Food prepared on a smoker is tender and moist with a unique taste that’s hard to replicate, but not everyone is comfortable managing a charcoal smoker. Wood pellet smokers, however, are designed with simple controls that will set and maintain a temperature by dropping pellets through a hopper into an auger. The auger then moves the pellets at a controlled pace to the fire plate for convection heating. The smoker’s heat levels are measured with an internal thermometer, so maintaining the temperature within a set range is simply a matter of increasing or decreasing the number of pellets that are burned.
The best pellet smokers automatically adjust their dampers to increase or decrease the temperature, thereby infusing food with a natural smoky flavor by burning wood pellets at a controlled pace. The list of top products below includes several high-quality pellet smokers, some with useful extra features such as smart home integration, digital controls, and smoker covers.
- BEST OVERALL: Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E 2020 Upgrade Wood Pellet Grill
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Green Mountain Grills Davy Crockett Sense Mate
- UPGRADE PICK: Camp Chef PG24MZG SmokePro Slide Smoker
- BEST COMPACT: Traeger Grills Ranger Grill TBT18KLD Wood Pellet
- BEST FOR SMART HOME: Traeger TFB57GZEO Pro Series 575 Grill, Smoker
- BEST COOKING AREA: Z GRILLS Wood Pellet Grill Smoker with Ash Clean
- BEST DIGITAL CONTROL: PIT BOSS PB440D2 Wood Pellet Grill
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Pellet Smoker
When shopping for a high-quality pellet smoker, it’s important to find a product that’s the right size to fit in the designated patio or deck space with a cooking surface large enough to suit your needs. In addition, consider the size of the smoker’s hopper, the type and range of its temperature controls, and its construction, along with several other important factors outlined below.
Pellet smokers come in a range of sizes. Smaller, portable models have a minimum cooking area of 150 square inches, while full-size smokers can have one or more cooking surfaces with a combined surface area of over 800 square inches. Choosing the right size pellet smoker for your needs depends on the amount of space available on the deck or patio, the number of people you regularly cook for, and how important portability is to you. If you typically entertain crowds of eight or more, look for a pellet smoker with a cooking surface of at least 600 square inches.
Portable pellet smokers are great to take camping, to tailgate parties, or to the park or beach for the day. They are light enough to be carried and small enough to fit comfortably into a vehicle. If portability is an important factor, but you still want a full-size pellet smoker, look for a product that has wheels, as it will be easier to move around a patio or deck.
Another factor to consider is the material from which a pellet smoker is constructed, particularly for those who want to purchase for a full-size smoker that will remain outside in all types of weather. Stainless steel is the most popular material for pellet smokers because it’s resistant to corrosion, water, and abrasion damage. On average, the exterior and interior of a stainless steel smoker should remain in good condition for about 15 years.
Powder-coated steel is another hardy material for pellet smokers because the powder coating helps to prevent damage from water. However, the coating can be prone to peeling, which exposes the steel and leads to premature rusting. To prevent peeling it’s important to regularly clean and maintain the smoker and to ensure it’s covered or stored safely throughout the winter months.
A pellet smoker’s hopper is usually located on the left-hand side when the user is facing the front of the smoker. The hopper resembles a large metal box and opens to reveal a chamber that narrows toward the bottom. The small opening funnels pellets slowly into the auger where the pellets are then burned in the firepot in order to maintain the set temperature. For this reason, the size of the smoker’s hopper impacts how long the cooking sessions can be.
On average, a pellet smoker will burn about 1 pound of pellets for every 1 hour of cook time. With this 1:1 ratio in mind, hopper capacity is easier to understand. Most products have hoppers that can hold just under 20 pounds of pellets. Portable pellet smokers have smaller hoppers that may only hold 5 to 8 pounds of pellets, while larger smokers can have hoppers with 40-pound capacities.
The temperature of a pellet smoker is much easier to control than that of a charcoal or offset smoker. With a pellet smoker, the user sets the temperature control, but maintaining that temperature is an automatic process. How precise that smoker’s temperature is depends on whether it utilizes a multiposition controller, one-touch non-PID controller, or PIC controller.
- Multiposition controllers are common on lower-priced pellet smokers. They have an adjustable dial that controls the desired heat setting and feeds pellets into the firepot in fixed increments. Because of these fixed cycles a multiposition controller won’t precisely control a smoker’s temperature, but it can maintain the set heat to within 15 to 20 degrees.
- One-touch non-PID controllers are able to maintain the temperature of the pellet smoker to within 5 to 10 degrees. However, these one-touch digital controllers still feed pellets in fixed cycles, which makes it difficult to accurately balance the smoker’s internal cooking temperatures.
