If you’re still using a standard charcoal smoker to cook your food, you might wonder if there is a better way – and there is. Pellet smokers are some of the best tools for smoking food since they make cooking effortless and keep the chamber’s temperature consistent.
Pellet smokers are good for smoking foods since they are the most uncomplicated and effortless smokers to use. They usually also give your food more flavor than other smokers, which can ensure that your meats always taste fantastic.
So, let’s get down to the details and discuss why pellet smokers are so wonderful. I’ll teach you how they work and what to expect, and I’ll also give you some tips for buying and using one.
What Are Pellet Smokers?
Pellet smokers are some of the most efficient and straightforward smokers to use, and they can ensure that your food comes out perfect every time.
Pellet smokers are convection smokers that use compressed hardwood pellets for cooking and smoking food. These cookers have a loading mechanism and a thermostat that regulates how many pellets are inserted into the burner, giving you a consistent temperature and plenty of smoke.
Pellet smokers were invented in the 1980s by Joe Traeger, a pellet stove manufacturer. To design the first pellet smoker, Traeger used his expertise in pellet stoves, heating units that automatically stoke your fire with hardwood pellets.
How Do Pellet Smokers Work?
Pellet smokers work by using a thermostat to add pellets to the burner automatically, keeping your flame stoked and smoky for you. Like their close cousin, the pellet stove, pellet smokers have a built-in thermostat, a pellet hopper, and an auger that feeds pellets to the burner.
Pellet smokers automatically start and stoke the fire, allowing you to start smoking your food at the touch of a button.
To use a pellet smoker, you fill the pellet hopper with hardwood pellets. Then, you set the thermostat, and the smoker will do the rest of the work for you.
When the temperature in your smoker lowers during cooking, the thermostat will trigger the pellet distributor to add more fuel to the fire, ensuring that the temperature inside the cooking chamber always stays the same.
As the pellet smoker runs, it also uses fans to distribute heat, making the smoker more like a convection oven than a standard charcoal smoker. In addition, at lower temperatures, the fans will encase your food in smoke, concentrating the smoky flavor for a fantastic taste.
Since pellet smokers can keep a consistent temperature and don’t require you to add more fuel by hand, you can put your food in the smoker and leave it until it is done.
These smokers are extremely popular among restaurateurs and BBQ competitors since they do almost all the work of smoking and maintaining the perfect temperature for you.
To see a pellet smoker in action, check out this simple how-to video from the BBQers at Bunnings Warehouse:
Pellet Grills vs. Pellet Smokers
Smokers are not grills, but some grills can be used as smokers.
Pellet grills are designed to cook food at a higher heat for less time, so they are generally better for cooking seared foods like steaks.
On the other hand, pellet smokers function at a lower temperature setting, increasing the amount of smoke and the cooking time.
Since pellet smokers use a convection-like cooking method, the heat is usually indirect and is circulated throughout the cooking chamber by fans. These fans keep the pellets red-hot without allowing them to flame up, ensuring that nothing gets charred during cooking.
On the other hand, a grill’s flame will usually rise higher, giving your food a crisp outer layer and grill lines.
If you want to learn more about the difference between pellet grills and pellet smokers, you may want to read this other article that I wrote on the topic.
Do Pellet Smokers Make Enough Smoke?
When you use a smoker, you should expect to get that signature smoked flavor from your food. Pellet smokers are the perfect cooking tool to use if you want to pack an extra punch of flavor into your food.
Pellet smokers make enough smoke to give your food a full-bodied, smoky taste that is usually more intense than food cooked in a charcoal smoker. However, like with any smoker, the flavor will differ depending on the type of wood pellets you use.
Pellet smokers are incredibly efficient since they circulate heat and smoke throughout the smoking chamber, maximizing the smoky flavor and the fuel.
Pellet smokers usually give your food the smokiest flavor of all the other smokers available on the market, and they will change your whole smoking game!
