Last Updated: Sep 4, 2020 @ 1:44 pm.

What's the best pellet smoker? To find out, we surveyed BBQ enthusiasts among our readers (2.1 million strong) to find their top favorites for pellet smokers. We took those suggestions and then did 13 more hours of research, comparing features, performance and prices. Finally, we interviewed three pit masters from Texas (brisket!) and North Carolina (pulled pork!) to get their insights. After all that work—drum roll—we present the best pellet smokers!

FYI: We've been reviewing and rating products for the home and families since 1994. To keep our work independent, we don't take money or freebies from the brands we review. Our reviews are 100% reader-supported!


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Best Smoker for Newbies

Includes waterproof cover
Easy to set up, use and clean, we think this smoker is excellent for beginners. Accurate heat control. Caveat: must empty ashes from fire box after each use.
$313.69

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Best Smoker for Newbies: Z GRILLS ZPG-450A 2020 Upgrade Wood Pellet Grill

Can we talk BBQ?

If you’ve ever been to an amazing BBQ joint, you quickly learn the secret to the amazing taste is “low and slow.”

That is, the meat is cooked low (200-225 degrees) and slow (12, 15 or more hours).

Want to replicate this at home? Up until recently, that can be quite a challenge—you have to babysit a regular grill and make sure there is just the right amount of smoke and heat. For hours.

That’s where pellet smoker grills come in: they specialize in low and slow. These electric grills use wood pellets to smoke BBQ and keep it at that magical temperature . . . or least in theory, that’s how it supposed to work!

As we researched this topic (including surveying the BBQ smoker enthusiasts among our readers and then interviewing three BBQ pitmasters from Texas and North Carolina), we realize there are three keys to pellet smoker success:

  1. Read this instructions! Wood pellet grills don’t work like a regular BBQ grill—you can’t just turn them on and throw ribs on the grill. Many require you to first “smoke” the wood for 15 minutes or so before applying heat. Only after a set period of time do you start smoking the meat. The take home message: pellet smokers have a learning curve!
  2. Set your expectations. Many wood pellet grill makers pitch their machines as substitutes for regular BBQ grills. Then folks get disappointed that they can’t sear steaks or chicken with the same precision. We think wood pellet grills compliment a regular BBQ—and they are great for BBQ enthusiasts who know cooking a brisket low and slow takes patience!
  3. You have to keep up with the maintenance. Wood pellet smokers require you to clean out the ashes . . . this isn’t difficult because the best are designed for easy cleaning. But you have to stay on top of it! Yes, this is more effort than a gas grill. Another tip: you probably are going to need your own BBQ thermometer to double check the smoker is at the right temperature.

So if you are still with us, let’s get to the recommendations. For the best pellet smoker grill for newbies, we recommend Z Grills’s ZPG-450A. It combines the best performance, ease of use and value, in our opinion. Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Easy to set up and use.

• Easy to clean.

• Includes waterproof cover which is a nice touch.

• Temps can be set from 180 to 450 degrees. Excellent for low and slow brisket!

• 15 pound hopper. The hopper on this unit holds 15 pounds of pellets.

• Temperatures are generally accurate. That said, this grill is designed to briefly increase the temperature at intervals throughout the cooking process. This freaks out newbies to an extent—read those instructions!

• Easy on the wallet.

What Needs Work

• Burns pellets faster than maker claims. ZGrills says the grill can last for 15 hours on 15 pounds of pellets. In reality, it goes through them quicker than that (based on our research). Our advice: have more pellets on hand!

• Auto feed can be temperamental. 

• Not made in the USA.

• Grill may be a bit small for large families. This grill has 450 square inches of grilling space—that’s good for the average family . . . but might be tight for larger gatherings!

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Best Tailgating Smoker

Brand has good customer service
Road trip! This smoker is perfect for on-the-go BBQ, complete with a cord that plugs in a car's 12 volt plug (or works off regular power). Great for camping.
$298.00

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Best Tailgating Smoker: Green Mountain Davy Crockett WIFI Control Portable Wood Pellet Grill

When talking with BBQ smoker enthusiasts, we realized there are two distinct markets here: those home grillers and folks who want to tailgate. For the latter, we looked for a wood pellet grill that folds up for easy transport. After considering several options, we thought Green Mountain’s Davy Crockett WIFI control grill is the best bet for most folks. (Yes, the model name is really Davy Crockett—no, a coonskin cap is not included).

