How To Choose the Best Pellet Smoker For Your BBQ Needs

Hey there my fellow smoking enthusiasts and welcome to my post where we will take a look at how to choose the best pellet smoker for your BBQ needs this year. Now, it has only been 3 or 4 months now since I purchased my new pellet smoker after working on a small charcoal option for the last 5 years or so.

How To Choose the Best Pellet Smoker - Header

I purchased mine on a whim. You see I wasn’t really using my old smoker as I simply didn’t have the time to sit around and work at it all day to maintain temperature etc. Then, as I was walking past the BBQ shop (the type that sells BBQs and grills, not a restaurant) there is was out the front – 40% off!

I couldn’t get my wallet out of my pocket fast enough and my research levels before purchase – ZERO (that noise you heard was my beautiful wife shaking her head). Furthermore, I knew nothing about them at all so would have known what to ask anyway…

So now that I have enough experience with it to make me dangerous, I thought I would pass on what I have learned as a newbie to help you make that decision for yourself.

Let’s maybe start at the beginning?

What is a pellet Smoker?

Good question – and it should have been my first one… But anyway, often referred to as a pellet grill, a pellet smoker is an outdoor cooking device that uses wood pellets made from compressed sawdust as its fuel source. The smokers run on electricity where pellets are automatically fed from a storage hopper into a fire pot by an auger, where they’re ignited to heat the cooking chamber and generate smoke.

And much the same as traditional smoking, the pellets are made from different types of wood, such as hickory, apple, cherry or hickory for example to impart various flavors. Electric pellet smokers also allow ‘the user to ‘pitmasters’ to precisely set and maintain the cooking temperature for “set and forget” convenience as well.

Check out my post: How Does a Pellet Smoker Work?

How Does this Differ from a Charcoal Smoker?

In contrast, traditional charcoal smokers rely on charcoal as their primary fuel source, with the option to add wood chips or chunks to enhance the smoke flavor – usually chunks of the same types of wood as per the pellet types above.

Temperature control in charcoal smokers is manual, requiring the user to adjust air vents to regulate airflow and thus the intensity of the heat. This method demands a more hands-on approach and a certain level of skill to maintain consistent temperatures over long periods.

That said (and I haven’t tested this myself as of yet), traditionalists will tell you that this method provides for a much richer flavor than that of a pellet smoker. They are a lot cheaper to buy as well.

How To Choose the Best Pellet Smoker

Ok, now let’s get into the “meat” of the discussion. I.e., what should I have looked for when I bought my smoker?

1. Size and Cooking Area

This first feature is basically covering two areas: how big is the smoker on the inside and the outside. Here, consider the following:

Size

Basically, your job here is to ensure that there’s enough room for the smoker and any necessary clearance around it to operate safely. Consider the smoker’s footprint, and remember to account for space to open the lid or access controls.

If you plan to move your smoker around or store it between uses, look for models with features like wheels and handles. Some smokers are designed for portability, while others are more stationary.

Cooking Area

Generally, the amount of cooking space you need often correlates with the size of your family or the typical number of guests you entertain. A smaller smoker might be sufficient for a family of four, but larger gatherings will require more space.

Smoker product specifications often list the total cooking surface area in square inches. This number can range from around 300 square inches for small, portable models to 1,000 square inches or more for larger units.

If you don’t have a lot of space, but have a large family, look for smokers that come with multiple racks, which can increase the total cooking area without requiring a larger footprint as well.

In my case, as I got a smaller model, I was lucky that mine fit where I needed to but I couldn’t go much bigger to be honest. I will take that as one tick for me.

How to Test the Hot Spots in a Pellet Smoker - chicken on smoker

2. Temperature Control and Range

I mentioned above that one of the main advantages of a pellet smoker was the fact that they allowed for you to set exact temperatures. And what I have learned here is that this is one of the big considerations when it comes to the amount of money you wish to spend on your smoker. Here is an outline based on price range:

  • Budget models: Models at this level tend to come with digital control panels that allow you to set the temperature to preset levels based on commonly used temperature. On my smoker for example, there are 8 preset levels ranging from 82°C (180°F) up to 190°C (375°F).
  • Mid Range Models: These provide a little more control over the temperature via digital panels that will allow you to set ranges of 5°F to 10°F for far greater accuracy.
  • High Range Models: High range models work in a similar fashion as mid range options however many are also PID (Proportional, Integral, Derivative) controllers, which offer the most accurate temperature control. These controllers constantly adjust the pellet feed rate to maintain the set temperature, regardless of external conditions such as wind or cold weather.

Other considerations here include temperature range, which is how high and low the temperatures can go – which is relevant if you want todo some traditional high temp grilling as well as stability, which we will discuss when it comes to build quality below.

