Do you want to wow your friends and family with a perfectly smoked piece of meat at your next BBQ party, but aren't necessarily a fan of the hassle that goes along with cooking it? Then a pellet grill might be for you. Pellet grills, also called pellet smokers, work similarly to an oven—all you have to do is set your desired temperature, and they'll automatically maintain the perfect heat level to cook your food.
Some pellet smokers can be quite expensive, but we wanted to try out some of the more affordable options. We tested a variety of inexpensive pellet grills, using them to cook everything from hamburgers and pork ribs to chicken thighs. Then, we evaluated each one on factors such as temperature control, ease of use, special features, and more.
Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill
Consistent temperature control
Capable of reaching 500 degrees
Issues with the auto pellet feed
Pellet grills come in many different sizes with a variety of features. To take the top spot among pellet grills, the Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Grill offers the best combination of grilling space, heat control, and easy-to-achieve flavors that will create tasty meats time and time again. The grill makes cooking with pellets quick, easy, and enjoyable no matter how much skill you have on the grate.
Digital temperature controls with an automatic auger maintain the desired amount of heat without any input. As a result, you can focus on grilling on the large, dual-tier cooking surface. Combined, the two grilling surfaces offer 570 square inches of cooking space. We found the setup extremely easy, "easier than putting together the average piece of furniture from IKEA." After seasoning the grates, we fired up the grill and liked how this stayed within 10 degrees of the desired temperature. We also appreciated that it reached 500 degrees, 50 degrees higher than most models offer.
One downside we found was with the 18-pound hopper. When the pellets run low, it has difficulty pushing them into the grill, and can create an error message. You'll want to keep that filled. Lastly, cleanup is easy thanks to the built-in ash cleaning system. If you want a slightly larger hopper and prefer a smart pellet grill, Camp Chef SG 24 Pellet Grill performed well in our Lab tests. It stayed connected to our phones, plus the automatic temperature control and shutdown menu made it incredibly easy-to-use.
Price at time of publish: $600
Dimensions: 45 x 21 x 51 inches | Weight: 140 pounds | Grilling Area: 570 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 18 pounds | Temperature Range: 160-500 degrees Fahrenheit
Best for Novice Grillers
Z Grills 450A Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker
Food is extremely flavorful
Maintains consistent heat within +/- 15 degrees
Takes longer than expected to preheat
Prep tables are too small
Doesn't get hot enough to sear
When Z Grills updated its ZPG-450A pellet grill, it became perfect for someone just starting out in grilling. A few issues fixed were an improved the temperature control and pellet feed systems. Plus, now a digital control board ignites the grill automatically and provides temperatures from 180 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s simple to check the temperature on the LED screen, while the automatic feed adds pellets as they’re needed to maintain the chosen temperature. The grates are porcelain-coated cast iron and provide a total of 452 square inches of cooking space. With a hopper capacity of 15 pounds, this can handle multiple cooking sessions without refilling, or up to 15 hours in one go.
We used this grill to make hamburgers, steak, pulled pork, and even pizza. We were impressed with the flavor of meat and the grill's ability to maintain a consistent temperature, even during a long smoking session. An added bonus is the included grill cover to help you protect your investment. While this grill isn't going to get hot enough to sear, and it does take a while to preheat, our tester deemed it "an unbeatable value."
While we tested the 450A back in 2021, Z Grills has a newly released upgraded version, the Pioneer 450B. The Spruce Eats has not yet tested this model, but it features upgraded digital controls and a new pellet clean-out system.
Price at time of publish: $378
Dimensions: 45 x 28 x 49 inches | Weight: 84 pounds | Grilling Area: 452 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 18 pounds | Temperature Range: 180-450 degrees Fahrenheit
Traeger TFB30KLF Tailgater Pellet Grill
Lightweight and portable
Good for grilling and smoking
Prone to temperature swings
Traeger is one of the best-known pellet grill bands, and for good reason. Its grills are generally reliable, well-built, and easy to operate. However, they're also on the more expensive side, so if you're shopping with a tight budget, the Traeger Tailgater 20 is one of the most affordable options from the brand. While technically designed for tailgating, its 300 square inches of cooking space can easily be used on a small patio or outdoor camping. We found it could fit enough food for a few people, handling up to four 8-ounce steaks at once.
This previous version of this grill had an incredibly simple interface, and it's gotten even easier. We simply set the digital controls to the desired temperature, then let it take care of the rest. While it came to temperature quickly, it doesn't reach up to 500 degrees which is an issue if you like to sear a lot. It can hold up to 8 pounds of pellets in its hopper, so you will need to monitor it carefully during long smoking sessions, as we found out during a 7-hour pork butt roast test.