- PID controllers, or proportional–integral–derivative controllers, are considered the best controllers for pellet smokers because they use advanced algorithms to maintain the smoker’s temperature to within a few degrees. The main difference between PID controllers and the other options is that the pellet feed is constantly adjusted to maintain the correct temperature with a PID, instead of feeding pellets in a fixed cycle.
Dampers on pellet smokers can be adjusted to increase or decrease the flow of air through the smoker; intake dampers bring in new oxygen and a top vent allows smoke and heat to escape. By adjusting these two dampers—or more, depending on the pellet smoker—the heat inside the smoker can be accurately controlled. While dampers are the main way to control a charcoal smoker’s temperature, a pellet smoker maintains its temperature automatically, making dampers less of a concern.
By setting the temperature on a pellet smoker, the user gives most of the control over the temperature maintenance to the smoker itself. The smoker will then fine-tune the number of pellets it burns and adjust the dampers’ positions. This set-it-and-forget-it temperature control is one of the reasons pellet smokers are great for those who are new to food smoking. As long as you trust the pellet smoker’s temperature control, there’s very little to get wrong.
Safety is always a concern when using an appliance that is heated to a high temperature, and pellet smokers are no exception. While these gadgets typically operate at a lower temperature for that low-and-slow flavor, their maximum temperatures can still exceed 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Even at the lowest temperature setting, which is typically around 150 degrees Fahrenheit, the smoker’s exterior and grill grates are hot enough to hurt someone.
It’s important to operate a pellet smoker away from buildings and overhangs because the heat they produce can gradually heat up surrounding materials, which increases the risk of fire. Smokers are usually left on for hours at a time and are commonly unsupervised for several long stretches of time. It’s a good idea to invest in insulated gloves and have a fire extinguisher nearby to help prevent injuries while using the smoker.
Pellet smokers come standard with automatic feed systems and damper controls that maintain the set temperature within the cooking chamber. Some are outfitted with other great features, like Wi-Fi capability, smart home integration, internal temperature probes, and smoker covers.
- Wi-Fi capability allows the pellet smoker to communicate with the user’s smartphone or tablet via the home’s Wi-Fi. With this capability, the user can monitor and control the temperature of the smoker through the app.
- Smart home integration requires Wi-Fi capabilities to connect the smoker to a compatible smart home device, like Amazon Alexa. The user can then check the smoker and control its temperature setting by using voice commands.
- Internal temperature probes eliminate the guesswork involved in deciding whether the food is completely cooked. Simply pop the probe into the center of the steak or roast to read its core temperature.
- Smoker covers protect the smoker from rain, snow, and ice. They typically have a waterproof exterior and a soft interior that won’t scratch the smoker’s metal housing.
Our Top Picks
The following products are some of the best pellet smokers on the market in terms of quality, features, and value. The important shopping tips and considerations noted above will help you determine which of these products is the best option for your next backyard barbecue.
Take home smoking seriously with the Z GRILLS’ ZPG-7002E pellet smoker. Its 20-pound hopper capacity means the smoker can run continuously for about 20 hours, depending on how intense the heat is. The smoker’s simple, intuitive controls are easy to figure out and allow the user to set the cooking temperature between 180 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit and then maintain the set temperature to within 10 degrees.
With this Z Grills’ smoker, there’s no need to use lighters or propane to ignite the pellets. Once the hopper is loaded and the temperature is set, the smoker’s automatic electronic ignition lights the pellets as they are fed into the firepot. Another advantage of this model is its large 700-square-inch cooking surface—just right for a big family. For portability, it features two locking caster wheels, so moving it around the patio or deck is just a matter of tilting the smoker to one end and wheeling it.
The affordable pellet smoker from Green Mountain Grills comes with a digital Wi-Fi controller, which allows users to control and monitor the smoker’s temperature through the Green Mountain Grills app. The smoker has a temperature range of 150 to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and a 219-square-inch cooking surface. The surface isn’t expansive, but the trade-off for this smaller cooktop is the smoker’s portability. Two stainless steel legs support the weight of the smoker when it’s in use and fold during transport so the smoker can be taken to a tailgate party or camping trip.
The Davy Crockett features both a 110-volt and 12-volt connection, allowing the smoker to be powered at home, through a portable generator, or with a car’s 12-volt outlet. A handy meat probe, stainless steel wire side table, and five hooks for hanging grill tools are useful extras for keeping necessities close at hand. This pellet smoker weighs approximately 58 pounds and has a compact design made to fit into the trunk of most vehicles.
