In the world of grilling, there are several different kinds of outdoor cookers to choose from. Gas, charcoal, and wood fire grills have all been popular throughout history, each coming with their own unique set of pros and cons. This has been the case throughout history, as grilling and smoking techniques have evolved from the early days of invention.
But one of the most consistent outdoor cookers available today is in fact the pellet grill.
Sometimes called pellet smokers, these types of grills typically take elements of gas grill, kitchen ovens, and charcoal smokers.
Additionally, the wood pellet grill shares ties with the history and evolution of the smoker as an outdoor cooker.
Though technology has advanced to make wood pellet grills one of the most accurate outdoor cookers, the standard design and idea behind the pellet grill hasn’t really changed since its inception.
Still, the growing popularity of the wood pellet grill just goes to prove that it has been and remains one of the best choices for those looking to cook outdoors.
Throughout this guide, we’ll dive into the history behind the wood pellet grill and the technology that makes it such a consistent, accurate cooking device. Plus, we’ll take a look at just how each of the components of the grill itself have evolved throughout the years.
On top of that, this guide will explore the similarities between the wood pellet grill and other types of smokers and grills, as well as the kinds of things that make it unique.
What Is A Wood Pellet Grill?
Wood pellet grills are outdoor cookers that are fueled by wood pellets. In addition to grilling, these devices can also smoke and bake. They typically use an electronic panel to feed fuel pellets to the fire, which in turn helps keep cooking temperatures consistent over time.
Though the process can seem like it’s complicated, what with the use of electronics and the pellet fueling system, wood pellet grills are actually a great way to bring convenience to grilling.
Wood pellet grills typically run by being plugged into a power outlet. Once pellets are added, they get pushed into the fire to create smoke that then rises up into the grill section of the device.
Because of the self-regulating nature of these particular grills, it’s easy to set one of these and multitask. You won’t be worried about the kinds of flare-ups that are more common with a gas or charcoal grill, because the fire doesn’t actually have direct contact with the food that you’ll be cooking.
Further, the speed with which the wood pellet grill works is great for when you might not have all that much time. Instead of waiting for your grill to be hot enough to cook, the wood pellet grill can have you up and ready to go far faster.
A Brief History Of Wood Pellet Grills
As noted, the wood pellet grill is tied to the history of the pellet stove and the smoker.
Since the early 20th century, scrap wood and sawdust burners have been heating solutions. However, it wasn’t until the Presto-Log was invented in 1930 that things really started taking a turn towards the pellet stoves and grills we see today.
These Presto-Logs were invented by reusing the scrap wood and sawdust that came from a pine mill in Lewiston, Idaho. After these started to see some popularity, the smaller pellet stove came out of Washington in the 1970s and 80s.
Of course, it wasn’t really until the 1973 oil crisis that pellet stoves really started to take off. A popular option due to its efficiency and economic viability, it soon became more of a staple in everyday houses.
In the last two decades, more and more U.S. homes have begun adopting the pellet stove in place of the regular fireplace.
It’s thought that the history of smoking foods dates all the way back to the Paleolithic era, some 3.3 million years ago. Later on, early smoking was combined with curing food in salt for preservation.
Fast forward to today, and lots of people still enjoy smoking meats and other foods. Of course, technology has allowed us to come a long way from the days of hanging meats to smoke them.
There are several types of home smokers, of which the pellet smoker is one. In fact, this particular kind of smoker is one of the most popular for BBQ festivals, as pit-masters have recently begun using them for barbecue competitions.
Developed To Combat The Oil Crisis
As mentioned, it wasn’t until the 1973 oil crisis that demand for economically viable heating options had people leaning towards wood pellets. These early stoves and smokers looked a lot like traditional wood stoves, but were the first to be run by electricity instead of wood, gas, or charcoal.
The inventors of the wood pellet grill that we know today are Jerry Whitfield, an aviation engineer from Washington State, and Joe Traeger, who owned a heating company in Oregon. Both experimented with pellet stoves, but Traeger patented his invention in 1986.
Because of this, he ended up being the sole manufacturer of the pellet grills for upwards of twenty years. It wasn’t until 2006 that other manufacturers began to be able to use and sell wood pellet grills with a similar design.
More On Wood Pellets
Something to note about the pellet stove and the pellet grill is the difference between the pellets that they use. While the pellet stove is typically just designed for heating spaces, the pellet grill is designed for food.
