To smoke, or not to smoke? That used to be the question. Build a heat source (above or below ground) using whatever raw materials can be sourced from nearby (usually chopped wood), then cook food over the heat nestled in tendrils of smoke, long and slow.
Today the question has become more complex. What’s your grill situation: gas, charcoal, offset, electric, or pellet? What about your tools? If you’re using pellets, what kind: pecan, cherry, apple, maple, hickory?
It may seem that simplicity has been forsaken in the modern quest for endless options and versatility. But all is not lost.
Pellet smokers offer a balance between modern convenience and amenities, and the unbeatable flavors inherent in traditional wood smoking. They produce less “dirty” smoke than charcoal and are more efficient than propane. They run on electricity, but unlike electric smokers, the heat source comes from the wood pellets, not the electric element.
Combustion does not typically occur when using an electric smoker, but combustion is where the smoking magic happens. It’s where the smoke develops its own flavor and in turn imparts its flavor to the food.
7 Best Pellet Smokers
- Best Overall: MAK Grills’ Two-Star General
- Runner-Up: Memphis Pro – 304
- Best Mid-Range: Yoder Smokers’ YS640S Pellet Grill
- Best Mid-Range (Runner-Up): Fast Eddy’s PG500 Pellet Grill
- Best Budget: Camp Chef SmokePro DLX 24
- Best Budget (Runner-Up): Green Mountain Grills’ Davy Crockett
- Best Bestseller: Traeger Pro 575
Best Overall: MAK Grills’ Two-Star General
- Price: $$$
- Grilling surface: 429 square inches
- Temperature range: 170°F to 600°F
- The high points: Very versatile – great for both smoking and grilling. High quality craftsmanship.
- The not-so: On the expensive side. WiFi connection costs extra, is difficult to set up, and is not intuitive.
This general earns its second star. It is consistently a favorite among grillers who are serious about smoking, but don’t want to compromise on grilling features, making it an excellent go-to backyard powerhouse.
Well-rounded – but with clean edges – the Two-Star General is built to last. Its stainless steel components (including substantial steel grates) are hand-assembled at the family-owned MAK headquarters in Oregon.
There are several heat & temperature control features that will help you achieve those coveted smoke rings if you so desire. The FlashFire igniter activates a high heat (2000°F) in the main firebox within seconds. The Pellet Boss computerized controller lets you set and forget using MAK’s (or your own) favorite pre-programmed settings that determine how many pellets to feed through and how much air to circulate.
You want more control? Meat-probes, roaming thermocouple monitors, a heat deflector plate, and rear louvered vents are your magician’s assistants and will get you as close to smoky magic perfection this side of the winner’s circle.
There’s also a very handy Warmer/Smoker Box which is kept around 100°F cooler than the main firebox – perfect for when that side dish is finished its cook before the main.
And finally, we can’t forget yet another MAK-patented, pyro-friendly feature sure to sound impressive when you string them all together – “oh let me just use the FlashFire here to light up my FlameZone and then I’ll let my Pellet Bossâ do its thing.”
The FlameZone is a funnel shaped insert located above the burn pot. It diverts heat up towards the grill surface, allowing for a high-heat direct sear. While pellet smokers in general are not known for grilling, this is a concerted effort by MAK in that direction to give you more versatility.
What reviewers say?
The consensus on the Two-Star General is that it is a coveted, top of the line pellet grill that is excellent for smoking and is very well-thought out in terms of its design. Although earlier iterations of the FlameZone were not producing the direct flame sought by grillers, it is agreed that the latest update to this component achieves superior grilling results compared to most other pellet grills on the market.
One reviewer notes that some may find the smoking results a little too subtle if they are used to pit smoking flavors. To increase the smoke output, they suggest placing a small log on top of the burn pot.
A popular feature on pellet grills these days is WiFi compatibility. The Two-Star does not come with WiFi pre-installed – you have to order a microchip separately and set it up yourself. This process can reportedly be a bit of a hassle. And to “talk” to your grill from your computer or device may not be as intuitive as it could be.
