How To Choose Your Next Pellet Grill
Summer may have ended, but grilling season is a year-round hobby that you’ll never need to take a break from. There are few things that beat the smell of freshly-smoked meat and burning wood. These familiar and comfortable scents are particularly accentuated during the cool fall and winter months when the cold breeze blows the wonderful BBQ smoke around the community.
If you’ve been grilling for any amount of time, then you’re probably aware that there are two major schools of thought when it comes to Barbeque: natural/wood-burning and gas-powered grills.
Natural-fire grills have been around for quite some time and have an incredibly simple design. A bowl or a cylindrical smoker to retain the heat, a grate to place the food on, and a lower section where the charcoal or wood chips burn. Gas-fire grills have a similar design, but instead of the hand-lit and naturally burning fuel, your food is cooked with burning propane gas. Each design has their own particular merits and drawbacks. For instance- gas grills preheat far quicker, but charcoal grills give the meat a natural smoky flavor that many people particularly enjoy.
What if you could combine the best aspects of both of these grills into one convenient design, though? No doubt, it sounds a little it too good to be true. However, that is that precise reason why so many people are changing the way that they barbeque and switching from their traditional grills to the latest and greatest cooking technology- Pellet Grills.
What Exactly Is A Pellet Grill?
Often referred to as Pellet Smokers, pellet grills are an ingenious combination of traditional offset barrel smokers and propane-fueled gas grills. Many pellet grills also include cutting-edge smart technology designed to make them more efficient and give the user better control of how their food is cooked.
First, let’s start with the pellets. The “pellets” are really just small, specially-designed pellets of wood. These small wood chips are pre-treated with heat and pressure which makes them easily combustible and smooth-burning.
Unlike traditional barbeque grills where the fuel must be lit by hand and encouraged to burn with lighter fluid or a fire starter, pellet grills use electrical current to ignite the pellets. This means that you don’t have to use any potentially harmful gases and fluids to cook your food and means that your food will taste far more natural.
Also, since you’re not using propane gas to cook with, your food will have a natural wood-smoked flavor instead of that gassy aftertaste that is sometimes prevalent in food that comes directly off of a propane grill.
These grills are specially designed to retain heat and cook food quickly and evenly in much the same way that a convection oven works. This effect is accomplished by built-in fan and ventilation systems as well as the geometric design of the grill.
How To Find The Best Pellet Grill
Overall, the idea behind pellet grills was to create a grill that could provide a natural, wood-smoked taste with the ease and comfort of a gas grill. When they were first introduced on the market a few years ago, they were met with some resistance.
People liked the idea, but the expensive price tag meant that it wasn’t an investment that most people were willing to make. It’s also worth mentioning that there were only two or three competing brands on the market.
In recent years, more and more grill manufacturers have begun to adopt the revolutionary new design and the increasing competition has driven prices down and made these grills more affordable than ever.
However, with so many options on the market today, it can be a difficult to find the right grill for you. Most grills also don’t come with a “Try It Before You Buy It” policy either, which means that you need to know exactly what you’re buying before you purchase it.
Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about how to find the best pellet grill on the market for your purposes. Before we begin, here are some of the points which we’ll be going over today.
Keep in mind that most pellet grills have the same basic functionality, but usually the larger that your budget is, the more features you can expect to see in your grill.
Things To Consider:
• Size and Cooking Area
• Temperature Controller Style
• Specialized Features
• Temperature Ranges
“A Match Made In BBQ Heaven”… Choosing The Right Pellet Grill
So, now that you know a little bit more about pellet grills (or pellet smokers as some insist on calling them), let’s take some time to review the six key considerations mentioned above and why they’re important when it comes to the shopping process.
A grill is a pretty sizable investment, so you don’t skimp on the details. From one Barbeque lover to another- you should spend as much time shopping for your grill as you would spend shopping for a new car.
A good grill can last you for ten years or more if it’s well taken care of, and a cheap grill can break in the first year of use. Also, it’s important to remember that when you’re talking about grills, you’re talking about the food that’s going onto your plate and into your stomach. The quality of the grill will in many ways determine the quality of the food that you’re eating.
Size and Cooking Area
From the outside, most grills look almost exactly the same. They almost all have four legs, a cooking area with a grate in it, an exhaust area for the excess smoke, and an area to catch excess grease and ash. They’re relatively simple machines when you think about it.
So before we go a bit more in-depth, let’s start with the obvious- size and cooking area.
When it comes to grills, size matters. If you’ve ever tried to cook for your entire family with a small 1.5-foot-wide grill, then you already know this.
The size of the grill is also where you’ll see the most difference in price. In almost all cases, larger grills cost more than smaller grills. That doesn’t necessarily mean that larger grills are inherently better than small grills either. You can get a well-designed small pellet grill that’s a lot better quality than a poorly-designed large pellet grill.
The cooking area almost always directly correlates to size, and larger grills have larger grates (a.k.a. more space to cook your food).
If you’re a single bachelor, newlywed, or any other person who isn’t planning on cooking for a bunch of people, then you’re better off getting a smaller-sized grill. You’ll save more money on the size, and you’ll be able to afford a higher-quality grill for your money.
However, if you have a larger family, or you plan on throwing some wild block parties, then you’ll want to save yourself the hassle and just jump straight into getting the biggest grill that you can find. Few things can match the annoyance of cooking for twenty or more people with a tiny grill that only allows you to cook a handful of burgers at a time.
Let’s go back to the car analogy used earlier. You could have two brand new cars from different brands that look great from the outside, but are completely different once you take them for a test drive. All you need to make a grill look fancy is to put a few knobs on the front and slap it with a fresh coat of paint. This alone will never be able to determine how a grill will stand up to the ultimate test of time, however.
