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Summer is finally here, which means it’s officially grilling season. Whether you’re a novice looking to buy your first grill or a seasoned pitmaster, now is a great time to elevate your backyard dining. There are two main types of grills, charcoal and gas, but pellet grills may be a great option for grillers who appreciate the woody flavor and temperature consistency they provide. “Pellet grills promise to blend the flexibility of a charcoal grill and smoker with the convenience of a gas grill,” according to Consumer Reports. Essentially, these grills cook food by burning wood pellets from a hopper. There are several kinds of wood you can use and “you can swap out the type of pellets to use to give yourself a different smoke profile,” Tom Horsman, a grilling YouTuber with over 30,000 subscribers told us.
Our picks were sourced from grilling experts we interviewed and information gleaned from Consumer Reports reporting — including their own testing and the experts they spoke to.
How to shop for the best pellet grills
Horsman recommended looking for the following features while shopping for a quality pellet grill:
- A 20-pound hopper. Horsman told us that while some pellet grills can cook “hot and fast,” they are generally best for “low and slow” cooking. He prefers a grill with a 20-pound pellet capacity to feel “confident that I’m not going to run out of pellets during the night.”
- Temperature control. Being able to “maintain an even temperature” was Consumer Reports’ top determining factor when ranking pellet grills — they actually had their test engineers connect sensors to the grill grates to measure the intensity and evenness of the heat. Horsman said that some pellet grills have a Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) Controller, a built-in internal device that reads the temperature and ensures it stays within 5 to 10 degrees of a set point.
- Grease management system. “With low and slow cooking fattier foods,” Horsman said, “you’re going to have a fair amount of grease, so the grease management system in a pellet grill is very important.” Many grills will have a slightly slanted surface with a grease trap at the lower end to drain grease from the surface.
- Heavy duty materials and construction. Quality construction is important too, said Horsman. He specifically highlighted pellet grills with stainless steel or heavy metal burn pots and hoods as ideal for high performance.
Best pellet grills
To help you find the best pellet grill model that will turn your backyard into a cookout destination, we consulted a grilling expert and reporting by Consumer Reports on the best pellet grills for every barbecue master.
“When people think of pellet grills,” Horsman told us, “they always think of the Traegers.” Indeed, Consumer Reports rated this Traeger grill in the top three of all pellet grills they evaluated. In their tests, the Traeger scored “Excellent” at cooking food evenly. The grill has a 20-pound hopper capacity, 650-square-inch cooking surface and can reach temperatures up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. It has two wheels for easier maneuverability and the grill settings can be controlled via the Traeger app, which is voice control compatible.
For the more budget-conscious, Horsman recommended Z Grills “because they have solid construction and are moderately priced.” Consumer Reports testers agreed, calling this pellet grill from Z Grills “among the best deals of the bunch,” since it’s available for “hundreds less” than other similarly rated grills. It has a nearly 700-square-inch cooking surface, a 20-pound hopper capacity, electronic ignition, automatic temperature regulation and wheels for easier maneuverability.
Expert Grill, exclusive to Walmart, makes a pellet grill that Horsman says “worked pretty good for the price.” It has over 1,000 square inches of grilling surface, a pellet hopper that can hold 24 pounds of wood, and a convenient pull-out grease tray. The electronic ignition helps you fire the grill up quickly, according to the brand, and you can also control your grill via Bluetooth by connecting to the companion Expert Grill app. The grill has a 4.4-star rating from over 40 reviews on Walmart.
Horsman told us that his Smoke Daddy Pellet Pro grill was “very well made” and among the best pellet grills he’s ever used. This Pellet Pro grill has a 935 square inch cook surface and a 35-pound pellet hopper. It also comes with a grease tray, PID controller and combustion pan.
Horsman described the Camp Chef Woodwind Series as “top of the line,” and great for those who love “a lot of doodads and fancy stuff.” This Woodwind grill has a cooking surface of over 1,200 square inches, a pellet hopper with a 22-pound capacity and a PID controller. The grill also comes with a digital color display and is compatible with the Camp Chef Connect app.
Weber is a well-known name in the grilling industry, especially for their kettle-style charcoal grills. Their pellet grill offering, which Consumer Reports rated “Excellent” for indirect heating and “Very Good” for even cooking, can heat food between 200 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit, and has a drawer for catching and removing ash and grease. It also has a companion app that links the grill’s temperature controls with your mobile device. The hopper can fit 20+ pounds of pellets and the grill has a cooking surface of over 1,000 square inches.
How do pellet grills compare to gas and charcoal grills?
Pellet grills create heat by burning wood pellets, which sit inside a basket, or hopper. These pellets are then driven, via gravity, into what is called the “burn pot.” As the pellets burn, a fan circulates the heat around, evenly cooking your steaks or chops and giving them a smoky, though subtle woody flavor. The resulting smoke billows out of the grill’s chimney, and any grease trickles into a collection bucket. Horsman told us that pellet grills are generally best for “low and slow” cooking, and should have a 20-pound or more pellet hopper capacity.
Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are fairly simple: You burn lumps of charcoal, or briquettes, which then cook your food and provide a smoky flavor, stronger than the flavor imparted by wood pellets, says Horsman. Burning charcoal can take time and typically requires lighter fluid to get your fire started. But since you can increase the heat level by adding more charcoal — according to Consumer Reports — you get the “utmost in control” compared to pellet or gas grills.
Gas grills are best for “hot and fast” cooking, Horsman says. He told us that they’re great for cooking some hot dogs and burgers quickly after work, for example. “They’re convenient,” he said, “you turn them on and five minutes later you're ready to go.” These grills work like a gas stove— you can adjust the temperature precisely, typically by turning the knob to allow the flame to get bigger. Unlike pellet or charcoal grills, gas grills won’t add that smoky, barbecue taste to your meal, but they will get it on the table quicker.