There’s never been a better time to be looking at pellet smokers. Since their invention in the 1980’s, pellet smokers and grills have exploded in popularity. Originally designed for heating homes, pellet stove technology was adapted for the home cook to provide an easy, clean, and convenient way to smoke our favorite meals. Nowhere have pellet smokers gained more traction than among the hook and bullet crowd, as hunters and anglers have wholeheartedly embraced the system for cooking wild game and fish. This popularity has caused an influx of competition in the market as manufacturers race to provide the best pellet smokers to consumers.
While traditional smokers and grills aren’t going anywhere, pellet smokers provide an excellent alternative with many benefits over their predecessors. Most modern pellet smokers are about as easy to operate as your household oven, and some even support Wi-Fi and remote control with smartphone applications. Clean burning smoke, easy maintenance, additional utility with add-on accessories, and many other qualities and features make pellet smokers and grills extremely user friendly and versatile tools.
With so many options, it can be difficult to decide on the best pellet smoker for your needs. The good news is, it’s very difficult to buy a bad one. That being said, each model will have its strengths and weaknesses, so it’s important to understand what each smoker is capable of and what you can expect from it before you buy, so that you can make the most informed purchase possible.
Here’s a short roundup of the best pellet smokers and grills on the market today, as well as some guidance on picking the one that’s right for you.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Pellet Smoker
Pellet smokers and grills come in many different shapes and sizes. Ultimately, it will come down to your needs and budget, but the two main differences come down to vertical and horizontal pellet smokers.
- Vertical pellet smoker: A vertical smoker is more or less an oven mixed with a smoker, and it features a traditional box smoker design. Food is added through a front opening door and hung from the top of the box, or it’s laid out on tiered metal racks. The ignition system is located at the bottom of the box, and the pellets are typically stored in a rear-feeding hopper. As the pellets burn, the smoke rises to envelop the food, and as such, vertical smokers produce some of the most smokey and flavorful meals you can make. However, vertical pellet smokers do not have the ability to grill, sear, or be modified for direct flame cooking.
- Horizontal pellet smoker/grill: A horizontal pellet smoker is like a mix between your backyard grill and a drum style barbeque pit. The smoker itself opens from the top, and pellets are usually stored in a side hopper. Like the vertical smoker, the fire pot and ignition system sit at the bottom of a horizontal smoker, and as the pellets burn, smoke is directed up and around the food by a baffle. Out of the box, many horizontal smokers are designed to reach the high temperatures required for searing and grilling. Some can be modified with other accessories for a ton of added utility.
All pellet grills are smokers, but not all pellet smokers are grills. Ask yourself if you’d like the ability to sear and grill with your smoker, or if you would otherwise benefit from high temperature or direct flame cooking. Some pellet smokers simply do not have the raw output needed for grilling. You need a surface temperature of at least 400° fahrenheit for a proper sear, and closer to 500°+ is ideal. In addition, some pellet smokers may not be designed with access to the direct flame of the heating element, or with the proper grease drainage needed to avoid dangerous flare ups when grilling. Before you take it home, make sure you understand what your purchase is designed to do.
Most pellet grills are noted by the size of their cooking chamber. This is usually expressed in terms of square inches of cooking space. Something in the 500 to 800 square inch range is perfect for most people, with plenty of space to feed a family or host a small party. You’d only need something larger, in the realm of 1200 to 2000 square inches, for feeding dozens of people at a time. A small smoker is going to better concentrate smoke and be more pellet efficient than a larger one, but a small smoker may limit the type and amount of food you can cook. My advice is to buy one size larger than you think you need so you can cook and share your delicious food without worrying about being undergunned.
The size of the pellet hopper is also worth considering. You will want a large hopper for long or overnight smokes, but a smaller hopper works well for short cooks or if you want to change pellet flavors frequently. Vertical pellet smokers can generally accommodate much larger hoppers and have more cooking area for their size. So, if you’re short on space, consider that.
