Smoked meat is all the rage today. You see it on restaurant menus and popular food programs; you probably even have a friend telling you how to do it in your backyard. Smoked meat tastes great, and it's easier than you might think. There's a bit more to it than throwing a couple of burgers on the grill, but you don't need a lifetime of experience to get it right. You need just three key ingredients to smoke meat successfully; heat, time and smoke. If you get a great pellet smoker, you'll be able to leverage all three into the perfect meat.
These easy-to-use smokers are becoming popular because they are so convenient and because they cook consistently well. Once you try one, you'll never want to chop wood for your old smoker again. Not familiar with pellet smokers? Well, we're here to tell you about them and give you our choice for the 10 best on the market.
What Is A Pellet Smoker?
The pellet smoker was invented in 1982 by accident when Oregon-based Traeger Heating was designing a furnace that could burn pellets made from compressed sawdust, something in plentiful supply from area lumber mills. They made the furnaces but went a step further and came up with a smoker/grill that could burn also pellets. More tinkering created a device that fed the pellets via an auger and had a blower to help them burn efficiently.
Most pellet smokers cook with indirect heat instead of a direct flame, so if you're cooking steaks, there are better cooking methods. But if you're after really good smoked meat, this is your ticket. They're great for smoking:
The cylindrical pellets used to fuel them look like miniature wine bottle corks. Unlike charcoal briquets, they don't contain additives and fillers and produce almost no ash. The pellets are all you need because they provide the heat and the flavor: no wood chips are required. Under 250°F, the pellets produce a mild smoke aroma and flavor without becoming too smoky. At higher temperatures, they produce even less smoke. Low and slow produces the best results.
How Does A Pellet Smoker Work?
An auger automatically feeds the pellets from the collection hopper to the fire pit underneath the grill. Temperature is controlled by how many pellets are fed into the auger. When they reach the fire pit, a heated rod ignites the pellets, creating fire, and then a fan stokes the fire, creating convection heat in the process. A drip tray covers the fire pit to keep flames from reaching your food and collects the drippings to prevent flames from flaring up. Here's a basic schematic:
1. Pure Hardwood Pellets
They're loaded into the hopper.
2. Temperature Control
This regulates the cooking temperature.
3. Induction Fan
This stokes the fire.
4. The Auger
This carries the pellets to the fire pit.
5. Heated Rod
This ignites the pellets.
6. The Barrel
This is where heat and smoke are circulated for cooking/smoking.
7. The Drip Tray
This protects the fire from falling grease and protects the meat from flare-ups.
With just a turn of the dial, electronic controls make smoking about as simple as cooking in your kitchen oven. You get consistent temperatures throughout the smoking process and your smoker only produces quality smoke, ensuring great flavor. Simply plug your pellet smoker into a regular wall socket, set it, and enjoy your time with family and friends until it's time to eat.
Top 10 Best Pellet Smokers
Now that you know what a pellet smoker is and have seen how one works, let's take a look at our top-10 pellet smokers available.
This is a quality mid-size smoker that is more budget-friendly than some. It features 429 square inches of cooking area, an easy-to-set temperature control and easy clean-up. With temperature settings on the thermostatic controller you can choose between 175 degrees up to 400 degrees. It also has settings for low smoke and high smoke. Best of all, it will keep a consistent smoking temperature of between 225 degrees and 250 degrees for several hours.
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This is a portable pellet smoker with a cooking area of 219 square inches. Unlike many portables, it uses an advanced touch-pad controller, and an integrated meat thermometer that lets you check internal meat temperature via a switch. It includes adapters allowing you to run it from a car cigarette lighter making it ideal for the campsite. It's also Wi-Fi capable and can be monitored from a smartphone or laptop.
From the inventors of the technology, this budget-friendly junior model has 292 square inches of cooking area and an LED digital thermostat control. It's built well for a model at its price point. If you don't do a lot of entertaining for large groups but still want that great smoked meat flavor, this is a great little unit to consider.
From one of the first manufacturer's to challenge Traeger, the CS 450 is a popular pellet smoker. Upgraded with digital touch-pad controllers with integrated meat probes, the thermostat will maintain cooking temperatures well as a kitchen oven. It has a neat feature to avoid over-cooking. The meat probe can be set to a targeted temperature, and when the meat temperature gets to within 10 degrees of that target, the controller automatically drops the smoker down to 170 degrees.
There's a lot to like with this full-size smoker. Low pellet consumption and a 6-year warranty head the list of features. The red lid, curved horn handles, and chimney make this model stand out from the crowd. Its 702 square inches of cooking surface will allow you to smoke for a large crowd. A large hopper and a short auger means you can smoke all day (or night) with no need to refill the pellets.
This is a smoker and searing grill all in one that has 429 square inches of cooking space. Most pellet grills/smokers have low grilling capabilities compared to traditional grills. The Woodwind offers a standard Sear Box that closes the gap on grilling. It is also one of the few models with an ash-removal system that deposits ash in a cup for simple disposal.
7. Yoder YS640
This big boy is 32-inches wide, weighs 313 pounds, and has a temperature range of 150 degrees to 600 degrees. The thick steel cooking chamber on this model is durable and retains heat exceptionally well. It comes with a sophisticated digital controller designed to give improved flexibility, efficiency, and accuracy. It has a unique variable displacement damper that can be moved to concentrate heat to allow searing (with optional aluminum grates) or can be positioned to evenly heat the entire smoke box.
- 100% Stainless Steel, featuring a riveted assembly on the body. The direct zone features stainless steel grates for...
- 784 square inches: 10" x 18" direct cooking; 18"x18" indirect; 10"x28" top rack; warming drawer 19" x 13" x 4"
- Direct: 3/8 304T Stainless Steel rod grate; Indirect: Nickel Plated Grills
Popular in competitive smoking competitions for years, this is a beautiful, stainless steel model with 784 square inches of cooking space that will complement any outdoor kitchen. While most pellet smokers are great for ribs, brisket, and pork shoulders, the Cookshack is also capable of grilling steaks and burgers with its sear station and cast iron cooking grate. Bets of all, it smokes meat at the competitive level with a deep mahogany finish. It also has two upper-level heat zones, making four distinct temperature zones.
9. The MAK 1 Star General Pellet Grill
This model might have the best digital controller of all pellet smokers. It's Wi-Fi-capable and programmable via the internet from anywhere. It's made in the USA and solidly constructed of heavy-duty powder coat. It has a roll-top hood and doesn't need a lot of rear clearance. With 429 inches of primary cooking space, there's plenty of room and an optional upper grill grate adds another 190 square inches of cooking surface.
This is a super-sized, luxury pellet smoker. It's constructed with top-grade 304 stainless steel and machined to give an incredible fit and finish. The Elite has a smart touch-pad PID controller that holds set temperatures with more accuracy than most kitchen ovens. It's simple to operate, has an integrated meat probe and an incredible 844 square inches of cooking space. It is a top-of-the-line smoker.
If you want to impress people at your next gathering, including good smoked meat on the menu is a sure-fire way to do it. Using a pellet smoker is easy and gives results that will rival the most seasoned smoked meat artisan. We've tried to provide something on our list for everyone. From the budget-conscious to wildly extravagant, there's a pellet smoker here for everyone. Choose any of these and your next backyard get-together is sure to be smokin'.