What We Liked

 Weighs only 68 pounds. We say “only” because most other wood pellet grills we researched weigh much more: 85 to 125 pounds!

• Folds for easy transport.

• Excellent for tailgating—BBQ ribs, here we come!

• Sets heat from 150 to 550 degrees.

• Includes meat temperature probe.

What Needs Work

• The companion app could use some work. While folks like this grill, the app disappoints—the maker could do a better job here.

• Heat can be uneven . . . and hot spots can move around!

• Not made in the USA.

• Cord could be better designed. It comes unplugged too easily, in our opinion.

• Small and low to the ground. This is great for tailgating . . . but not as ideal for use at home. At just 219 inches of grilling space, this grill can only cook meat for 2-3 folks at a time.

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Best Splurge Smoker

The Apple of wood pellet smokers
Larger grill area and among the biggest hoppers (20 lbs) in this price range. Also includes waterproof cover. Easy to set up, use and clean.
$1,349.99

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Best Splurge Smoker: Traeger Grills TFB88PZBO

When we interviewed pitmasters about wood pellet smokers, one brand came up time and time again: Traeger.

Traeger is to wood pellet grills as Apple is to smartphones—they are synonymous with the product. As company lore goes, founder Joe Traeger invented the modern wood pellet smoker in 1985. A recent article on Traeger’s history in the Salem Statesman Journal recounts the company’s beginnings:

During a family Fourth of July barbecue in 1985, Joe Traeger’s gas grill caught fire while cooking chicken. Joe was so angry he kicked the grill off the deck, according to the Traeger Grills website.

The next day he started work on a barbecue for the home market that would use wood pellets.

When completed, it resembled the offset barrel smokers popular in Texas, but its heating element and gauges allowed cooks to regulate heat and smoke to cook. Traeger Grills sold its first commercial grill in 1988.

What we like about Traeger’s grills is their build quality—these grills feel substantial and solidly constructed. The model we’ll recommend here is the TFB88PZBO.

All that quality doesn’t come cheap, however—Traeger Grills are premium priced. However, we know some BBQ enthusiasts may want to splurge on this as a gift. In that case, we’d recommend Traeger Grills model TFB88PZBO—this is one of the brand’s entry level models but still has good quality features and performance.

Here’s more:

What We Liked

• Great for large gatherings or families. Yes, this grill has a whopping 884 square inches of capacity. To translate that to English, you can cook SEVEN racks of ribs at once. Block party!

• Easy to assemble.

• Dual meat temperature probes.

• Digital controller keeps temperature from fluctuating less than 15 degrees. Here’s a close-up of the controller on a similar Traeger model (note the smoke setting):

Traeger digital controller best pellet smoke

 

• Cookbook included.

• 18 lb. hopper capacity. Here’s a look at a similar size hopper from a Traeger grill—note the auger at the bottom that feeds the pellet into the stove:

traager hopper best pellet smoker

What Needs Work

• Traeger’s own pellets are pricey. The manufacturer says to only use its own brand pellets in the smoker—and those pellets are expensive.

• Learning curve. You have to follow the instructions with this smoker—and there is a learning curve. It works well when you get the hang of it.

• No longer made in the USA. These grills are now imported from China.

• Expensive!

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Best Large Capacity

Bigger hopper = longer smoking time!
Larger grill area and among the biggest hoppers (20 lbs) in this price range. Also includes waterproof cover. Easy to set up, use and clean.
$432.65

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Best Large Capacity: Z GRILLS SPG-7002E 2020 Upgrade Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker

This grill has the same pros and cons as the Z GRILL we recommend above with two basic changes:

First, it has a much larger grill area (700 square inches)—roughly 55% more space than the smaller model.

Also: this model has a 20 lb hopper capacity—that means you can smoke longer without having to reload it.

Among the models we recommend in this article, Z Grills SPG-7002E has the largest capacity hopper.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. For this article, we surveyed the parent readers of our books (2.1 million copies in print!) to find their favorite smokers. We took these suggestions and did additional research—comparing models, features and value. And yes, we also interviewed pitmasters from those bastions of amazing BBQ (Texas, North Carolina) to get their feedback and advice.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Our work is 100% reader-supported.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing products for the home and families since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward quality, ease of use and affordability.

Here's another key point: we don't take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no "partnerships." Our work is 100% reader-supported!

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