Features & Considerations
Every purchase of a Two-Star General comes with bottles of MAK sauce and rub, a bag of Bear Mountain pellets, 2 K-style meat probes, and the option to choose from a selection of upper grates (half, three-quarter, or full size). Optional add-ons include a Super Smoker Box (especially suited for cold smoking), a Two-Star Cabinet Door (to close off and protect the front of the grill), and a Two-Star General Front Shelf (for additional working and storage space).
Included is an eight-foot-long power cord so that you have options for showing your MAK off in the best possible backyard light. Clean-up can still be a hassle, but is made easier with a removeable stainless steel firepot and an interior ash clean-out cover.
Best Overall (Runner-Up): Memphis Pro – 304
- Price: $$$
- Grilling surface: 574 square inches (848 square inches with optional grates)
- Temperature range: 180°F to 650°F
- The high points: Stainless steel, built for durability and reliability. Great for both smoking and grilling.
- The not-so: One of the pricier options on the market.
Another great investment option if you want a pellet smoker that will see you through to days when you need your meat extra soft and tender to even bite through it. OK, that sounds sad but, in the meantime, there’s lots of fun to be had with the Memphis Pro.
This grill gets hot, up to 650°F (the Elite Model reaches 700°F) and it has direct and indirect flame “modes”. When you’re ready to grill, you simply replace the “Indirect Insert” (great for smoking, baking, and roasting) with the “Direct Flame Insert” (great for grilling) and turn the heat up. From there, you can select either a Low, Medium, or MAX Direct Flame Mode.
So, like the MAK, this is a very versatile smoker. And it too has some great “bonus” features like a second internal convection fan for heat distribution. It also has an 18 lb dual pellet hopper – allowing you to come up with that perfect “je ne sais quoi” blend of woody flavors.
Not just a smoker, not just a grill: the Memphis Pro also really touts its capacity for “true convection cooking”. Their high-end convection technology creates balanced heat circulation for your BBQ side-hustles: breads, pastries, and roasts with all the fixings.
The Memphis Pro is an awesome choice for those who know that they will be spending a lot of time perfecting their smoking and grilling methods. Although there are variations in their designs, both the MAK and the Memphis are very well-considered, well-built, and thoughtful pellet smokers. We give the MAK the edge in this “Best Overall” category, however, because it ultimately produces exactly what you want from a well-rounded smoker, but at a lower price point than the Memphis.
A caveat: the Memphis Pro’s WiFi set-up is more advanced and easier to set up than the Two-Star’s. So, if being able to control your smoke on-the-go is an important feature to you, then the Memphis might take the edge as your “Best” buy.
What reviewers say?
Some reviewers say that the Memphis Pro achieves the highest cooking performance compared to any of its competitors on the pellet grill scene, and they appreciate its high maximum temperatures and versatility. Overall it gets really excellent reviews and there is definitely a Memphis Grills fan club out there who truly appreciates the level of craftsmanship and customer care the company is known for.
Features & Considerations
For a larger grill surface (1274 square inches), larger hopper capacity (24 lbs), a higher maximum heat (700°F), consider the Pro’s more prestigious and expensive cousin, the Memphis Elite pellet grill. This hopper is one of the largest on the market, reportedly big enough to get you through a 60-hour cook. Probably best not to test that out.
Both the Pro and the Elite have optional built-in models, which really look quite beautiful if you’re going for that “made-for-me” customized feel. Just make sure that you install an on/off switch to make it easier to “unplug” the grill after use.
Best Mid-Range: Yoder Smokers’ YS640S Pellet Grill
- Price: $$
- Grilling surface: 1,070 square inches (including 2nd Level Slide-Out Shelf)
- Temperature range: 150°F to 700°F
- The high points: Hand-crafted attractive design. Large grill area. Direct heat grilling inserts.
- The not-so: Limited heat retention.
OK, this grill just looks good. And serious. A seriously good-looking pellet smoker.
Artisan-welded, Yoder Smokers are built using powder-coated 10-gauge steel for competition-level BBQ. In fact, the YS640S (and all of their grill and smoker models) have “Competition” counterparts that come with Yoder’s classic orange custom cart, loaded with prep shelves and increased maneuverability.
