Outdoor cooking is an established aspect of American tradition. Grills enjoy such widespread popularity that 3 out of 4 US adults own one.
Wood pellet grills are a relatively new phenomenon whose origins date back to the eighties. Gas grills, on the other hand, have been in existence for much longer. Consequently, gas grills have a much larger market share as compared to pellet grills. However, this may change quite soon.
Wood pellet grills have quickly surged in popularity to challenge the long-standing dominance of gas grills, which brings us to the wood pellet grills vs. gas grills debate.
Since wood pellet grills are relatively new to the grilling scene, they don’t have a long existence. Due to their short history, they haven’t been marketed and manufactured as extensively as other types of grills, such as charcoal grills and gas grills. As a result, wood pellet grills have not seen the same rate of advancement as gas grills.
However, the good news is that the tremendous surge in pellet grill popularity has motivated manufacturers to produce innovative models to capture the growing market. As a consumer, you have plenty of power since there is stiff competition between manufacturers.
Here are the leading factors behind the rise of wood pellet grills
- Excellent smoke flavor
- Flexible cooking method
- High precision in temperature control
- High energy efficiency
What Separates Gas Grills from Wood Pellet Grills
A gas grill operates through burners, which are powered from a gas source. The burners below the cooking grates produce the flame, which heats food directly. Due to this design, gas grills are a fine choice for quick searing and direct flame cooking.
Pellet grills, however, employ indirect heat for cooking. This gives you much higher control and several choices for cooking barbecued items and other foods as well. You can bake, roast and smoke. These cooking options are not available on gas grills.
One of the biggest advantages of indirect heating is that you can maintain a reasonably constant temperature. With pellet grills, you can set the temperature and follow it with the help of the meat probe and grill thermometer. For good quality pellet grills, the temperature does not vary more than 10-25 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature swing is reasonable and allows you to cook food with a high degree of consistency in terms of flavor, texture and juiciness. At these temperatures, you can also bake food. This is simply not possible with gas grills.
Since pellet grills use wood pellets as the sole fuel source, cleaning up the grill is easy and quick. Not only does it impart a superior flavor to your meals, it is also highly energy efficient.
Disadvantages of Pellet Grills
However, there are also some disadvantages that you may face with pellet grills.
· ‘Low’ Temperature
The biggest perceived pitfall is the relatively low maximum temperature, which does not exceed 500 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to sear at higher temperatures, then you are out of luck with pellet grills. But this may not be such a bad thing as you will soon discover as excessively high temperatures (beyond 500 degrees) can be problematic.
· More Expensive than Gas Grills
Another disadvantage is that you will not find too many pellet grills that can be described as dirt cheap. Several gas grills have low costs, but there are fewer options for low budget gas grills. Therefore, pellet grills cost more on average as compared to gas grills.
This drawback arises from the reason mentioned above: the short history of pellet grills. As competition increases between manufacturers and as the demand surges, you will likely find more options for wood pellet grills in the future.
· Less Diversity Than Gas Grills
You will also see fewer choices when it comes to pellet grill sizes. Pellet grills are more or less full-sized barbecue platforms. Some choices are available for small-sized pellet grills, but they are much fewer in variety as compared to gas grills. Gas grills, on the other hand, come in an array of choices for both small and large units.
Is the ‘Low’ Temperature of Pellet Grills Really an Issue for You?
Continuing with the searing drawback of pellet grills, you will find that grilling lore recommends a temperature of around 750 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal searing, whereas pellet grills can manage 500 degrees at most.
However, not all experts agree with this conventional grilling wisdom. They reason that searing is recommended at temperatures under 500 degrees.
The science behind this is quite simple. Searing a crispy delicious brown crust on your meat is made possible by the Maillard reaction. Several factors are at play during this process, the most important of which is temperature. But how much temperature do you need?