How To Get the Best-Tasting Smoke From Your Pellet Smoker
Pellet smokers generally produce tons of smoke, especially during the ignition phase. Still, the smoke produced during startup is thick and white, which usually gives your food a more bitter taste.
Allow your smoker to preheat until the smoke becomes thin, wispy, and blue for the best results. This blue smoke contains less ash, so it generally tastes sweeter than the smoke that appears right after turning on your smoker.
Another factor that can influence the taste of your smoke is the pellets that you use. Most smokers work best with either fruitwood or hardwood pellets.
However, when using a pellet smoker, ensuring that your pellets contain more hardwood than fruitwood or wood filler can elevate the taste of your smoke and make the machine run more efficiently.
If you want the best smoke with the best burn times, I recommend this double pack of Premium CookinPellets’ The Perfect Mix (available on Amazon.com) products. These pellets are 100% natural with no fillers, and they can enhance your food’s flavor while keeping your smoker from getting clogged with ash and residue.
My favorite is the hickory, hard maple, cherry, and applewood blend since it has a rich, sweet flavor, but I also love their hickory pellets since they burn for a longer time than the fruitwood blends.
Vertical VS. Horizontal Pellet Smokers
When you shop for a pellet smoker, you may notice that there are two major styles.
Vertical pellet smokers look like ovens, and they have a vertical cooking chamber with one or more shelves and are better for smoking alone. However, horizontal pellet smokers look more like traditional grills with a cylinder-shaped cooking chamber, and they’re better for searing and grilling food.
The most traditional style of pellet smokers is the vertical one. Vertical pellet smokers are usually rectangular with a door in the front. These smokers offer a more convection-like cook, and the heat source is usually more indirect than horizontal pellet smokers.
Because vertical smokers are built to keep your food out of the flames, they are generally better for long, slow cooking at lower temperatures, which can also increase smoke production and flavor.
Horizontal pellet smokers are almost pellet grills, but they still offer some extra smoking properties. The round-bodied smoker usually generates more direct heat, which can give your food grill lines and a crisper coating.
So, if you want a pellet smoker for smoking foods alone, opt for a vertical pellet smoker. However, if you want a more versatile smoker that can function as a grill, go with a horizontal pellet smoker.
Cost of Pellet Smokers
Pellet smokers aren’t cheap, but they are well worth the investment if you love grilling or smoking your food.
Pellet smokers can cost you anywhere between $400 and $2,000, depending on the smoker’s brand, model, and size. That said, you can get some of the very best pellet smokers for around $600 and $700, which is comparable to the price of a gas or charcoal grill.
You may wonder why you should spend that much money on a pellet smoker. The answer is simple – pellet smokers are convenient and efficient, and they offer smoky flavors like no other smoker.
With the ability to stick your food in the smoker, start it up, and confidently leave it turned on unattended, there’s no easier way to cook.
In addition, pellets are easy to come by, and using them can ultimately be cheaper than using gas or charcoal.
On average, a pellet smoker used on the smoking setting or low heat only uses about ½ lb (0.2 kg) per hour of use, and since the average price of pellets is around $1 per pound, you can save a lot of money on fuel if you smoke your food often.
The Best Pellet Smoker Brands
If you want your pellet smoker to last you for many years to come, you might want to consider purchasing one from a reputable brand. I’ve consulted with other meat-lovers and BBQ competitors to find out what pellet smokers everyone loves and relies on the most to make your search simple.
So, here are the best pellet smoker brands:
- Pit Boss: Pit Boss smokers have the absolute best vertical pellet smokers, and they are highly recommended among BBQ competitors. Joe Traeger himself even sponsors them! These smokers have fantastic durability and reliability, and they come in many models with different price points, which is why I own this Pit Boss Wood Pellet Grill (available on Amazon.com) myself.