Even the regular models look almost too…smoky…for regular backyard cooking. Maybe if your backyard was in the Appalachian Mountains, the smoke rising from the grill mingling with the evening mist and signalling to the kids to return from squirrel hunting and wash up before dinner. But okay, I digress.
Truly, the YS640S is a great pick for the backyard. It is equipped with over 1,000 square inches of grilling space so you will have no problem feeding a crowd. Its ceramic ignition system uses induction heat to heat up the firebox twice as fast as conventional igniters.
To achieve a direct grill using the YS640S, you just need to replace the Variable Displacement Damper (the fancy Yoder term for the heat deflector plate aka heat diffuser aka damper) with a set of three preheated aluminum Grill Grates. For slightly less direct heat, you can keep the damper in place to concentrate heat on the left or right side of the grill, and then just position the Grill Grates over top. Either way, the 700°F (max temperature) flame does the rest.
And you can adjust that heat easily using Yoder’s Adaptive Control System (ACS). The ACS uses WiFi and Bluetooth technology to “nanny” your smoky children via the YS Drive App.
So, you notice on the app that your brisket is nearing its ideal internal temperature, but you’re still an hour from home. No problem, just use the app to instruct the ACS to hold to that temperature once reached and the cooking program will adjust. The Yoder includes two internal food probes to help ensure precision and the ACS’s microprocessor is sensitive enough to detect changes to heat (say, by opening the corker door) or pellet burn rates (because you switched up the type of pellet) and will then compensate for that change.
The only problem here is that it’s just become harder to take credit for ingeniously “saving” the brisket using your own well-honed BBQ instincts. It’s the technology trade-off.
What reviewers say?
There are mixed reviews regarding the YS640S’ heat retention with enough reviews describing it as “limited” to warrant mention here. Although very durable, the powder-coated exterior is vulnerable to scratching and rust. But overall this is a well-appreciated grill, with many enjoying the ACS features as well as the fact that it actually looks like a smoker compared to its competition.
Features & Considerations
There are lots of options for customization here. Yoder’s website lists a dozen potential add-ons, ranging from the Direct Grill Grates mentioned earlier to a three tier wire smoking rack to a thermal insulating jacket. You can even show off your grilling personality by giving Yoder a call and requesting your own custom cart color beyond the standard orange, silver or black options.
Yoder also manufactures the YS480S – basically a smaller version of the YS640S with 800 square grilling inches. And the YS1500S, which looks like a tiny locomotive train (but a big pellet smoker), comes in at 1500 square inches of grill surface area.
I’d be remiss to not mention the grease drain. No, not as sexy as all the fire-building and fire-control components integral to a well-designed pellet smoker. But still worthy of honourable mention here for its efforts in catching grease and other substances (tip: line it with foil to make clean-up even easier). Let’s just be honest about the sexiness of less clean-up once you’ve hit a certain…maturity level.
Best Mid-Range (Runner-Up): Fast Eddy’s (By Cookshack) PG500 Pellet Grill
- Price: $$
- Grilling surface: 784 square inches (including warming drawer?)
- Temperature range: 600°F max
- The high points: Charbroiler technology. Warming drawer well-suited to cold smoking.
- The not-so: Awkward front opening smoker doors (instead of flip-up lid). Limited insulation and ability to adjust heat while grilling.
The PG500 looks like it belongs in an industrial kitchen. It’s not here to win beauty contests, it’s here to smoke.
Cookshack collaborated with Grand Championship winning BBQer, Fast Eddy Maurin, to create their Fast Eddy series of grills. Another sturdy stainless-steel entry, the PG500 is also versatile and well-suited to various types of cooks.
There are four cooking zones: the primary grilling area (stainless steel with direct heat), the primary smoking area (nickel plated wire with indirect heat) and then two secondary zones located above the primary ones.
At the time, when this design was introduced with the PG1000 in 2010, it was quite innovative. However, over time other grills have surpassed Fast Eddy in allowing for more seamless functionality and adjustable heat and airflow controls.