The first thing that you’ll want to look for is a grill that’s made from a high-quality stainless steel. This will ensure that the grill is easy to clean and that you don’t have to worry about rust problems in the near future. Stainless steel also makes a great insulator and will prevent valuable heat from escaping, helping to ensure that no energy is wasted while cooking your food.
In addition to the material used to craft your grill, you’ll also want to ensure that it has a coat of paint designed to stand up to the high cooking temperatures. With a high-quality powder coat, you’ll almost never have to worry about it bubbling and peeling.
After assessing the outside of the grill, you’ll want to take a quick look on the inside. First, make sure that the main firepot and the diffuser are sturdy. These will be containing and controlling the burning embers, so they should never be made of cheap materials. Even if they are, though, some grill manufacturers will allow you to upgrade these parts to higher quality metals.
Finally, if you’re getting a grill with legs (as opposed to a custom barbeque pit mount), make sure they’re sturdy and won’t break under the weight of the grill over time. To put it simply, you don’t ever want a large grill full of burning coals and food to drop on your foot when you try to move it.
Most modern grills will have no trouble handling whatever type of food that you throw at them. However, there’s definitely a difference when it comes to some serious barque action.
Almost every pellet grill on the market can easily cook your food at a standard temperature range between around 180 and 425-degrees Fahrenheit. However, it’s really hard to hit searing temperatures until you reach the 500 to 550-degree range.
While a charcoal grill with a wide open flame can do it naturally, a pellet grill needs to heat up to at least 500-degrees Fahrenheit before the metal grate is hot enough to sear raw meat. Searing is particularly important when it comes to locking in flavor, and many recipes will have you sear the meat at a high temperature before continuing to slow-cook it at a lower temperature.
Performance pellet grills will have no trouble reaching upwards of 700-degrees which is perfect if your going to be cooking some heavy cuts or if you plan on opening and closing the grill a lot during the cooking process.
Temperature Controller Style
While it’s often overlooked when it comes to grill shopping, the style of your temperature controls can have a drastic effect on how your food turns out. While some chefs seem to have a sixth sense for exactly how hot the grill needs to be, the rest of us usually need a bit of help making sure our grills are set to the right temperature to properly cook the meat.
There are four standard styles which you’ll come across:
• Standard three position control
• Adjustable knob control
• Digital control
• PID control system
This is the most basic style of control and is mostly used on cheaper pellet grill models. The main advantage of this style is it’s durability. These standard three-position controls usually feature a low, medium, and high temperature setting. This is linked to a built-in thermometer which automatically cuts the heat on and off in an effort to keep the inside temperature of the grill within 10 to 15 degrees of the desired temperature setting.
Adjustable knob styles of control are similar to your standard control, except they allow the user to micromanage exactly what temperature that they want their grill to burn at. In most cases, adjustable knobs offer fairly decent accuracy and are usually within 20-degrees of your desired temperature.
If you want to get a bit fancier, some grills come with a digital control and an LED screen that allows you to control the temperature with a touch screen. Sometimes these controls even have pre-programmed cooking plans to make things a little bit easier for you.
Proportional–Integral–Derivative controllers (PID for short) are the latest and greatest in grilling and heating technology. These controls interact with an array of heat sensors and thermometers within the grill to ensure that the internal temperature of the grill is as close to the desired temperature as possible. They are by far the most accurate control systems on the market, and they’re also the most expensive. If you’re paying thousands for a high-end unit, you should expect one of these.
Each grill is going to have its own unique features that appeal to the tastes and desires of the user. Technology has even grown so much in the past few years that many top-end models come standard with Wi-Fi connectivity and allow you to access the grill via a simple Android/iPhone app.
From this app, you’ll be able to check on the temperature of the grill, put a timer on your meat, and “keep an eye on the grill” while you’re inside watching football and drinking a cold one.
In addition to embracing the digital age of cloud computing, some pellet grills feature built-in meat thermometers, secondary grilling racks, and additional storage for all of your favorite grilling tools.
Grills are by nature subject to a lot of wear and tear. What other common household item sits outside 365 days a year, gets rained on, and frequently contains 400-degree smoking fires?
The difference between a grill that works ten years from now and a grill that’s going to break by next Thanksgiving is the quality to which the grill is built.
While you can find some affordable options that are decent quality, in most cases you’re going to find that price directly correlates to quality. You get what you pay for.
That being said, though, you can greatly increase the longevity of your grill by doing the following:
• Keeping it indoors when not in use
• Keeping outdoor grills covered
• Cleaning the grill after each use
• Regular greasing of moving parts
These tips can help keep high-end and budget grills alike working steady for years longer than they would otherwise last.
Your Personal Preferences
The most important thing by far is to find a grill that YOU feel comfortable with. Look at the specs, make sure it can handle what you plan on cooking. Then look at the manufacturer, do a bit of research, and make sure that they’re the type of company that builds products that last. Finally, pay attention to some of the special features that set the grill you’re interested in apart from the competition.
Once you’ve found the one (and you’ll know when you find it), you can order it and get it shipped directly to your front door courtesy of our good friends at Amazon. The main advantage of this is that you don’t have to try to figure out a truck rental to bring it home from your local hardware store. You’ll also be able to take advantage of some of their great deals and sales that you won’t be able to find in a traditional brick and mortar location.
If you’re ready to revolutionize the way that you barbeque, then a pellet grill is hands-down one of the best investments that you can make this year. They’ve been around long enough to prove that they’re not just a trendy fad, and there’s enough market competition to ensure that the overall pricing is fair and that you can bring home a good grill without breaking the bank.
Just think of the steaks.. The juicy, perfectly smoked taste. No charcoal residue, no propane flavor.
Just pure, unadulterated and naturally smoked and cooked meat. That’s something that you can’t put a price tag on.