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The best pellet grills for cookouts, according to grilling experts

Grilling experts explain how pellet grills work and what to consider before buying one.
The best pellet grills to shop this year include brands like Weber, Traeger, Expert Grill and more
The best pellet grills to shop this year include brands like Weber, Traeger, Expert Grill and moreGetty Images

Imagine grilling a restaurant-quality brisket in your own backyard for all your family and friends. Sounds nice, right? 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 three main types of grills: charcoal, gas and pellet.

Pellet grills may be a great option for grillers who appreciate the woody flavor and temperature consistency they provide, according to experts we interviewed. 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,” says Tom Horsman, a grilling YouTuber with over 30,000 subscribers and 14,000,000 views.

SKIP AHEAD The best pellet grills in 2023 | How to shop for pellet grills | How do pellet grills compare to gas and charcoal grills?

We round up the best pellet grills below, including expert recommendations as well as what to look for before shopping for one.

Our top picks

How to pick a pellet grill

When shopping for a pellet grill, here’s what we considered:

  • Cooking surface: Each pellet grill has a cooking surface between 300 square inches and 1,200 square inches, depending on your grilling needs.
  • Capacity: Every grill we recommend has at least a 20-pound pellet capacity, except our portable pick which has a 8-pound capacity due to its smaller size.
  • Smart features: Some grills we recommend can work with your chosen voice assistant or even with compatible apps, where you can control the grill’s temperature through your smartphone.
  • Ratings: Each grill that was not directly recommended by an expert has a 4-star average rating from more than 100 reviewers.

The best pellet grills in 2023

To help you find the best pellet grill model that will turn your backyard into a cookout destination, we consulted grilling experts and only chose top-rated products.

Traeger Ironwood 650 TFB65BLE

“When people think of pellet grills, they always think of the Traegers,” says Horsman. “Traeger sells the most pellet grills and has held the original patent for pellet smokers/grills.” This grill has a 20-pound hopper capacity, a 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.

Pellet capacity: 20 pounds | Cooking surface: 650-square-inch | Temperature: up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit

Z Grills Master Pellet ZPG-700D

For the more budget-conscious, Horsman recommends Z Grills “because they have solid construction and are moderately priced.” This grill is “ perfect for family get-togethers,” according to Horsman. Z grills is also recommended by Tom Scarano, a former sous chef with over 25 years of grilling experience and host of the YouTube channel The Gallery Backyard BBQ & Griddle, who’s owned two Z grill products for more than a year. “You get a lot of features for your money, and the company offers great customer service,” he says. This grill has a nearly 700-square-inch cooking surface, a 20-pound hopper capacity, electronic ignition, automatic temperature regulation and wheels for easier maneuverability. It’s good for grilling, roasting, braising and even baking, according to the brand. “The cabinet-style construction allows for ample storage below the grill,” says Horsman.

Pellet capacity: 20 pounds | Cooking surface: 700-square-inch | Temperature: up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit

Z Grills Pioneer 450B

You don’t need to spend over $1,000 for a decent pellet grill, according to Scarano. He’s owned the Pioneer 450B for over a year and has no qualms with it. This stainless steel grill has a PID controller and an easy door to clean out your hopper — just open it up and empty the pellets in one go. There are two wheels so you can transport it around your backyard and they can even be locked in place, according to Z Grills. You’ll also get a rain cover and assembly gloves with your purchase.

Pellet capacity: 15 pounds | Cooking surface: 459-square-inch | Temperature: up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit

Weber SmokeFire EX6 23510001

Weber is a well-known name in the grilling industry, especially for their kettle-style charcoal grills, according to experts. The brand’s pellet grill delivers even cooking and can heat food between 200 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the brand. It also has a drawer for catching and removing ash and grease. The companion app can also let you control your grill’s temperature with your mobile device.

Pellet capacity: NA | Cooking surface: 1000-square-inch | Temperature: up to 600 degrees Fahrenheit

Traeger Grills Tailgater

If you’re looking for a portable grill, choose the Tailgater. It has a 4.7-star rating from over 600 reviewers and can do everything including grilling, roasting and baking, according to the brand. The legs are foldable for ease of transport and the 300-square-inch capacity should be enough to grill 12 burgers at a time, according to Traeger. There is also a ‘keep warm’ mode on this grill to keep your food ready to eat at all times.

Pellet capacity: 8 pounds | Cooking surface: 300-square-inch | Temperature: up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit

How to shop for the best pellet grills

Horsman recommended looking for the following features while shopping for a quality pellet grill:

  • Capacity. 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 at least 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 is the most important aspect of any pellet grill. Horsman says 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 of fattier foods, you’re going to have a fair amount of grease, so the grease management system in a pellet grill is very important,” says Horsman. Many grills will have a slightly slanted surface with a grease trap at the lower end to drain grease from the surface.
  • Materials. Quality construction is important too, says Horsman. He specifically highlighted pellet grills with stainless steel or heavy metal burn pots and hoods for the best durability and performance.
  • Price. “Pellet grills start at a couple hundred and go up to a couple thousand,” says Scarano. “There are really good pellet grills that cost just $300.” Scarano recommends keeping a budget in mind before you start shopping.

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, subtle woody flavor, according to experts. 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. “Pellet grills are best for smoking,” says Scarano. He recommends using a pellet grill to cook ribs, brisket and pork.

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 you get more 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 says. “You turn them on and five minutes later you're ready to go.” These grills work like a gas stove — you can precisely adjust the temperature, typically by turning a knob. 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. Gas grills are recommended for cooking burgers, according to Scarano.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Tom Horsman is a grilling expert with more than 10 years of grilling experience and a YouTube channel host with more than 30,000 subscribers and 14,000,000 views.
  • Tom Scarano is a former sous chef with 25 years of grilling experience and host of the YouTube channel The Gallery Backyard BBQ & Griddle.

Why trust Select?

Justin Redman is a former contributor at NBC Select.

Nishka Dhawan is an associate commerce editor at NBC Select. For this article Justin and Nishka interviewed a grilling expert on the best pellet grills, and what to consider before you shop.

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