But if sear marks are your thing, and you like to see actual flames licking your dinner, then this grill may be your match. The PG500 uses charbroiler technology to achieve more fire, and some would argue consequently more flavor. Just keep in mind: the more open flame here can also lead to more ash ending up in your food.
As with several other grills in this buying guide, this smoker comes equipped with a warming drawer. Besides the obvious function of keeping food warm while your grill or attention is otherwise occupied, warming drawers can, less intuitively, be used for a cold smoke.
Cold smoking requires a temperature of about 90°F. With the standard pellet grill design, you can’t maintain smoke exposure in the body of the grill while at anything less than the grill’s minimum heat temperature (often around the 160°F mark), unless you buy a special adaptive accessory to increase the smoke and decrease the heat. With PG500’s warming drawer, you can simply replace the drip pan with a tray full of ice.
Cold smoking can be used to impart unique smoky flavor to a variety of foods including meats, fish, cheeses, nuts, etc. But be careful especially when cold smoking meat – without heat to kill off harmful bacteria, you are at risk of listeria and botulism poisoning if there has been any contamination of your meat.
What reviewers say?
Are front opening smoker doors the gullwing doors of BBQ? Possibly not. Although they look kind of cool, reviewers find them kind of awkward to work with while cooking. One noted, however, that for grillers using a wheelchair, this could actually be a more accessible grill than others.
Other critiques include that the main body of the grill isn’t insulated and that it can be difficult to control and adjust the heat while grilling.
Fast Eddy fans, don’t despair. There is lots of positive feedback out there to counter these potential negatives. Reviewers agree that the PG500 produces very tasty smoked meat with a beautiful woodsy finish.
Features & Considerations
Fast Eddy’s pellet grill is equipped with a front-access ash drawer. You can already expect less ash using pellets compared to charcoal – you’ll likely end up with only 3% of your pellet input converted to ash output. But it’s still handy to have an ash drawer so that you can easily dispose of whatever ash you do generate.
Before you just throw your ash away, however, take heed of ways to re-use it. Wood pellet ash can be used as compost for your garden as it’s a good source of lime and potassium and other enriching minerals.
Best Budget: Camp Chef SmokePro DLX 24
- Price: $
- Grilling surface: 570 square inches
- Temperature range: 160°F to 500°F
- The high points: Great value. Thoughtful design with features to make prep and clean-up easier.
- The not-so: Less versatile – not set up for direct heat grilling.
This is an excellent and attractive pellet smoker for those who might not require an extensive grill area. Like the Yoder models, SmokePro grills look like classic smokers with their rounded cooking chambers, and Camp Chef has a great reputation for quality on the pellet grill scene.
The SmokePro DLX 24 nets you many of the same features as the top-end models, but at a much more affordable price point. The Gen 2 controller uses PID (which stands for Proportional-Integral-Derivative, if curious) technology to let you control the level of smoke. Just set your Smoke Number and that’s it.
If you want to add WiFi to the mix so you can wield that smoke power from the comfort of your smartphone, you can consider upgrading to the slightly more expensive SmokePro SG 24 WiFi. Really the results are the same with or without WiFi – it’s just a matter of convenience and maybe that “cool” factor inherent to the latest tech toys. Or wait, is “cool” the opposite: not following the fads and focusing on the basics? It’s so hard to keep up.
Back to the DLX 24. This smoker includes 2 meat probes, an ash cleanout system, a cord management system, and a grease management system. So many systems, but all designed to let you spend more time smoking and less time on the aftermath. The grill grates are non-stick porcelain – easier to clean.
This is not the grill to buy if you really want to, well, grill. It has a lower max temperature at 500°F, which can still get the job done, but overall it is not built to support direct heat cooking so much as indirect slow smokes.
What reviewers say?
Buyers of the DLX 24 enjoy the simple but thoughtful design of this grill. They concur that the smoke control system works well and is easy to use – usually getting their meats within 10 degrees of the desired temperature.
They appreciate the secondary steel side shelf for extra storage and prep space, as well as the magnetic latch on the hopper lid. Speaking of the hopper, the DLX 24’s hopper has a clear window allowing you to notice when your supply is dwindling. Which is especially handy because some reviewers note that the hopper starts to have issues feeding through pellets when it gets low.
