Wood pellet grilling or smoking is an easy way to get into authentic backyard barbecue cooking without the huge cost. Here’s my guide to 11 of the very best pellet smokers, what to look out for, and why you need one in your life.
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Pellet smokers combine the best of both worlds with old-age style wood cooking, matched with modern technology to make them extremely easy and quick to start up.
This makes them far easier and more convenient to use than traditional charcoal smokers, while much more authentic than propane gas models.
The purists might often go for charcoal offset cookers, but if you need something simple and affordable, then look no further than a wood pellet smoker.
Wood pellet cookers are growing in popularity and it’s easy to see why. They’re quick to start up, powerful, and give you the temperature control that you don’t get with charcoal.
In this series of grill reviews I’ll be looking at eleven of the very best pellet smokers of 2020, so you’ll know exactly what you need from your next pellet cooker.
Let’s get into it.
Camp Chef SmokePro PG24 Deluxe Pellet Grill
I’m kicking off this list with what is quite simply the best pellet smoker on the market.
This mid-size smoker strikes the perfect balance between superb quality and value for money. Nothing is compromised, and you get so much bang for your buck it’s worth the investment.
But what make it so great?
Large cooking area with extra smoking racks
Underneath the Camp Chef's SmokePro DLX lid, it offers a good cooking area of about 560 square inches, which compares favorably to industry standards for pellet grill and smokers of this size and quality.
It's more than enough space for any home grill fans, and also big enough to satisfy everyone should you have a BBQ party.
Further to this, it has a series of rib and warming racks that sit just above the main grilling area.
These function by allowing you extra space to rest food and keep it warm, or use the added grates to smoke food.
With these racks included it offers a huge total cooking area of 811 square inches. This additional space can be used for smoking classic BBQ meats like ribs, beer can chicken, or whole turkeys.
Easy digital control
With any pellet smoker we want to be able to have the same level of temperature control that we’d have on a gas grill or electric smoker. The temperature controller that the Camp Chef PG24DLX gives us exactly that.
It’s easy to use, and its temperature controls enough range and flexibility to allow you to smoke anything you want.
As is becoming more and more standard, the digital thermostat control allows you to program in your desired temperature. This allows you to easily reach the 225°F-250°F temperature range that we often try to aim for. If you want to take things up a notch for grilling or searing, then you can take heat levels up to 500°F easily.
None of this comes at the cost of even cooking temperatures though thanks to its convection fan, which helps reduce cold spots and flare ups.
This program setting allows you to set and forget in the truest sense of the phrase. With the heat levels set you can leave the smoker to do its thing.
Camp Chef have also moved the smoke stack to the rear of the smoker (it's beyond me why more manufacturers don't do this), which gives you so much more room to work with.
Crucial to its beginner-friendly use is its start-up time. In contrast to traditional charcoal grills, you don’t need to wait the best part of 30 minutes for it to reach your target temperature. Instead, you’re good to go in no more than 10 minutes.
Easy cleanup is a common feature among pellet cookers, and the Camp Chef SmokePro stays loyal to type here.
It has a simple cleanup system door on its base to allow you to quickly empty ash building up at the bottom of the smoker chamber.
The smoker is mainly built with heavy gauge stainless steel, which makes it extremely durable and fantastic at retaining heat during the entire cooking process. This in turn makes it incredibly energy efficient, which will help you save on fuel costs in the long run.
The SmokePro has the option of an added sear box which can reach an incredible 900°F, and will allow you to sear steaks or burgers, as well as use advanced cooking methods like reverse searing.
This smoker can do everything. If you have the budget, and are serious about getting a pellet smoker, then this is the one for you.
Traeger Grills Pro Series 34
Traeger are one of the original and best pellet grill brands around, and so it stands to reason that they still make one of the best wood pellet grills out on the market today
The Traeger Pro is one of the largest, most powerful units out there, and this new version in the form of the Pro Series is another sign of the pellet grill’s progress.
COOKING SPACE: 884 SQ. INCHES
MATERIAL: STAINLESS STEEL
DIMENSIONS: 22 X 54 X 49 INCHES
WEIGHT: 150 LBS
BACKYARD GRILL FANS WHO WANT A HIGH-PERFORMANCE, PRECISE WOOD COOKER THAT OFFERS PLENTY OF VERSATILITY
Gone are past issues with warm up speeds and heat retention, all in favor of a reliable, study, smoker that locks in heat.
What’s changed? The Pro Series’ engine has been developed to turn the pellet auger quicker, which means that more fuel can get into your smoker’s firepot faster. This means faster heat up time, and more responsive controls.
It include a built-in temperature gauge to allow you easy temperature readings for your smoker surface and ambient temperature. However I would always recommend investing in your own specialist temperature meat probe for reliable accurate readings.
