Outdoor cooking has become so popular, there are now a variety of devices available to grill, roast, broil and smoke your favorite foods. For the ultimate in smoking and slow cooking joints of meat, succulent salmon and even pizza, a wood pellet smoker is the way to go.
These smokers work more like a convection oven than a BBQ grill, meaning the food does not have direct contact with a flame. Instead, heat is circulated inside the smoker at either a low and slow temperature for smoking, or a higher one for grilling.
Fueled with small pellets made from compressed wood, the smoky taste is subtle and can impart flavors depending on the kind of wood pellets used, such as apple, hickory or cherry. Pellets are automatically fed into the hopper as needed for a convenient set-and-go situation.
We feature three pellet smokers that you can buy online. Read on to find the one that suits you best.
Top Pick Best Portable: Traeger Grills Ranger Grill TBT18KLD Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
Tailgate parties, the cottage, camping – you were made for the road, traveling to different places to enjoy the best life has to offer. You love cooking in your kitchen at home, plus backyard grilling and smoking food is your go-to good-weather activity. Now you want to be able to bring all that smoky goodness with you wherever you go. If you’re looking for a wood pellet smoker to take on the road, then consider this Ranger grill model by Traeger.
Offering big wood-fired flavor in a portable package, this model is built for the road, and features a baffled lid design as well as lid latches for durability and safe transport. Measuring 21 inches x 20 inches x 15 inches and weighing 70 pounds, it also includes a new Digital Arc Controller to give you precise, consistent temperatures and a Keep Warm Mode that makes sure your food is ready to eat whenever you need it to be.
Other convenient features include advanced grilling logic, a meat probe and a cook timer, 184 square inches of grilling area, an extended eight-pound hopper and a temperature range up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
With this wood pellet smoker, you can pack up your car and cooler and cook up a feast no matter where your adventures take you.
- Baffled lid design and lid latches for safe transportation
- 184 square inch of grilling space
- Heavy at 70 pounds
- Smaller cooking surface
Top Pick Best Large Capacity: Cuisinart CPG-6000 Deluxe Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker
So many hungry mouths to feed – or at least it feels that way in your family, where everyone has a giant-sized appetite. Especially when it comes to grilled and smoked foods. If you’re looking to get that smoky barbecue flavor in your backyard as soon as possible, then you might want to consider this model to help you feed your demanding crew.
Slow cooking has never been easier with this wood pellet smoker. The large total cooking space of 700 square inches – a 513-square-inch main rack and a 187-square-inch warming rack – can accommodate all the food that you throw at it. The extra-large 20-pound capacity pellet hopper features an auto feed that allows you to smoke from 10 to 15 hours long, depending on the smoke setting. With six in one cooking, you can happily grill, roast, smoke, braise, bake or barbecue to your heart’s content.
And it’s so easy to use – this pellet grill features an auto-start ignition and digital temperature control that maintains the heat between 180 degrees Fahrenheit and 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply fill the hopper, choose the temperature, and power it on. This mighty grill will take it from there.
Other features include: a lid with a large handle that makes it easy to open and close; an internal grease pan that directs grease and debris down towards the grease cup for an easy clean up; a bonus cover that protects it from the elements; digital auto temperature control and real-time LED temperature display; double door cabinet to store pellet bags and grilling tools; and wheels and a handle so that even measuring 48 inches x 22 inches x 51 inches and weighing 146 pounds, it can be easily moved around your deck or backyard.
- Large cooking surface
- Has wheels and a handle for portability
- Cabinets underneath to store wood pellets and utensils
- Digital temperature control
- Auto-start ignition
- Large capacity
- Assembly required
- Not great for small batch cooking
Top Pick Best Space Saver, Large Capacity: PIT BOSS PBV3P1 Vertical Pellet Smoker
In real estate, they say if you don’t have the space, go vertical. Well, the same can be said for a wood pellet smoker. Just because your outdoor space may be small, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on cooking large amounts of food in your smoker. If you’re looking for a convenient, space-saving wood pellet smoker to accommodate a few joints of meat and pork butts at one time, then this may be the model for you.
Pit Boss’s vertical wood pellet smoker fits where other models can’t, yet with its multi-tiered system, you can smoke everything on your menu for up to 24 hours of continuous use. This model has integrated its top-loading pellet hopper to the rear of the smoker, increasing the cooking capacity. The 3.5 cubic feet of space includes five cooking racks, with a cooking area of 909 square inches. Comes with an auto-start, 300-watt igniter with auto shut-off.
The fully programmable digital controller gives you complete control over the 150 to 450-degree Fahrenheit temperature range and the double-walled construction with blanket insulation protects the internal temperature of the smoker on the coldest nights. The hopper, which can hold more than 40 pounds of pellets, means you can smoke low and slow for over 24 hours. And with a digital LED read out on the meat probe, it’s easy to monitor the internal temperature of your food for perfect cooking every time. It doesn’t get more fall-off-the-bone delicious than that.