Features & Considerations
The DLX 24 comes in black, bronze, or silver (stainless steel) variations. Its slightly smaller and less expensive cousin, the XT 24, is really very similar but with a little less height and missing the side shelf and pellet hopper cleanout/purge features.
As mentioned above, SmokePro’s SG 24 model is set up with WiFi compatibility, and for significantly more grill area you could upgrade further to the SGX 36 which has 1236 inches of total rack surface area.
And if you’d like to stick with Camp Chef but explore beyond their SmokePro models, there is the Woodwind series. These range from the Woodwind WiFi 20 (501 square inches of grill space) to the Woodwind WiFi 36 (1236 square inches). Some models are equipped with Sear Boxes (which uses propane and can get up to 900°F) or a Sidekick (a flat top griddle that also uses propane).
The Woodwind series offers more versatility and customization than the SmokePro, but of course that means it doesn’t quite fit into the Budget category of pellet grill options.
Best Budget (Runner-Up): Green Mountain Grills’ Davy Crockett
- Price: $
- Grilling surface: 219 square inches
- Temperature range: 150°F to 550°F
- The high points: Portable. Electric outlet adaptors included.
- The not-so: Design quirks and minor malfunctions.
Picture being surrounded by a grove of tall majestic pine trees. You’re in the wilderness, attuning to the flows and cycles of nature. You fire up your smoker. The aromas wafting out are woodsy and earthy – you are one with the forest and with the circle of life.
OK, or maybe you are tailgating with friends and beer in a stadium parking lot. But either way. Sometimes the moment calls for a smoked meal, and that moment doesn’t always occur at home.
Green Mountain’s Davy Crockett grill is perfect for on-the-road cookouts. It is affordable and well-designed. At 219 square inches, it is definitely the smallest grill in this guide, but it’s still plenty big enough to cook for your family or a small party.
The Davy Crockett weighs 57 pounds – 68 when the 9-pound pellet hopper is full. It’s best to have a buddy to help move it around. Its legs fold up so that you can transport it easily, and you can position the legs to perfectly perch atop your literal tailgate. It comes with a meat probe, a heat monitoring system, and a tray with hooks for your tools.
Best of all, it has a WiFi thermostatic controller, so if you get summoned elsewhere – maybe to watch the sun set over the lake – or to discuss that crazy referee call – you’re only a quick glance at your phone away from ensuring that all is well with dinner.
What reviewers say?
Overall, for the price and the portability feature, this is a great well-rounded little grill. Even if you’re staying put, it can serve as a nice beginner grill for those who just want to dip their toes into the pellet smoking world.
However, reviewers do have a few critiques, including uneven temperatures across the grill surface, an observation that smoke sometimes reverses into the pellet hopper (avoidable if you leave the chimney damper open wide), and unclear assembly instructions.
Also, some customers report issues with the pellet feed – occasionally, especially when running low, the hopper ceases to feed the pellets through to the auger. This can be addressed by keeping the hopper on the full side, but it’s a little annoying, especially if you’re off watching that sunset when it happens.
If you can accept some design quirks and flaws, the Davy Crockett still delivers where it counts.
Features & Considerations
The grill is sold with a very cute little drip bucket, but the grease tray add-on is sold separately. Check out Green Mountain’s other fun accessories, like the wood-fired pizza attachment or rotisserie kit, to expand the range of your smoker.
Of course, if using while camping or on the road, just make sure you have an electricity hook-up – the Davy Crockett runs on 12V or 120AC. It is sold with adaptors so that you can connect to outlets like a car battery or cigarette lighter.
Best Bestseller: Traeger Pro 575
- Price: $$
- Grilling surface: 575 square inches
- Temperature range: 500°F max
- The high points: Intuitive WiFi controller system. Efficient and smart design.
- The not-so: No support features for direct heat grilling.
Trager Grills boasts a large following and well-earned respect due to over 30 years as a leader in the pellet grill industry. In the 1970’s, the oil crisis in America led to exploration of alternative heat sources. The Traeger family owned a heating company in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and in 1982 Joe Traeger developed one of the first pellet stoves which became widespread throughout the Northern states.
