This definitive guide to the best pellet smokers and grills of 2021 explores everything you need to know to find a pellet grill best suited to your needs, including features to look for, materials and price.
- Best Pellet Smoker (Overall): Traeger 575 ($799)
- Best Cheap Pellet Smoker: Camp Chef SmokePro DLX ($650)
- Best Portable Pellet Smoker: Traeger Ranger ($399)
- Pit Boss Sportsman 820 ($800)
- ZGrills 1000E ($599)
- Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone ($499)
- Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone Prime ($799)
- Rec-Tec 590 ($899)
- Weber SmokeFire ($1,199)
Pellet grills are no longer just for nerds. Invented in the ’80s by the folks who would eventually found Traeger, which remains one of the most popular brands in the category, they work by pushing tiny pieces of compressed would from a hopper and into a firebox under a tray, which is fixed under the grates. Most have onboard computers and fans that regulate temperature, even feeding cooking and temperature data to smartphone apps. It is the only category in grilling to wholeheartedly embrace such technology into even its entry-level products, technology that has made the category as a whole the easiest, most relaxed path to properly smoked meat there is. But as pellet grilling has become more popular, so have the grills that make it happen. From great value to just plain great, these are the best pellet grills and smokers you can buy.
Pros & Cons of Pellet Grilling
Pro: Ease of Use
More so than any other king of grill, pellet grills strive to eliminate barrier to entry. While revered for high temperature cooking and its more primal roots, charcoal is especially tricky for new grillers to get a handle on. Gas grilling is quite easy comparatively, but gas grills with the firepower to sear meat quickly are pricier than you'd expect. A decent pellet grill is reasonably priced (about $600) and grants even the most novice cooks the ability to turn out really well-smoked grub.
Pro: Smoking, Simplified
Traditional wood and charcoal smoking is challenging. You've got 6 to 12 hours to maintain a steady temperature, keep the coalbed happy, monitor internal temperatures and probably entertain guests to boot. Pellet grilling frontloads the work on your end: fill hopper with wood pellets, preheat the grill, put the food on and you're done. There's no tending to the fire or monitoring vents for heat flow; computers in the grill do all that for you.
Pro: Grilling from Your Sofa
Manufacturers have begun working smart technology into their latest grills, but pellet grills have had it for years now. Turn on the grill, select a cook cycle and get the interior pre-heated and smoky from bed. Once you're cooking, you can monitor the internal temperature of the butt you're roasting from your phone. More advanced pellet grills will even cut the temperature when you're closing in on that desired temperature.
Con: Not Really a Grill
As odd as it sounds, pellet grills are better described as pellet smokers. Most max out around 450 degrees, and they don't operate through direct heat like a gas or charcoal grill (though many gas grills today use small diffusers to balance heat distribution). We don't recommend pellet grills if you're interested in grilling steaks or other quick-cooking grilled foods for this reason.
Con: Technical Difficulties
It is a fact that pellet grills have more moving parts than gas or charcoal grills, and more moving parts means more opportunities for breakdowns. Buying a pellet smoker from a company that backs their products with strong warranties and a functional customer service team is of greater importance in this category of grills than any other.
The Short List
Best Overall Pellet Smoker
It’s uncommon that a category’s most popular product is genuinely the best choice for most folks. It’s easy-to-assemble, made of heavy-gauge steel, rarely encounters technical difficulties and operates with more precision than any pellet grill below $2,000. Plus, it’s more pellet fuel-efficient than its competitors and comes in comfortably under the $1,000 mark and is regularly on sale. Traeger’s 575 grill is the benchmark for the pellet grill category.
The 575 features 572 square inches of cooking space, which is enough for small groups and families. If you're planning to entertain, we recommend buying up to the Traeger 780 which boasts 200 square inches more of grill real estate, which is enough to accommodate larger groups without much issue.
Best Cheap Pellet Smoker
A healthy balance of technology, quality materials and clever design. In line with most quality pellet grills, Camp Chef’s SmokePro operates between 160 and 500 degrees — hot enough to smoke and grill anything other than (maybe) steak. Three quality of life improvements that come standard with the grill: a computer control screen you can actually read, a pellet hopper with a window built-in to see how much fuel is in the grill and a stupid-simple ash cleaning system, which amounts to pulling a small cup away from a trapdoor on the underside of the grill. Unlike other grills in the price range, Camp Chef pellet grills go on sale fairly regularly, too. The SmokePro covers the pellet smoking bases effectively and is backed by a legitimate company in Camp Chef, which is more than most budget-focused pellet grills can claim. We like it for the price and then some.
Best Portable Pellet Smoker
Small enough to fold up and throw in the backseat and powerful enough for a 12-hour brisket smoke. Traeger’s Ranger impressed when we reviewed it at launch in 2018, and it remains the standard bearer for portable pellet grilling. The drip tray and porcelain-coated grates are easy to clean, too. One thing to note: it’s small and portable, but not so small and portable to take much further than a car camping trip. It’s still 60 pounds of metal.
Looking for more pellet grills and smokers? Scroll passed this section.
What is a pellet smoker (or grill)?
A pellet smoker is a grill-smoker that is fueled by tiny pellets of compressed wood. Generally, most pellet smokers operate between 150 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit, and as such are better used for low-and-slow barbecuing and grilled foods that aren't as reliant on developing a fast sear (e.g. they grill chicken effectively, but are not as proficient grilling steak). Pellet smokers are powered by electricity and much be placed near an outlet (or a generator, if off-grid).
They're known as both pellet grills and pellet smokers; for the most part, the words are interchangeable, the only exception being pellet-fueled cabinet smokers and whatnot.