Me? A budget model with 8 settings and a high option. To be honest, I have not identified an issue with this at this point so I guess time will tell. I am giving myself a pass mark here too – haha.

How To Choose the Best Pellet Smoker - temp dial

3. Build Quality and Durability

When it comes to smokers, build quality not only determines the strength and longevity of the smoker, but its overall cooking performance as well. In terms of build strength, good smokers often feature either stainless or powder coated steel, known for their rust resistance, strength and ability to withstand high temperatures.

However, it is often the internal build that gets overlooked. This includes:

  • Welds vs. Screws: Welded joints are typically stronger and more resistant to wear and tear than screwed connections, which may loosen over time.
  • Seams and Joints: Tight seams and well-fitted joints help prevent smoke and heat from escaping, ensuring efficient cooking.
  • Door and Lid Seals: High-quality smokers feature robust seals around doors and lids to keep heat and smoke contained.
  • Double-Walled Construction: Some of the best pellet smokers offer double-walled construction, which provides excellent insulation. This feature helps maintain consistent cooking temperatures, reduces pellet consumption, and ensures the smoker performs well even in colder climates.
  • Insulation Quality: The quality of insulation within the smoker’s walls can vary. Higher-quality insulation materials will better retain heat, contributing to temperature stability and energy efficiency.
  • Sturdy Legs and Wheels: A durable smoker should stand firm and stable on a variety of surfaces. Models with sturdy legs and high-quality wheels or casters offer both stability and mobility, allowing you to easily move the smoker as needed.
  • Cooking grates: Good quality smokers come with good quality grates. These are usually coated with some sort of material such as porcelain or ceramic that allows them to hold the heat and makes them a little easier to clean as well.

Ok, so whilst mine is made of solid powder coated steel with good insulation around the chimney (which is attached with screws), the main lid does definitely release a lot of smoke, and I am then assuming, heat. This may be why some of my cooks take a little longer than expected so I will probably give myself a minus 1 here.

Traeger Pro Series 22 Review - My traeger

4. Other Considerations

Whilst the three points above in my opinion pretty much outline the main requirements to get some meat cooked on a pellet smoker, there are some other things that you may want to look at as well. Some are to do with budget, others account for simplicity of use as well.

Here they are:

  • Hopper Size: This one is a little hard to account for at first purchase, especially as temperature and time of cook go a long way to determining just how many pellets are used each time. Essentially, should be looking for long cooks with large cuts of meat such as brisket etc., then the larger the hopper, the better.
  • Cleaning: Look for features that simplify cleaning, such as removable drip trays and easy-to-clean grates.
  • Wi-Fi/Bluetooth: Most smokers come with internal temperature thermometers. Budget models will display these readings on the front panel. However, higher end models (and some lower ones) come with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to monitor and adjust temperatures remotely.
  • Remote temperature adjustment: Further on from above, some of these temperature monitoring apps allow you to adjust the temperature remotely as well.
  • Convenient Access to Water Pans and Drip Trays: Smokers designed with easily accessible water pans and drip trays – such as options that slide in and out without having to open the lid – make it simpler to add moisture or collect drippings without disrupting the cooking process.
  • Protective Covers: Using a protective cover when the smoker is not in use can shield it from the elements, reducing wear and extending its lifespan. Ensure the cover fits well and is made from durable, weather-resistant material.

Ok, so how did I do? Well, the pellet hopper will last a full 10 hour cook at a mid temperature – so tick! Ease of cleaning – yep – tick. Wifi/Bluetooth? No sadly. Drip trays – not too bad as it all goes down to a little bucket, but there is no water tray. I brought my own protective cover. So that is 2 ticks and 3 learnings there I guess.

So, How Did I Do?

To be honest, I love using my pellet smoker so much that it is really hard to care. I do not need to cook for a large family or groups and do not do anything that needs finesse so the temperature settings have always worked for me.

If I had my time again, I may have looked at one with WIFI and maybe some better insulation but at the end of the day, a budget model works well for me so I am not sure I would have changed much – apart from maybe looking for others in that price range with some more options.

That is not to say that in future I won’t be looking for a more up-market models in the future.

Check out my: Best Budget Pellet Smokers under $500

Conclusion

So, there you have it, my take on the things you should look for when choosing the best pellet grill for your smoking needs. I hope it has been of assistance but as usual, if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out by commenting below.

And of course I would also love to hear below about your experiences buying your first smoker as well.

Are there any other products you have been looking at but want to know more about? If so, please comment below and I will do my best to get some details for you.

Until next time

Have fun and get smoking!

Paul

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