The story goes that on July 4th, 1985, Joe was BBQing some chicken, left the grill for a few moments, and returned to his chicken up in flames. He resolved to design a grill that used wood pellets and in 1985 he manufactured the “Original Wood-Fired Grill”.
Today, Traeger is Utah-based and claims that their Pro 575 model is the best-selling pellet grill in the world. Sometimes it’s easiest to just follow the crowd. And sometimes, as in the case of this high-quality smoker, following the crowd cas also be an exercise in using good judgement.
Listed at $800 on Traeger’s website, the Pro 575 doesn’t quite qualify as “budget”, but is more affordable than most mid-range options. It uses Traeger’s WiFIRE® PID controller system to monitor your cook and adjust fan and augur speeds accordingly to get the best results. The WiFIRE® app comes pre-loaded with pellet recipes to browse – over 1,600 of them – so there is no need for those last-minute Google recipe searches.
The grill grates are coated in porcelain which helps prevent sticky “cling-ons” while cooking. There is 570 square inches of grill surface area, which may not seem like a lot compared to some other options, but keep in mind that’s large enough to grill 24 burgers, 5 racks of ribs, or 4 whole chickens.
Other features include a brushless DC motor which has fewer mechanical parts, and so the augur is both more efficient and more robust. The DC motor also works together with the PID controller to produce a speedy ignition system and consistent heat distribution.
What reviewers say?
The peanut gallery praises the ease-of-use and versatility of the Pro 575, claiming that it produces amazing food in the smoking, slow cooking, baking, roasting, and braising categories.
Although some insist that it also is a great option for grilling, keep in mind that it does not have the high max temperatures or direct grilling insert features gracing some of the other grills in this guide. This may not be an issue, depending on what you’re cooking – and what your sear standards are – but look elsewhere if an efficiently well-seared ribeye steak is your main priority.
Features & Considerations
Although the Pro 575 excels at the basics, if you’re looking for more accessories and features, check out Traeger’s Ironwood or Timberline models. They are equipped with modes and systems galore: the Downdraft Exhaust system, the Super Smoke mode, the Keep Warm mode, the Tru Convection system, and more.
On the other end of the fancy “doodads” spectrum, consider Traeger’s Ranger, Tailgater, or Scout grills. Very basic but very portable.
If you want more grilling area, the Pro 780 has 780 square inches worth. Both the 575 and 780 come in your choice of black or bronze. Optional add-ons include a grill cover, front folding shelf, pellet sensor, and more. If you’re a one-stop shopper, you can also source your wood pellets, BBQ tools, sauces, and rubs directly from Traeger.
The Complete Pellet Smoker Buying Guide
- Pellet Smoker Basics
- What to Look for in a Pellet Smoker
- Our Selection Criteria
- Frequently Asked Question
Pellet Smoker Basics
Some people claim that managing combustion is the real key to producing desired smoking outcomes, but others maintain that the flavor of the pellets themselves play an important part. Pellets are basically little cylinders made of compressed sawdust. A scoop of it looks like chicken feed or too-healthy cereal.
The pellets are stored in a container called the hopper. A revolving auger (sort of like a long screw or drill), powered by a motor, feeds the pellets into the firebox at varying speeds. A heated metal rod in the firebox causes the pellets to combust. Airflow over the pellets is regulated using a combustion fan to help create a consistent heat and smoke in the vented firebox.
Built-in thermometers and smoke control systems (sometimes enhanced with WiFi connectivity) allow you to set the desired temperature on your pellet smoker and walk away. The electricity controlling the augur and the air vents, combined with the more primitive science of pure combustion, does the rest.
The best of worlds old and new, the pellet smoker is perfect for someone who wants to venture deeper into the land of BBQ and smoking, without getting too caught up in the details. But every venturing requires a map…
Let this product guide serve as your map for getting to know the best pellet grills (and manufacturers) on the market. A few things to note:
- Pellet smoker and pellet grill will be used interchangeably throughout this guide. The more commonly used term is pellet grill which is a bit of a misnomer because its main function is to smoke (grilling is a common but typically secondary purpose).