Camp Chef’s SmokePro is a best-of-both-worlds device for chefs who like to cook outdoors: The combination pellet smoker and grill can switch between convection heating for smoking and direct heating for grilling with a simple slide function, which removes the shield between the flame and the 811-square-inch cooking surface. The smoker has a temperature range from 160 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, but when the device is set for direct flame grilling it can reach temperatures of up to 650 degrees Fahrenheit, making it terrific for searing steaks.
With the SmokePro’s 18-pound hopper capacity and high-quality PID controller, which can maintain the set temperature to within 5 degrees, home chefs won’t have to keep a close eye on their food. The appliance has a side shelf and a foldable front shelf, both of which are handy when tools and other items are needed while cooking.
Equipped with both a cast-iron griddle and cast-iron grill grates, Traeger’s box-shaped Ranger pellet smoker and grill can be used to prepare anything from an egg breakfast to a steak dinner. With the digital controller, users can set the cook time and temperature up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit; a cooking timer will sound when the allotted time has elapsed. If there’s any uncertainty as to whether meat is cooked through, use the smoker’s meat probe to check the internal temperature without lifting the lid.
Measuring just 21 inches by 20 inches by 13 inches with a 184-square-inch cooking surface, Traeger’s Ranger pellet smoker is compact and designed for an on-the-go lifestyle, making it a great option for camping, hiking, tailgate parties, or the beach. It weighs 60 pounds and has a hopper capacity of 8 pounds.
For those who want to control and observe their smoker even when they step away from it, the Traeger Pro Series 575 is an excellent option. Connect this pellet smoker to Wi-Fi, and the user can control its temperature via Traeger’s smartphone app. It can also connect to Amazon Alexa-enabled smart home devices and be controlled by voice commands.
Technology aside, the Pro Series 575 has lots of other pluses on its side. Its total cooking area is 575 square inches, and its grill grates are porcelain coated to protect against corrosion, abrasion, and water damage. The smoker has a large 18-pound hopper capacity as well as heavy-duty stainless steel construction. Its heavy-duty stainless steel is indeed heavy: The Pro Series 575 smoker weighs 128 pounds. The good news is it can still be moved around the deck or patio with relative ease on its two sturdy wheels.
When shopping for a pellet smoker that will be used regularly to prepare your family’s meals, it’s important to calculate how big a cooking area you need. With a huge cooking area of 1,060 square inches, this Z GRILLS pellet smoker is made for big families and big parties. Its cooking area is divided between a main cooking surface and two warming racks; all in all, it can accommodate about 40 burgers or nine racks of ribs. This device smokes, bakes, braises, and sears, so you can use it to cook just about anything.
The 1000D has a digital control that maintains the desired temperature to within 10 degrees, and its 20-pound hopper runs the smoker for about 10 hours before needing to be refilled. Its efficiency may seem lower than that of other smokers, but this is only due to the expansive size of the cooking area. A side shelf and a large cabinet give cooks ample space to store grilling tools, cleaners, and wood pellets.
The PIT BOSS 440D2 pellet smoker is made with heavy-duty stainless steel and has porcelain-coated cooking grates. Its total cooking area is 465 square inches, which is split between the 341-square-inch main cooking surface and an indirect-heat, 124-square-inch upper rack. The hopper capacity is a modest 5 pounds, which means an all-day smoke may require a pellet refill.
Set a temperature between 180 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit using the 440D2’s dial control, and monitor the temperature on the control board’s LED readout. The smoker’s side shelf, featuring grill tool hooks on one side, will appeal to those who like to keep their tools close at hand. Plus, the lid of the hopper can be used as an additional shelf to keep food, plates, and grill tools within easy reach. Though this smoker weighs 98 pounds, two large metal wheels allow for easy movement around the deck or patio.
FAQs About Pellet Smokers
If you aren’t certain which product would be suitable for your next backyard barbecue, or if you are concerned about how to use and properly maintain your new pellet smoker, consider these frequently asked questions about pellet smokers.
Q. How does a pellet smoker work?
These cooking devices work by funneling wood pellets down through a hopper where they are pushed along to the firepot using an auger. The pellets are burned in the firepot, and the convection heat that is produced warms up the main cooking chamber for grilling or smoking.
Q. How do I maintain my pellet smoker?
Pellet smokers should be cleaned before and after every use. In addition, they should be deep cleaned with a grill cleaner at least once per every 50 hours of cooking. In poor weather conditions, like rain, snow, or sleet, the pellet smoker should be protected by a waterproof grill cover. During the winter, move the smoker into a sheltered area to prevent snow from building up and rusting out its feet and wheels.
Q. How long will my pellet smoker last?
A pellet smoker will typically last between five and 15 years, depending on the frequency of use and how carefully it is maintained.