Pellet grills are becoming more mainstream and you can usually find several models to choose from at the Big Box stores. As competition between manufacturers of pellet grills have grown the prices have dropped to the point where they now cost about as much as a nice gas grill. But the big question is, are pellet grills better than gas grills? Which type should you buy?
Pellet Grills vs Gas Grills
There is no clear winner in the head to head face off between these two styles of outdoor cookers. Both grills have their strong and weak points. Lets take a look at the differences so you can decide which is best for you.
Five Reasons Why You Want To Buy A Gas Grill
Reason #1: Gas Grills Are More Reliable.
Gas grills are pretty simple machines and there isnt much that goes wrong with them. The most common failure modes on a gas grill include problems with the regulator, clogged burner tubes and broken burner tubes. All of these problems are pretty simple fixes and they dont happen that often in the first place.
In contrast, pellet grills are more complex than gas grills and have more ways to break down. A pellet grill needs a glow rod to initially ignite the wood pellets, a fan to blow air across the fire pot, an auger to transport the pellets from the hopper to the fire pot and an electronic control panel to control the whole process. Overall pellet grills are highly reliable but not to the extent of a gas grill.
Reason #2: Gas Grills Get Hotter.
High temperature cooking is the Achilles heel of pellet grills. A decent gas grill can easily reach a temperature of 500F while most pellet grills struggle to get past 400F.
Of course there are exceptions to these generalizations depending upon your budget. For example, a Traeger Pro Series pellet grill has an upper temperature of 450F but if you are willing to pay a couple of hundred dollars more for a Traeger Ironwood then you get an upper temperature of 500F. For more information, see my article on the Traeger Pro vs Ironwood for more differences between the full Traeger product line and the one Pro Series grill that you do NOT want to buy.
If putting a serious sear on your steak is really important to you then you should stick with either a gas or charcoal grill.
Reason #3. Propane Is A Commodity.
Propane is cheap, readily available and the exact same regardless of where you buy it. There are industry standards on purity and distribution stations.
In contrast, wood pellets are highly variable and a little confusing. Some manufacturers of pellet grills also sell branded wood pellets and claim that their grills perform best with their pellets. There are huge differences between the price of wood pellets depending upon the brand. Most importantly, there are massive differences in the composition of wood pellets. For more information see my article on The Best Wood Pellets For Smoking Meat and see what makes one brand really stand out from the crowd.
If you dont feel like navigating the wood pellet landscape and just want to stick with something simple then you will want to buy a gas grill.
Reason #4: Gas Grills Are Waterproof
You can leave a gas grill uncovered on your back deck and all you have to worry about is the rain causing some rust. You can even cook on a gas grill while it is raining and not worry about its reliability.
Pellet grills have three serious issues with wet weather.
The first issue is that they need to be plugged into an electrical outlet for the fan, auger and electronic controller to work. Usually you will need to use an extension cord to make the connection between the outlet and the grill. If you have any loose connections that get wet you will either be creating a hazardous condition or tripping off the Ground Fault on the outlet.
The second issue is that on cheaply constructed pellet grills the rain can get into the electronic control panel or the connection between the thermocouple and the control panel and short things out. Sometime you can fix this just by drying things out with paper towels but sometimes it flat out fries the control panel and you have to buy a replacement.
The third issue is that if the wood pellets in the hopper get damp they will swell up. After the pellets swell they will often crumble and turn into unusable sawdust. The pellets can also swell up in the auger and cause it to jam in the middle of a cook. Many manufacturers of wood pellets provide instructions to store the wood pellets in airtight containers to prevent ambient humidity form causing swelling.
Different makers of pellet grills have handled these challenges in different ways and the higher end models are relatively weather proof. That being said, the most popular and inexpensive models are not products that I would use in the rain.
Reason #5: You Hate To Clean Your Grill
A lot of folks never even think about cleaning their gas grills. Every now and then they will crank the grill up to high and let a grease fire ignite and simply burn away all of the accumulated grill crud. This Fireball approach to cleaning is not advisable as the blaze can damage parts of the grill or even escape the grill and ignite nearby surfaces.
Even though I do not advise cleaning your grill by waiting for massive grease fires to occur it is an approach used by many.
If you get lazy about cleaning a pellet grill then the resulting fireball will be much larger and more dangerous. The fireball will be larger because the fan by the fire pot blows away the sawdust from the pellets coming out of the auger. The sawdust piles up in the base of the pellet grill and becomes another fuel source if you have an uncontrolled grease fire.
If you are lazy about cleaning your grill then stick with gas.
Five Reasons Why You Want To Buy A Pellet Grill
Reason #1: Pellet Grills Are Great At Low And Slow
Pellet grills are amazing at cooking low and slow to make incredible smoked meats. If you want to smoke baby back ribs, pork loins or beef ribs then you will absolutely love having a pellet grill. A gas grill simply cannot compete with a pellet grill when it comes to cooking low and slow.
For more inspiration about what to smoke check out my article on The Ten Best Meats to Smoke. and get time and temperature recommendations as well.
Reason #2: Pellet Grills Have Great Temperature Control
The reason pellet grills are great at smoking meat is they have incredible temperature control. You can turn on a pellet grill, set it to 225F and after it spends 15-20 minutes stabilizing it will hold that temperature until you finally turn it off. In less expensive models you can expect the temperature to fluctuate by 15 degrees in either direction. In more models with advanced control systems the temperature swing is in the 5 degree range.
The ability to precise control temperatures makes a pellet grill a much more versatile cooker than a gas grill. Some people love using their pellet grills like an oven to bake casseroles or bread.
Reason #3: Pellet Grills Create Smoke Flavor
Pellet grills produce all of their heat by burning wood and create plenty of smoke in the process. I love the taste of a smoke on a hamburger or pork chops!
In my opinion, food cooked on a pellet grill tastes much better than food cooked on a gas grill.
Reason #4: Pellet Grills Produce Smoke Rings
I love slicing into a smoked brisket and seeing a deep red smoke ring. The smoke ring has no impact on flavor but it impresses your guests and makes you feel like a true pitmaster.
The burning wood pellets produce all of the smoke and smoke byproducts required to create beautiful smoke rings. The burning of propane in a gas grill does not create the components required for smoke rings to occur.
If you want to lay down serious smoke rings then you want to go with a pellet grill.
Reason #5: Pellet Grills Do Not Flare Up
One of the biggest headaches of cooking on a gas grill is dealing with flare ups. If you are not paying attention when grilling items with a high fat content then a sudden flare up on your gas grill can burn and scorch your dinner. This does not happen with pellet grills.
Most pellet grills are designed with two barriers between the flames and your food. The first barrier is a heat shield located directly over the fire pot. The second barrier is the grease tray that also serves as a heat distribution device. Because of the dual barrier system pellet grills almost never have flare ups.
If you hate dealing with the flare ups you get on a gas grill then a pellet grill is the right choice for you.
Which Style of Grill Is Best For You?
- Do you want to smoke ribs or grill steaks?
- Do you want to experiment with wood flavors or stick with a trusty tank of propane?
- Have you got a covered patio to store your cooker or are you going to leave it out in the rain?
It is a tough call to say whether a pellet grill is better than a gas grill as it really depends on what you want to cook and the features you value the most.
I decided which one was best for me and wrote about in this article about The Pros and Cons of Pellet Grills.
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