Thank you for stopping by to read this article pertaining to Pellet Grill Reviews. If you’re here, it’s likely you’ve already read a few similar posts.
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 creating competition ribs, competition brisket, competition chicken, or competition pork!
Like my BBQ Buying Guide, this post goes in-depth, providing you with the information you need to make an informed pellet smoker buying decision.
And remember, if you are open to other great options for crafting delicious BBQ, consider checking out my electric smokers buying guide!
How Do Pellet Grills Work?
Before we move any further, it’s important to cover as much about how Pellet grills 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.
In any case, I trust you’ll find this one of the better resources on the web and will be of great use to you.
Some History Behind Pellet Grills
From everything I’ve been able to find online, Traeger Pellet Grills were 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 Grills 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! Let’s continue with some Pellet Smoker 101 and talk about heat delivery.
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 airflow are 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.
The next step we’ll cover is getting your pellet grill/smoker up and running. Again, what you may not see in many reviews is repeated mention that you’re not going to get that “deep smoke” flavor profile using a pellet smoker. Though, this can be achieved by using something like the Amazen Pellet Tube Smoker 12″.
Amazen Pellet Tube Smoker 12″
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 Grill Flavor Profile
As you may imagine, 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, airflow, 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
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.
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. Many of these pellets available at Amazon come with Free Shipping for Prime members!
Key Things To Keep In Mind With BBQ Pellets
Something you may not have read in other Pellet grill 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 Pellet Heads Forum 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.
At present, I am sponsored by and continually use pellets produced by CookinPellets.com. There are two versions of pellets – the Perfect Mix (Hickory, Cherry, Hard Maple, and Apple Woods) and 100 Percent Hickory. In each of these versions, CookinPellets uses all wood, no bark, no filler woods like oak or alder and no flavor oils. Just 100% of what is on the bag. I get consistently great flavor using these two varieties of pellet smoker pellets from CookinPellets.com, and I think you’ll enjoy them very much 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.
Just know this:
Pellets are not all made equally. You will wind up with one or two “go-to” brands over time that you simply prefer – sometimes for their efficiency (leaving little ash), others for their flavor.
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.
Boosting Your Smoke Flavor with 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 BBQ division. 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.
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.
My Go-To Pellet Grill Brands
Here are five of the most trusted pellet smoker brands, in no specific order.
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).s 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.
Tips for Cleaning a Yoder Pellet Smoker
A good spring cleaning of your pellet smoker is going to take a little elbow grease. Remember to use non-toxic degreasers and cleansers like Simple Green. We use it at our house as we, like the author of this article, have dogs who seem to love to be around the process of cleaning a pellet smoker.
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.
Tips for Cleaning a MAK Pellet Smoker
Here are some useful tips on how to clean a MAK Pellet Smoker.
Fast Eddy’s – Cookshack Pellet Grills
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 The Spruce 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.
Memphis Wood Fire Grills
One of the higher end pellet smokers you might want to check out, and one I’ve had the opportunity to try out myself, is the Memphis Pro Pellet Grill. This pellet grill is not for the faint of heart price wise. However, I can attest to the fact that it is one of the most robust, versatile, and pleasurable pellet grills I’ve used.
Understand, this is the Cadillac of pellet grills, and it comes in at about $3,600.
Please know that I have in no way been paid to speak about the Memphis Grill Pro series model I tested. The company contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in trying one out. I said yes and picked up a demo model from Danielle Fence in Mulberry, FL to use over the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays.
As you can see, I had the Memphis Pro running along side a Pellet Pro grill I was testing at the same time. The stainless steel cart comes with shelving on each side, I removed the right shelf for space saving purposes – which was a snap by the way.
You should know that this grill comes as either a built in outdoor kitchen model or on the cart you see here. As I said, it’s all stainless steel and was a dream to use.
Though the Memphis Pro works great as a high heat, sear, and direct flame grill, I chose to do some IBP ribs and a couple all natural pork loins I picked up from the store. I won’t go into too much detail on the pork loin and rib prep here, suffice it to say that I was very impressed with the smoke output I got from this unit, which I filled with a full compliment of CookinPellets Perfect Mix Pellets.