- Price ranges are indicated using the following symbols:
- $ for under $750 (Budget)
- $$ for $750 to $2000 (Mid-Range)
- $$$ for $2000+ (High-End)
What to Look for in a Pellet Smoker
Smoking is more accessible than ever, with lots of great pellet grill options right at your fingertips (specifically the finger that you use on your mousepad, the one that selects “Confirm Purchase”).
If you’re new to smoking, don’t shy away from the budget options because you think you need something more hardcore. There are some excellent smokers around the $500 mark that come with automated temperature control settings. And ultimately, they produce delicious smoky results, which is the part that your friends and family will remember and keep coming back for.
The more expensive pellet grills are often hand-crafted using superior and durable steel, equipped with additional storage and prep areas, enhanced with WiFi controls and other features to help perfectly monitor and control smoke output.
They are also known for their versatility in terms of smoking and grilling. If this is going to be your primary, all-purpose grill, seek out pellet grills with higher max temperatures of 600°F+ and special features or inserts to enable direct heat grilling, like MAK’s Two-Star General.
Here are some questions to keep in mind when considering which pellet smoker is right for you:
- Is this your primary backyard cooker?
- Is your goal primarily to smoke, or do you want something with versatility?
- What’s your budget? $500-$1000? $1000-2,500? $2,500+?
- Is portability important?
- Do you want a grill that will last for 10 years or more? Or are you open to spending less and upgrading in the not-too-distant future?
- How many people are you smoking or grilling for, most often?
And here are some features to look for:
- Built-in automated temperature control settings
- WiFi compatibility so that you can make adjustments remotely
- Direct heat grill plates
- Warming drawer for extra storage space and cold smoke option
- At least one meat probe
- Hopper capacity (ideally at least 18 lbs)
- Built-in features to help with clean-up (ash drawers, grease pans, etc.)
- Warranty (ideally at least 3 years)
Of course, there are many more accessories and functionalities, some referenced throughout this guide, that might make one smoker perfect for you but not for someone else. It might be helpful if you start by looking up one of the more high-end models like the Memphis Pro, see what it comes equipped with, and then determine if any of those are actual “must-haves” for you, or not.
Selection Criteria: How We Ranked the Best Pellet Smokers
To determine our recommendations for the best pellet smokers on the market, we especially considered the question of value. Value is subjective. It does not always mean the biggest bang for your buck, because other questions like, how long do you want the ‘bang’ to last, also need to be factored in.
Thus, our Best Overall picks are on the pricier side relative to other options, but that’s because they are investment grills. You might not need to ever buy another pellet smoker (or grill) again if you buy a Two-Star General or Memphis Pro, and maintain it.
Our Best Mid-Range options are classic in-betweeners. The Yoder and Fast Eddy’s PG500 may have slightly fewer rave reviews and fancy features than the Best Overalls, but they are still superb high-quality grills, built to last.
Finally, the Camp Chef SmokePro and the Traeger Pro 575. Both under $1000 but still with high attention to detail on all the basics that really matter. However, they’re a little less versatile than some of the higher-priced models.
So, besides value, which really informs everything, here’s a breakdown of other criteria we used to help inform this guide:
- Manufacturer’s reputation
- Construction materials used & durability
- Versatility – good for direct heat grilling, too?
- Smoky flavor results
- Ease of use
- Grill surface area(s)
- Temperature range
- Smoke and temperature control settings
- Wood pellet & augur efficiency
- WiFi app monitoring
- Built-in extra features, or available as add-ons/upgrades?
- Customer reviews
- Industry reviews
There’s a lot of information out there and we encourage you to do your research. But hopefully this guide has helped provide an overview of some of the best pellet grills (and pellet grill brand names) available today.
We trust that these picks won’t lead you astray, and in fact will land you in smoky Heaven (you thought just that Other Place was known for its smoke and flame?).
Frequently Asked Questions
- How are wood pellets different than wood chips?
- How do I choose the best pellets?
