Pellet grills and smokers are in vogue for their convenience and versatility. The effective heat and smoke control in many grills and smokers powered by pellets enable you to cook at precise temperatures and conditions. However, grills aren’t necessarily smokers, and vice versa.
Generally, pellet grills use more heat than smoke and cook faster than pellet smokers. A pellet smoker facilitates longer cooking at lower heat. Pellet smokers are better if you want smokier food, whereas a grill is more suitable if you’re going to sear and barbecue.
A few companies manufacture pellet grill and smoker combos. These appliances are supposed to do everything from grilling and smoking to baking, roasting, braising, searing, and more. This comparison guide for pellet grill vs. pellet smoker should help you decide.
Are Pellet Grill and Pellet Smoker the Same?
Pellet grill and pellet smoker use the same fuel source: hardwood pellets. Also, both need electricity to ignite the pellets and regulate the thermostat, fan, and auger, among other smart features. However, pellet grills and pellet smokers are not the same.
Here are the significant differences of the pros and cons of pellet grill and pellet smoker:
- Effective at grilling, roasting, and barbecuing.
- Some pellet grills facilitate searing, including on fire.
- Automated temperature or heat control.
- A few models have integrated Wi-Fi.
- Pellet grills are not suitable for smoked food recipes.
- More expensive than conventional grills.
- Pellet grills need electricity.
- High-quality hardwood pellets increase the recurring costs.
- Effective at slow smoking.
- You may roast or bake, too.
- Exceptional at temperature and time control.
- A few models facilitate grilling, too.
- Vertical pellet smokers cannot grill or sear.
- More expensive than traditional smokers.
- Pellet smokers need electricity.
- Premium-quality hardwood pellets increase the recurring expenses.
Pellet Grill vs. Pellet Smoker vs. Pellet Grill & Smoker
The choice between pellet grill and pellet smoker boils down to your needs. If you grill more often, a pellet smoker will not serve your purpose. If you want generous smoking and longer cooking at low temperatures, a pellet grill will not suffice.
Many companies make this choice more complicated with their products labeled as grill and smoker. Traeger and Z Grills are two examples. Some people refer to these as pellet smokers. However, these models are best described as a horizontal grill cum smoker combo.
You can check out the Traeger Grills Pro Series 34 Electric Wood Pellet Grill and Smoker on Amazon.com. According to Traeger, this 6-in-1 appliance can grill, smoke, roast, bake, braise, and barbecue.
You may also check the Z Grills Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker on Amazon.com. You can expect this 8-in-1 appliance to sear, char-grill, barbecue, braise, bake, roast, smoke, and grill.
Oklahoma Joe’s steers away from the perplexion by labeling its pellet grills as just that. Moreover, the confusion vanishes when you draw a distinction between horizontal and vertical smokers. Pit Boss pellet smoker is different from the horizontal grill and smoker combos of Traeger or Z Grill.
Pellet Grill vs. Pellet Smoker
Now that we have cleared the cloud about the three different classifications or labeling terminology let’s dive into the usual pellet grill (horizontal) and pellet smoker (vertical).
For specificity, let’s look at Oklahoma Joe’s Rider 900 Pellet Grill and Pit Boss PBV3P1 Vertical Pellet Smoker (available on Amazon.com). A quick glimpse at the pictures of the two models will give you a lucid understanding of how they differ in terms of design, primary function, and probable features.
The Heat Source
A pellet grill’s heat source or the burning wood pellets are much closer to the food. Since a pellet grill has a horizontal design, you lay the food out at one level over the heat. However, a few pellet grill models of different brands have an additional rack above.
A pellet smoker has a heat source at the base of its vertical design. You have a couple of racks where you place the foods to be smoked. Thus, the foods on the upper racks are quite far from the burning pellets.
Only the lowest rack is somewhat close to the heat source in a pellet smoker. Even then, the distance is usually greater than the gap between the burning pellets and the foods in a grill.
You may want to watch this video about how an Oklahoma Joe’s Rider Pellet Grill works:
Smoking any meat or vegetables requires a sufficient distance from the heat source. You need the smoke to do the cooking, not the heat of a burning flame. Thus, a pellet smoker is more suitable if you want truly smoked foods.
However, if you are looking for a smoking effect or foods with a smoky taste, a pellet grill may deliver that flavor and texture derived from the smoke of burning wood. This attribute of a pellet grill is thanks to the use of both heat and smoke produced by the hardwood to cook foods.
The Cooking Chamber
Companies like Traeger and Z Grills usually label their pellet grills as smokers, too, due to the use of heat and smoke inside the chamber. This claim is not entirely misleading as you can close the lid of the cooking chamber of pellet grills and retain the smoke.
The video cited above shows you how the heat baffle in Oklahoma Joe’s Rider Pellet Grill disperses heat and smoke. Hence, even if you are grilling, the smoke will have an effect on your cooking and also infuse some flavor because of the burning hardwood pellets underneath.
The smoky flavor or effect is what most manufacturers highlight while advertising their pellet grills. If you are looking for that reasonable smoky effect, texture, or flavor, you can opt for a pellet grill, close the lid when cooking, and get the combo of using heat and some smoke.
The only problem with this combo is the proximity of the heat source. Smoking recipes require prolonged cooking times because the food should be subjected to low heat. The foods will get cooked much quicker in a pellet grill than in a pellet smoker. Hence, get the latter for smoking.