Here’s a close up view of the Memphis Pro temperature control.
And here is a shot of the internal temperature control for a couple of pork butts I was finishing off on the Memphis Pro.
We also did a spatchcocked turkey for Thanksgiving on the Memphis Pro, which turned out great. This is where the unit’s temperature control feature came in handy.
I got the bird loaded onto the pellet grill and let it ride until it hit the desired temperature. Because the Memphis Pro’s temperature control automatically drops the unit down to its lowest setting once it reaches the programmed internal meat temperature, there was absolutely no chance of overcooking that baby.
Memphis Woodfired Grills and Steven Raichlen’s “Smoked Prime Rib”
Specifications on this grill places it in the upper midsize range at 834 sq inches, with ample room to feed a hungry family. The grill boasts stainless steel, dual walled construction, and a professional oven grade gasket that minimizes most of the “leakage” you get with some pellet smokers – resulting in a bolder smoke flavor profile.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything negative to say about the Memphis Pro. The only thing I can see that sets the MAK pellet grill apart from this Memphis Pro is that it has the built in cold smoking ability that this Memphis Pro model does not.
That said, I can’t see why the Memphis Pro couldn’t hold its own versus the MAK on cooking ability – with the ability to go low and slow or crank things up to a searing 650 degrees F. All in all, a great pellet grill that will last a lifetime.
Traeger Grills Pro Series
You’ve likely seen more than few Traeger Grill reviews. Well… I’ve had the chance to use one the Traeger Grills Pro Series grills now for some time, and I find it to be a great pellet grill.
They really beefed up the chassis of this model, with a stronger, wider-stance sawhorse base, larger wheels, a nice strong side lift bar, and an upgraded Digital Pro Controller with Advanced Grilling Logic that keeps temps steady but allows for a temp swing of about 15 degrees.
I mention the temp swing here as a positive, rather than a negative. By allowing a tiny bit of temperature fluctuation, I find the grill actually puts out a bit more smoke throughout the cook as pellets are fed in to regulate temps.
The Traeger Grills Pro Series model here is the 22 inch model. They offer a 34 inch model as well. I really ran this grill through its paces. The prime grade beef ribs cooked on this Traeger Grills Pro 22 had excellent color and smoke flavor. I was equally pleased with the pork ribs smoked on this grill.
Beef Ribs on the Traeger Grills Pro 22
Pork Ribs on the Traeger Grills Pro 22
Retail pricing for the Traeger Grills Pro Series pellet smokers come in at $799 for the 22 in. and $999 for the 34 in. At this time, they’re available only through approved Traeger retail locations. If you’re in the Central Florida area, Whiskey Bent BBQ Supply in Lakeland, FL is a Platinum Traeger Dealer. Otherwise, you can find a list of approved Traeger dealers via their network locator page.
Grilla Grills Pellet Smokers
I am a big fan of companies that aren’t afraid to change up the game, especially where BBQ smokers are concerned. Grilla Grills out of Michigan is just one such company. They’re putting out direct to customer pellet smokers that are both well made and affordable. As far as Grill Grills reviews go, here’s my take:
The Grilla Model I have is their flagship pellet smoker, and it’s different in both design and smoking ability. Once look at its upright footprint and swinging door access, and you can see what I mean by a fresh take on pellet smoker styling.
Ribs and Pork Butts Cooked on the Grilla Grills “Grilla” Model Pellet Smoker
I wrote up an extensive review of this Grilla model here. You can also listen to a podcast episode I did with Shane Draper and Mark Graham of Grilla Grills as well. (Click here for the podcast episode and show notes.)
What I like about this grill is its robust construction, and the amount of smoke it puts out compared to other pellet grills. There is a built in temperature swing that guarantees that every so often, a strong but not overpowering amount of smoke will enter the cook chamber.
Note that there is no external exhaust with the Grilla model. There are exhausts built into their Silverbac and Kong models. You can see them both here.
At present, the Grilla Grill model pictured above sells for $799 on the GrillaGrills.com site.
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.
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 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 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! 🙂
Don’t see what you were looking for here? Check out these other wood reviews.