The taste of the food prepared in pellet grills is simply unmatched. For this reason, pellet grills are the appliances of choice for barbecue professionals and BBQ competitors alike. So you should know how to choose the best pellet grill that will exactly match your barbecue needs.
You will need to take several factors into account. They are discussed as follows.
The budget is important right from the very outset. The size of your budget can profoundly affect the scope of your choices. With a bigger budget, you can choose from the biggest and best grills. With a small budget, you will have to sacrifice a few features and your range of choices will be limited.
If you are buying on a budget, you should not make the mistake of thinking that a cheap price tag will always save you money. ‘Cheap’ pellet grills can turn out to be more expensive. Some grill manufacturers cut prices by cutting corners. This can open the possibilities of defects. A major defect may mean that the pellet grill is unworkable or a big nuisance when it comes to operating the grill. If your warranty is valid, you may have to contact the manufacturer to get it repaired.
If the surface finishing is not up to the mark, you may end up with heavy rust very soon. Cheap pellet grills may have very primitive controllers that are incapable of preventing large temperature swings. Poor quality construction leads to poor heat retention – the grill will waste a lot of heat, meaning that pellet fuel consumption will be high.
There are several other ways that ‘cheap’ grills can prove to be more expensive. A very low price should be a cause of concern. If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is. You should, therefore, do your research and check customer reviews to find out about the performance of the pellet grill in question.
Likewise, more expensive does not necessarily imply better quality. You may end up feeling frustrated and dissatisfied if the features and functions do not perform as advertised. So you should be cautious and read as many customer reviews to unearth any potential issues that owners have faced with these models.
If you are on a budget, then you are not out of luck yet. You can buy a good quality grill for less than $500. High end models are also available for less than $1,000.
High quality construction helps ensure that your grill will serve you reliably for many years. Surface coating and high quality material is required for strong resistance to rust and corrosion. Stainless steel grills are the best for preventing the buildup of rust albeit they are more expensive.
A good quality pellet grill will be made from thick gauge steel. The parts, especially the lid should feel solid, rigid and heavy. If it feels too light and flimsy, then you should probably look elsewhere to find better quality. Heavy gauge steel sheet is not enough. The parts should also fit well and be properly aligned.
So when you close the lid, look at the gaps between it and the rest of the grill. The gap should not be too big. Gaps at different points should not be uneven. The gaps and sealing are important because they prevent the loss of heat and smoke, which has a direct effect on the rate of pellet consumption.
Although it is hard to feel grill parts when you are doing online research, you can get clues from reviews. The grill weight will give you a good idea of steel plate thickness. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The person selling grills should not hesitate to provide answers to your questions. There are also several forums where you can discuss pellet grills and ask relevant questions from real owners.
The grill material and its surface finish also matter a lot. Many pellet grills are made out of powder coated or painted steel sheets. The quality of the steel and its finishing can vary from one model to another. The surface coating should be tenacious otherwise the exposed steel will rust over time.
Even if the grill has high quality powder coating, you must pay attention to the inner parts. Components like the diffuser plate and firebox are exposed to high levels of heat. Hence they carry a high risk of rusting. These parts should ideally be made from stainless steel. Even if they are not made from stainless steel, there should be an option to upgrade these components to stainless steel parts.
Some brands like Traeger allow you to replace the firebox and diffuser plate with stainless steel components. You can even replace the barrel lid as well as hopper lid with stainless steel parts.
Even for stainless steel, there are a number of materials to choose from. 304 stainless steel is the best option but it also carries a high price tag. 430 stainless steel is more economical, yet it is a highly durable commercial-grade material.
A well constructed pellet grill also has other advantages besides long service. Quality construction can mean better performance. Some of the best pellet grills have double walled steel sheets. The gap between the 2 steel sheets often has air which by itself is an efficient insulator.
Some of the best models have an insulator between the two steel sheets for even better heat retention than air itself. Since greater amount of heat is retained and less is wasted, more of it goes into the food. This implies that you will have to use less wood pellets for the same amount of barbecue. Lower wood pellet consumption means lower costs – the relatively high fuel expense is a key drawback of wood pellet grills.
Construction details also speak volumes about the quality that was put into both materials and design. If the manufacturer did not put much work in construction, then it is highly unlikely that they have optimized other key aspects like uniform temperature distribution, stable heat levels and sophisticated controls.
Temperature range is crucial if you want to carry out quick searing. Pellet grills are purpose-built for indirect heat which is the principle behind low and slow cooking. Most pellet grills have no problems reaching temperatures up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, if you want to carry out quick searing, you need a pellet grill that can go up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit at the very least. You should, therefore, ask the dealer up front if the grill can reach this temperature.
You can do more with a pellet grill that has a higher temperature range. Certain high end performance grills can reach temperatures up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even if your pellet grill cannot reach a high enough temperature for quick searing there is one more thing that you can do. See if it has a separate searbox. Certain grills have a searbox in which you can cook meat over a direct flame.
For consistently good flavor and cooking quality, the pellet grill model should be able to maintain stable heat levels. For instance, if you want to pellet grill a great tasting brisket that is both juicy and tender, the heat level should be maintained close to 250 degrees for over 12 hours.
Stable temperature levels have a lot to do with the electronic controller. This sophisticated equipment is the most high tech part of the grill. It processes temperature inputs from sensors and on this basis, it sends signals to the fan and auger motor for stable temperatures.
However, not all electronic controllers are the same. There can be great variations in the accuracy and quality of controllers between different models. There are plenty of models that can maintain accurate temperature under good conditions but there are few that perform equally well under extreme weather conditions.
Here are some controller types that are commonly found in pellet grills.
