less efficient pellet blend might be just fine for burgers or chicken breasts. Other times, you may want to step it up with a premium flavored pellet where whole turkeys, prime rib roasts, or a nice brisket can really shine.
In any case, bargain BBQ pellets are out there to be had. One tip is to search for B&B BBQ Pellets (seen above) if you have a local Academy Sports and Outdoors store in your area. Rumor has it that these “may” be re-branded BBQr’s Delight pellets offered at a much lower cost. In any case, it might be worth giving them a try.
Pellet Smoker Reviews Pro-Tip: Boosting Your Smoke Flavor Using MojoBricks
I talk with a lot of teams out there, and I know for certain that some of them have turned to my buddy Fred Grosse’s MojoBricks to boost their smoke profile when using pellet grills. In fact, of the teams who win with Pellet Smokers – I’d wager at least a quarter of them to maybe half have used MojoBricks to round out their final product.
In 2013 Southern Krunk BBQ Society won 1st Place in Pork Ribs at the Jack Daniel’s International Invitational using MojoBricks. You can find their website here.
Additionally, David Bouska of Butcher BBQ won the 2012 Las Vegas’s World Food Championships. His first place overall victory propelled him into 2013. David cooks on a pellet smoker and he adds Mojobricks to his pellet smoker for that added touch of good smoke lovin flavor. Read about more teams using MojoBricks here.
Take a look at this video to see what you think of MojoBricks.
If you like the concept of MojoBricks (which are like big pellet blocks) – consider placing one on top of your pellet smoker’s heat plate or right next to the fire pot.
Most Trusted Pellet Smoker Brands
As I mentioned at the start of this post, there are a few pellet grills that lead the pack in terms of name recognition. The ones featured here are those that come most highly recommended by friends of mine on the professional BBQ circuits with KCBS and FBA. As such, if you don’t see one of your favorites listed here and would like to offer up a review – please contact me via any of the social media links at the top of this blog’s sidebar, and we’ll see about getting a post up.
Yoder pellet smokers maintain a very strong reputation for quality and precision. Based out of Hutchinson, KS, the company prides itself on producing a 100 percent Made in America product that is one of the sturdiest and most reliable brands of smokers available. Check out this Yoder Smokers promo video to get an idea of how they are branding themselves.
Tell me that’s not one of the most killer Made In America intro videos you’ve ever seen! Really speaks to the mindset Yoder has regarding quality and durability, not to mention the company’s pride regarding operating from the heartland of Kansas in the good old USA.
One of the first things to consider when buying a pellet smoker is the thickness of metal used (the gauge). The smaller the number, the thicker the metal.
As such, the Yoder YS640 is one of the more robust pellet smokers out there. The main body is constructed of 10 gauge metal. Yes, this means that it takes longer for it to come up to temperature, but once there – it holds temp far better that thinner walled cookers. You know you’re buying quality when your pellet smoker weighs in at 315 lbs.
Nothing in this world cooks better and more evenly (and thus dependably) than Heat Soaked Metal, folks. Nothing!
Yoder Pellet Smoker Review
Hands down Rob Green over at SmokingPit.com offers one of the best reviews of Yoder Smokers available anywhere. Specifically, Rob reviews the Yoder YS640 pellet smoker and does so with an excellent balance of textual information and specs combined with some very well done videos. Below is his introduction to the Yoder YS640.
As you can see, Rob is very thorough in the way he breaks down the parts of this Yoder pellet smoker. To get a real feel for what you’d be in for should you choose to buy this particular Yoder pellet smoker, head over to his article to read more.
Another one of America’s finest home-grown products comes from MAK Grills Pellet Smokers. Based out of Dallas, OR, MAK started out as a steel fabrication company back in 1990 and ventured into making pellet smokers with the goal of making a pellet smoker that’s more like a grill than an oven. Said in their own words…
“We love pellet grills but didn’t like the designs of the models on the market. They are more like an oven than a grill. MAK Grills are designed to be the best in class. You get outstanding BBQ flavor and safe cooking with real wood, along with an automatic lighting and fuel feed system. Simply turn the grill on and you’re cooking in minutes! Our direct heat FlameZone ® feature is pioneering the industry for “gas grill like” cooking without the hassle of flare-ups and burned food.” – MAK Grills
For sure MAK does a fantastic job blending stainless steel fabrication with precision design and craftsmanship. Their temperature control system (called “The Pellet Boss”) is hands down the best in the business, according to Meat Head over at AmazingRibs.com. Hey, if Meat Head says it’s so… then it’s so!