Because of this, the pellets used in heating one’s home are typically made from bark or certain softwoods that wouldn’t necessarily taste very good, and could actually be harmful if used to cook with.
The pellets used in pellet grills, however, are up to food-grade standards and are totally okay for ingestion. They are usually made from hardwood and don’t typically have very much else to them, though you can find vegetable oil or soybean oil listed as part of the production process.
Additionally, these food-grade pellets are much smaller than their pellet stove cousins. They tend to burn cleanly, which is why they’re great for adding enhancing flavors to your food.
There are a wide range of types of wood pellet on the market, and you’ll want to be sure to find the ones that match the taste you’re trying to achieve. Further, you’ll want to make sure that you’re buying the correct pellets for the grill, rather than for the stove.
As there are a ton of different flavors you can choose from, there’s not necessarily any way to say which flavor is best. That’ll come down to the kinds of meats and other foods you’re cooking, as well as personal preference.
However, there are ways to tell which kinds of wood pellets might be better with certain foods. For example:
Typically, you’ll also be choosing from three different types of pellet: flavors wood, standard, and blended.
Flavored wood doesn’t include any filler, and is made up entirely of 100% flavored wood. You’ll find that these are on the more expensive side for pellets.
Standard pellets don’t usually have any flavor to them. They’re good for more of a general smoky flavor, but are typically just used for heating purposes.
Blended wood is a great intermediary between the above two. Less expensive than the flavored wood and more flavored than the standard wood, they’re a solid go between if you’re looking to budget. Usually, you’ll find that these blended pellets are made from 70% filler and 30% flavored wood.
How The Wood Pellet Grill Works
So what makes up a wood pellet grill, and how does it actually work? Well, it has a lot to do with airflow and the amount of fuel consumed by the fire itself.
Of course, because pellet grills use electricity to help automate the air delivery and fuel source for consistency, there’s less that the grill master has to do once he or she has programmed the grill.
To do so, the desired temperature is programmed in to the grill. This begins the feeding process of the pellets into the fire by the auger, quickly raising the grill temperature. This cycle continues as necessary until the desired temperature is successfully reached.
As technology has progressed, the controller for this process has gotten even more accurate. This allows a steady temperature to be maintained without overfilling the fire with wood pellets.
Another important component of the wood pellet grill is the induction fan. This is what brings the heat and smoke up to the food that’s being cooked.
While early models of the wood pellet grill had induction fans that ran as soon as the power was on, newer ones help control temperature by running in alignment with the auger’s pellet feeding cycle. Even newer models have been designed to turn the fan on and off only as necessary, regardless of the pellet feeding cycle.
Benefits Of The Pellet Grill
With improvements to temperature control, wood pellet grills have only become more accurate.
Of course, there are several benefits that one can find from the wood pellet grill. Not only do pellet grills cook food, they’re also a great way to enhance flavor with the smoking process. Plus, wood pellet grills aren’t just perfect for grilling. In fact, they can also be used for baking and roasting as well.
Though they do require a certain level of knowledge about how they work and an electrical outlet, they’re typically pretty easy to use, too. They’re designed for accuracy and maintaining specific temperatures, thus lowering the commitment that the grill master has to checking in on the food all the time. And without any of the flare-ups that other kinds of grills often see, it can also be argued that they’re a pretty safe outdoor cooker.
On top of this, the variety of wood pellets that can be found really give dimension to any number of foods. Cherry, alder, pecan, mesquite, and hickory are just some of the multitude of flavors that wood pellets come in. Due to the indirect cooking process, wood pellet stoves can greatly enhance any meat that you’re looking to cook.
Differences Between The Wood Pellet Grill And Charcoal Smoker
Of course, if you’re looking to stay on the smoking functionality side of the wood pellet grill, then it’s important to go over the differences and similarities that it has with the charcoal smoker.
The charcoal smoker remains an incredibly popular way of grilling and smoking. The charcoal is what fuels the smoker, though it’s common for people at add wood chip packets to the fire to enhance the flavor of the smoke.
One of the main differences between the wood pellet grill and charcoal smoker, however, is how long it takes to cook your food. With the wood pellet grill, you’ll find that because the temperature is kept consistent over the entire process, the food ends up cooking faster.
With the charcoal smoker, the user has to control the internal temperature of the smoker themselves. This often means more of a cleanup process as wood chip packets are changed, as well as a more hands-on approach. Because the internal temperature must be correctly regulated for the food to be cooked completely, it does require pretty consistent monitoring.