- Traeger: Traeger-brand, owned by Joe Traeger, the inventor of pellet smokers, builds top-of-the-line smokers at an affordable cost. They are a favorite among professional BBQ competitors and winners, but they are also fantastic backyard smokers, which is why I recommend this Traeger Portable Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker (available on Amazon.com).
- Yoder: Yoder pellet smokers are competitive-grade, and each smoker is designed with precision and the most durable and reliable materials out there. In addition, they have some of the most versatile smokers, and many of them can also function as grills. They are made in America and have a reputation as some of the longest-lasting smokers on the market.
- Memphis Grills: Memphis Grills offers some of the most technologically advanced pellet smokers, and all of their smokers can also be used as grills when you turn up the heat. With wireless app integration, stunning design, and a durable design, these smokers offer a luxurious way to cook your food.
How To Burn Off a Brand New Pellet Smoker
When you purchase a brand-new pellet smoker, you will have to burn it off, which is a process that will remove the oils and debris that the smoker may have been coated with when it was made in the factory. These contaminants could make your food taste bitter or make it unhealthy, so you should always burn off a new smoker (and grill) before you cook in it.
To burn off a brand new pellet smoker, you should do the following:
- Remove all packaging, plug it in, and fill up the pellet hopper.
- Turn the smoker on and set it to the highest possible heat setting.
- Let the smoker run with the door closed for at least 30 minutes.
The burn-off process is crucial, so you should never skip it. Ensuring that all factory oils are gone and that the grill is sanitary before smoking your food will ensure that you always get the best flavors from your culinary creations.
Pro Tips for Using a Pellet Smoker
If you’re a pellet-smoking beginner, there are some things that you might need to learn about this unique piece of equipment. Pellet smokers are unlike any other smoker, and you will have to learn how to use them properly if you want to prevent errors, damage, or even an explosion.
Here are some pro tips for using a pellet smoker:
- Never turn on a pellet smoker while the firebox has pellets in it. When you turn on your pellet smoker, it automatically pushes pellets into the firebox at the bottom of your smoker. If there are already pellets in the box, your smoker could overheat, and in the worst-case scenario, it could explode.
- Clean your pellet smoker before every use. Leaving ashes, half-burnt pellets, and grease at the bottom of your smoker is a fire hazard, and it could also make your food taste bitter. So, before you use your pellet smoker, scrape out the bottom and use a shop vac or brush to remove the debris.
- Sift your pellets. Sometimes, when your wood pellets are broken or misshapen, they can clog the auger, which will cause your smoker to shut down. Use a colander, sieve, or a specially-made pellet sifter to remove the broken pieces to avoid blockages.
- Keep your pellet hopper topped off. Keeping a constant flow of pellets in your hopper during smoking is crucial if you want to avoid overheating, system errors, or unnecessary damage to your smoker. So, you will need to keep an eye on your pellet hopper and refill it every time it gets low to keep your smoker working correctly.
- Check the ingredients in your pellets. Using 100% hardwood or fruitwood pellets will maximize the flavor you get from your smoker, and it will also make your smoker run more efficiently. Never purchase pellets with fillers such as alder wood since they can interfere with the taste and fuel-time of your smoker.
- Raise your smokestack cap for high-temp smokes. When you smoke your food at low temperatures, you can lower your smokestack cap to keep the smoke inside, but you need to raise it if you increase the temperature. Ensuring that your pellet smoker has the proper ventilation for high-heat smokes can prevent overheating, which will cause your smoker to shut down.
For some more do’s and don’ts of using pellet smokers, watch this fantastic and in-depth video from Grill Sergeant on YouTube:
Pellet smokers are fantastic, and they offer delicious smoky flavors without the work of constantly loading or managing the heat. Pellet smokers can do most of the work for you, allowing you to sit back while your food practically cooks itself. As long as you use suitable pellets and maintain your pellet smoker properly, you’ll be enjoying your smoker and the extraordinary flavors it gives your food for many years to come.