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What are pellet grill BBQs?
If you’re a terrible barbecue cook who either burns food to a crisp or doesn’t cook it well enough, a pellet grill may change your al fresco life. The system was originally invented by an American called Joe Traeger who wanted a ‘set it and forget it’ method of grilling and smoking food outdoors, one that didn’t require constant attention or indeed any expertise in the art of barbecuing or smoking. But above all, a BBQ system that infused food with an authentically woody flavour and aroma. All pellet grills you buy today based on his original invention.
Why are they so easy to use?
The best thing about modern pellet grills is that they’re controlled by a computer – like an electric indoor oven, when you set your preferred grilling temperature, the enclosed interior stays at that temperature for the entire duration of the cooking process. The system is so reliable that you can quite literally put the food on, close the lid, go and chat to your guests, returning only once or twice to turn the food. Everything cooks to succulent, crispy perfection pretty much every time. And more importantly, the food rarely burns because there are never any flare-ups.
What can a pellet grill do?
Pellet grills don’t just grill – they also roast, bake and are among the very best solutions for ‘slow and low’ eight-hour smoking sessions of brisket, ribs, gammon and lamb, etc.
How does a pellet grill work?
Pellet grills burn small compressed wood pellets that are fed from a large hopper to a mini fire pot by an electricity powered auger (basically a large corkscrew). A computer processor, accessed via an LCD display, monitors the entire process and ensures that the right amount of pellets are distributed to maintain the set temperature. The grill temperature itself is regulated using an internal thermometer and a fan that switches itself on and off as required. To prevent flare-ups and increase flavour, a sloping metal heat deflector-cum fat catcher is placed between the fire pot and the grill grate.
What’s so good about using pellets?
The first time you fire up a pellet grill it smells like a real campfire and that’s because the fuel it burns is pure wood in compressed form. There are numerous types of wood you can use and they all impart their own unique characteristics on the food being cooked.
Pellets usually come in 9kg bags (around £18 a hit) and there’s a wide variety of types available, from cherry, apple and mesquite to pecan, maple and oak. An average 9kg bag will last about six hours if used at high heat and about nine hours when smoking low and slow. Be mindful that wood pellets aren’t as readily available as charcoal or even gas so make sure you have enough stock to hand.
Traeger Ironwood 650
Best for: Size and features
Key specs – Grills for: Up to ten; Weight: 67.5kg; Wifi connectivity: Yes
The Ironwood 650 is part of Traeger’s mid-price range and is the perfect choice for grill size, cooking options and high-tech features. The build quality throughout is first class – everything fits perfectly together and the legs are strong enough to hold up a house. The short assembly process was an enjoyable breeze and when you’ve built it, the box itself is designed to be turned into a playhouse for the kids.
This model has a large 650 square inch grill – good for eight small chickens and goodness knows what else – and double side walls for extra insulation. Like all pellet grills, the Ironwood 650 is equipped with a built in computer that keeps tabs on the entire grilling process and, in this instance, an excellent user interface display with handy extras like a ‘Keep warm’ function and ‘Super Smoke’ button for low and slow grilling sessions. It also features a pellet sensor to let you know when it’s time for a top up. Like all Traegers, this model also ships with a single meat probe for super accurate cooking.
However, one of the very best things about this back yard beauty is that, like quite a few pellet grills, it can be connected to your home wifi and used in conjunction with an app. The Traeger app is a marvel of design and function that provides a seemingly endless variety of exciting recipes, including smoked brisket, marinated beef ribs, roasted beer can chicken and sweet smoked salmon jerky. Simply select a recipe of choice and read the prep instructions.
Now tap ‘Make Now’ and the grill will automatically heat up to the correct temperature and tell you when to put the food on, when to turn it and when to take it off. As this grill can reach 500˚F (260˚C), it will also sear steaks.
The pellet grill was designed specifically to make the act of outdoor grilling as effortless and failsafe as possible. In this respect the Traeger Ironwood 650 passes with flying colours. Highly recommended.
Broil King Crown 400
Best for: Design and steak searing
Key specs – Grills for: Up to six; Weight: 70kg; Wifi connectivity: Yes
This medium-sized grill-cum-smoker looks similar to the Traeger Ironwood and also features wifi connectivity. Crucially, it’s capable of reaching a higher temperature than most pellet grills so it’s a great choice for steak lovers who insist on a caramelised crust and a rare, moist centre.
The Crown 400’s backlit LCD screen has nice big lettering for use in the dark and we like the fact it features three quick-selection buttons for the most common settings – smoke at 107˚C, roast at 176˚C and grill and sear at a whopping 315˚C. It also ships with two meat probes for accurate temperature measurement.
