When people start shopping for the best pellet smoker they often go straight for the Traegers. This is understandable since Traeger was the only game in town for so many years.
However, there are now many other manufacturers in the market making products as good as or better than Traeger.
These products are an investment and I want to help you get the most bang for your buck. Let’s take a closer look at some options and see if we can figure out the best pellet grill for the money.
In order for you to decide which pellet smoker is best for you we need to understand the fundamental differences between these grills.
These differences are the Three C’s: Controller, Capacity, Construction
Controller’s for Pellet Grills
The controller is the brain of a pellet grill. It tells the grill how fast to feed wood pellets and blow the fan.
There are three types of controllers. Two of them are good and one is not.
PID Controller: The most precise temperature control is obtained with grills that have a PID controller. PID stands for “Proportional-Integral-Derivative” which is really just a fancy way of saying that it has a built in feedback loop.
A PID controller knows what temperature you set and knows the temperature inside the grill. The controller continually makes adjustments to make sure the desired temperature and actual temperature match.
A pellet smoker with a PID controller can usually maintain a set temperature with fluctuations as small as 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Multi-Position Ortech Controller: This is the most common type of controller used in pellet grills. You select a temperature for the grill using either a dial or a digital touch pad. The controller then feeds pellets at a predetermined rate that should get the grill close to where you want it.
Most grills with an Ortech controller do have an internal feedback system that makes adjustment based upon the internal grill temperature. However, the feedback loop consists of crude, temporary adjustments to the predetermined feed rate.
If you are using the grill under non-optimal conditions, like a really cold or windy day, the Ortech controller is going to struggle pretty hard.
Low Medium High Controller: This is a stupid, brute force controller that only knows how to feed pellets at three different rates. These controllers suck. None of the grills in this article utilize this type of controller.
There is a healthy debate about whether a PID or Multi-Position Ortech is the better controller for a smoker.
The argument for the PID is that the precision control is rock steady and will never be matched by an Ortech. If you are a control freak then the PID is what you need to look for.
The argument for the Ortech is that “close enough is good enough” and that the PID is so efficient that you don’t get much smoke. The whole point of having a smoker is to put smoke on meat. If what you want is precision control then put some Liquid Smoke on your ribs and cook them in an oven.
I can understand both sides of the pancake on this one. A smoker with a PID controller will cost more than one with an Ortech controller so if you are shopping on a budget the Ortech will be your friend.
The important thing to take away is that either the PID or Ortech will work fine but under no circumstance should you waste your money on a pellet smoker with a “Low-Medium-High” controller.
Capacity of Pellet Grills
You need to look at the cooking capacity of a pellet grill as well as how many pounds of pellets you can store in the hopper
Cooking Capacity: There is no right or wrong answer here. I will show one grill that was designed for tailgating, one that is big enough to roast a 50 pound hog and two in between.
Pellet Hopper Storage: How these grills store pellets is an interesting way to differentiate between the products. Again, there is no right or wrong answer here but some people will be drawn towards certain storage features.
Some grills can store 40 pounds of pellets. You can load one of these grills up and never have to worry about running out of fuel during a 16 hour brisket cook.
Some grills can only store 18 pounds of pellets. Owners of these grills say it isn’t a big deal to add more pellets mid-cook if needed. A benefit to having a smaller hopper is that there is less chance of unused pellets getting wet during storage and turning to sawdust.
Some grills have “trap doors” that let you easily dump all of the pellets in the bin into a bucket. This is a handy feature if you want to switch flavor profiles (dump out the hickory and add apple) or if you don’t want to store pellets in the hopper between smoking sessions.
Construction of Pellet Grills
The quality of a pellet grill is typically reflected in the warranty.
In general, I prefer to see stainless steel grates instead of enameled steel or cast iron.
Other important construction and design features include how easy the grill is to clean and the physical size of the smoker will be important.
Best Pellet Smokers Under $1000
- Camp Chef PG24 Deluxe
- Grilla Wood Pellet Grill
- Rec Tec Wood Pellet Grill
- Green Mountain Davy Crockett Pellet Grill
Camp Chef PG24 Deluxe
When the folks at Camp Chef were designing the PG24 Deluxe the one thing they wanted to do was build a better grill than Traeger’s most popular model, the Lil’Tex Elite.
