We Tested Pellet Grills for Smoking, Searing, and More

The Weber SmokeFire EX4 stood out in our tests and tops our list.

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Pellet Grills for Smoking
Photo: Courtesy of Retailers

There are countless ways to grill, slow roast, bake with fire, and smoke foods, and all of them are right. There are also wildly varying degrees of commitment and engagement in these pursuits. Speaking as someone who's been voted most likely to dig a pit, build a fire, and slow roast meats on a spit on a random Tuesday, just because I can, and have, doesn't mean I want to. Sometimes, I just want to grill some food quickly with the wood fire taste that's unachievable with a gas grill. Sometimes, I want to slow smoke food and control the level of smoke imbued without being tied to the pit for hours. I might (hypothetically, of course) want to give a frozen pizza a wood oven taste when making one from scratch isn't an option. In cases like these, pellet grills are the answer.

As the name suggests, these grills burn small wood pellets. Pellets ignite quickly, burn hot, and provide smoke. Most pellet grills have an electric igniter of some sort, and most have a fan that creates convection and moves the smoke evenly around the inside of the cook chamber. As such, they heat quickly, maintain their heat well, and recover temperature rapidly after adding food or opening the lid. As you can see, they offer some convenient advantages over wood, charcoal, or gas, although there is nothing wrong with any of those.

Our testers put 19 pellet grills through several common cooking scenarios, judging them in categories ranging from ease of setup to how quickly they recover heat. After testing, the Weber SmokeFire EX4 stood out over the rest of the pack for value, ease of use, and functionality, among other categories. Read on for our entire list of the best pellet grills, according to our tests.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Weber SmokeFire EX4

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Weber and BBQ Guys.

Pros: Large capacity, excellent heat control and retention, and easy setup make this a great pellet grill.

Cons: It's difficult to monitor the ash bin, and searing can be troublesome, per our tests.

This grill is the second generation of the EX4, and our testers were quite impressed with it. With high scores from setup to capacity to value, the Weber handily gained the Best Overall title. As with many models reviewed, the EX4 excels as both a smoker and a grill, with a temperature range from 200 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit. It also has excellent heat control and, more importantly, retention, aided by the porcelain enamel finish.

It has a large capacity of 672 square inches that, with careful arrangement, can accommodate three briskets for smoking or thirteen burgers for high-heat grilling, as examples. The app connectivity is versatile, allowing you to monitor and adjust the heat, giving prompts for when to turn the meat. It can also accommodate multiple items of varying weights and thicknesses via individual probes that monitor each piece.

Dimensions: 47 x 43 x 33 inches

Grilling Area: 672 square inches

Extra Features: Grease and ash collection system, LCD control panel, smoke boost, app-controlled

Best Splurge: Traeger Timberline

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of Traeger

Also available at Home Depot and Ace Hardware.

Pros: The Timberline has excellent temperature control and retention with no hot spots, and it's capable of smoking, grilling, baking, or searing.

Cons: At 238 pounds, it's heavy to move.

As the category implies, this is a grill for treating yourself. It's more expensive than our other picks, but the cost-to-value ratio is high. From a grilling and smoking standpoint, this is one of the most set-it-and-forget-it models on the market. The grill monitors the ambient temperature, food temperature, and even low pellet supply in the hopper. Our testers scored it top marks on heat control and retention, mainly due to its double-wall construction and convection design.

The grill has a temperature range of 165 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, making it highly versatile for smoking, grilling, and baking. The induction cooktop is excellent for searing. Three tiers of stainless steel grates allow you to move different foods on and off the grill easily. Its large capacity can handle up to eight racks of ribs, nine chickens, or six pork butts. The Timberline again scored top marks on ease of setup, and if you're inclined, the app connectivity is compatible with Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

Dimensions: 51 x 59 x 25 inches

Grilling Area: 880 square inches

Extra Features: Stainless steel racks, bamboo cutting board, pellet storage bin, Bluetooth probes

Best Value: Pit Boss 440 Deluxe Wood Pellet Grill

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Wayfair.

Pros: Its heat management and retention outperform many more expensive models.