The smoker’s digital controller allows you to tweak temperatures in 5°F increments, making aiming for that ideal 225°F relatively easy.
A recent addition to a lot of barbecue equipment is WiFi connectivity. This is much more than just a gimmick though, as pairing with your handheld device or smartphone will allow you to control the smoker remotely. Not only that, but the app on your smartphone will also allow you to align your cooking with the built-in and preset options in the app.
Whether you think you need this added connectivity or not is up to you, but even with this put to one side there is no denying that is an extremely efficient and powerful pellet cooker.
Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker
Z Grills have been behind some of the budget-friendly grill ranges for the past few years, and it's great to see this tradition carry on into pellet grills too.
The Z Grills 7002E is worthy of its place among the company of Traeger on this list.
It's a fantastic BBQ smoker for anyone new to the game. It's quick start ignition system works flawlessly, and pairs perfectly with its pellet feed system to make startup fast and easy for beginners.
Its temperature control range sits within the range of 180°F-475°F, which is actually a little lower than a lot of smokers we see, however is perfectly fine for a general use smoker.
The fact that they’re were founded in 2017 in China might arouse suspicion as to the build quality of the 7002E, but you need not worry: This is a fine smoker.
The Z Grill actually offers a larger pellet hopper than many of its competitors, giving you a significantly longer use time. You don’t need to fill the smoker up with wood fuel as often, and your smoker does more with less.
To do this at lower cost is impressive.
Not only this, but it comes with a three year guarantee, helping to reassure anyone in doubt of the quality of a Z Grills product.
It has all the usual little add-ons that make nice features, like utensil hooks and warming racks, but the real star of the show is its performance.
Any cons? My major gripe is the absence of a good temperature probe, meaning that you'll need to get your own for monitoring the progress of your meat. I often recommend getting your own anyway, but for a beginner-friendly grill this seems like a major oversight.
Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett
This is a bit of a quirky looking smoker, and its small stature might throw a lot of people. But don’t be fooled: This smoker is up to the job.
This sturdy smoker performs excellently at maintaining temperatures, largely thanks to its excellent build and smart temperature control.
Its temperature control elements are fantastic, offering much more precision than a lot of other pellet smokers. Its manual control panel allows you to adjust temperatures in 5°F increments, and can even be altered to allow you to cut these increments down to 1°F. While these might seem overly granular to some, BBQ smoking is all about exact measurement, so we welcome this degree of control.
It does have a few issues with keeping a steady flow of wood into its burn pot, but as long as you keep the pellet hopper full then you shouldn’t run into any problems.
Mobility might not be on the priority list for you when choosing a new pellet grill or smoker, particularly as they demand an easy power source via a plug.
The Green Mountain Davy Crocket has been beautifully designed to offer excellent portability. Its legs are foldable, and comes with power adapters to allow you to link it up to your vehicle or power generator.
And at 68 pounds, it’s relatively easy to move around. For this reason, I'd go as far to say it's the best portable pellet grill and smoker around at the moment.
It has a smartphone app to allow you to control temperatures remotely, allowing you to be far less hands-on than you do with other smokers. It also features a smart alarm to notify you of any issues with the hopper or auger.
A brilliant option for people wanting to bring pellet smoking to their next tailgate party or camping trip.
Big Horn Outdoors Pellet Smoker Grill
This stripped-back pellet smoker from Big Horn Outdoors proves that you don't need a bunch of add-on features to make a great BBQ smoker.
It's perfect for smoker newcomers who are looking to make the transition from propane to pellet.
Its cooking area is a generous 700 square inches in size, and its digital control on the hopper ensures tightly controlled smoking temperatures.
It also easily doubles up as a grill, creating the high heat levels you'll need for searing.
Camp Chef SmokePro LUX Pellet Grill
One of the most impressive things about this smoker is its fuel-to- power efficiency. Even though its hopper is a relatively modest 18 inches in height, once full it can burn for a good 12 hours. Even longer if you’re using it in warm weather.
What makes this even more remarkable is that its cooking area is generous in size. This smoker can take a lot of food.
This smoker also comes with the option of an added sear box, giving you a bit more freedom with your barbecuing. For an added cost you can get a 16,00 BTU sear box installed in it, which should be able to reach upwards of 800°F to help you with reverse searing.
It does come with its own built-in temperature and meat probe, but I’d recommend getting your own. It’s a bit flimsy, and in all honesty I prefer buying my own because third party models tend to be far more reliable and accurate in their temperature reading. If you’re looking for one then take a look at my guide to thermometers and temperature probes.
