Pellet grills are outdoor grills that use hardwood pellets as their fuel. They are becoming the latest trend in home grilling.
But no matter how trendy these grills may be, for most people, the bottom line will be the flavor.
If you’re wondering if pellet smokers give good smoke flavor, there’s some back and forth on the matter.
Pellet grills produce a lighter flavor profile than most other types of smokers so for flavor, you’re better off choosing an offset smoker. But the ease of use is why lots of people choose a pellet grill. You can enhance the smokiness by using the right pellets and cooking method.
Read on to find out more about if and when to use pellet smokers for your next project.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 Why do pellet grills provide a less smoky flavor?
- 2 Which pellet grill smoker produces the most smoke?
- 3 How does a pellet grill work?
- 4 Offset smoker vs. pellet grill: pros and cons
- 5 Offset smoker vs. pellet grill: what people are saying
- 6 How to get a smoky flavor from a pellet smoker
- 7 The type of pellets matter
- 8 What are the best pellets for smoke flavor?
- 9 Products that can enhance the smoke flavor
Why do pellet grills provide a less smoky flavor?
The main reason why a pellet grill does not give as much of a smoky flavor as other types of grills, such as offset grills, is because it doesn’t produce as much smoke.
- This is due to the grill working off indirect heat as opposed to the direct heat other grills provide. Many chefs increase the temperature of the grill to increase the smoke. The funny thing is, with a pellet grill, increasing the temperature will actually produce less smoke, not more.
- It also lies in the construction of most pellet smokers, where a fan is used to push the smoke into the chamber, but this blows the smoke past the meat too fast.
- Often the drip tray can get in the way of the smoke reaching your meat.
- Another reason is that the pellets just produce a less smoky flavor than hardwood because they contain sawdust and wood scraps which are then stuck together with a filler like cornstarch. Most smokers will agree that it’s not the same as complete natural wood chunks.
The type of pellets do matter and I’ll get into that but the pellet smoker you choose does matter as well because some overcome some of the construction drawbacks of these types of smokers.
Which pellet grill smoker produces the most smoke?
Pellet grills offer a lot of flexibility and ease of use so I decided to look a lot into this if you can overcome most of the drawbacks.
And the best smokiness I’ve found coming from a pellet smoker is from the Traeger line of grills, this Ironwood 885 to be precise:
The reason being that this particular model has a super smoke mode, a patented design by Traeger that overcomes the absence of smoke of pellet grills that work at very precise temperatures, which cause the pellets to burn to cleanly.
Super smoke mode isn’t available on all Traeger models but it is on these 5:
- Ironwood 650
- Ironwood 885
- Timberline 850
- Timberline 1300
- Silverton 810
I’ve got a full review of the top Traeger models right here if you want to take a closer look.
Plus you can even get more smoke, or a smokier flavor from any type of pellet grill while cooking.
I’ll provide some answers to that question later in the article. But first, let’s take a look at how a pellet grill works.
How does a pellet grill work?
A pellet grill is kind of like an electronic version of an offset smoker. Like an offset smoker, both have fireboxes that are connected to where the grilling takes place.
However, the pellet grill relies solely on wood pellets to give food a smoky taste whereas an offset can use charcoal as well.
It also has an LCD display that can be used to control the temperature. This feature makes it a more convenient choice than an offset smoker as it requires less babysitting.
However, even though it may be easier to use, many people will tell you it lacks that smokey taste that you can only get from an offset.
Offset smoker vs. pellet grill: pros and cons
When comparing pellet grills to offset smokers, here are some points for and against.
- Price: Offset smokers are generally cheaper than pellet grills.
- Fuel efficiency: Pellet grills are more fuel-efficient.
- Ease of se: Pellet grills’ set and forget technology means grilling is low maintenance.
- Even cook: A pellet grill maintains temperature throughout the grill making for a more even cook.
- Durability: Offset grills tend to be more durable.
- Space and versatility: When using an offset, you can cook food over the fire in the firebox or over the charcoal to get a big grill area. You can also grill or smoke food. While some pellet grills will grill food, for the most part, you will be limited to smoking.
- Beginner-friendly: Pellet grills are beginner-friendly while offsets take some skill to use.
Requires electricity: Pellet grills require electricity so you have to use them near an energy source. Offset grills work anywhere so you can take them with you on camping trips, to the park, etc.
- Taste: It is difficult to get a great smoky flavor from a pellet grill.