Cons: The cooking area could be slightly larger, and the dome thermometer is out of sync with the control panel.

The Pit Boss is a stripped-down, no-frills smoker grill. That isn't a con, though. Our testing shows this grill outperforms more expensive models in heating time, retention, and temperature recovery. Assembly is straightforward but does require additional tools. It's a medium-capacity grill with 518 square inches of cooking space and a five-pound pellet hopper.

The 440 has a temperature range of 180 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so it can easily manage low temp smoking, high-heat searing, and baking. Searing occurs by design directly adjacent to the firebox, so there is a definite hot spot to keep in mind for smoking and baking. It lacks any built-in connectivity, but an add-on device is available for purchase to accommodate that, should you wish.

Dimensions: 40 x 50 x 24 inches

Grilling Area: 518 square inches

Extra Features: None, but Bluetooth connectivity is available as an add-on.

Best Pro Level Smoker: Yoder Smokers YS640 Pellet Grill

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of All Things Barbecue

Pros: Excellent heating, retention, and recovery combined with the high-capacity cooking area and hopper make this an excellent grill for smoking and searing.

Cons: This grill isn't great for baking, and temperatures can shoot past the target on recovery.

The Yoder is a workhorse of a smoker. Its large capacity (1,070 square inches) and 20-pound pellet hopper speak to its design for volume and efficiency. It weighs in at a hefty 418 pounds, so our qualms about assembly are that, while the instructions are clear and easy to follow, it is absolutely a two-person job. Taking the setup out of the picture, the time to reach temperatures, heat retention, and subsequent temperature recovery outpaces most models reviewed here. It may be too efficient, as temperatures were seen to race past the target by 100 degrees before settling back down.

The heat range is between 150 and 600 degrees Fahrenheit in five-degree increments, and its circuit board design responds to abnormal circumstances, such as temperature drops from loading cold meat or opening the door frequently. Searing is accomplished by simply moving a lever on the heat diffuser. This behemoth is mounted on pneumatic wheels, making it surprisingly easy to move. The major complaint in testing was the difficulty of removing internal parts for thorough cleaning.

Dimensions: 55 x 61 x 36 inches

Grilling Area: 1,070 square inches

Extra Features: Excellent app connectivity and pneumatic tires

Best Large Capacity: Traeger Pro 780

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Traeger and BBQ Guys.

Pros: It's a serviceable all-around smoker grill with a large capacity for cooking.

Cons: Overall performance would improve with better heat retention and recovery, and some may prefer Bluetooth connectivity over WiFi.

The Traeger Pro 780 handles a large amount of food without breaking the bank. It can hold six chickens, 34 burgers, or the equivalent of each. One of the more remarkable features of the 780 is the amount of smoke flavor imparted onto foods while maintaining a relatively low amount of smoke leaving the grill. Its control panel and app integration allow for great accuracy in cook temperatures and time. It's suitable for baking, smoking, and grilling.

At higher temperatures, the unit dropped as much as 90 degrees when testers opened the lid to place food inside. It scores high ratings for the setup and cleaning, and it's a solid value for the price.

Dimensions: 55 x 49 x 27 inches

Grilling Area: 780 square inches

Extra Features: WiFIRE technology, a comprehensive yet easy-to-use control panel, wheels, and meat probe connectors

Best Smart Grill: Louisiana Grills 1000 Black Label Series Grill

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of Home Depot

Also available at Lowe's.

Pros: It's intuitive and easy to use. Experienced grillers and newcomers will both find the good in this model.

Cons: The pellet feeder gave us some fits, but workarounds resolved the issue. Hot zones near the firebox and cooler on the opposite side result in inconsistent charring and flavor.

Setup doesn't get much easier than this model. It comes fully assembled. It offers a large cooking capacity of 1028 square inches with two rows of racks for two-zone cooking. It didn't score the highest in our baking tests, but the unit did not drop temperature at mid-range operation when opening and adding food. Even with an 18-pound capacity, we'd like to see a larger hopper, as it seems outsized by the available cooking area.

