If you’ve been looking into all the different barbecue grills available these days, you’ve probably wondered if pellet grills are worth the money.
To determine whether or not pellet grills are worth it, we need to compare the pros and cons of pellet grills compared to other types of grills such as charcoal grills, gas grills, and stick/charcoal smokers.
Ultimately, it will come down to personal preference but here are a few good reasons why pellet grills are worth the money.
A pellet grill is worth the money if you plan on smoking food since most other grills cannot smoke food easily. Pellet grills are convenient and versatile types of grills that can not only smoke a brisket, but also sear a steak, and even grill a burger.
Although pellet grills are versatile cooking machines, it is worth comparing the pros and cons to other common barbecue methods so you can determine if a pellet grill is right for you.
Personally, I think a pellet grill should be a part of every BBQ enthusiast’s collection since I have now been able to cold smoke cheese, smoke briskets, and even bake a pizza. No other BBQ cooking method or device is as versatile as a pellet grill.
In this guide we will compare charcoal, propane, and charcoal/stick smokers against pellet grills against the following categories:
- Maintaining Temperature
- If one side cooks faster (need to flip)
- Cleaning and Maintenance
Before we start comparing pellet grills to other grilling methods, let’s cover what a pellet grill is and how they work.
How Pellet Grills Work
A pellet grill is simply a grill that uses wood pellets as fuel for a fire. The firepot is where the wood pellets burn and smolder which creates the heat and smoke needed to cook and smoke food.
Below is an image that highlights the main internal parts of a pellet grill and the purpose of each part.
Once the pellet grill creates smoke and heat from the burning wood pellets, the induction fan blows the smoke upwards to cook and smoke the food.
The best part of a pellet grill is that the temperature can be set by the controller so that the grill will maintain 225°F for multiple hours. All the pellet grill needs are wood pellets and electricity and it can smoke for hours on end.
The simplicity and ease of use of pellet grills are hard to beat when comparing them against different grills.
Charcoal vs Pellet Grill
A charcoal grill is one of the most common and simplistic forms of grilling. Usually, charcoal grills are just metal containers that hold hot charcoals that cook the food on the grill above.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoy the flavor of charcoal grilled food compared to almost anything else but charcoal grills do come with certain challenges.
First maintaining a specific temperature on a charcoal grill can be difficult. Some pitmasters even call maintaining a specific cooking temperature an art since it requires so much time, skill, and effort.
If you want to smoke or cook a brisket on a charcoal grill at 225°F for 12 hours then the fire must be maintained by someone the entire time. Not to mention wood chips need to be strategically added to the charcoal fire so that they smolder and don’t burn to add that smoky flavor.
There are new grills that will automatically feed charcoal into the fire, which uses a similar technology as a pellet grill to maintain a cooking temperature. However, these charcoal grills are expensive and still have other pitfalls and challenges of cooking on a charcoal grill.
Pellet grills simply require wood pellets, electricity, and you’re all set to cook food for however long at whichever temperature you set. The temperature controller provides the ability to set a specific cooking temperature while the pellet grills do all the hard work to maintain the temp.
One Side Cooks Faster
The biggest challenge with charcoal grills is that usually one side of the food cooks faster than the other. So that means the food needs to be flipped or moved around the grill.
Smoking food on a charcoal or pellet grill will not require food to be flipped since the food will be cooked by indirect heat but we’ll get into that later.
Although charcoal grills are known for grilling food at high temperatures, trying to slow-cook food on a charcoal grill can be a challenge since maintaining a specific low temperature requires constant maintenance.
Pellet grills can maintain a cooking temperature with no effort as long as the grill has electricity and wood pellets. This allows the food to cook from all sides at the low temperature you set.
Some pellet grills have a direct heat feature which allows for the food to be cooked directly over the firepot which can usually reach around 500°F to 750°F.
So if direct grilling is important to you then there is a pellet grill on the market that can still handle high-temperature grilling and searing.
Charcoal vs Pellet Grill Flavor
Although pellet grills are known for smoking food and creating juicy, fall-off-the-bone meat. Pellet grills can also grill and sear food at high temperatures.
Moreover, there are different flavors for wood pellets such as mesquite, cherry, and even charcoal so that almost any flavor can be achieved on a pellet grill.
Although charcoal grills create a special flavor that is hard to replicate, pellet grills have such a wide variety of flavors that it’s hard to pass up.
Not to mention there’s a wide variety of wood flavors from sweet cherry to smoky mesquite that you can grill or smoke anything on a pellet grill. See this guide for more info on the best wood for smoking.