When you compare the two, it’s obvious they both have their shares of pros and cons.
If it comes down to taste, you may be better off with an offset. But if you’d rather go for convenience, a pellet grill will be more your speed.
Offset smoker vs. pellet grill: what people are saying
The pellet grill vs. offset smoker debate is a topic of much discussion.
For instance, if you look at this thread on BBQ Brethren, you will find it’s an issue cooks feel strongly about.
Many of the hardcore grillers and smokers on this forum have both an offset and a pellet smoker in their possession and use them for various applications.
Here’s what one man had to say:
There is a definite difference in smoke intensity between the two. Obviously, the wood smoker places more smoke on the food being cooked. I use the wood smoker for cooks between 5 and 8 hours. I cook chicken, ribs, etc. within that time period. I use the pellet smoker for very long cooks like pork butt and brisket. The major reason that I do this is because I can leave the pellet smoker unattended for 18 to 24 hours except for one refill of pellets until the meat is ready to remove. With the wood smoker, I have to check fuel and air flow every hour in order to keep the temperature where I like to cook the meat.
How to get a smoky flavor from a pellet smoker
While it’s difficult to get a deep smoky flavor from a pellet smoker, it’s not impossible.
In order to get a stronger profile, it is best to grill at lower temperatures for longer amounts of time.
For best results, start your grill at around 180 – 190 degrees for the first few hours. Lower temperatures are ideal because they create more smoke.
Once enough smoke is created, increase the heat as necessary to make sure you get the right cook.
The type of pellets matter
The type of pellets you use will also come into play in creating a strong flavor profile. You want a brand that makes a high-quality pellet so it will infuse your meat with a great smokey flavor.
Here are some brands that are recommended.
- BBQr’s Delight: This company produces one-pound bags that come in a variety of flavors including hickory, apple, mesquite, cherry, pecan, and Jack Daniels.
- Lumberjack Pellets: Lumberjack manufactures a wide variety of pellets, some of which are blends and some that are individual bags featuring flavors like cherry, maple, hickory, maple, and more.
- Cookin’ Pellets: Cookin’ Pellets uses hardwood pellets only and produces flavors like apple mash, black cherry, and perfect mix.
- Bear Mountain Gourmet BBQ Pellets: This company makes a selection of pellets including bold, sweet and savory, all from natural hardwood. The Gourmet option is great for any type of meat.
What are the best pellets for smoke flavor?
Just like any type of wood used to smoke, pellets come in a variety of flavors.
You may be able to find exotic flavors depending on the brand you use, but here are some basics.
- Hickory: Hickory has a strong, bacon-like flavor that can overpower some meats. It is best for flavorful meats like pork or ribs.
- Maple: Maple has a mild, sweet flavor. It works well with poultry and white meats. It can also provide a nice flavor to vegetables and cheeses.
- Pecan: Pecan has a nutty flavor that’s stronger than most fruitwoods. It’s great for poultry but it will go well with almost any meat.
- Mesquite: Mesquite has a strong earthy flavor that holds up well on darker meats. It burns very hotly.
- Apple: Apple has a mild, sweet, fruity flavor. It is great for smoking poultry, seafood, pork, and other types of white meat.
Because pellets are small and fit into the storage container in the grill, it’s easy to blend flavors to get the taste you desire.
While choosing the pellets that are right for you will be a matter of taste preference, they will also affect how smokey the taste is.
Hardwoods not only have a stronger flavor, but they also burn slower and longer, to produce more smoke that will make meat more flavorful.
They may be your best choice if you’re trying to get a smokey taste from your meat.
Products that can enhance the smoke flavor
In addition to using the right wood and cook methods, there are also products you can buy that enhance smoke flavor.
For instance, Mojobricks are small cubes that can be added to grills to provide a deep smokey taste. These are all-natural compressed hardwood squares that contain no chemicals or binders.
The Amazen Tube Smoker is also recommended. You can put this tube directly on the grill and it will produce extra smoke giving your meat that rich taste you are looking for.
A pellet smoker may not provide the smokiest taste, but its ability to burn clean and cook at a fixed temperature makes it a low maintenance option.
And when you consider that the right cook methods, woods, and added products can help you achieve a richer flavor, it may be a worthwhile investment.
Will you be using a pellet smoker for your meat cooking adventures?
How about a recipe idea? Check out these Pellet Smoker Baby Back Ribs | Scrumptious Recipe & Pellet Choices.