- What are the best meats and temperatures for hot and cold smoking?
- What other foods can I cook using a pellet grill?
How are wood pellets different than wood chips?
Pellets are made from drying various types of wood and then grinding that dried wood into sawdust. The sawdust is then pressurized and formed into compressed pellets.
While wood chips and chunks are less processed and therefore more rustic, pellets burn more slowly and impart a deeper smoky woody flavor to food. They can also burn at higher temperatures than wood chips. Overall, they’re a more efficient and versatile fuel source for smoking.
However, you can still go through a lot of pellets pretty quickly when you’re cooking at higher temperatures and that augur is a-whirring – about a half a pound (when smoking) to 3 pounds per hour. Pellets are a little trickier than other fuel types to source, so make sure you’re stocking up every time you renew your supply.
How do I choose the best pellets?
It’s time to let all that pent-up woodsy flavor creativity loose. Here are the most popular wood pellet flavors, and suggestions for which foods will best accentuate their characteristics:
|Flavor Profile||Mild, versatile||Light, fruity||Flavorful, hearty||Classic BBQ, strong||Mild, sweet||Classic Texas BBQ, smoky||Well-balanced intensity||Nutty, spicy|
|Best For||Chicken, Fish, Baked Goods||Pulled Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Salmon, Turkey||Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Chicken, Salmon, Turkey||Burgers, Sausage, Brisket, Veggies, Steaks||Pork Ribs, Pulled Pork, Turkey||Burgers, Sausage, Pork Ribs, Brisket, Veggies, Steaks||Fish, Veggies, Kebabs||Burgers, Sausage, Pulled Pork, Chicken, Steaks, Pizzas|
Traeger sells each of these 8 distinct pellet flavors, plus 6 different blends. Walnut is another nice option for red meat and game.
But part of the fun is to experiment and create your own signature blend. Just consider which wood works best for which food type, and as long as you pair it with another wood that suits that food type, you should be good to go. Or make your own rules, that’s fine too!
Other things to look for when selecting your pellets:
- Food-grade for Barbecue Smoking (vs. heating pellets)
- Real 100% wood
- No bark
- Clean burn, low ash, thin blue smoke
- Low ash conversion
- High flavor ratio
Besides Traeger, some other high-quality pellet brands are Cookin’ Pellets, BBQr’s Delight, Pit Boss, Bear Mountain, Louisiana Grills, and Lumber Jack.
A final tip: do not soak your pellets before throwing them into the hopper, or they will disintegrate.
What are the best meats and temperatures for hot and cold smoking?
A perfect smoke is best achieved within a temperature range of 126°F to 176°F. If you’re over 185°F, you risk shrinking and shrivelled meat. The best meats for hot smoking tend to be on the larger side – think hams, ribs, chuck roasts, turkeys, pork shoulder, porterhouse and briskets.
Cold smoking is usually done between 68°F and 86°F. Usually the meat is cured first to remove some of its moisture. Popular protein options for cold-smoking include ham, bacon, sausages and salmon.
What other foods can I cook using a pellet grill?
It’s time to up your game, carnivores. BBQ-ing is no longer an excuse to exclusively indulge your caveperson instincts.
Pellet grills are particularly versatile for creating backyard smorgasbords to please every palate, especially when you take advantage of their ability to not just smoke, not just grill, but also bake, roast, and braise.
Hearty vegetables like corn, cabbage, asparagus, cauliflower, peppers, and artichoke pick up smoky flavors well. For a great snack, season some cooked chickpeas or nuts with paprika and cayenne pepper, throw them on a parchment lined sheet pan, and heat in your smoker at 250°F for around 20 minutes (or more for increased chickpea crispiness).
Do not forget about the cheese. You’ll need to cold smoke for around 4 hours. Any cheese can be smoked, but popular picks are mozzarella, cheddar, gouda, and brie.
Finally (except not really), consider baked sweet treats. Your pellet smoker can be used to bake pies, cobblers, apple crisps and more. It’ll give that smoky depth to your desserts that you never knew was missing. Traeger’s Smoked Roasted Apple Pie is ready after about an hour on the grill at 500°F.