Watch this video to note the differences in the cooking chamber sizes:
Both the pellet grill and pellet smoker in the video are made by Pit Boss. The pellet smoker has a much taller or bigger vertical profile. The pellet grill is comparatively compact. Naturally, the latter does much of the cooking using convection heat, whereas the former uses more smoke.
The Smoking Effect
There is a fundamental difference between a smoky effect and using smoke as the primary cooking method. Convection heat is used in both pellet grills and pellet smokers, with the latter using more smoke and less direct heat from the burning pellets.
Thus, if you want to smoke some ribs, sausages, or vegetables, a pellet smoker is ideal. The Pit Boss pellet smoker video above shows you how flawless the whole process can be.
Conversely, if you want a grilled steak with some smoky texture or flavor, you will have to choose a pellet grill, like the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider. A pellet grill may infuse some smokiness, but a smoker does not have a grilling effect, that is, unless you are thinking about the combos.
The Cooking Capacity
A vertical pellet smoker generally has much more available space. However, you may have to refill the pellets. The refilling requirement is also applicable to pellet grills. The refilling frequency or cooking time depends on the pellet capacity of a particular model.
Here’s the cooking space of the 4 pellet grill and pellet smoker models in this guide:
|Brand and Model||Cooking Capacity|
|Traeger Grills Pro Pellet Grill & Smoker||884 sq in (0.57 sq m)|
|Z Grills Pellet Grill & Smoker||452 sq in (0.29 sq m) or 15 lbs (6.8 kg)|
|Oklahoma Joe’s Rider 900 Pellet Grill||20 lbs (9 kg)|
|Pit Boss PBV3P1 Vertical Pellet Smoker||40+ lbs (18+ kg)|
The cooking capacity can simplify your quest if you have a minimum space requirement. Otherwise, you must delve further and pit a pellet grill against a pellet smoker based on its temperature range, accuracy, and other features.
The Temperature Range
Here’s the temperature range of the 4 pellet grill and pellet smoker models in this guide:
|Brand and Model||Temperature Range|
|Traeger Grills Pro Pellet Grill & Smoker||180 °F to 480 °F (82 °C to 249 °C)|
|Z Grills Pellet Grill & Smoker||180 °F to 480 °F (82 °C to 249 °C)|
|Oklahoma Joe’s Rider 900 Pellet Grill||175 °F to 300 °F (80 °C to 149 °C)|
|Pit Boss PBV3P1 Vertical Pellet Smoker||150 °F to 450 °F (65.5 °C to 232 °C)|
Your grilling and smoking temperature requirements for one or several recipes should determine the appropriate model and appliance type.
You need the Pit Boss pellet smoker if you want temperatures as low as 150 °F (65 °C). None of the other three models has this minimum temperature setting.
If you have extra meaty baby back ribs, the ideal pellet smoker temperature is up to 145 °F (63 °C), or the meat will dry out. Likewise, cool smoked salmon needs a pellet smoker temperature of 160 °F (71 °C).
However, if you want to go as high as 480 °F (249 °C), the Oklahoma Joe’s Rider 900 pellet grill is not an option. The other pellet grills are more appropriate, or the Pit Boss if you want a vertical pellet smoker.
Most pellet smokers have the appropriate temperature range for smoking. Pellet grills have the requisite range, too. Interoperability is a concern due to the fundamental difference in what these appliances are designed to do.
In addition to this temperature range, you must check the increment setting because that enables you to enhance or reduce the heat per your recipe requirements. Most manufacturers use around 25 °F increments, which is approximately 14 °C.
However, pellet grill temperatures can fluctuate, especially when you keep the lid open. Traeger uses its Digital Pro Controller and Advanced Grilling Logic to maintain a temperature of around +/- 15 °F (+/- 8 °C) in the absence of external influences.
The Pit Boss pellet smoker will also fail to maintain the set temperature if you open and close the door frequently. More importantly, you will also lose hot smoke and flavor in the process.
The Taste Test: Pellet Grill vs. Pellet Smoker
A pellet smoker is appropriate if you want to smoke a steak, whether ribeye or strip. However, you need a pellet grill if you wish to sear the steak. Some people like to use both, a pellet smoker for the delicious smoky flavor and a pellet grill for an awesome searing finish.
Vegetables are a different story, of course. If you do not have the required low heat setting, a pellet grill may barbecue your veggies instead of smoking them. This problem is also common among those using a pellet grill for smoking meats at the highest recommended temperatures.
You need an appropriately low temperature and the required cooking time for the desired smoky flavor. Hence, a pellet grill or combo is not a truly fitting or practical alternative for a pellet smoker. Similarly, a vertical pellet smoker cannot grill, sear, or barbecue.
All said and done, if you want a subtle smoky flavor instead of going full-throttle with the smoked cooking method, a pellet grill capable of smoking can be worthwhile. Besides, if your pellet grill comes with an additional rack you can use it for slow and long smoking.
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The ultimate decisive factors are your primary requirement and personal preference. A pellet grill and smoker combo will not deliver the same quality of smoky foods as a vertical pellet smoker. You can always consider a grill and a smoker if you can afford both.
A pellet smoker cannot sear, grill, char, or barbecue like a pellet grill. Compare relevant models and choose an appropriate one. However, make sure a particular pellet grill or pellet smoker can deliver what you want.
Scot has loved smoking food in his free time for the last few years. Each major holiday or off-weekend, Scot spends days testing and prepping new recipes for perfection.