Even small pellet smoker units are heavy and take up a good amount of space. You should put some thought into where you will store your pellet smoker, and if you’ll need to move it. If you cook for a lot of people and the smoker will live outside in a fixed location, it might be worth spending the extra money on a bigger, more durable model that can stand the test of time. If you live in a small home or apartment and need to wheel the thing outside every time you use it, a smaller, lighter, and more portable smoker is obviously the better choice. It’s also worth mentioning that pretty much all pellet smokers, regardless of size, will need a source of electricity in order to run, so that needs to be factored in when looking at location. The “best” pellet smoker for your needs is as much about your lifestyle and how you will use it as it is about objective qualities and features.
Companies are pushing the limits of pellet smokers with modifications and accessories that can completely transform their basic functions. Add-ons range from simple heat blankets and grate options, to propane adapters, side burners, flat top griddles, and even pizza ovens. If you like the idea of a versatile and modular “system” rather than a one dimensional appliance, consider picking a smoker that can accommodate these add-ons, as well as a brand that has a reputation for continuously innovating. If you don’t need the extra stuff and just want a bulletproof smoker, maybe an established company with more traditional designs is a better choice.
When picking the best pellet smoker, you’re generally paying for features and build quality. The best pellet smokers balance these factors at a palatable price tag. The best pellet smokers range from around $400 on the lower end, to well over $3,000-$5,000 for some premium models. Pellet smokers with Wi-Fi connectivity and other advanced features typically start around $600. I think the $800 to $1,000 price point from a reputable brand is the best bang-for-your-buck for most people. You’ll also need to factor in the cost of add-ons, accessories, and pellets.
The best pellet smokers are certainly the centerpiece of any outdoor kitchen, but you’ll need some more stuff to round out the equipment needed to produce gourmet meals. Make sure you have one of the better meat thermometers on hand to ensure everything is cooked to perfection, with safe internal temps. (Review the USDA’s recommended internal temperatures for more info.) One of the best turkey fryers isn’t just a hit around the holidays, as you can cook all manner of fish and game no matter what the season. Not sure you want pellet smoker? Take a look at some of the other top smoker options available that utilize other heat sources.
And be sure to check out our jerky recipes for pellet smokers after you grab yours.
Why It Made the Cut
The Traeger Pro offers decades of refined technology, a feature rich controller, and easy to use app connectivity at a reasonable price. It’s a phenomenal choice for pellet-smoker newbies and veterans alike.
- WiFIRE Technology
- Traeger D2 controller
- Turbo Temp
- Hopper clean-out trapdoor
- Easy to use controller
- Great bang-for-your-buck
- Brand reputation
- 18 pound hopper
- Some weak points
The Traeger Pro series is the best pellet smoker for beginners. No discussion of pellet smokers would be complete without mentioning Traeger, the company that started it all. In 1987, Joe Traeger patented the original pellet smoker, adapted from household pellet stoves. To this day, even with countless competitors, Traeger is still the biggest name in the game.
The Pro series is Traeger’s newest entry level pellet smoker/grill, and it’s a great option for those new to smoking and barbecue. While it might be one of their more affordable offerings, the Pro Series is a very capable pellet smoker that you won’t outgrow anytime soon. The Traeger Pro series comes in either a 575 ($899) or 780 ($999) square inch chamber capacity, and with either an all black or black and bronze exterior. The 575 is the best size for most people, but I would recommend the 780 just for the option of growing into that extra space. While $1,000 may seem like a lot to shell out for a beginner, it’s a price point that gets you everything you need without serious compromise. The extra couple hundred dollars in initial investment pays for itself in the long run. You’re also buying into all of the service, support, access to replacement parts, and resources of a company like Traeger.
