Nancy Loseke, content director for Raichlen’s website and former recipe developer for Traeger, the company that developed the original wood pellet grills. Loseke is author of Healthy Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker Cookbook.
Wood pellet grills are among the hottest trends in the barbecue world. They offer the smoky flavor of wood-fire cooking, the ease-of-use of gas grills and the precise temperature control of ovens.
While gas grills are a more convenient substitute for charcoal, pellet grills work in a whole different way. They cook with convection style—slower, lower temperatures than traditional grills—leaving meats tender and juicy but without the searing capabilities. Pellet grills have electric motors, so most require access to electricity.
Pellet grills are so easy to use that they’re sometimes called “set it and forget it” barbecues or “the crockpots of barbecuing”—but you still must keep an eye on your grill to ensure that it doesn’t run out of pellets. It can be tricky to restart a grill that runs out of pellets mid-cook.
Pellets typically cost around $1 per pound for 20-to-40-pound bags. Expect to burn one to two pounds of pellets per hour, though this can vary depending on cooking temperature and other factors. Use only “food-grade” domestic hardwood pellets. Many different types of hardwood trees are used to make pellets, each offering a different flavor profile.
Store pellets in a sealed plastic or metal container inside your home so they are not destroyed by humidity.
Reliable makers of wood pellet grills include Green Mountain Grills, MAK, Memphis Grills, Recteq, Traeger, Yoder and Z Grills. Among the top picks…
The “Cadillac”: Memphis Elite from Memphis Wood Fire Grills is capable of grilling and searing in addition to smoking—it can reach temperatures up to 700°F and offers the option of cooking directly over flames. It has a massive 1,274-square-inch cooking surface and a big 24-pound pellet hopper. $5,399.
The Value: Recteq RT-700 is solidly built, reliable and attractive—it’s made almost completely from durable stainless steel. The RT-700’s massive 40-pound hopper can support slow cooks lasting more than a day without requiring a refill. Its 702 inches of cooking surface can fit six racks of ribs. The company has a reputation for strong customer support. The grill’s top temperature is 500°F. $1,199.
The Sub-$1,000 Option: The Daniel Boone Prime Plus from Green Mountain Grills offers features and build quality that outshine other wood pellet grills in its price range. It can reach 550°F, has an 18-pound capacity hopper and 458 square inches of cook space. It can be controlled via a smartphone app. Unlike most wood pellet grills, you don’t even need access to a standard electrical outlet—this grill can run on 12-volt power by plugging it into a car cigarette lighter/power outlet or by attaching it directly to a car battery. It’s worth adding the optional “rotisserie kit,” which slow turns meat over the grill’s smoky heat, basting it in its own fat and bringing out a whole new level of flavor. $799. The rotisserie kit costs an additional $59.95.
These barbecue recipes translate particularly well to smoking on a wood pellet grill…
Big Kahuna Barbecued Packer Brisket
This slow-smoked Texas Hill Country–style brisket will make your reputation as an all-star barbecue chef. Prep time: 15 minutes. Grill time: 10 to 14 hours. Resting time: One to two hours.
From The Brisket Chronicles by Steven Raichlen. Photography by Matthew Benson. Workman Publishing © 2019.
Nashville Hot Cauliflower
The smokiness of pellet grilling combines with the cauliflower’s earthiness and spiciness of cayenne pepper and garlic in this tasty vegetarian dish. Prep time: 10 minutes. Marination time: Four to 12 hours. Grill time: 60 to 90 minutes.
From How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables Over Live Fire by Steven Raichlen. Workman Publishing © 2021.