Which Pellet Grill Class is Right for You?

New to the world of pellet grills? Odds are you’re not alone. Though Joe Traeger secured the first patent for pellet cookers back in 1986, they’ve really taken off in the past decade or so. With so many new brands, models, and innovations to sort through, we thought it best to break up our selection of pellet smokers into 4 clearly defined classifications: Luxury, Premium, Practical, and Economy.

The quality, performance, and features of each grill play a huge role in where they fall within these categories, but there are also a few basic differences that help us set them apart. Top-end temperatures, for instance, are reflected in each classification (the higher the possible heat, the better the class). Intended use of the pellet cooker is another major factor — Luxury models can do just about anything, the middle classes are slightly less versatile, and Economy models are designed for BBQ smoking only. Of course, we still place a high priority on quality of materials, namely the amount of stainless steel used in construction. It’s our hope that knowing these factors will greatly narrow down the search for your ideal pellet smoker.

Class Economy Practical Premium Luxury
Quality
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Luxury Pellet Grills

  • Luxury Pellet Grills
    • Constructed entirely from high-quality stainless steel to last a lifetime
    • Available in both freestanding and built-in configurations to fit your outdoor needs
    • Provide a stunning aesthetic to match most outdoor kitchen appliances
    • Widest temperature range on the market, from 180 degrees Fahrenheit to 700-plus
    • Can both slow-smoke and reach searing temperatures with ease
    • Actual temperatures almost never deviate from set temps, leading to reliable cooks
  • Quality

    In the modern grill industry, construction doesn’t get any better than all high-quality stainless steel. That’s exactly what Luxury pellet smokers bring to the table, with most assembled from highly durable 304-grade stainless steel and others sporting 430- or 201-grade builds. This remarkable degree of longevity and craftsmanship is reflected in their top-of-the-line warranties, most notably Twin Eagles’ limited lifetime coverage and Memphis Grills’ 7-year offering. Luxury is also the only class that contains built-in options, which allow you to position one of these sturdy, beautiful, and versatile grills as the well-deserved centerpiece of your outdoor kitchen.

  • Performance

    Sometimes looks aren’t all that deceiving. Luxury pellet cookers look like gas grills rather than traditional barrel smokers because they’re built to mimic the high heat of gas grilling. Thanks to variable-speed fans that replicate the airflow (“drafting”) of gas grills, brands like Memphis Grills and Twin Eagles boast machines that can reach 725 degrees. That being said, Luxury models are still perfectly capable of hitting low-and-slow smoking temps and maintaining them with double-walled or fiberglass insulation. It’s all overseen by sophisticated temperature controllers that make continuous, tiny adjustments to ensure your pellet cooker is performing up to its capabilities.

  • Features

    Most important among Luxury pellet smoker features are direct-flame accessories that make searing a breeze. Twin Eagles pellet grills simulate infrared heat with ceramic briquette flame tamer and charcoal tray inserts above the fire pot (not to mention their hidden rotisseries), while the Memphis Elite and Pro Series have a centrally located, perforated searing plate. While access to direct flame is great for searing, the PID-plus interfaces found on Luxury models aid in all cooking styles. These temperature controllers can connect to smart devices, keep temps within 5 degrees of your setting, and some even come with pre-programmed cook cycles for easy use.

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Top Luxury Pellet Brands

Premium Pellet Grills

Over the course of this exercise, we came across a handful of pellet smokers that didn’t quite fit into the classes we originally established. In our opinion, both the Traeger Ironwood and Timberline Series are the kings of mid-range pellet grills — not constructed entirely from high-quality stainless steel like Luxury models, but far superior to Practical pellet cookers in every way. They deserved a Premium class for themselves not because they have a bunch of features or fancy accessories, but simply because they’re rock-solid cookers from a highly trusted brand that won’t let you down.

  • Traeger Ironwood Pellet Grill

    Traeger Ironwood Pellet Smokers

    The Ironwood line is solidly built from durable, aluminized steel — which is still a pretty high bar to clear in terms of quality — while the side shelves are made from stainless steel. What we love best, though, is the pill-shaped barrel that provides more vertical space in the cooking chamber. When paired with Traeger’s innovative downdraft exhaust system, this design allows smoke to circulate a full 360 degrees around your food and impart more flavors before exiting the grill. Throw in Wi-Fi connectivity and a companion smartphone app that keeps you updated, and you’ve got a pellet cooker that won’t let you down.

