Up until 2008 only two companies manufactured wood pellet grills, Traeger and MAK. Once Traeger’s original patents expired the competition began and pellet grills became widely available in the United States. Every grill master has their preferred cooking method and will quite passionately defend their choice. However, not all grilling methods are created equal, so you must be the one to decide if a wood pellet grill is right for you.
Why you should use a wood pellet grill
One of the greatest things about wood pellet grills is how versatile they are. With a wood pellet grill, you can grill, roast, smoke, barbecue, and even bake or braise certain foods. Simply put, the possibilities are truly endless. A wood pellet grill cooks similar to a convection oven so you never have to worry about uneven cooking, even when the cooking chamber is fully loaded.
Wood pellet grills preheat rather quickly, often times within 15 minutes they are ready to go. Some will even allow you to regulate the cooking temperature in 5-degree increments for precise cooking control. With a wood pellet grill, you generally don’t have to worry about over-smoking your food because the smoke flavor is a lot more subtle than other cooking methods. You can even add more smoke flavor by placing soaked wood chips or chunks of hardwood directly on the heat diffuser plate.
A compressed wood pellet grill allows you to choose your flavor of pellets and pair them with the food you’re cooking. Pellets come in a large variety of flavors and can be used alone or mixed together. You’ll also find they come in a variety of different sized bags. A typical 20-pound bag is big enough to last for several uses. On average a wood pellet grill burns through a ½ pound of pellets every hour using the smoke setting. Using the highest setting the grill will use up to 2 ½ pounds every hour. How much you actually use will vary depending on your temperature settings and the current weather conditions. To get a good idea of how they work, we’ll let the below hilariously epic video of the Camp Chef Woodwind Pellet Grill with Sear Box illustrate our point.
Are there drawbacks to wood pellet grills?
There are certain drawbacks to using a wood pellet grill that you need to know about before making your decision. Unlike gas, charcoal, or propane grills wood pellet grills are dependent on electricity. If you don’t have a generator or inverter you have very limited portability. Wood pellet grills can also be a lot more expensive than other types of grills as they come with moving parts and electrical components. Like any electronics, these have the possibility of malfunction and may require periodic maintenance. You’ll also want to store wood pellets away from moisture or they will disintegrate.
Although these are technically grills, without a sear box, you cannot achieve grill marks or a dark sear like you can with gas and charcoal grills. Wood pellet grills are capable of caramelization on the outside by preheating a cast iron skillet, griddle, or grill grate for 20 minutes before you begin cooking. With wood pellet grills the higher the temperatures, the less smoke flavor you will achieve. This is because the grill produces less smoke at high temperatures. For the best smoke flavor, you want to cook your meat at 250 degrees or below. If you’re looking for a good all around work horse that requires a bit more effort, you might consider looking into a smoker grill combo unit.
How to cook with wood pellets
If you have never cooked with wood pellets before it can be kind of intimidating. Hardwood is one of the cleanest, easiest and most convenient ways to grill in the backyard. Food grade wood pellets have been pressed into a uniform shape to allow for a precise and controlled burn. This cooking method, as long as you understand the basics, opens up a whole new world of backyard grilling possibilities.
Cooking with wood pellets is relatively simple, after all the wood pellet grill does most of the work for you. All you need to do is load pellets into the hopper, select a desired temperature, and start the grill. Once the grill has been programmed, it will use a rotating auger to add pellets from the hopper as needed. Not only is this efficient, but it helps to maintain your predetermined temperature. Along with the automated auger, a fan is also used to help maintain the temperature. As long as there are pellets in the hopper available to burn the grill will maintain any programmed temperature with ease.
One thing to watch out for when cooking with wood pellets is temperature fluctuations. People often assume the fluctuations are caused by a mechanical issue, but more often than not the problem is the pellets being used. You need to avoid low-quality pellets that produce a lot of ash. Excess ash interferes with the temperature regulating sensors. A high-quality pellet not only provides a clean burn, but better flavor as well. After each use, you will also want to clean residual ash from the grill for increased performance.
Tips for selecting the best wood pellets
If you are going to cook with a pellet grill you don’t want to use any old wood pellets; you want to use the best. Using top rated wood pellets ensures your meat is the best it can be. So, how do you know what pellets to use? Here are some of the most important things to consider when selecting appropriate wood pellets for your grill.
When cooking on a pellet grill you need to food-grade pellets. You might have heard that heating pellets can be used in place of BBQ wood pellets, but that isn’t always the case. Heating pellets can be made from pine or spruce, which are not recommended. Smoking meat using these wood types can adversely affect the flavor of your food. Some heating pellets are formed using particle board, plywood, or binding agents, which can all affect the flavor of your meat. Using food-grade wood pellets ensures they are made from pure hardwood that burns faster and cleaner than typical heating pellets.
When it comes to choosing wood pellets flavor is one of the most important considerations. First, you need to understand that flavor doesn’t really mean the flavor of the wood. When we talk about flavor, we are talking about how strong of an infused smoke taste the pellets have when burning. When choosing the flavor you have a scale to work with that goes from mild to strong. Stronger flavors, such as Black Walnut, Apple, Hickory, and Mesquite, work best for heartier meats such as beef, pork, and game meat. Your more mild flavors, such as Cherry, Oak, and pecan are excellent choices for beef, poultry, pork, and fish.
Although wood pellets grills are not everybody’s favorite choice, there is no denying how versatile they are. Whether you prefer to smoke, roast, grill, or barbeque your meat you can do all of that and more on a wood pellet grill. Cooking with a pellet grill allows you to use different types of woods to create the perfect smoke and flavor for your meats. Each type of wood has its own personality and bite. Plus, you can use a single flavor or mix and match flavors to create your own combination. Although there are some drawbacks to using a wood pellet grill, the benefits are definitely worth giving it a try.