Before we get to that, we must first debunk a few myths. Some people claim that searing is done to lock in the juices and preserve juiciness while keeping the exterior crispy. This is not true. The brown- crispy texture, full of rich taste and aroma, is the reason why we sear meat.
Another popular misconception is that the Maillard reaction pertains to caramelization. Even professional chefs believe this fallacy. Caramelization is a completely different reaction that concerns only sugars.
The Maillard reaction starts at about 250 degrees Fahrenheit where it is fairly slow. It becomes rapid when the meat temperature reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit. This reaction takes place in foods that contain a mix of both sugars and proteins. The reaction occurs when amino acids and sugar molecules react.
According to this source, the best temperature range for the maximum flavor development for searing is around 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
In fact, according to Weber Grills, the leading manufacturer of gas grills, searing at temperatures above 500 degrees Fahrenheit will do nothing more than burn the food and make it flavorless and dry. Therefore, conventional wisdom related to the 750-degree myth is just not true.
Hence, you need not be disappointed if the temperature of pellet grills does not extend beyond 500 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the maximum temperature. Beyond this temperature, you will get nothing more than charred and acrid-flavored food.
In fact, a lot of pellet grills have a side searing box nowadays so that you can perform open flame charbroiling. So the ‘low’ temperature limit of wood pellet grills should not be an issue.
Compared to pellet grills, gas grills do have certain advantages
Gas Grill Advantages over Pellet Grills
- Gas grills are extremely convenient. They can be ignited very quickly without much hassle and can also heat up much more quickly than pellet grills. This translates to less convenience and more time-saving. In addition to quick heating, they can also cool down much more quickly. This means that you can stow and cover a gas grill more quickly after a cookout. You won’t have to wait a long time for it to cool down.
- You also save time since there is much less cleanup involved. Unlike wood pellet grills, gas grills do not use wood pellets for fuel, so you do not have to clean up any ashes.
- The operating costs of gas grills are also lower as compared to wood pellet grills. Gas is a cheaper fuel compared to wood pellets. It is also much more convenient and easy to work with.
There used to be a time when gas grills were considered more user- friendly than pellet grills because of the ease with which gas could be ignited. This is much more convenient and simpler than, say, charcoals, which require a fair amount of skill to light quickly.
Wood pellet grills also used to suffer ignition problems initially, but this issue is now nothing more than a relic of the past. Pellet grills have electronic ignition, which can start smoldering the wood pellets in just a few seconds. Despite the quick ignition, it can take some time for wood pellet grills to reach their full temperature – between 10 to 15 minutes. However, the smoke-infused flavor is well worth the wait.
Therefore, ignition does not involve the frustration that has traditionally been associated with charcoal grills. You can realize the time-saving and high level of convenience with the reliable electronic ignition of good pellet grill models.
Ash cleanup in pellet grills is also not too problematic since it is all conveniently collected in one place for you to dispose of easily.
Although gas grills have certain conveniences over pellet grills as described above, several advancements have been made to ensure wood pellet grills catch up with gas grills in these areas as well.
Why Pellet Grills Are Here to Stay
· Unbeatable Taste
Barbecue connoisseurs mull over the purchase of wood pellet grill on account of its ability to produce exquisite barbequed taste.
Myron Mixon is the greatest pro barbecue competitor in American history, having won the highest number of titles. His signature grilling style is smoking, which he used to win one competition after another.
Myron Mixon launched his own line of wood pellet grills and smokers in 2012. This speaks volumes about the quality of wood pellet grills and smokers. These grills are the first and the last choice for champions.
And it’s not just Myron Mixer himself who resorts to smokers for winning. Competitive grilling experts from across the country use custom-built smokers to prepare award-winning barbecue delights. There is a consensus among grilling pros and aficionados that the taste of barbecue cooked on smokers is simply unrivalled. They are also unanimous that gas grills simply cannot come close to the exotic smoke taste that arises from different varieties of hard wood pellets.