    Shop Traeger Ironwood Pellet Grills
  • Traeger Timberline Pellet Grill

    Traeger Timberline Pellet Smokers

    What if we told you there was an Ironwood model with more cooking space and a stainless steel interior? You’d be taking home a Traeger Timberline, that’s what. To push its craftsmanship to the limits, Traeger included stainless steel in the heat baffle, cooking grids, and the inner wall surrounding the entire cooking chamber (the outer wall is still aluminized steel). There’s even a stainless steel front shelf and side shelf to maximize prep space. Timberline models still have the same downdraft exhaust and Wi-Fi capabilities as Ironwood pellet cookers, plus enough room to fit an extra cooking rack inside the barrel.

    Shop Traeger Timberline Pellet Grills
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Top Premium Pellet Grills

Practical Pellet Grills

    • Includes a mix of stainless steel, aluminized steel, and painted or powder-coated steel
    • PID controllers allow for Wi-Fi control with companion smartphone apps
    • Capable of grilling, baking, and smoking so you have more cooking options
    • Decent temperature range of 200 degrees to 600 degrees provides versatility
    • Temperatures generally remain within 15 degrees of the controller setting
    • Select models have designs that allow for grilling over direct flame
  • Quality

    Materials in this classification range from mostly lower grades of steel (painted, aluminized, or powder-coated) to 304-grade stainless steel in certain components. For example, you can expect to find 304 stainless steel in the shelves and internal components of select Traeger models and the lids of Camp Chef Woodwind pellet smokers. Likewise, it’s fairly common to see Practical pellet grills with stainless steel cooking grates. These pellet cookers, which strongly resemble freestanding barrel smokers, also come with moderate warranties, such as 5 years of coverage for the Weber SmokeFire and Broil King Regal Series, and 3-year limited warranties for Camp Chef units.

  • Performance

    While Practical pellet grills can’t quite reach intense searing temperatures of 700 degrees, some are still able to hit 600 degrees. This means they’re more than fit for grilling in addition to smoking and baking. Minor temperature swings are part of the experience no matter the cooking style, but usually no more than about 15 degrees off the set temperature on your PID controller. To keep things running smoothly, most Practical models have inclined, full-coverage heat baffles spanning the entire length of the barrel that direct excess grease drippings into an external container. This protects the fire pot, limits flare-ups, and promotes indirect heat for smoking.

  • Features

    Wi-Fi capability is the defining feature of the Practical classification. Weber, Traeger, Camp Chef, and other brands have companion smartphone apps that take advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity to keep you updated with alerts about your cook. But that’s not the only high-tech feature of Practical pellet cookers — most come with a digital PID controller, which continuously runs computer calculations that modify internal components to maintain stable temperatures. This class also includes important cooking features for versatility like Camp Chef’s Slide & Grill Technology for direct-flame access or the propane side burner attachment on the brand’s Woodwind models.

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Top Practical Pellet Brands

Economy Pellet Grills

  • Traeger Tailgater being used outdoors
    • Constructed from galvanized, painted, or porcelain- or powder-coated steel
    • Built for ideal smoking temperatures that rarely exceed 500 degrees
    • Designed, constructed, and optimized for low-and-slow smoking
    • Fewer available features means less cooking versatility
    • Generally have non-PID controllers with preset temperatures
    • Temperature and smoke production tend to cycle up and down
  • Quality

    Though some models may contain a component or heat baffle made of stainless steel, the Economy class is filled with pellet grills mostly built from lower grades of steel. Whether they’re painted, coated, or galvanized, these materials will corrode faster than the stainless steel found in higher classes. Lower quality of construction means shorter warranties, with some Economy pellet smokers being covered for up to 3 years. Because these pellet cookers are made specifically for smoking, they closely resemble classic offset or vertical smokers in shape. This class also contains cabinet smokers and huge competition models, all designed for low-and-slow cooking.

  • Performance

    With max temperatures of about 500 degrees, don’t expect to have much success grilling in an Economy unit. It’s important to remember, however, that these models still pack plenty of performance when it comes to slow-smoking. They manage cooks using non-PID controllers, which cycle through different rates of pellet feed and airflow to match your preset temperature. While this device doesn’t provide precise temperature control, the temperature swings of about 30–40 degrees won’t negatively affect meats smoked for long periods of time because they’ll still remain within an appropriate heat range. In fact, the cycling method actually tends to produce more smoke.

  • Features

    It’s no surprise that Economy features, though few, are geared toward BBQ smoking. Full-coverage heat baffles, for example, help generate flavorful smoke and indirect heat while guiding grease to an internal receptacle. Vertical pellet smokers in this class also usually have adjustable racks and built-in water pans, all of which can be arranged to maximize smoking potential. Non-PID controllers may be compatible with a few temperature probes that show the internal temp of your meat, but they don’t send alerts and thus still must be monitored. On the plus side, the Economy class is home to some extra-large models, like the Camp Chef XXL or Traeger XL.

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Top Economy Pellet Brands


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