We’ve found that its temperature calibration can be a bit wide of the mark, usually by about 30°F. We always want to ensure consistent cooking levels, so this can be frustrating. It shouldn’t be enough to discourage anyone from considering this grill, but you’ll just need to recalibrate the smoker every few uses.
Z GRILLS 2019 Model 8-in-1 BBQ Smoker
Z Grills have built this smoker with convenience in mind. It has what they've called 'Smart Smoke Technology' which basically entails an electric feed system that monitors temperature levels and feeds the smoker chamber accordingly.
It's able to do this within 20°F of target temperature all the way up to 450°F, which is perfect for long form barbecue cooking.
Manual temperature control can be done with the use of the dial and LED display on the smoker's control panel.
Weighing just 84 pounds, it's easy to take on the road with you, making it just as good a portable tailgating or RV grill as it is for a home smoker.
Easy to put together, consistent cooking levels, and an outrageously large smoking chamber. What more could you want?
Camp Chef Woodwind 24
The Woodwind is the forgotten baby brother within Camp Chef's Smoke Guru range, but it definitely deserves its place on this list.
Its cooking area of 570 square inches is a little smaller than some others on this list (take a look at Pit Boss for large cooking areas) but is still adequately sized. It also has a detachable upper heating grid to give you a bit more room to play with.
It sits within a stainless steel burn pot and shell to give you perfect heat retention and build quality.
Pit Boss 700FB Pellet Smoker
As one of the leading pellet grill brands, Pit Boss offer a whole range of pellet smoker-grills that are affordable and extremely excellent performers.
But for us the 700FB is their best by some way.
It comes at a much more affordable price than the majority of similarly sized pellet units, with very little compromised as a result.
It also features a sliding searing plate to allow you to quickly sear your food after smoking. This method is known as reverse searing, as is great with food like tri-tip and steak.
It sits within heavy gauge stainless steel construction, and is built to last for years.
The automatic feeding technology isn't quite up to the standard of Traeger's range, but if you're after an entry-level model that still gives you plenty of grilling space and smoking power then this is one of the best out there.
Ozark Grills Bison Wood Pellet Smoker
The Ozark Bison is a great smoker-grill combo that offers an impressive 720 square inches of cooking space.
Its digital control panel allows easy temperature control within 20°F of accuracy, which is fairly standard for the industry.
Ozark's pellet smoker is easy to use, easy to clean, and built to last.
The key to its easy use is its one touch ignition system (a function we normally see on gas grills), which allows you to get going almost instantly.
It's smart cooking system allows this to be a set and forget system in the truest sense possible. It performs well at monitoring temperatures and tweaking pellet burning accordingly.
Z Grills ZPG-7002B
Just like with established pellet smoker grill brans like Pit Boss and Traeger, Z Grills have developed an efficient pellet burning system to create smoking and grilling heat.
Their best by far is the 7002B.
It functions just as well as a grill as it does a smoker, giving you ultimate barbecue flexibility.
It has an automatic electric feed system to help you be more hand-off with your cooking, and will allow you to cook all the ay up to 450°F.
It's main cooking area is huge at 700 square inches, giving you more than enough room to work with.
What are the benefits of a pellet smoker?
Smoking is regarded as a set and forget form of cooking, whereby you can leave your smoker to do its thing for several hours at a time.
This convenience is then taken to a new level with pellet smokers. Their temperature control is far more reliable than charcoal-fuelled offset cookers, which makes them far easier to heat up to your target cooking temperature.
Their control systems are often digital and are able to accurately monitor and react to temperature levels, which makes them much easier to use than charcoal BBQ smokers.
They are also extremely fuel efficient, and only burn fuel when they need to. This allows you to make huge savings on wood pellet costs.
Natural hardwood BBQ pellets are also safer and cleaner than charcoal to cook with. Just be sure to avoid anything containing chemicals or additives. We want all natural, good, hardwood only.
Finally, they are far easier to clean up after use. Charcoal grills leave a ton of ash after use, but used hardwood pellets are quick and easy to sweep up once you’ve finished cooking. Some models even have built-in cleaning systems, such as an ash dump feature, to help take on more of the work.
A (very) brief history of the pellet grill
Wood pellet grills are actually relatively newcomers to the BBQ space, and were originally championed by essentially just two big name brands: Traeger and MAK.
Their quick rise to popularity across the world has now meant that there is a lot more choice out there, which in turn has meant that pellet smokers (and grills) have gotten better and better with every year.
This has also meant that prices have become more and more affordable. While original models in the 2000’s were upwards of $100, current units are far cheaper and comparable to most types of outdoor grill.
Quality has not suffered however, and any good pellet smoker offers authentic BBQ smoking with cleaner and more affordable fuel, all without compromising the deep and smoky flavors that we love.
