If you are looking for a budget friendly pellet grill then both the Z Grills and Pit Boss brands should be on your radar screen. There are several differences between these two brands and while I like them both, I eventually settled upon Z Grills as the pellet smoker that sits on my back deck.
Let me walk you through the Z Grills vs Pit Boss comparison so you can decide which of these brands is right for you.
The primary differences between Pit Boss and Z Grills are:
- Types of Pellet Smokers Offered
- Flame Broilers
- Advanced Features
- Build Quality and Reliability
- Brand History
The biggest reasons that pushed me more towards Z grills have to do with the Flame Broiler, Build Quality and Reliability. Both of these brands are excellent alternatives to a Traeger.
Let’s look at each of these differences in more detail.
Pit Boss Offers “Offset” and Vertical Pellet Smokers
Both Z Grills and Pit Boss make traditional “offset” pellet grills. These grills have a side mounted pellet hopper on that feed a firepot located in the barrel of the smoker.
Pit Boss also offers a selection of Vertical pellet smokers that offer increased capacity with a smaller footprint.
The vertical smokers offered by Pit Boss can only be used as smokers as the top temperature is typically limited to 275F.
For this comparison I am going to be sticking with the offset style grills offered by both brands.
Flame Broiler Capability: A Mixed Bag
All of the Pit Boss pellet grills have the ability to perform direct open flame grilling by sliding a mechanism on the grease tray to expose the meat to the flames from the firepot. The ability to do open flame grilling on a Z Grills is only available on the smaller 600 Series.
The ability to grill burgers and steaks over direct open flames sounds great but, in my opinion, causes more problems than it is worth. The two main problems caused by the Flame Broiler on the Pit Boss Grills are:
- Poor Heat Distribution
- Hard to Clean
Problems with Heat Distribution
Grills that do NOT have Flame Broilers, like Z Grills, have a Heat Distribution Shield that sits underneath the grease tray and directly over the firepot.
The entire point of a Heat Distribution Shield is to deflect the intense heat coming off of the firepot towards all other parts of the grill. The heat is then distributed more evenly by the grease tray to create a cooking environment with relatively even heating.
Because Pit Boss grills need direct flame access they do not have a Heat Distribution Shield over the firepot. This makes the temperature distribution inside a Pit Boss grill much less even than you get on a Z Grills and you will end up dealing with significant hot spots.
Here is a great forum thread discussing the issue of poor heat distribution in Pit Boss grills caused by a lack of a proper heat diffuser.
Hard to Clean
The grease tray on a Z Grills is a simple, flat sheet of metal. All I need to do to clean off this tray is to stick one end on a trash can and use a putty knife to scrape any debris, grease and crud into the trash. Cleaning the grease tray on a Z grills is EASY.
The grease tray on a Pit Boss is curved and has a bunch of slots to let the flames through. Getting that grease tray clean is a significant pain in the neck.
Many people resort to wrapping the Pit Boss grease tray in aluminum foil or will place foil pans under the grate to help keep things clean. While these tricks work they also eliminate the ability to do direct flame grilling.
Not Worth It to Me
The Flame Broiler system on Pit Boss grills does not have the performance to offset the problems it causes.
I love watching the flames as I grill but the reality is that the grilling area available on the Pit Boss is limited to the size of the firepot and the grills do not get as hot as I want.
Both Pit Boss and Z Grills can reach temperatures of 450F and are fine for getting crispy skin on some chicken wings but nether is what I consider a true grill.
Pit Boss is more aggressive in their utilization of advanced features such as built in meat probes, PID controllers and WiFi connectivity.
It seems like Pit Boss comes up with radical new designs just about every year.
In contrast, Z Grills have only recently introduced features such as built in meat probes and PID controllers. It looks like Z Grills has a basic, bare-bones design that works and they want to stick with what they know.
Build Quality and Reliability
Pit Boss grills are, in my opinion, less reliable than Z Grills and have a lower build quality.
My comment about build quality comes from the tremendous amount of reviews for grills like the Pit Boss Austin XL where there are endless complaints about paint the bubbles, peels and then flakes off so the grill gets rusted.
My comment about reliability comes from the reviews for the Pit Boss Copperhead smokers where the control panels have a high rate of failure.
I believe the reliability issues at Pit Boss are directly related to how aggressively they are introducing new technology into their products. Some of the newer Pit Boss grills like the Pro Series have WiFi connectivity and can be be run through an app on your phone. The reviews for the functionality of the app are not good and, too me, looks like a product that was rushed to market just to have something new.
In contrast, Z Grills is sticking with a very simple, highly reliable design for the majority of their grills. Z Grills are not sexy but they are highly reliable.
These two brands are extremely different in terms of how they originated and the values that drive them.
The History of Pit Boss
Pit Boss is a brand owned by Dansons. Other Dansons grill brands include Louisiana Grills and Country Smokers.
Dansons was started as a small family business in 1999 and has rapidly grown into one of the market leaders in the world of pellet grills. The company was founded in Canada but moved to Arizona in recent years. Most products are made in China.
The Pit Boss brand is rapidly expanding to include kamados, flat top griddles, seasonings, etc.
The Dansons company is a heavily Christian based organization and is driven in part by faith and charity. Dansons makes regular and significant donations to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
The History of Z Grills
Z Grills is a classic story of globalization.
While Z grills is a US based brand it had its start as a Chinese contract manufacturing company. These guys spent over 30 years making the grills that were sold by major brands.
Z Grills took what they learned while making grills for other companies and started selling them directly to consumers in 2018.
This is one reason why Z grills are so reliable. They have spent decades mastering the manufacturing process.
Which is Better? Z Grills or Pit Boss
I choose Z Grills over Pit Boss because the build quality was better and I did not value the Pit Boss Flame Broiler.
I have three Z Grills and my favorite is the Z Grills 10002 which has an easy ash cleanout system.
I have been extremely happy with my Z grills pellet grills and do not hesitate to recommend them to anyone looking for an affordable and reliable pellet grill.
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