A few hot spots revealed themselves during our testing, but none that would preclude the grill from our list. It sears well, as most pellet grills do, but it doesn't produce a hard crust. Bluetooth app connectivity and a feature-rich control panel make this a straightforward unit to operate. The features and performance balance the price, giving it good scores on our value rating.

Dimensions: 46 x 42 x 32 inches

Grilling Area: 1,028 square inches

Extra Features: Foldable shelf, hopper cleanout door for changing pellets, temperature probes, flat shelf, hopper viewing window

Best Portable: Traeger Tailgater

Pellet Grills for Smoking
Courtesy of Amazon

Also available at Traeger and Home Depot.

Pros: As the name suggests, it's a great portable grill for tailgating. The digital controls make the grill easy and error resistant.

Cons: A larger pellet hopper and the capacity to reach beyond 450 degrees Fahrenheit would significantly improve the grill.

This solid grill brings most of the functionality of larger models to a mobile form. With digital controls and app connectivity, it reaches set points quickly and retains heat moderately well. It has an eight-pound hopper, which services the grill reasonably well, but its maximum temperature is 450 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes searing difficult. The grill will hold two chickens or three racks of ribs, but the hopper will need refilling during longer smokes simply due to its smaller, travel-friendly capacity. The size is deceiving, however, as it can hold up to twelve burgers or multiple pizzas. There is a slight variation in hot and cool temperature zones, but not significant enough to leave it off our list. As it's portable and requires cleaning before packing up, we're happy to say it's easy to disassemble and clean.

Dimensions: 36 x 37 x 18 inches

Grilling Area: 300 square inches

Extra Features: Folding legs, temperature probes, digital control panel, app connectivity

Our Favorite

After rigorously testing 19 pellet grills, and weighing their value, consistency of cooking, user-friendliness, setup, and features, we concluded that the Weber SmokeFire EX4 is the best choice for all levels of grill cooks.

What Didn't Make the List

Recteq RT-590 Wood Pellet Grill

Best Pellet Grills
Amazon

The RT-590 Wood Pellet Grill scored well with our testers in the smoking and grilling areas, with good heat control and retention. It didn't fare as well in baking, and it ships with just a QR code for assembly instructions. The controls, app, and larger capacity cooking area and hopper make this an excellent grill for those who want to rely mainly on the former areas.

Camp Chef SG 24 Pellet Grill

Best Pellet Grills
Amazon

The SG 24 performed well in our testing. It has limited features and capacity, but it scored good ratings in our searing tests. It has some hot spots that result in slightly uneven cooking, but this is a good entry-point pellet grill at a reasonable price.

Traeger Ironwood 885

Best Pellet Grills
Amazon

The Ironwood has the same double-wall construction as many of Traeger's other models and is feature-laden in the app and control departments. It fared well in baking in searing tests, but the Super Smoke feature didn't impart the flavor we expected during testing. Still, it's a good smoker grill that's extremely easy to set up and operate.

Oklahoma Joe's Rider 600 Pellet Grill

Best Pellet Grills
Oklahoma Joe's

The Rider is another good entry-level pellet grill. It doesn't offer the bells and whistles of app connectivity or a range of temperature controls, most notably. It does outperform more expensive models in the smoking tests, though it doesn't excel at searing. Setting it up was a bit of a pain for our testers, but once assembled, it performed well.

Pit Boss Sportsman 820

Best Pellet Grills
Amazon

The Sportsman 820 scored firmly in the middle of the pack. It performed well in the functional tests and was easy to assemble. With 892 square inches of cooking area, it has a good capacity and adequate heat retention and recovery times. Our testers rated it a good value for the price, but app control and intelligent features found in more expensive models would increase its rating.

Z Grills Multitasker 11002B with WiFi

Best Pellet Grills
Z Grills

The Multitasker is a large-capacity pellet grill with a nice collection of smart features. It performed best when functioning as a smoker, as heat retention left a bit to be desired at higher temperatures, but it did recover its temperature quickly after adding food.

Camp Chef Woodwind

Best Pellet Grills
Camp Chef

The Woodwind brings good value for the dollar spent. It performed significantly better in the smoking and searing tests than in the baking, which bears consideration when selecting a grill. Assembly proved challenging, but the presets and other digital features are plentiful.