After setting up the grill, we experienced occasional wild temperature swings during one test, but during another, only observed hotter temperatures towards the back of the grill. That all said, this is a very versatile grill in a compact package. Additionally, you can't beat the lightweight (for a pellet grill) design, which has folding legs for easy storage, though we found it was slightly awkward to transport.
Price at time of publish: $530
Dimensions: 37 x 18 x 36 inches | Weight: 62 pounds | Grilling Area: 300 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 8 pounds | Temperature Range: 175-450 degrees Fahrenheit
Oklahoma Joe's Rider 600 Pellet Grill
Ideal for smaller households
Separate mode for searing
Enough space to smoke 4 pork shoulders at once
Includes pellet storage bin
No handles to help move
Slightly hard to clean
If you typically only cook for one or two people, chances are you don't need a huge grill. Consider the Oklahoma Joe's Rider 600 Pellet Grill, which has a more modest size without compromising on features. This grill has an exceptionally deep main cooking area of 380 inches—plus a removable warming rack—and when we tested it, this grill could handle at least four pork shoulders or two large beef briskets. Its hopper can hold up to 20 pounds of pellets, and did not require frequent refilling.
The grill offers two modes of operation: smoking between the temperature of 175 and 300 degrees, or grilling on low, medium, or high heat. It came to temperature quickly and performed well when we tested it for baking and grilling. The final batch of chicken wings ended up being the best from all 18 pellet grills we fired up that day.
The Oklahoma Joe's Pellet Grill is on the more basic side of features. It helps you keep track of your food with a built-in timer and and it can be fitted with a two temperature probes to alert you when your meat reaches the desired internal temperature. There's a removable ash cup on the bottom of the cooking chamber for easy cleanup, though it took a little bit of scrubbing to get the grates clean after testing, and it even comes with a pellet storage bin that hangs conveniently underneath the hopper. You should also handle with care when moving it since there are no handles and if you lift it the wrong way, the pellets will spill, as we found out.
Price at time of publish: $450
Dimensions: 35.5 x 38.9 x 47.9 inches | Weight: 149 pounds | Grilling Area: 617 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 20 pounds | Temperature Range: 175-525 degrees Fahrenheit
Best Easy Cleaning
Camp Chef SmokePro SE Pellet Grill
Lever-operated ash cleaning system
Includes meat probe
Low level of smoke
Camp Chef is a familiar name in grills and smokers, including pellet grills. This one offers a heat range from 160 to 500 degrees and includes two meat probes to monitor your roasts. The adjustable chimney top and smart smoke technology help to maintain the optimum temperature when you prefer smoking over grilling.
This has a convenient lever-operated ash cleanout system and a grease management system for easy cleaning and maintenance, while the roller wheels make it easy to position anywhere you want it. The ample cooking area and 18-pound pellet hopper make it easy to cook for the family or for a party. Additional warming racks and an additional front shelf are sold separately.
Price at time of publish: $450
Dimensions: 40.5 x 25 x 22 inches | Weight: 110 pounds | Grilling Area: 429 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 18 pounds | Temperature Range: 160-500 degrees Fahrenheit
The Camp Chef SmokePro DLX Pellet Grill is our top pick thanks to its professional-grade performance for a reasonable price. It offers 570 square inches of cooking space, and we were impressed by its consistent temperature control and unique features. If you're new to pellet grills, the budget-friendly Z Grills 450A Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker is easy-to-use and will help you cook up extremely flavorful meals.
How We Tested
We sent these products directly to the homes of our expert food writers and to our Lab. At our Lab, our testers grilled, seared, baked, and smoked using each grill to thoroughly analyze every feature and the grill's performance. The grills were then rated on heat control and retention, size, features, performance, ease of cleaning, and overall value. Our home reviewers spent weeks using them in their backyards to see how the stood up to everyday cooking and cleaning. They were also able to offer additional insights including how easy they were to set up and store, and using these during typical weather conditions. After testing, our writers submitted their feedback on what they liked and didn't like.
Other Options We Tested
- Green Mountain Davy Crockett WiFi Control Portable Wood Pellet Grill: Billed as "the ultimate tailgate grill," this lightweight option has a few things going for it, most importantly its Wi-Fi connectivity and efficient burning of pellets. But when we tested it in our Lab, the testers found many other important aspects to be lacking. It struggled in most of the tests, except for searing steak, and its design caused at least one grease spill. Due to these reasons, we've removed it from our recommendations.