- Measures 26 inches x 22 inches x 53 inches and weighs 97 pounds
- Digital LED readout and meat probe
- 40 pound hopper capacity
- Vertical design fits into smaller spaces
- Large capacity
- Capacity may be too large for some tastes
- More expensive than other models
Things to look out for:
Consider these things when looking for a wood pellet smoker so you will choose the one that best suits your needs:
Some consider a wood pellet smoker to be a delightful blend of a charcoal barbecue, gas grill and oven as an alternative method for cooking outdoors and smoking meats and other foods. Unlike charcoal barbecues or gas grills, these smokers use wood pellets as fuel and while they can smoke as well as grill and bake, they need a source of electricity to power an electronic control panel that automatically feeds the pellets to the fire, regulate the grill’s airflow and maintain consistent cooking temperatures.
This means you need to be near a power source, battery pack or generator to use one. These machines are capable of both maintaining low-and-slow temperatures and reaching grilling temperatures. A select few push the upper limits with searing temperatures over 700 degrees, while others come with gas side burners attached to their barrels.
Once you’ve determined that you would like one of these amazing cookers, below are some of the factors to consider before actually choosing the one that’s right for you.
Freestanding pellet smokers:
Freestanding wood pellet smokers are large and meant to stay in one place, although many offer some mobility and come equipped with a handle and wheels so you can move it around the backyard. Some of these also have additional bottom shelves with doors to store things like bags of wood pellets or cooking utensils. Other models offer side shelves and extra cooking attachments like a side gas burner. There are also fully portable pellet smokers that you can take with you to a tailgater, the cottage or camping. Some of these run well on a 12-volt battery or mobile battery pack. While these are great to travel with, they also have a smaller cooking surface.
Vertical pellet smokers:
Most pellet smokers can cook in just about any way – some with six-in-one cooking options such as grill, roast, smoke, braise, bake or barbecue – but vertical pellet smokers are specifically designed for low-and-slow smoking. Many have a top temperature range of around 450 degrees, but the trade-off is that they generate steady temperatures as low as 150 degrees for smoking delicate foods like salmon. These space-saving, usually large-capacity vertical smokers create combustion using a gravity feed of wood pellets.
If you’re big on having an outdoor kitchen, or if you already have one and want to add a wood pellet smoker to the lineup of outdoor appliances, there are some models available that can be dropped into a barbecue island. Gas grills are the most common type of outdoor cookers built into BBQ islands, but there are some pellet smoker models out there that can be dropped into an island as well. These are usually made from stainless steel to offer a sleek outdoor look and are typically quite pricey, often running into thousands of dollars.
Many people enjoy using wood pellet smokers because of their set-and-leave capability. That being said, these smokers have temperature controllers to help keep everything steady and on point, managing pellet consumption and stoking the fire as needed to achieve the desired heat and smoke levels.
These controllers are more ‘old school’ and offer up to 10 pre-set temperature positions, including low, medium and high. PID stands for proportional, integral, derivative, so wood pellet smokers that don’t have them are less precise when controlling the temperature, cycling anywhere between 30 and 40 degrees of the intended temperature, stopping the fire when it gets too hot and feeding the flames when it gets too low. These controllers are usually found in lower-priced wood pellet smokers.
Having a wood pellet smoker that uses a PID controller means more consistent temperature control. They work by running calculations based on factors like the fan speed and pellet rate to maintain a constant temperature within five degrees of the preferred setting. The advantage here is that the constant monitoring of temperatures and recalculation of the duty cycle allows pellet grills that use PID controllers to hit the target temperature and maintain it for hours, hence the slow smoking appeal.
High tech features:
For anyone who loves bells and whistles and lots of features, it’s possible to find wood pellet smokers that have Wi-Fi capabilities with smart phone access and control through an app. Such a feature can help you monitor cooking from a distance and send alerts, an attractive option if you are of the mind to set it and leave it.
Wood pellets used in smokers are made from wood that is milled and heat compressed into small cylindrical pellets that are perfect for smoldering and smoking in a pellet grill. As well, 100 per cent natural wood pellets supply a more consistent smoke with very little ash or creosote build up.
Be aware that not all wood is safe to be used in cooking pellets and the ones you choose should be marked as food-grade. Pellets made from spruce or pine do not impart a good flavor, and you should steer clear of wood pellets made from particle board or plywood, which may have binding agents that could ruin the taste of your food.
The flavors of wood pellets include mesquite, cherry, oak, apple, alder and hickory and the different flavors bring out the best in specific foods. For example, alder wood is recommended for salmon, poultry and game birds; apple for poultry, pork, lamb and seafood; and hickory for pork and ribs.