Both grills have a $700 list price but you can often find them on Amazon in the $550-$650 range.
Both grills will hold about 18 pounds of pellets and both have advanced Ortech controllers.
Here is a GREAT video showing an impartial side by side comparison of the two grills.
For folks that would rather read than watch here are the quick highlights:
- Both grills have a primary grilling area of about 420 square inches. Camp Chef also has a removable top rack that provides more significantly more grilling space than Traeger.
- The Camp Chef has a built in stainless steel meat thermometer.
- The fire pot on the Camp Chef is MUCH easier to clean.
- The pellet hopper on the Camp Chef has an “easy dump” mechanism for removing all the pellets from the hopper.
- Camp Chef provides a one year warranty. The warranty can be extended to three years to match Traeger’s if desired.
- The Camp Chef “semi barrel” design allows more usable grilling space than the Traeger.
- Camp Chef has a side table.
- Camp Chef offers an optional Sear Box that can be mounted on the side table. The Sear Box is a small propane grill that increases the versatility of your cooker.
Bottom Line: Camp Chef took Traeger to school.
Grilla Wood Pellet Grill
The folks at Grilla have designed a great pellet smoker for people who need full sized functionality but are limited on space.
With dimensions of 30 x 32 x 44 inches the Grilla Wood Pellet grill takes up just a little more space than a standard Weber kettle grill.
The compact design of the Grilla does not hurt your grilling space. The Grilla has 488 square inches of grilling space (346 square inch main grate, 142 square inch upper grate) which is more than enough to handle four slabs of baby back ribs.
Here is a short sales video from Grilla. I am sharing this so you can see how the door slides instead of lifts and how easy it is to move the grill.
The Grilla Wood Pellet Grill utilizes a digital Ortech controller, holds 20 pounds of pellets and comes with a built in digital meat thermometer.
This grill is backed by a four year warranty.
Bottom Line: The Grilla Wood Pellet grill is a high tech, sharp looking smoking machine!
Rec Tec Wood Pellet Grill (RT-680)
At $998 the Rec Tec Wood Pellet Grill just sneaks under the $1,000 mark.
The price tag on this grill is supported by the advanced PID controller and the sheer size of the smoker.
The Rec Tec comes with a PID controller that lets you dial in a temperature and maintain it within +/- 5 degrees.
The grill has a 40 pound hopper capacity that supports the enormous grill area of 700 square inches. This pellet grill is large enough to tackle 50 pound pigs!
Here is a great video from my buddy Steve doing a complete unboxing and review of the Rec Tec 680.
Part of what you are paying for with the Rec Tec are some stainless steel horns and a beautiful porcelain enameled lid. I am not always a fan of paying for shiny bits and pieces but man, that is one sharp looking grill!
Bottom Line: The RT-680 is without a doubt the nicest pellet grill you will find for under $1,000.
Green Mountain Davy Crockett Pellet Grill
The Davy Crockett pellet grill is a portable superstar!
Weighing in at 57 pounds the Davy Crockett grill has a small, portable footprint that makes it perfect for tailgaiting, camping or RVing.
The hopper holds about three pounds of pellets and comes with a two year warranty.
The Davy Crockett comes with a PID controller that runs off of a WiFi enabled app. The app can also be used to monitor the internal meat thermometer and turn the heat down once the meat reaches the target temperature.
Green Mountain is a high end pellet grill producer that has integrated amazing technology into their products.
Here is the sales video for the Davy Crockett. Ignore the silly stuff in the middle about wood pellets providing moisture to your food but stick around until the end to see the freaking awesome control app!
The grill area is roughly 220 square inches (12 x 18). While this is on the small side of things you can still tackle ribs and small briskets with ease.
Bottom Line: This is the absolute best pellet grill for RVs or anyone who wants a portable pellet grill.
I hope you were able to find the best pellet grill for the money that suits your needs. If you have any questions drop me a line in the comments and I will see if I can dig up an answer for you!