- PIT BOSS PB440D2 Mahogany Wood Pellet Grill: This grill performed great when it came to searing steaks and slow smoking in our Lab, and got good marks for good heat retention. Where this former Most Versatile pick fell short was its size and features. Both the hopper and grill are too small for feeding 4 or more people and there are no extra features plus the analog lid thermometer often displayed the wrong temperature. Add to that our home tester's experience of uneven heating, and we now feel there are better pellet grills on the market.
- Char-Griller Wood Pro Pellet Grill: The simple design and ample cooking area of this Char-Griller has a lot of appeal to many, so we tested it both with a home reviewer and in our Lab. All the testers found its performance left much to be desired. All of the testers found that it struggled to get up to and over 400 degrees, which is necessary if you love a final sear. It also developed a hot spot in our Lab test that ended up burning food. If you're in the market for a basic pellet grill, we stand behind Oklahoma Joe's Rider 600 Pellet Grill.
What to Look for When Buying an Inexpensive Pellet Grill
Pellet grills can range in size from just 300 square inches in capacity to well over 1,000 square inches. The rule of thumb when it comes to figuring out the best capacity for your needs is to allot each person 72 square inches of cooking space. This means a family of four would need at least 288 square inches. While it's vital to get a grill that suffices for your needs, it's also important to not get a grill that too large, or you'll end up wasting fuel.
Since this list specifically looks at inexpensive pellet grills, all of them are suitable for feeding four to six people regularly. If you would like something larger, you'll need to increase your budget.
Some will be taking their pellet grills to a tailgate party or over to a friend's house frequently. If that's the case for you, look for models that are lighter in weight or made specifically for tailgating. Even if you never take your pellet grill on a road trip, you might want to move it from one side of the yard to the other when you’re having a party, or move it out of the way when you need to store it. If so, we recommend picking up a model with heavy-duty wheels to make the task much easier.
Maintenance and Care
You should burn off any oils and/or season your pellet grill prior to its first use. Following your manufacturer's instructions, this could mean simply running your grill for 30 minutes to an hour to burn off any dust, oils, or to cure the paint. If you need to season your grates or other parts, you only need a light coating of vegetable oil before curing, similar to how you season cast-iron cookware.
Once you've been grilling and smoking, your grill will need regular care for the best results. Ash and grime can accumulate in the cooking chamber and need to be cleaned out to avoid bad airflow and other issues. We also recommend cleaning your grill grates while they're still warm with a damp grill brush. The steam created will help lift grease and debris off your grates.
How does a pellet grill work?
Pellet grills operate a little bit differently than a gas- or charcoal-powered grill. These grills have a "hopper" that you fill up with hardwood pellets, and when you turn the grill on, the pellets are automatically fed into a cooking chamber by an auger. The pellets are burned in the cooking chamber, and heat and smoke are dispersed throughout the grill, cooking food with indirect heat instead of open flames.
One of the main differences between pellet grills and other fuel types is that they maintain their own temperature. Similar to an oven, you set the temperature you want to cook at using the grill's control panel, and the unit holds the temperature on its own, adding more pellets when needed. This saves you from having to monitor the grill constantly.
Does a pellet grill need electricity?
Unlike a gas or charcoal grill, pellet grills do require electricity to function. Typically, a pellet grill's control panel, thermometer, auger, and fans are all electric, so the unit must be plugged in before you can start grilling.
What are the advantages of pellet grills?
There are a number of reasons some people prefer pellet grills over traditional charcoal or gas models. One of the main benefits is that they provide precise temperature control with minimal oversight, which is useful if, for instance, you plan to smoke food for long periods of time.
Pellet grills also give food a wonderful smoky flavor, and you can use different types of pellets to control the flavor profile of your meals. "I tend to stick to the traditional pellet profiles that use Oak or Hickory, since they are universally complementary to all meats," says Jess Pryles, grilling expert and author of "Hardcore Carnivore". "Swapping out pellets can be a pain, so for me, the ideal scenario is a flavor that will work well with anything from beef to chicken and the occasional vegetable!"
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Freelance food writer and cookbook author Donna Currie is an expert on all things food, from cookbooks to cooking gadgets. She's also a product tester for The Spruce Eats and has cooked with every type of grill out there, including pellet grills.
This article was updated by Camryn Rabideau, a grilling expert and product tester for The Spruce Eats. She's tested several pellet grills included in this article, including the Z Grills ZPG-450A Wood Pellet Grill, Char-Grill Wood Pro Pellet Grill, and Oklahoma Joe's Rider Deluxe Pellet Grill.
- Jess Pryles, grilling expert and author of "Hardcore Carnivore: Cook Meat Like You Mean It"