How does a pellet smoker work?
Load a pellet grill's hopper with pellets (most brands claim you need to use their brand-specific pellets, but this is usually not true), calibrate the onboard computer to your desired temperature and walk away for 15 or so minutes. The grill's computer ignites the firepot at the center of the grill, and begins turning an auger which feeds pellets into it to generate heat and smoke. This process is typically helped along and regulated by a series of interior fans and temperature monitors. For the most part, fire pots are not directly exposed to the grill grates; they're usually separated by an angled steel plate, which catches dripping grease and feeds it away from the fire pot and into a catch. This means the majority of pellet grills cook with indirect heat, which is why temperatures are lower than their gas and charcoal counterparts.
Are pellet smokers worth it?
In truth, pellet smoker-grills are flawed but still valuable, depending on what kind of cook you are. If you want to grill the perfect steak, pork chop or carne asada, consider a charcoal or gas grill. If you're interested in smoky ribs, pulled pork, burnt ends, chicken, turkey and really any other meat (or hardier veggies), pellet grills are worth the money, as they effectively eliminate the learning barbequing learning curve associated with manual smokers and smoking on a charcoal grill. The convenience of Wi-Fi controls, which is present in many mid-market pellet grills, accentuates this.
Pit Boss Sportsman 820
Likely the most popular budget-minded pellet grill maker, Pit Boss consistently offers grills with the space and looks of more premium pellet grills for a couple hundred dollars less. So if this medium-sized back porch pellet grill doesn't suit your needs it's wise to browse the company's many other options in the pellet space.
We recommend the Sportsman 820 because it fulfills its base functions — grilling and smoking — extremely well for the price and size, and comes with a 5-year parts warranty that covers electrical components, ceramic parts, steel parts, wood parts and even the caster rollerblade-style wheels (which we liked). This level of warranty is usually reserved for more expensive grills, or differs from part-to-part. Electrical issues are fairly common in the pellet grilling world, so 5 years of coverage on issues related to the motor or onboard computer is a strong selling point. This specific Pit Boss model does not come with Wi-Fi control, though, so if you're set on managing your pellet grill from your phone or another controller, consider Pit Boss's Pro line, sold exclusively at Lowe's.
Lastly, the number of additional accessories and add-ons available to the Pit Boss customer is a plus, albeit a smaller one. Accessories like a stainless steel wing-smoking rack, sausage hooks and other odds and ends more easily fit the grill to the griller.
A pellet grill that does most things well. ZGrills' 1000E runs in the typical pellet grill range ( 150 to 450 or so) and manages to fit a lot of cooking space into a relatively small grill. Its primary cooking area is only 431 square inches, but there's also two more racks above it that see the grill's total cooking area nearly triple that figure (1060 square inches). The short of it: it's a rib-smoking machine. The space between each rack may not accommodate larger cuts of meat unless you remove one of them, but it can feasibly handle 7 to 8 racks of ribs. It's also got an extra-deep hopper that holds 20 pound of pellets, which means you spend less time checking on fuel level and more time perfecting your barbeque sauce.
Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone
Straight up, shopping for a “cheap” pellet grill isn’t wise. All the grill’s features are flaws when executed poorly or cheaply. Technology, moving parts and Wi-Fi connectivity create more avenues for problems to occur than any other kind of grill. That said, Green Mountain Grill’s Daniel Boone line — specifically the “Choice” line — offers a lifeline. For $500 retail, you get a sturdy grill good guts, but no Wi-Fi, which, in this case, is a good thing. The more flashy features, the more potential problems. It’s still run by an onboard computer and it still holds steady temperatures, you just have less to worry about breaking down mid-smoke. As with most pellet grills, the temperature range is 150 to 500, which is plenty of juice for a long smoke but not quite hot enough to sear a steak properly.
Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone Prime Plus
The upgraded version of the standard Daniel Boone comes with Wi-Fi controls, which takes the pellet grill from a slightly hands-off grilling experience to a completely hands-off grilling experience. The Prime Plus also comes with handy quality of life improvements like a built-in rotisserie, collapsible front shelf and the perhaps the best sleeper grill feature there is: an under-hood light. Its motor and pellet-efficiency is better, too. If you're struggling to decide between the two, consider how often you might expect to use the grill. If the answer is less than once every other week, the more affordable option should do the trick. More than that, though, the convenience and options presented by the Prime Plus make the few hundred dollar price hike worth it.
If you want value in build quality, this is it. Rectec is a direct-to-consumer pellet company that makes its grills for the long haul. Where many companies might throw some chintzy plastic wheels to save a few bucks, Recteq's are literally for rollerblading. All of the component parts — from the vents to the handles — are stainless steel. It also boasts an absolutely massive (for the grill's size, at least) 30-pound pellet hopper, which supports more 30 hours of consecutive smoking. Perhaps the biggest selling point, though, is its 4-year warranty, which covers every component in the grill. This is especially uncommon in the pellet grilling space, where the reliance moving parts and electronics makes the grills less reliable over time.
In 2020, the king of American grilling got into pellet grills for the first time, and after a somewhat unstable launch, it’s begun to come into its own. Along with plenty of Weber standards — sturdy materials, simple assembly, solid warranties, etc. — it also has a superpower almost no other pellet grill has: searing power. Unlike those pellet grills that place a drip tray under the grates that blocks direct heat, the SmokeFire employs the same upside-down, V-shaped heat diffusers its gas grills do, which allows for the heat source to interact more directly with the meat. In practice, it gets about 150 to 200 degrees hotter than 95 percent of other pellet grills.