Traeger Ranger

Best Pellet Grills
Traeger

The Ranger is an easily-stowed portable smoker grill suitable for camping or tailgating with a small crew. It has a limited cooking area of 300 square inches but offers good heat retention and recovery. It's not a good grill for baking, as our test revealed, but the searing and smoking tests yielded good results. The arrangement of the pellet hopper is a little cumbersome, requiring the user to open the grill, and the hopper handle gets quite hot from its location inside the grill.

Traeger Pro Series 34

Best Pellet Grills
The Home Depot

This Traeger is a perfectly average pellet grill. Average doesn't mean a bad grill; it means the middle of the pack. While it offers the heat retention and recovery that most other Traeger models do, it lacks the app connectivity found in other models. It fared well in most tests, but it struggled to maintain heat over 450 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving a relatively poor sear. Setup is easy, but the control panel is not as intuitive as other models.

Z Grills 700D

Best Pellet Grills
Lowe's

The 700D offers consistent heat, making it suitable for baking or smoking. Its upper-temperature limit of 450 degrees Fahrenheit doesn't translate into a good sear, though. It lacks any smart features, like app connectivity or temperature monitoring, instead providing preset temperatures in 50-degree increments. While temperatures were consistent, our testers found the amount of smoke from the grill lacking.

Green Mountain Davy Crockett

Best Pellet Grills
Amazon

The Davy Crockett is a serviceable portable grill with WiFi connectivity. Setup is easy, but leaving the extension legs off is recommended for moving. The grease collection system was challenging to work with, and our testers found variations between ambient temperature readings in the control panel versus testing with thermometers.

Char-Griller Wood Pro Pellet Grill

Best Pellet Grills
Char-Griller

The Wood Pro was the problem child of the lot. We found multiple hot spots throughout the grill, and temperatures fluctuated during cooking. With a maximum temperature of 450ºF, searing was a challenge. The controls feature limited pre-determined temperatures, and setup was easy, but easily stripped parts lowered its rating. For the price, this grill is outclassed by competing models.

Factors to Consider

Size

When it comes to choosing a pellet grill, one of the main specs to consider is the size. This relates to how you intend to use the grill. If you plan to use it for large parties, large families, or events, you will want a grill that has a large cooking capacity. If you plan to mostly cook for a small family or smaller dinners, or if you have limited space, you will want to scale down appropriately. Generally, most people can get a mid-size model, around 24 inches, that will do everything they need it to do. If you want to consistently serve a crowd, upsize to a 36-inch model.

Features

Pellet grills can come with all sorts of features, from electric starters to WiFi connectivity to a seamless switch from direct flame grilling to offset smoking. Explore the features that are the best match for how you intend to cook with the grill. If you are more of a smoker, you may want to focus on features that allow you to maintain a consistent temperature and have ways to easily control smoke flow. If you are more of a griller, you may want to explore features like the ability to easily create indirect cooking zones. For both, connectivity packages that allow you to monitor temperature from your phone can be very useful.

Cost

Finally, consider your budget and plan accordingly. In general, for an investment like this, it's sometimes easier to consider your eventual cost per use. If this is something you will use weekly, it may be worth a larger upfront investment. If you envision using the grill less frequently, you may not need to spend as much.

Pro Panel Q+A

Q: What is a pellet grill good for?

A: Easy to use, a pellet grill can be a terrific entry point for those who are new to the art of barbecue, or for grillers who want the flavor of true smoke, according to Matt Horn, the chef-owner of Horn Barbecue in West Oakland, Calif., and the author of Horn Barbecue: Recipes and Techniques from a Master of the Art of BBQ.

"While my preferred method is always using a wood smoker, a pellet grill is good for convenience. It cuts down the time of having to source your wood and prep the charcoal. With a pellet grill, you can still cook your meat low and slow, but prep time is cut shorter," he says.

Q: Can you use a pellet grill as a normal grill?

A: "The preferred method for a pellet grill is to smoke your ingredients and infuse the flavor of the pellets into your meat slowly over time," says Horn.

Our Expertise

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. His written work appears in Food & Wine, Food Republic, and other publications.

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