Beyond the name recognition and quality reputation, one of the main selling points of the Traeger Pro Series is the controller. Traeger has had decades to refine their pellet smokers, and their controllers are well tuned and packed full of features. The Pro boasts the same D2 control panel used in Traeger’s higher end models, bringing a ton of PID features at an affordable price. The Pro series features a brushless variable speed motor that runs on DC power and provides improved durability, and longevity. The Turbo Temp feature is one of the benefits of this variable speed system, and allows the smoker to get up to temp faster so you spend less time waiting and more time cooking. The Turbo Temp feature also reduces temperature fluctuations and helps the smoker recover temperature quickly after lifting the lid. The D2’s independent and variable fan and auger speed allows for this precise control and automatic response to changing variables.
One of the main features of the Pro series and D2 controller is its integration of the Traeger App which lets you control the smoker with your phone. Traeger’s WiFIRE Technology connects to your smartphone via the Traeger App, and gives you ultimate remote control of your cook. You don’t have to babysit a Traeger, and you can adjust the temperature and track the progress of your cook without physically needing to hover over it. With the Traeger app, you can dial in specific directions or let the controller do the work automatically with over 1600 built in recipes and presets. If you want to learn just about anything related to pellet smoking or barbeque, Traeger has you covered with an insane amount of resources available between the app, website, YouTube, and other outlets.
The Traeger Pro comes with a temperature probe and an access hole with a rubber grommet so you can track the internal temp of your meat without needing to open the lid. Traeger has made the heat shield and drip pan more secure and easier to remove than previous models, so tolerances are tight and cleanup is a breeze. In addition, the auger primer feature runs the auger without activating the fan or hotrod, letting you fill the auger with pellets and expedite the start-up process. The Traeger Pro also features a trapdoor on the back of the hopper to easily empty pellets between cooks or to change pellet flavors quickly. I also like the addition of the little holder tabs on the back of the grill that allow you to hang unused grates.
With a maximum temperature of 500° Fahrenheit, the Pro series is perfectly capable of searing and grilling. And on the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, the Pro’s Keep Warm function lets you set the temperature at 165° Fahrenheit to pause the cooking process or keep food warm while you wait.
Most complaints you hear about the Traeger Pro series are minor notes on build quality and material choice. For example, the lid hinge feels kind of weak. In other places some materials could have been heavier duty, welds would be preferable to screws and rivets, etc. Considering most pellets come in 20 pound bags, the 18 pound hopper is kind of annoying. The Traeger Pro series is not a modular system, and in terms of accessories, you’re mostly limited to covers, insulating blankets, and that type of stuff. That being said, most of these compromises are understandable in order to offer such a feature-rich product at an affordable price. Despite these nit-picky complaints, Traeger products are very well made and their mix of features and easy-to-use controls makes the Pro series one of the best pellet smokers for beginners and experienced users alike.
Why It Made the Cut
The Woodwind Wi-Fi pellet smokers from Camp Chef come with intuitive PID controls, Wi-Fi connectivity, the ability to both smoke and grill, and can be upgraded with a whole ecosystem of add-on accessories to bring even more utility to the platform.
- PID and smoke level control
- Wi-Fi and app connectivity
- Sliding heat deflector
- Quick release ash cleanout
- Sidekick accessories
- Ability to smoke and grill
- Intuitive controls
- Easy cleaning
- Tons of utility with accessories
The Camp Chef Woodwind is the best pellet smoker grill combo. On paper the Camp Chef Woodwind Wi-Fi pellet smoker checks all the boxes. Both the 24 inch and 36 inch models come with modern PID controls, Wi-Fi connectivity, and many other features. But the really cool thing about the Woodwind is the modularity of the whole system. Not only can the Woodwind smoke and grill with the best of them, but it can be upgraded with a variety of add-on accessories that opens up the system to a ton of new cooking methods.
The Camp Chef Woodwind is a pretty traditional horizontal smoker design with many modern quality of life and connectivity features. The PID and Wi-Fi enabled controller is the brains of the Woodwind system, and it allows you to set temperature, cook time, and many other variables. Choosing the amount of smoke you want in your food is easy with the Woodwind’s smoke level control. The PID controller automatically adjusts to the changing variables to ensure a consistent temperature and level of smoke despite the inevitable temperature fluctuations throughout a cook. You can set all of this directly on the PID controller itself, or remotely through the Camp Chef Connect App on your smartphone. The App lets you set timers and receive notifications, view historical data from past cooks, track your probes, and much more.