The heavy duty 445 square inch cast iron grate is an other top selling point and what’s more, it can be reversed – one side produces sear streaks on steak and the other side catches fatty juices. Rather ingeniously, the Crown 400 also features an excellent ash management system that allows you to empty the ash from the burn pot by simply wiggling a lever. An optional rotisserie set is also available. Yes, this model is quite pricey for a medium sized grill but its clever feature set makes it well worth the outlay.
PIT BOSS PB700FB Wood Fired Pellet Grill
Best for: sizeable grilling space in a patio-friendly package
Key specs– Grills for: 4-6; Weight: 54.5kg; Wifi connectivity: No
With a 700 square inches of cast-iron cooking surface, including a second tier rack, the Pit Boss wood pellet grill allows plenty of space for grilling for up to six people.
The Pit Boss is well built from heavier gauge steels, which suggests it will last well over multiple season’s use. Since it weighs about 54.5kgs, this is not something you’ll want to be carrying but thankfully it’s equipped with a pair of large wheels for relatively easy portage around the patio.
The Pit Boss’s 9.5 kg pallet hopper is good enough for around nine hours of grilling without refuelling (dependent on what temp you’re cooking at). And like most Pit Boss models, it also features a unique heat deflector below the grate that slides across to expose slats on one side for full-flame steak searing. It also features two meat probe ports although you only get one probe with the purchase.
Pellet grills have a dodgy reputation for searing steaks but a fillet steak grilled on the Pit Boss came out juicy, charred, and delectable.
Its interface is easy to use – simply turn the dial to select your preferred grilling temperature and the onboard computer will ensure accurate and consistent cooking results time after time. A great entry-level pellet grill with ample versatility at a very reasonable price.
Weber Smokefire EX4 GBS
Best for: Style and kudos
Key specs – Grills for: Up to eight; Weight: 70.3kg; Wifi connectivity: Yes
Weber is arguably the most famous brand in barbecue land and this is the US company’s first pellet grill-cum-smoker. The Smokefire is available in two sizes: the smaller EX4 reviewed here and its larger stablemate, the EX6.
The EX4’s stainless steel grate has 661 square inches of dual cooking space – enough meal estate for a party of eight – and it’s also compatible with Weber’s interchangeable Gourmet barbecue system of different accessory inserts. Rather uniquely, it also comes with four meat probe ports and a single probe to start you off.
The main difference between this pellet grill and most others is that the Smokefire eschews a full size heat deflector in favour of stainless steel ‘flavorizer bars’ that sizzle the dripping fats. These bars are spaced an inch or so apart so that the flame below is easily visible – and that means it’s one of the best pellet grills for searing steaks which require a super hot flame for best results (this grill has a temperature range of 95-315°C which is higher than most). The downside to this system is that excess fats and pellet ash tend to merge together and not drain correctly. Nevertheless, this is easily rectified with a good clean up after every barbecue session.
Like Traeger’s current range, this model also links to an app via wi-fi but it’s not as comprehensive or as easy to use as the Traeger app. Nevertheless, the unit’s main interface is very easy to get a handle on without having to constantly refer to the manual.
If you’re in the market for a durable workhorse that delivers excellent results whether its searing steaks, grilling sausages, roasting chicken or slow smoking an entire brisket over a ten-hour period, the Weber Smokefire could be the grill for you.
Traeger Pro 575
Best for: Value
Key specs – Grills for: Up to six; Weight: 56kg; Wifi connectable: Yes
If you can’t stretch your budget to the Traeger Ironwood 650, consider this smaller and cheaper model that sports most of the Ironwood’s features, including wifi connection to Traeger’s fabulous iOS and Android app. Indeed the only major differences between the two are grill size and the fact that the 575 doesn’t have double-insulated side walls or a dedicated Super Smoke button.
It does, however, feature a Keep warm function buried within the setting menu. As is the case with every Traeger, build quality is exemplary, from the sturdy legs to the fitting together of all parts – everything is numbered, including all screws and bolts.
The Pro 575 ships with a 575 square inch porcelain coated grill that’s suitable for a table of six to eight, and it boasts the same D2 drive train as the Ironwood 650, so you can be sure the temperature will remain pretty consistent throughout the cook. The 8.16kg pellet hopper is just shy of a full 9kg bag of pellets – good for at least a six hours of smoking.
If you’re looking for an affordable entry into the effortless joys of pellet barbecuing, make this model one of your first ports of call. And while you’re at it, add a selection of the company’s exquisite spicy rubs to the shopping list. You will not be disappointed.