The one drawback to pellet grills is the power source. Pellet grills need electricity in order to work.
So pellet grills are not very portable unless you have a generator or external electrical power source.
On the other hand, charcoal grills are extremely portable since you can even start a charcoal fire next to a river with some rocks as a “grill.”
That being said, most pellet grill owners use their pellet grills at home or when tailgating so the power source usually isn’t that big of an issue.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Pellet grills are surprisingly easy to maintain.
Generally, pellet grills just need to have their firepot cleaned of ash after every 2 to 3 sessions and the hopper filled with wood pellets. Otherwise, pellet grills are reliable cooking machines that keep on cooking.
Charcoal grills are very reliable since you just need charcoal to start a fire. However, cleaning a charcoal grill can be a pain since that ash tends to get everywhere unless you dump it into a trash can or your garden.
Some charcoal grills have a removable ashtray which makes cleaning a charcoal grill a breeze.
Overall, both the pellet grill and charcoal grill are easy to clean and maintain.
Charcoal vs Pellet Grill Price
The major difference between a pellet grill and a charcoal grill will be seen in the price.
Charcoal grills can be purchased for as little as $20. Most stand-up charcoal grills cost anywhere from $100 to hundreds or even thousands when looking at larger built-in grills.
Generally, charcoal grills are an affordable way to get into BBQ with a simple grill.
Pellet grills can be as cheap as $100. However, most pellet grills that come with the features you likely want will cost anywhere from $300 to $700. In fact, here’s a guide on the best pellet grills under $700 to help you find the perfect one for you.
Pellet grills can also get incredibly expensive as some cost thousands but normally these are competition smokers or grills that have unique features that most folks do not need.
Depending on your budget, pellet grills may be a bit pricey but are a great investment if you plan on cooking or smoking food fairly often.
Propane vs Pellet Grill
Now let’s compare the pros and cons of propane versus pellet grills.
A propane grill is one of the most common and convenient forms of grilling. Usually, propane grills are in the backyard with a large propane tank that fuels the fire to the grill.
Although convenient, propane grills typically lack a lot of the unique flavor that barbeque and grilling have to offer.
However, starting and heating up a propane grill is one of the most beginner-friendly ways to get into BBQ.
Propane grills are great for setting and maintaining a specific temperature. Given that the temperature controls usually control the flow of gas to the burners, maintaining a temperature is easy on propane grills.
Pellet grills are equally easy to set and maintain temperatures since you just use a temperature dial to set the temp and wait until the grill heats up. Generally, pellet grills take around 10 minutes to preheat thoroughly.
So both propane and pellet grills are easy and beginner-friendly when it comes to maintaining a cooking temperature.
One Side Cooks Faster
Propane grills also suffer the challenge of having one side cooking faster than the other. Propane grills use direct heat in order to cook the food.
The heat from a propane grill is created by an open flame. The open flame is what can cook and even sear one side of the food faster than the other.
On the other hand, pellet grills cook food through indirect heat by blowing heat and smoke around the food. Similar to a convection oven, the air inside the pellet grill is what cooks the food instead of the direct heat.
Food inside of a pellet grill does not need to be flipped since it all cooks at the same rate.
The only time food on a pellet grill needs to be flipped is when a direct flame or sear feature is turned on.
Propane vs Pellet Grill Flavor
Personally, propane grills have the least flavor when it comes to BBQ or grilling food.
Although propane grills are the most convenient and easy to get going, the cost is that there is no wood or charcoal flavor added to the food.
Pellet grills add a ton of complex smoky flavor depending on which type of wood pellets are used. Smoking food for hours using wood pellets will not only create a smoke ring, but also an incredible taste and texture to the food after it is done smoking.
Pellet grills produce a superior flavor compared to propane grills.
Some propane grills are incredibly portable and are intended for camping and hiking. These tiny grills usually run on small propane tanks which are incredibly portable.
There are pellet grills that are also small in size but still weigh in at 20+ pounds and require wood pellets to be carried.
So for portability alone, propane grills are superior to pellet grills.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Both propane and pellet grills are easy to clean and maintain.
Propane grills usually just require occasional cleaning to the grill grates and a refill on the propane tanks. So maintaining a propane grill is very easy and beginner-friendly.
Pellet grills do need to be vacuumed out after every 2 to 3 cooking sessions so that the ash does not build up in the firepot. A shop vacuum is needed since regular household vacuums may clog when sucking up the ash and wood pellets.
So pellet grills require a bit more maintenance than a propane grill but overall both are relatively easy once you have the necessary equipment.