As far as the best tasting barbecue goes, the verdict of the experts is clear. The tantalizing and mouthwatering smokey flavor of wood pellet grills is simply unmatched.
· Temperature Control Precision
You just have to set the temperature on the user-friendly controller and press the ignition button. The pellet grill then handles the rest of the proceedings. It reaches the set temperature within 10 to 15 minutes. Good pellet grill models maintain tight temperature control due to which the temperature swing is not significant.
This has been made possible due to the use of sophisticated on-board electronics that monitor various parameters like the temperature of the grill itself, meat probe temperature and air flow, among others. The auger mechanism works automatically, as a result of real-time electronic control. It pushes the right amount of pellets into the firebox to give the right temperature. The fan operates at the optimal speed to maintain airflow and even temperature distribution throughout the grill.
· User Friendliness
Pellet grills are the ideal solution for novices who want to enjoy an authentic smoke flavor in their barbecue meals.
Professional grill chefs will say that smoking food is a delicate process that requires utmost attention, hard work and proficiency. While this assertion is certainly true, there is no doubt that pellet grills have come a long way due to the advancements in electronic control. Hence, they can give you great results even if you lack barbecue smoking expertise.
While a good pellet grill won’t automatically turn you into a competitive barbecue chef, it will definitely produce great-tasting food that everyone will enjoy.
User-friendly pellet grills make the intricate and meticulous art of smoking much easier for novice grilling enthusiasts.
History of Wood Pellet Grills
The history of wood pellet grills and smokers spans just around 3 decades. Wood pellet grills (also called wood pellet smokers) came into being in response to the oil crisis of the seventies. Small hardwood pellets made from sawdust are a viable alternative to oil for heating purposes. They were invented in 1982 by Joe Traeger. His family used to run a heating company in Oregon. Traeger invented the wood pellet grills after a period of experimentation with pellet-fuelled furnaces.
Pellet stoves have long been popular in the Northeast and Northwest. Joe Traeger took inspiration from this to invent a grill that would soon become a classic in the realm of barbecue cuisine. The story behind this is quite amusing. During a 4th of July barbecue session, he left the grill for a short while only to find that it was burning when he returned. He kicked over the grill in frustration and embarked on a quest to invent a better grill that used wood pellets for fuel.
After inventing the wood pellet grill in 1985, he patented the design in 1986. The commercial production of this innovative grill started in 1988.
From 1986, Traeger enjoyed a monopoly over the wood pellet grilling market due to his patent, which was valid for 20 years. As a result of this patent, he was able to profit immensely from his new design without losing the market share to big manufacturers. But this also led to unfortunate results that continue to be seen to this day in pellet grilling. It stunted the development of innovative new grilling products. The full effects are described in the wood pellet grill drawbacks mentioned below.
However, the expiry of his patent in 2006 spurred an avid interest in wood pellet grills. Manufacturers of all kinds have moved into the market eagerly to make profits from the long-awaited gold rush. Innovative and sophisticated designs have begun to take off and soon the pellet grilling market will overtake gas grills in terms of scope and depth of models.
Traditionally, wood pellet grills did just one thing. They cooked food using indirect heat. However, now you can cook food in pellet grills using different methods, including open-flame grilling. You can now sear, smoke, roast and even bake food in a modern wood pellet grill.
While gas grills offer convenience in some respects, pellet grills have taken over and are now more user-friendly than ever before.
With so many benefits and superior tasting foods, the pellet grills vs. gas grills matchup is a no-contest. Pellet grills and smokers are hands down the outright winners and, therefore, the grills of choice for champion celebrity chefs.
The only area where gas grills have a definite advantage is operating costs. However, the extra cost incurred by pellet adds great value in the form of unrivalled taste. It is, therefore, well worth it. The superior smoke flavor is a small price to pay for a little extra money.
With a good pellet grill that has Wi-Fi connectivity, you can even use the app to download tried and tested recipes. Become the star chef in your neighborhood and even more popular among friends and family with a pellet grill!