Beyond the controls, the Woodwind is feature packed. One of the best things about the Woodwind smoker is the Slide and Grill feature, which is a sliding heat deflector that allows you to easily access the direct flame of the fire pot for high heat and direct flame grilling and searing. With a temperature range of 160° to 500° fahrenheit, and even higher with the direct flame of the Slide and Grill feature, this system allows you to cook basically anything you could think of. The Woodwind also has a quick-detach ash pan for easier and less frequent cleaning. Both sizes of Woodwind come with a hopper capacity of 22 pounds which should cover pretty much anything you’d want to cook.
The coolest thing about the Camp Chef Woodwind is its modularity. Camp Chef offers a variety of add-on accessories for the Woodwind smokers, including modifications for a propane adapter, flat top griddle, Sidekick grill, and even a pizza oven attachment. The Woodwind’s built in features, ability to grill and sear, and available add-ons takes pellet smokers to the next level.
My complaints about the Woodwind are pretty minor. On its own, the Woodwind is reasonably priced compared to its competition, but the price definitely sneaks up on you when you start adding the sidekick system and other expensive accessories. It’s not as simple as just not buying and adding sidekick items. You are going to want the accessories because they are both incredibly cool and functional. I’m not personally a fan of the polished stainless steel finish both aesthetically and functionally, as it shows dirt much more than a matte black coating. That being said, while stainless steel is easier to mess up, it’s also much easier to clean. The build quality of the camp chef is great, but it’s built more like a backyard grill than a heavy duty smoker. There are some small compromises to keep costs and weight down, but the Woodwind is still structurally above average and makes up for any shortfalls with its features.
If you like the idea of Wi-Fi control and an ecosystem of accessories and modularity, and have the money to spend on all the bells and whistles, the Woodwind Wi-Fi from Camp Chef is the best pellet smoker and grill combo out there.
Why It Made the Cut
The Pits & Spits Maverick 1250’s mix of bombproof build quality and no-nonsense design makes it, and the rest of the P&S line, some of the best pellet smokers one the market.
- Heavy duty materials
- Hand welded construction
- PID control
- Structural integrity
- USA Made
- Tuned controller
- Wi-Fi capable but not equipped
If you have the money to spend, the Pits & Spits Maverick 1250 with the side mounted upright smoke box is the best high end pellet smoker you’d ever want. Texas-based Pits & Spits is widely known for making some of the best smokers and trailers in the country. Their products are renowned for their sleek utilitarian designs, high quality materials, and hand made construction. Pits & Spits products are built like absolute tanks, and their price reflects that. While some companies lean into modernity, often sacrificing quality for the sake of features and gizmos, P&S takes the opposite approach. Their products are simple and built to last. With thick, 7 and 10 gauge steel, professional hand-laid welds, and 304 stainless steel lid and work shelf, the Pits & Spits pellet smokers look and feel like a piece of commercial kitchen equipment. Everything about the smokers is meticulously crafted, with no cut corners, cheap screws, or pop rivets.
While Pits & Spits makes pellet smokers with a capacity of 850, 1250, and 2000 square inches of cooking space, the Maverick 1250 with the upright smokebox is the ultimate package. Not only does the separate upright smoke box give you the additional space and function of a standalone vertical smoker, but it can also be maintained at lower temperatures more conducive to cold smoking, or simply keeping food warm. P&S also sells a flat top griddle attachment, modular grating system, upgraded wheels, and many other accessories if you want to further pimp out your Maverick.