How do pellet smokers work?
A typical pellet smoker grill setup will consist of the main grill chamber with a hopper built on one side.
This hopper is where the wood pellets are stored, and these are fed into the chamber to burn by a feeding mechanism. Usually this takes the form of an auger.
You control the smoker grill by using the digital controls to adjust the rate at which pellets are fed into the chamber. Pellets are then burned and turned into smoke and heat.
Just like with traditional BBQ smoking, temperature control is absolutely key, and pellet grills are fantastic at maintaining good, even temperatures for hours.
Pellet smoker controls
Pellet smoker controls generally come in one of three forms. Here’s a quick overview of what each consists of.
There are 3-Place Controls that consist of just three temperature settings:
- 225°F (low)
- 325°F (medium)
- 425°F (high)
The benefit here is that the simple settings are the only three temperatur ranges you would normally need. For example, 225°F is seen as the standard cooking temperature for most meat smoking.
The drawback here is that you don’t have a lot of flexibility for more nuanced types of smoking. You also don’t have the chance to sear meat.
Multi-Position Controls, on the other hand, allow you to adjust heat levels in increments. These controls offer far more flexibility, but because their feeding cycle is rigid, they can only offer an extra 20°F at a time. This can be a little tedious to use, but does offer a lot more variety in how you approach pellet smoking.
PID Controls are widely regarded as the pinnacle of pellet controls. These use a built-in algorithm to predict and control cooking temperatures to allow you accuracy within just a couple of degrees. PID Controls continually adjust the auger feed to maintain temperatures almost perfectly.
Smoker build materials
Perhaps the most integral factor for good heat retention is smoker build quality, and the material with which your smoker is built is central to that.
The majority of pellet grills are made from some sort of painted stainless steel, although high-end grills are often made with 304 stainless steel for maximum longevity.
Look out for marine-grade stainless steel. It might cost a bit extra, but is almost guaranteed to last you for life (or until you get bored and want a new smoker!).
Be careful with powder-coated steel. While still fairly durable, once the paint cracks it can allow your grill to corrode easily soon after.
Pellet hopper size
The hopper houses your pellets before they’re burned. Obviously, the larger the capacity of the hopper the more pounds of pellets it can hold. This in turn means your grill can cook for longer without needing to be topped up.
Try not to sell yourself short by getting a pellet smoker with a small hopper. As a guide, a 40lb hopper can usually provide about 40 hours of cooking time at standard smoking temperatures.
Just remember that a larger hopper does not mean more power.
It is possible to buy hopper extensions to add capacity to your hopper, but these generally tend to be specific to the brand. Make sure you get one that is compatible with your brand and model of smoker.
Newer models of pellet smoker have done a great job with leveraging WiFi capabilities to make their units easier to control remotely.
This means you don’t need to constantly check in on your food grillside, but rather use a phone app to monitor it, or set an alert to notify you once your meat is cooked, or if your smoker needs more pellets.
This is much more than just a gimmick, and allow you the peace of mind that your smoker is doing its thing while you can go do more important things.
Can you grill on a pellet smoker?
The beauty of pellet smokers is that they are extremely versatile, and in most instances will be able to take on BBQ grilling as well.
The way that the auger feed works in pellet units means that it easier to generate high or low heat from the same firebox.
Pellet smoker-grills are able to generate indirect heat across the entire cooking surface, thanks to their flame taming panel. This sheet of metal sits between the firebox and grill grates to help distribute heat evenly.
Always check with the manufacturer prior to purchase that your smoker can also grill.
How do I season a pellet smoker or grill?
An important step to take before you use your new wood pellet cooker for the first time is to season it.
This isn't a way to add salt or pepper to our grill, but instead to help protect it from the harmful effects of rust of high heat exposure.
The process isn't too dissimilar to seasoning any kind of grill, and you can find our full guide to smoker seasoning here.
What are the best pellets for smoking?
You can have the best pellet grill or smoker, but ultimately your choice of pellets will make or break your experience.
And getting this right will come down to how well you understand how the aromas and smoke flavor will work with your choice of meat.
Apple: Applewood helps to bring sweet flavors to the fore, so often go best with poultry or pork.
Cherry: It might not come as a surprise that cherry can be quite a strong flavor. I'd steer clear of using it with mild white meats, and instead use it with something more robust like beef ribs.
Hickory: If you're familiar with BBQ smoking with hickory then you'll know what a strong wood this is. Hickory's been a go-to wood choice for years, and it's no surprise why. It's a unique flavor that goes wonderfully with red meats, like brisket or tri-tip. It can even be blended with other woods like oak or apple to create a very nuanced barbecue flavor.
To find out more see our full buyer's guide on smoking pellets.