· 3-Position Controllers
This is the simplest and cheapest kind of controller. As you would expect, it even has the lowest performance and capabilities. 3 position controllers can maintain heat at only 3 levels – high, medium and low – as the name suggests. These temperatures are often around 225, 325 and 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
This kind of controller feeds pellets and runs the motor at levels required by the setting. These controllers are to be found on some of the cheapest pellet grills. If you want good temperature control, then you should look elsewhere.
· Multi-Level Controllers
These controllers can maintain temperatures at more levels as compared to 3-position controllers. As a result, these controllers have greater precision than their 3-position counterparts. Multi-level controllers typically range between 180 and 420 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature increment is 25 degrees. Most pellet grills with these controllers have an LCD panel.
In addition to better precision, these controllers allow for more settings. In ideal conditions, the temperature variation for these controllers is +/-20 degrees which is fair enough for most purposes. But under difficult conditions, like cold and windy weather, the temperature swing can become much greater.
Some of these controllers are integrated with a food probe to monitor heat levels within your meal.
· Non-PID One-Touch Controller
These controllers allow you to set the temperature in increments of 5. As a result, they can set the temperature very close to your desired temperature. In fact there is a good chance that your desired temperature coincides exactly with an allowed temperature level on the controller. Even if your desired temperature does not exactly match, the variation is under 5 degrees which is perfectly acceptable for all grilling purposes.
To vary the temperature in increments of 5, you have to push one of two buttons to increase or decrease the temperature.
They are similar to the aforementioned controllers in the sense that they have fixed cycles for feeding pellets. These controllers also often have connections for meat probes which allows them to follow the temperature of the food.
· PID Controllers
PID controllers are the most sophisticated variety. These controllers utilize complex algorithms to maintain a stable temperature in place of fixed cycles.
These controllers also have one touch buttons to increase or decrease the temperature in increments of five. An LCD display shows the temperature as well as the settings.
However, the major difference between PID controllers and other types is that the PID controller adjusts its cycle according to the grill temperature and conditions. This is unlike fixed cycles in other controllers that do not vary with conditions. Since PID controllers have a more flexible cycle, they are more accurate than other controllers.
Since PID controllers are more sophisticated, they can seamlessly integrate with programmable food probes, which can automatically reduce heat levels when the meal is ready.
Cooking Surface Area
Pellet grills are available in a wide variety of sizes and styles to accommodate all kinds of culinary needs. Therefore, you can find grills from super-sized commercial models all the way down to diminutive portable models for tailgating.
When choosing a grill that is best for your needs, you need to consider both the cooking area and the physical dimensions.
Pellet grills often have 2 areas for cooking: the primary surface area that is suitable for all kinds of grilling processes and the secondary area which is often used for warming food. Although most people use the secondary rack for warming meals, it can work just as well as the primary area since the grill interior works by indirect heat.
A secondary cooking surface can give you more flexibility. A pellet grill with 450 square inches in the primary cooking area and 150 square inches in the secondary cooking surface may be a better option than a grill with only one cooking surface measuring 500 square inches. Not only does it have greater surface area, it also occupies a smaller space. Hence, two cooking surfaces can reduce the footprint of the grill and also give more grilling area as well.
You have to keep one thing in mind though. Bigger does not always translate to better. It all depends on your cooking needs. If the cooking surface is bigger than your daily needs, then the money spent on extra space is a waste of resources. You should not spend on space that you will never use.
If you want to cover the needs of a medium sized family, then a grilling with 500 square inches of the cooking area is sufficient for your needs. Couples and single persons can go for smaller grills. You will need a larger grill to cover the needs of a bigger family and for feeding crowds at barbecue parties.
Features and Capabilities
More and more pellet grills are entering the market. The competition between different grill manufacturers is growing. Each brand is trying to outdo the other with better and improved features. To differentiate themselves from competitors, pellet grill brands are including technologically advanced features. Some of these cutting-edge features have become standard while others are optional or available on high end models. The most popular grill features include the following.
· Controllers That Integrate with Meat Probes
Certain advanced controllers have connections for accommodating food probes. You need to connect one end of the food probe into the controller while the other end goes into the meal. The advantage of food probes is that you can monitor the internal temperature of meals without having to lift the lid.
· Programmable Meat Probes
Although many controllers can accept meat probes, they don’t always have one. You may have to buy a meat probe separately for certain controllers.
There are also variations between meat probes in terms of functionality. With some probes, you can only keep track of the temperature. The more sophisticated ones on the other hand, allow you to program it so that the grill can reduce the temperature when your food is fully cooked. This is certainly a highly coveted function, but it will obviously cost more.
· Direct Flame Option
People want more than just low temperature smoking and roasting with their pellet grills. Pellet grill manufacturers have addressed this demand by launching all-in-one grilling models. Besides slow cooking, you can also heat the food directly using an open flame on such units. For some models, you have to remove or shift the diffuser to allow flames to reach the food. Other grills have a secondary cooking area dedicated to quick searing.
· Wi-Fi Connectivity
Once considered a technological marvel, Wi-Fi connectivity is slowly turning into an essential feature. The benefits are so many that it will soon become a standard feature. Wi-Fi grills are virtually set and forget units. You can monitor your food from anywhere within your Wi-Fi signal range. You can do important things while conveniently monitoring the grill temperature at regular intervals. You can even set the intelligent app to send you notifications at key milestones to keep you updated.
The app also gives you access to an extensive online library of recipes. You can select the recipe and the app will direct the grill to automatically cook food at the temperature and time interval that the recipe requires. Such cutting edge functionality is crucial for the modern lifestyle where we are always short on time. Even the busiest people can now enjoy a delicious barbecue by letting their Wi-Fi pellet grill do the heavy lifting.
The perplexing task of selecting the right pellet grill will certainly become much easier by considering the aforementioned factors. They will give you a good idea about how to choose the best pellet grills for your specific circumstances.