Pits & Spits pellet smokers feature an extremely well tuned PID that maintains the desired temperature and minimizes fluctuations. The PID interfaces with smart meat probes that will keep your temperature consistent and help you monitor the cook. The smoker has a temperature range of 180°F to 600°F in 5° increments, so you can reach temperatures adequate for both smoking and grilling. Many pellet smokers top out at 450-500°F, and the Maverick’s extra output makes a huge difference in achieving a proper sear. You can also easily slide the deflector plate to concentrate heat to different areas, though there is no quick way to do it while cooking. Disappointingly, Wi-Fi is not included with the Maverick 1250, and you’ll need to purchase and install a separate Wi-Fi module if you want cellular connectivity and control.
The addition of quality of life features like the stainless steel work surface, tool hooks, paper towel holder, as well as the “PRIME” button which allows you to manually feed pellets, are greatly appreciated. The clean-out chute on the back of the smoker allows you to quickly empty the hopper after a cook or change pellet flavors. The side mounted grease drain does a great job of dealing with fat and keeping the smoker safe from flare ups and oil fires. There’s no quick way to clean the ashes, however, and you will need to take the grates, drip tray, and deflection plate out to clean the fire pot.
With even the most basic Pits & Spits models starting at neary $2000, and the Maverick 1250 with the side mounted upright smoke box going for $3500, P&S pellet smokers are not for everybody. These smokers are also incredibly heavy, so getting them home or moving them from place to place can be difficult and expensive. But if you have the money to spend, are a professional chef, or subscribe to the buy-once-cry-once philosophy, the P&S is an outstanding American made piece of equipment that you can feel proud of.
Why It Made the Cut
The Pit Boss Copperhead series has a large cooking area, easy to use PID controls, see-through glass door, massive hopper capacity, and many other features that make it a great choice at a great price.
- 1,513 square inch cooking area
- Digital PID control board
- 60-pound hopper
- Glass door
- Pellet capacity
The Pit Boss Copperhead line features some of the best vertical pellet smokers for the home barbeque enthusiast. While the pellet smoker market is mostly dominated by horizontal smoker/grills, there’s still a strong argument to be made for traditional vertical smoker designs. Some of the main benefits of a vertical smoker are cooking space, pellet capacity, and enhanced flavor. The Pit Boss Copperhead has you covered for all of them, while balancing quality and price.
The Copperhead line comes in three sizes, with the 3, 5, and 7 series. The Pit Boss Copperhead 5 series is arguably the best all around size for most people, with over 1,500 square inches of cooking real estate on five porcelain coated cast iron cooking racks. You can also use the top rack to hang sausages and other foods that smoke better when suspended. While it cannot be used for grilling, the Copperhead 5 can accommodate temperatures of 150° to 420° fahrenheit, and features a 60-pound pellet hopper which can sustain up to 35 hours of continuous use.
The latest generation of Copperhead smokers feature a PID Control board, but they are not Wi-Fi capable without aftermarket modification. The dial-in digital control board interfaces with the included stainless-steel meat probes, making it easy to monitor your cook. The Copperhead also includes an automatic startup and cool down feature, a primer function to manually feed the fire pot with pellets, and a port on the back to easily empty the hopper. All you need to do is prime the pellets, set the temperature and the smoker basically does all the work for you. The Copperhead also features an ash management system with an easy cleaning tray for keeping the fire pot clean. You’ll still want to frequently clean out the ash, unburned pellets, and pellet dust with a shop-vac, though.
Unlike many cheap vertical smokers with thin pot metal walls, the Copperhead is heavy and insulated. The thick, insulated walls and heavy-duty steel construction makes the smoker not only durable, but heat efficient. While this makes the Copperhead rather heavy, it’s pretty easy to move around with four maneuverable caster wheels. I do wish there was a way to lock the wheels, but it’s not a dealbreaker.
Instead of welded rack holders, racks rest on moveable fasteners that can be inserted into a series of drilled holes that run along the vertical height of the smoker. While perhaps not as robust as a welded shelf, this allows you to adjust tray spacing for each cook.
In addition to the included meat probe, the see-through glass door really helps you track your cook without the temptation to open the lid and peek at the progress. Glass doors need to be cleaned religiously in order to keep the smoke from staining them, but it’s a small price to pay for the visibility. You don’t realize how nice it is to have a glass door until you’ve used one.