In searching for a good video review of this smoker I actually came across two of them. The first video is from MAK Grills themselves but is hosted by Jonathan Martinez (JM) of CelebrityGrills.com. He does a great job of highlighting some of the innovative features MAK Grills brings to the table.
The second video comes from Big Jake BBQ and showcases the “cold smoking” feature the MAK Grills 2 Star General smoker has to offer. This is a great value add in my opinion, as it really steps up your game in terms of what you’re able to smoke. Cheese, nuts, cold smoked salmon… getting some ideas? I know I am!
MAK Grills Pellet Smoker – 2 Star General Review
Here’s JM smoking Ribs on the MAK Grills 2 Star General Pellet Smoker…
Gotta love that hopper chute ‘quick change’ feature, right? That’s pretty clean, and it’s a feature more pellet smoker manufacturers should probably build in for sure.
OK. So now for Big Jake. Warning… this video features Big Jake smoking his nuts. It is not intended for novices or those with a sensitivity to hard-core cold smoking.
Lauded for its amazingly accurate cook temperatures and times and for affording cookers a real “unfair advantage” at competitions (according to those who lose to them) – Fast Eddy’s Cookshack Pellet Smokers rank among the very best available on the market today. I love the history of Fast Eddy’s pellet grills. In 1986, Ed Maurin (Fast Eddy) – a retired KCMO Fire Fighter – cooked his first American Royal event. From that point on he was hooked on BBQ and on coming up with the very best way to ensure its production. By 1998 the first of his Fast Eddy’s pellet smokers was released to the market, and he was off to winning competitions and helping those who bought his cookers do so as well.
In 2003, the production of Fast Eddy’s pellet smokers shifted to the folks at Cookshack of Ponca City, OK – makers of well-crafted electric smokers since the 1960s.
Fast Eddy’s Cookshack pellet smokers are no joke. Seriously. At least two of the more recent winners of the Jack Daniel’s Invitational won cooking on these bad boys.Derrick Riches, BBQ and Grilling editor over at About.com does a great job of explaining what makes Fast Eddy’s pellet smokers so great.
Basically, Cookshack keeps to Ed Maurin’s simple design – using a dual layer of thick 304 stainless steel separated by high temperature insulation to hold in heat. Heat is provided by an electronically controlled 36,000 BTU pellet burner fed from an external hopper (you can add more pellets without opening the smoker).
The computer controlled system maintains the smoker temperature with a high degree of precision so you don’t have to deal with fluctuations. With the optional (definitely a must) temperature probe you can put your meat in the smoker, set the desired target temperature and the FEC will take it from there. Once the target temperature is reached the smoker temperature will drop into a holding position until you are ready to remove your barbecue.
Fast Eddy’s Cookshack Pellet Smoker Review
I can think of few things that will give you a solid idea of what Fast Eddy’s Pellet Cookers are capable of than a testimonial by Todd Johns of Plowboys Barbecue Team, Grand Champion of the 2009 American Royal Invitational. Todd cooked on a Fast Eddy’s Pellet Smoker and you’ll see first hand from this video what he thinks of the brand.
As you can see, for Plowboys Barbecue, as with most other winning teams out there, competition BBQ success is all about mastering a process that you can duplicate. Not having to sweat the fire management side of things is what Todd Johns loves most about his Fast Eddy’s Pellet Smoker.
For a more official overview of the Fast Eddy’s Pellet Smoker, here’s an introduction of the Fast Eddy’s PG500 Pellet Smoker.
Another video I thought it’d be cool to show you guys is one that features BBQ Diva as she shares her thoughts about how Fast Eddy’s Pellet smokers work with BBQ Ribs. You’ve likely read the Diva Q DIY BBQ Sauce post we highlighted here. And no doubt you know about Danielle’s work with the now famous BBQ Crawl television series. Without question, she’s one of BBQ’s greatest treasures. Check out what she says here about Fast Eddy’s. The video starts out with Ed Maurin showing you the recipe he used for the World BBQ Championship Perfect Score Ribs in 2000 – using both baby backs and spares. Diva chimes in near the end with her take on how these ribs taste.
