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.
Pellet grills 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.
Let’s take a look at a few brands that vary in price and features to find the best value that meets your needs.
Make sure you also read this post, Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Meat!
Z Grills (Inexpensive, Functional, 3 Year Warranty)
I am currently cooking on a Z pellet grill and have been impressed by what a workhorse this guy is.
Z grills are essentially Traeger clones that are being sold direct to the public by the same Chinese factory that made Traegers for many years. Other than the branding and marketing I haven’t been able to see any real differences between these two brands other than price.
You don’t get any fancy WiFi controls or advanced temperature programming features with a Z grill. What you get is a pellet grill where you can dial in temperatures in 25 degree increments and smoke away all day long with no worries.
I have seen the temperatures fluctuate by about 15 degrees after I have mine dialed in but that only lasts for a few minutes and the pit always comes back to the set temperature. Here is my full Z Grill Review.
If you want basic functionality at rock bottom prices then a Z grill might be the one for you.
Pit Boss Pellet Grill (Affordable, Flame Broiler, 5 Year Warranty)
Pit Boss pellet grills are the darling of the budget barbecue scene. The 820 model in particular, with its monster size and cheap price tag, looks like an incredible bargain.
A nice feature of the “offset style” pellet smokers from Pit Boss is that you can slide the heat shield to the side and have direct access to the live flames from the fire pot for flame broiling.
I have been seriously tempted by the Copperhead vertical pellet smoker and if I ever find one on sale I will snap it up in a heartbeat. The Copperhead has MASSIVE cooking capacity and its 60 pound pellet hopper is the largest I have ever seen. It is also just a handsome looking smoker.
The Pit Boss grills work fine. Their controllers get a little wonky every now and then but that is the exception, not the rule.
What concerns me about the brand is that these smokers only come with a one year warranty. This doesn’t mean that a Pit Boss will fall apart after two years, just that you shouldn’t be surprised when it happens.
I resisted having a Pit Boss on this list for a while because of the warranty but I have talked to enough owners in the past few months who love their grills that I finally changed my mind.
2019 Update: Pit Boss is now offering a 5 Year Warranty on all pellet smokers. This is the best warranty of any brand on this list!
Here is a fun piece of trivia for folks who are worried that they will be looked down upon by their peers if they buy an affordable Pit Boss smoker instead of the more expensive Traeger…….
The man who invented pellet grills and founded the Traeger pellet grill company is a fellow named Joe Traeger. Joe sold his company about a decade ago and it is now being run by typical corporate marketers.
Joe didn’t stay away from the pellet grill game though.
Joe Traeger is now making pellet grills for Pit Boss. How is that for a pretty slick trick 🙂
Camp Chef Pellet Grills (Great Price, Great Features, 3 Year Warranty)
I recommend the Z Grill and Pit Boss products to people who are strictly shopping on price. I recommend the Camp Chef grills to people who are looking for the “sweet spot” of features and value.
As of the time of this publication Camp Chef offers 16 different pellet grills. I am not going to review each of them because it would probably put you to sleep.
Here are the features that make Camp Chef pellet grills different.
- Patented ash clean out system for EASY cleaning inside your smoker. This feature is available on all models.
- Slide and Grill Flame Broiler. This feature is available on Camp Chef “SG” models.
- Easy Hopper Dump: Allows you to easily change wood pellets for different smoke profiles. This feature is available on ” DLX, LUX and Woodwind” models.
- Infrared Propane Fired Ceramic Sear Box. Capable of hitting 800F for serious searing of steaks. Available for “Woodwind” models.
There are plenty of cosmetic differences, size differences, etc between the grills but the features listed above are the big ones.
The Ash Clean Out System is, in my opinion, a pretty big deal. It isn’t hard to clean the ashes out of other pellet grills with a Shop Vac but it is annoying and time consuming. That means that cleaning out the ashes is a task that often gets neglected and has lead to a few uncontrolled smoker fires since the ashes also contain uncombusted wood dust.
Grilla Grills Silverbac (Money Where it Matters, Four Year Warranty)
The Grilla Grills Silverbac is designed and marketed by a small family owned company in Holland, Michigan. The Silverbac makes this list because the folks at Grilla Grills want you to have the most bang for your buck.
One of the tag lines they use for the Silverbac is, “We cut costs, not corners.” So what does cutting costs and not corners mean? It means that you don’t get a Wi-Fi enabled PID controller but you do get a grilling grate made from 1/4 inch thick stainless steel. It means that you don’t get an infrared sear burner but you do get double walled construction for better heat retention and more efficient pellet usage.
The folks at Grilla Grills looked at what was really important in how a grill performs and that is where they put the highest quality materials.
Other nice features on the Silverbac include an integrated meat probe, stainless steel drip tray and fire pot, as well as an easy pellet dump system.
Grilla Grills is able to make an extremely high end pellet grill affordable by selling directly to the public and avoiding the costs associated with distributor networks or fees associated from selling on Amazon.
The four year warranty is exceptionally good.
Green Mountain Pellet Grills (Best Value for High End Features)
Green Mountain was one of the first companies to make pellet grills once the Traeger patents expired. The general philosophy behind Green mountain was to take everything that was lame about a Traeger and make it awesome.
Green Mountain offers several models of pellet grills but the best value is the Davy Crockett portable pellet grill.
Weighing in at 57 pounds the Davy Crockett grill has a small, portable footprint that makes it perfect for tailgating, camping or RVing.
The hopper holds about three pounds of pellets and the grill 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.
General Information About Pellet Grills
In order for you to decide which pellet smoker is best for you we need to understand the fundamental differences between these grills.
By the way, if you are trying to decide between a pellet grill and an electric smoker then you might want to check out this article on the best Masterbuilt electric smokers.
Once you get past items like price, size and warranty I tend to differentiate these grills based on Controllers, Capacity and Cleaning.
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. You will find this type of controller on Green Mountain grills as well as Rec Tec pellet grills.
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 but modern controllers do a pretty good job of holding temps.
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 and were the original style that came on Traeger grills. 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
The pellet hopper is an interesting feature to consider when you are shopping for a pellet grill.
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. 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.
Cleaning the Grill
The flat, single piece, sloping grease tray on my Z grill is EASY to clean. I put one lip of the tray onto a trash van and then use a paint scraper to push all of the grease and debris into the trash. Cleaning the tray is easy and oddly satisfying.
The rounded, two piece open grease tray on the Pit Boss looks like a booger to clean.
Since the ashes on a pellet grill are under the grease tray you do not see them build up. Out of sight equals out of mind. Additionally, since you have to remove the greasy cooking grates and grease tray to access the ashes it is a task that folks tend to avoid.
The easy ash dump system on the Camp Chef grills is a sweet feature to consider to take care of this chore.
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!