With its simple controls, sturdy and insulated design, glass door, huge hopper, and many other features, the Pit Boss Copperhead 5 is one of the best vertical pellet smokers on the market. Sure, there are fancier and “better” vertical smokers out there, but the Copperhead checks all the boxes at an extremely reasonable price. While it retails for around $659 MSRP, you can often find it on sale for far less. If you don’t need or want to grill with your pellet smoker, and like the enhanced smokey flavor and huge cooking capacity of a vertical smoker, the Copperhead 5 from Pit Boss is an excellent choice.
How I Made My Picks
Throughout my culinary and outdoor career I’ve gone through the full range of opinions about pellet smokers. From skepticism and smack talk, to acceptance, appreciation, and even love. I’ve cooked with them, watched others cook with them, and followed their progression over the years. I’ve also cooked extensively in a professional capacity with wood fired and electric smokers and ovens, as well as charcoal and gas grills and smokers. While I’m by no means some badass barbeque pitmaster, I feel confident talking about pellet smokers, particularly involving wild game cooking.
Through a lot of research and drawing on my personal experience with pellet smokers, I feel this list, while not representing all of the best pellet smokers on the market, highlights some truly exceptional products and helps consumers make informed decisions.
Q: Are pellet smokers as good as wood smokers?
In many ways, pellet smokers are as good as wood smokers, and in some ways they’re even better. Pellet smokers offer a more consistent and controllable method of cooking than other forms of smoking, so you can impart a smoky flavor into your food with less hassle. They are faster to start, easier to manage, and often do most of the work for you. Pellet smokers are also cleaner burning and easier to keep clean. While there’s something to be said for the flavor and character of wood and charcoal, pellet smokers can yield a more perfectly executed product.
Q: Can you grill on a pellet smoker?
Most of the best horizontal smokers on the market are designed to accommodate some degree of grilling. In order to grill, a smoker basically needs the ability to reach temperatures of over 400° fahrenheit, provide access to the direct heat of the fire pot, and include a way to drain fat and avoid grease fires. Vertical smokers, however, are not capable of grilling.
Q: Is a pellet smoker worth it?
If you smoke or grill more than a few times per year, then a pellet smoker is worth every penny. Pellet smokers make perfect barbecue accessible to everyone, and remove a lot of the human error and environmental factors from the equation. Modern pellet smokers are packed full of user-friendly features and do most of the work for you. They are also incredibly versatile, with most models allowing you to smoke, roast, braise, bake, grill, and more.
Q: How much do pellet smokers cost?
Pellet smokers cost anywhere from around $400 to well over $5,000 for the top of the line and commercial sized units. You can pick up a high quality, feature packed pellet smoker that you won’t outgrow or regret for around $1,000. While there are cheaper options on the market, it’s generally worth spending a little more on the front end to get the best pellet smoker you can afford.
With today’s best pellet smokers, there has never been a better time to get into smoking your own food at home. Whether it’s racks of ribs, briskets, chickens, or wild game and fish, pellet smokers can do it all. Pellet smokers and grills provide a clean, consistent, and controllable method of cooking with smoke without the guesswork and constant attention of wood smoking. There are no shortage of options out there at price points for every budget, whether you’re interested in a horizontal pellet smoker that can do it all, or a traditional vertical smoker design.
Of course there’s something to be said for the mastery and artistry of good old fashioned smoking, but pellet smokers make delicious barbeque accessible to everyone. With built in features and add-ons, pellet smokers are multifunctional cooking tools that can bake, roast, braise, grill, sear, and much more beyond just smoking. With today’s modern technology, many smokers are almost completely automated, or can be controlled and monitored remotely with easy-to-use cell phone applications. Whether you’re a newbie who is intimidated by smoking, or a smoke-stained veteran looking for the next best thing, you can’t go wrong with any of these awesome pellet smokers. The truth is, there isn’t one perfect, best pellet smoker for everyone, and understanding their similarities and differences will help you make the most informed purchase for you.