Up until now, the pellet smokers I’ve listed fall in a price range of between $1,000 and $2,000. If you want to get into a well-crafted and reliable pellet grill for a great price, you should take a look at what the folks at Rec Tec Grills are putting out.
At the time of this writing, you can get the Rec Tec pellet grill for $998, and it comes with a 6 year warranty. That’s a great price for what you’re getting in this cooker.
One thing I’ll mention up front is that the Rec Tec Grill is not sold as a Made in America product. The REC TEC Grill is made in China, however, the heart and soul of the grill (the computer) is made here in the USA. The powder coat is also made in the USA and the final assembly along with quality control takes place at the REC TEC Grill facility in Georgia.
That said, this pellet smoker comes very highly recommended by several of my competition BBQ friends as a go to and trustworthy cooker – rated much higher than others falling in its price range.
Solid construction that’s built to last is what the folks at Rec Tec are banking on, from their proprietary PID temperature control algorithm and Smart Grill Technology to the grill’s mixture of powder coated high strength carbon steel and 304 stainless steel for all of its critical parts. Even the internal ones you will rarely see.
Rec Tec Grills Pellet Smoker Review
For a great unboxing and pellet smoking test, I point you to my buddy Jay’s review of the Rec Tec Grill Pellet Smoker over at BBQSauceReviews.com. The following videos will give you an overall breakdown of what the Rec Tec Pellet Smoker is all about both from a construction and components standpoint.
Rec Tec Grill Pellet Smoker Overview
This next video is great because it really talks about how solid the construction of the Rec Tec Grill Pellet Smoker is. You’ll note several times that the reviewer says how surprised he was at how heavy the lid of the cooker is. Folks, nothing… and I mean NOTHING cooks as well and as evenly as Heat Soaked Metal! That’s why cast iron is so prized for cooking ability! Also pay attention to the heat probe readings you see in this video. The one thing everyone who has used this pellet smoker says is that the Rec Tec Grill keeps actual temps where set temps read better than nearly any other pellet cooker out there.
Independent Unboxing and Review of the Rec Tec Grill Smoker
Final Thoughts About Buying And Fueling Pellet Smokers
If you’ve reached this part of the blog post, I thank you for reading through. It’s a long one, but I wanted to give you as much practical advice as possible. To recap, there are some basic things you should know about buying a pellet smoker.
First, you have to figure out what your budget looks like. Of the pellet smokers I cover here, the Rec Tec Grill Pellet Smoker is the most economical and best overall value – with solid construction and top end electronics controls. At just under $1,000 it’s a great buy that should last you a very long time. If you can move up from there cost wise, I’d go with the Yoder pellet smoker. While the Rec Tec looks like a beast, the YS640 absolutely IS one. Weighing in at 315 lbs and boasting solid control components and features, you won’t ever need another pellet smoker in your life unless you just want another one.
Second, you’ll have to figure out what BBQ pellets you want to use. There are many different brands, blends, and mixes to choose from, and you’ll likely want to do some side by side testing to see what you like best on what meats. My very good friend and BBQ buddy Shane Draper (of Draper’s BBQ Rubs and Sauces) really likes to make his own blends – using different woods in different proportions depending on what he’s cooking.
Shane Draper’s Pellet Mix Ratios
Here’s how Shane breaks down is pellet mix ratios – something you may want to try as you begin to get a good feel for how your pellet smoker cooks for each of the meats listed below.
- For pork: 60 percent pecan / 40 percent cherry or apple
- For beef: 100 percent hickory with a little mesquite as a kicker
- For chicken: 50 percent pecan / 50 percent cherry
I think you get the picture. In any case, you can see how pellet smoking really does have its own culture to it. I really hope you’ve found value in this selection of Pellet Smoker reviews. If so, please consider sharing it with your BBQ friends! And for sure comment below and let me know about your favorite pellet grills, pellet blends, and methods!