The wood pellet grill, on the other hand, leans more towards the “set it and forget it” side of things. It’s perfect for people with less time on their hands, or those who don’t want to have to deal with maintaining the temperature themselves.
The temperature in general is something else that you’ll find differs between the charcoal smoker and the pellet grill. Though you would need to focus more on keeping the temperature of the charcoal smoker consistent, they are generally able to bring about a higher temperature.
Usually, pellet grills have a range of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, while charcoal fires can get up to 800 degrees. Of course, this depends on the amount and type of charcoal being used, as well as the size of the smoker itself.
This also means that though the charcoal fires can burn at a lower temperature, they’re much harder to regulate than doing so with a wood pellet grill.
Another difference between the wood pellet grill and the charcoal smoker is the fact that electricity is involved in the wood pellet grill process. This means that while the charcoal smoker can be used anywhere there’s enough space, the wood pellet grill needs an electrical source in order to run. As long as there’s electricity, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Common Brands of Wood Pellet Grill
Since Joe Traeger’s original patent expired in 2006, several manufacturers have begun to enter the market. This means that you’ll have quite a bit of choice when it comes to finding the best wood pellet grill for you.
Some of the brands that you may come across during your search include:
The original pellet grill company, Traeger evolved from Joe Traeger’s family-owned heating company in Oregon after he patented the wood pellet grill.
Green Mountain Grills
Started in 2007, Green Mountain Grills are designed to set any temperature between 150 and 500 degrees fahrenheit with just a touch of a button.
Pit Boss Grills
A subsidiary of Dansons, Inc, Pit Boss is known for both large grills and portable grills.
Other brands that you may come across include:
You’ll also want to get familiar with the types and brands of wood pellets that you may be using.
What To Look For In Your Grill
When it comes to purchasing a wooden pellet grill, there are several things that you’ll want to keep in mind. If you’re not as familiar with the pellet grill as you are with other outdoor cooking devices, it can be a good idea to get a solid understanding of a few things to look for.
Temperature Control Technology
Think about whether or not you want to get a wooden pellet grill that has more or fewer temperature control options. If you’re the kind of person who has time for grilling, then you may not need to go for the most technologically capable grills. However, if you’re looking to get into grilling with the pellet grill because of the temperature accuracy, you may want to think about looking for one with a PID temperature control.
The PID temperature control is a system that is designed to take temperature readings and adjust the grill’s internal temperature as necessary. The desired temperature is put into the controller, and the grill begins the cycle of bringing the pellets to the fire. As soon as the grill’s warm-up temperature is successfully reached, it moves on towards the desired temperature.
This process isn’t just one that shuts off once that desired temperature is reached, however. The PID system continues to monitor and recalculate the temperature to ensure that it’s maintained over several hours.
Size Of The Grill
Something else to think about is where you’ll put your grill once you have it. Evaluate how much outdoor space, as well as where the nearest outlets are. Because wood pellet grills must be connected to electricity to run, you’ll want to make sure you have enough space near an outlet so that you can successfully use your grill.
Storage is another factor to consider when it comes to the size of the grill. Will you want to have something that can store your pellets and grilling tools? Or are you looking for something that takes up a little less space, but still gets the job done?
Fuel Consumption Level
Of course, not ever pellet grill is the same. Some may burn more pellets than others during a given period of time, so you’ll want to consider how many pellets you’re going to need for a certain model of pellet stove.
Another thing to consider is the price point at which you’d like to start your search. Having a specific range can help you narrow down your search, and can also help you think about what kinds of features you’d like your grill to have. Getting a good idea of industry pricing, as well as the price of pellets, is a solid way to start your search.
Finding Your Grill
Wood pellet grills are a great alternative to charcoal or gas grills and smokers. They’re typically an economical and resource-conscious way to keep up with all of your grilling needs, and are a great way for even the busiest among us to get time in for smoking, grilling, and baking outdoors.
With the wealth of wood pellet grills on the market, and so many different types of wood pellets to choose from, there are tons of options to fit your needs. Keep in mind the kinds of things that you’re looking for in a grill, the space you have to house the grill, and how involved you want to be in the grilling process.
The great thing about wood pellet grills is the ease in which they can be set and maintained throughout the cooking process. No matter which grill you end up going with, you can be certain that you’re getting a great flavor for your food at the right temperature, every time.
With a little bit of background knowledge and an understanding of how the pellet grill works, you’re already well on your way to making the right decision in your grill-purchasing journey.