Propane vs Pellet Grill Price
Propane and pellet grill prices are very different depending on what category of grill you are searching for.
Portable propane grills can be as cheap as $20 whereas a portable pellet grill usually costs $100+ upwards of $400.
However, stationary or larger propane and pellet grills cost about the same since most of these larger grills range anywhere from $300 to thousands of dollars.
So if you’re searching for a larger grill at home then propane and pellet grills are comparable.
Charcoal/Stick Smoker vs Pellet Grill
The final comparison is between charcoal/stick smokers and pellet grills.
Charcoal and stick smokers are where charcoal or wood is used as the fuel for creating smoke in a smoker. Pellet grills are very similar to stick smokers since pellet grills require wood pellets to create heat and smoke.
However, charcoal and stick smokers are always manual meaning a person must maintain the fire and smoke. Maintaining a fire for multiple hours is a skill and an art that requires experience.
So charcoal and stick smokers are not as beginner-friendly but BBQ enthusiasts swear by the smoky flavor that these smokers create.
Pellet grills can easily maintain temperature since the temperature dial is what sets and controls the cooking temperature. Simply turn the grill on, make sure there are enough wood pellets, and crank the dial to the right temp.
On the other hand, maintaining a cooking temperature in a charcoal or stick smoker requires more work and skill. Putting too much fuel into the fire will raise the temperature too high and not putting enough fuel will cause the fire to go out.
So maintaining a fire inside of a charcoal or stick smoker can feel like a job if you’re not prepared to frequently check-in on the smoker.
One Side Cooks Faster
Charcoal/stick smokers and pellet grills both use indirect heat to cook the food. So food does not need to be flipped or moved around when being smoked inside a smoker or pellet grill.
Some pellet grills have direct flame features which allow for the food to be seared. This means that some pellet grills can both smoke and sear food making them more versatile than a charcoal or stick smoker.
However, overall both smokers and pellet grills cook food in the same way and take about the same time.
Charcoal/Stick Smoker vs Pellet Grill Flavor
Generally, BBQ enthusiasts swear by the flavor a charcoal and stick smoker creates as the gold standard for tasty BBQ food.
Although pellet grills can create a similar flavor, the smoky flavor is usually less intense than what a charcoal or stick smoker creates. Moreover, some BBQ pits run 24/7 creating a unique flavor to that specific pit which can only be achieved by burning charcoal or wood in the same pit.
Personally, I think pellet grills produce great-tasting food that has a smoky flavor. In fact, there are multiple ways to produce more smoke on a pellet grill which will lead to a smokier tasting food.
That being said, stick and charcoal smokers do produce exceptional tasting food. However, pellet grills can come in a close second depending on the amount of smoke and wood pellets being used.
Most charcoal and stick smokers are either immobile or built on a trailer. So charcoal and stick smokers are generally not very portable.
Pellet grills can be moved around fairly easily whether it’s a small camping pellet grill or the larger ones. Most pellet grills have wheels so they can be wheeled around fairly easily.
Overall, pellet grills are more portable than charcoal and stick smokers.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Charcoal and stick smokers are difficult to clean. The smoke produced in these smokers is usually thicker which can leave a thicker greasy substance in the grill. Some folks do not clean their smoker as they see this as extra seasoning.
Overall, cleaning a stick and charcoal smoker is challenging given the amount of residue, size, and accessibility of the smokers.
Pellet grills are relatively easy to clean since the grill can be taken apart and the firepot can be vacuumed free of ash.
Charcoal/Stick Smoker vs Pellet Grill Price
Charcoal and stick smokers can be cheap if purchased used. However, most new charcoal and stick smokers cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the brand and size.
It is not uncommon to see competition charcoal and stick smoker trailers that cost thousands of dollars.
Generally, pellet grills are more affordable than a charcoal or stick smoker since entry-level pellet grills cost as little as $100. However, most pellet grills that come with the features you likely want will cost anywhere from $300 to $700. In fact, here’s a guide on the best pellet grills under $700 to help you find the perfect one for you.
Pellet grills are versatile grills that can smoke, grill, sear, and even bake while being beginner-friendly. The smoky flavor produced by pellet grills is a nice benefit compared to most charcoal and propane grills.
Moreover, pellet grills are so easy to use that they can be turned on, set to a temperature, and you can walk away from the grill while your food cooks. The convenience of a pellet grill is unmatched when compared to charcoal, propane, and stick smokers.
Regardless of what you decide to use – pellet grill, charcoal, propane, or stick smoker. Just get out there and start cooking!